The year 2017 was a huge one for the Montreal tech scene. Whether it was news of acquisitions, historic funding rounds raised, or a series of new AI labs popping up, Montreal was making headlines.
The city was already primed for more focus and attention, with celebrations commencing early on for Montreal’s 375th, as well as Canada’s 150th anniversaries. But even without the tourist attractions and city-wide festivities, Montrealers made impressive strides in the tech world worthy of global attention
What the members of this community accomplished this year was truly something to be proud of. Without further ado, here’s our snapshot of 2017:
10. Increasing diversity in the tech community
The efforts we saw in 2016 to make the tech community more inclusive saw increasing traction in 2017. Established groups like Queer Tech MTL hit the ground running, continuing their regular meetup sessions throughout the year, and releasing some pretty great blog posts by Jason Behrmann we cross-published here. Like the one where a gender transition at work went surprisingly well, or the one where a tech CEO embraced resilience and came to better understand what it means to be queer in entrepreneurship. The meetup group now numbers over 950 members at the time of this writing, up from 338 this time last year.
2017 was also the year that gender parity finally became a more frequent conversation topic, thanks in part to initiatives like the Boardlist — which released a list of top Canadian women in tech willing to join company boards — and Bellesa(NSFW) — working to develop a female-friendly porn tech company. New resources were also established, like BDC’s pledge to invest $70 million in female-led tech companies, or the open source action plan from the women in tech roundtable that took place at Notman House in March.
We talked to so many inspiring women working in the Montreal tech community this year, see the full list below:
9. VCs were busier than ever
There was plenty of news from and about Montreal venture capital firms this year. Early on in January, Paul Desmarais III was announced as the chairman of a newly formed Canadian fintech fund, in August Northleaf opened a Montreal office, and in November Real Ventures announced an additional $180 million raise and the launch of OrbitMTL. There was the close of 500 Startups Canada, the northern affiliate of David McClure’s Mountain View fund. But there was also the launch of Front Row Ventures — the first student-run VC in partnership with Real Ventures — and the $6 million round Brightspark closed at the end of the year to help them reimagine angel investing in the context of a venture capital firm.
8. Montreal accelerators helped more startups take off
This year saw the continuation and expansion of established programs like the Montreal chapter of the Founder Institute, InnoCité MTL, and FounderFuel. The fledgling McGill X-1 accelerator confirmed it will continue running for the next 10 years thanks to a $2 million donation from the Dobson Foundation.
TandemLaunch announced in February that it had signed Singapore’s Cap Vista as an investor, allowing it to initiate “at least a dozen new ventures”.
Le Garage & Co accepted applicants to its first fall cohort, jumping in to fill the gap in accelerators for communities south of the St. Lawrence. And the relatively new Ecofuel Accelerator announced $5.5 million in support from the Quebec government at the end of the year.
An impressive 12 Montreal teams have been working out of District 3 to create solutions for the IBM Watson AI Xprize, a four-year, $5-million global challenge where teams must develop and demonstrate how humans can collaborate with powerful artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to tackle the world’s greatest societal challenges.
7. Entrepreneurs under 25 made an impact
This year we got the chance to sit down with some of the most exciting entrepreneurial talent in the city. The best part? They were all 25 and under.
Here’s the complete list of young entrepreneurs we talked to who are making an impact on Montreal:
Retinad’s Samuel F. Poirier and Anthony Guay – January 11
Wizrd’s Rory Bokser and David Kleiman – January 12
Ambo Technology’s Pascal Leblanc – January 19
LaPresse3D’s Omar Ayesh – January 24
Community Art’s Gary Parker – February 9
stay22’s Hamed Al-Khabaz – February 10
YUMiBOX’s Zoey Li – February 25
Uvolt’s Antony Diaz — April 13
The Food Room’s Amélie Morency — July 11
6. New funding sources hit Montreal and Canada
Quite a few new funding sources were announced this year, whether it was new SME funds or government support of AI. It seems entrepreneurs in our city have more places to turn for funding than ever before.
In March, the Quebec government announced an allotment of $100 million to create an artificial intelligence super-cluster and $8 million for immediate action to support entrepreneurship.
In October, La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (la Caisse) and Desjardins Group launched a fund specifically for investment in the fintech sector as well as artificial intelligence and finance. The fund will operate independently and is expected to have a maximum size of $75 million. Desjardins also announced the creation of a new Desjardins Capital SME fund to provide up to $500 million to small and medium businesses over the next five years.
Element AI announced the creation of a joint $45 million fund with Korean heavy hitters SK Telecom, Hyundai Motor Company, and Hanwha. The new fund will target promising sectors of commercial AI applications and infrastructure such as autonomous vehicles, household robots, manufacturing, drones, and hardware.
The Canadian government also pitched in, announcing in December that Quebec will receive over $260 million for energy efficiency and climate action. The funding is a component of the Low Carbon Economy Fund, designed to help Canada achieve our 2030 national climate target commitment under the Paris Agreement. It will also create jobs, support healthier communities, and save Canadians money.
5. Montrealers made their mark internationally
As busy as our community was within the city, there were also a huge number of Montrealers and former residents making an impact in the US and beyond.
The CTA@Boston opened applications in May in its effort to connect Canadian startups with US clients, strategic partners, and investors, emphasizing aggressive business development and growth. It’s a four-month residency that includes office space at the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Founder Institute alum Lean Systems tested out a new Demo Day format at Techstars NYC, while other Montreal chapter alums Hykso and Unito took home awards from the Founder Institute Global Graduate awards.
Hardbacon finished a three month stint as the first Canadian company to complete the Queen City Fintech accelerator ahead of their Canadian launch.
Vrvana, makers of the Totem AR headset, was acquired by Apple for US $30 million, while SmartHalo bike accessories were picked up for distribution in all North American Apple stores.
We also had the chance to interview former Montrealers about their experiences living and working abroad. Here’s the complete list of Canadians Abroad, with more coming soon in the new year:
Rheo’s Charles Migos — August 2
Hybride’s François Lambert — August 22
4. The tech community worked to make the world a better place
This year saw multiple socially conscious startups and initiatives really take off.
Coopérathon worked to rethink social entrepreneurship. On November 9th, Coopérathon wrapped up its intensive three week social entrepreneurship program with a grand finale that saw nearly $100,000 in funding given out alongside an all-paid trip to Plug and Play Accelerator in Silicon Valley and the priceless opportunity for collaboration with large organization clients. The Coopérathon concept was imagined and developed by Desjardins Lab within Desjardins Group and in collaboration with the NPO Hacking Health. CIC also joined the 2017 edition that took place in Lyon, France.
Botler.ai released two timely initiatives this year: it launched an immigration chatbot in the wake of President Trump’s travel ban, and it turned its attention to helping victims of sexual harassment following the slew of sexual harassment allegations that came to light this year.
Technovation Montreal helped create the leaders of tomorrow. The original Technovation Challenge began in the United States in 2009. Since then it has expanded to over 80 countries and more than 10,000 girls have participated. It is now an international technology entrepreneurship and competition to create mobile applications, which aims to foster technology and entrepreneurial abilities among girls aged 10 to 18. The Montreal chapter was founded in 2014.
Code.mtl (run by digital literacy not for profit Kids Code Jeunesse) launched a coding education program in 135 Montreal schools in October, and UpstartED presented Youth2Tech, the city’s first tech innovation conference for high school students.
We caught up with creator Devin Fleenor while he was in town for MUTEK to talk about his project S.E.E.D., and how it’s using AI, art, and academia for art therapy.
And Chic Marie released an AI stylist alongside an initiative to make donating old clothing easier just in time for the holidays.
3. Major funding and acquisition announcements made history
2017 was a year for the record books, with multiple major funding announcements and record-breaking raises.
In February, it was announced that Luxury Retreats had been acquired by Airbnb for somewhere between $200 and $300 million in a combination of cash and stock. The deal with Luxury Retreats is a continuation of Airbnb’s recent trend of pushing into new categories, such as flight-booking and trip planning, ahead of a possible initial public offering this year or next.
Element AI, the Montreal-based artificial intelligence (AI) powerhouse, announced it had raised $137.5 million ($102 million USD) in Series A funding, the largest in history for an AI company.
Lightspeed POS‘s US$166 million Series D valued it at nearly CAD$1 billion, making it close to becoming that rarest of breeds: a tech unicorn, or narwhal in Canada. CEO Dax Dasilva Dasilva also said that he expects this to be the last round of funding before the company goes public, which he expects to happen in about 18-20 months (at time of announcement in October).
Crew co-founder Mikhail Cho announced the sale of his company to Dribbble, a community for designers, illustrators, and other creatives. Mainly, it was so his team can focus on Unsplash, once a spinoff of Crew.
There was a series of good funding news from the bio-pharmaceutical sector. Clementia Pharmaceuticals actually surpassing its projected initial public offering, bringing total proceeds to $174 million. Milestone Pharmaceuticals secured a $68 million Series C to advance their paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) nasal spray. And Repare Therapeutics raised US $68 million for their cancer treatment drugs.
GoodFood, the prepped and packaged food delivery box company, closed a $20 million financing round in the public markets.
And Sharethebus became Bus.com and announced a $6.5 million Series A. Founded in 2015 by Kyle Boulay and cofounder Wolf Kohlberg, Bus.com removes the complexity of renting a bus, coordinating group transportation anywhere in the US and Canada.
2. The city welcomed multiple new AI labs, cementing its position as a global AI hub
Montreal has been well on its way to being recognized as a global leader in AI technologies since 2016 at least. Well, 2017 certainly cemented that claim.
The announcement from Facebook in September that McGill professor Dr. Joelle Pineau would be leading Facebook’s fourth Artificial Intelligence Research Lab (FAIR) (and first research and development investment in Canada) set off a domino effect of similar announcements.
Soon after, Samsung disclosed they’d had a new AI lab at the Université de Montréal up and running since August.
Stradigi followed suit in October, announcing they’d launched Stradigi Labs, an applied research center focused on developing innovative AI solutions in high-growth markets such as medical and healthcare, sports and social platforms and led by an astrophysicist. A week later, Google’s DeepMind opened their second international AI research lab in Montreal, just months after opening their first Canadian lab in Edmonton.
And in November, BMO and RBC invested $4 million into Montreal’s Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), and RBC Borealis AI opened a lab with McGill professor Jackie Cheung acting as advisor.
1. Montreal came together to show it’s a truly one of a kind place to work and live
This was the city’s 375th anniversary. But in addition to all of the planned events, and long past the festivities are done, Montrealers have many reasons to be proud to call this city home.
In 2017, Montreal was named one of the most high-tech cities in the world. The honour was bestowed by the World Economic Forum, which states that in less than 35 years, 2/3 of the world population will be living in urban areas, an additional 2.5 billion people. The World Economic Forum notes that cities that will flourish the most are those that rely on cutting-edge technologies for people to develop new ones.
Ten factors related to technological advancement were chosen, including the number of patents filed per capita, startups, tech venture capitalists, ranking in other innovation datasets, and level of smart phone use. These factors were then weighted and used to rank a list of 85.
Montreal came in at #18, beating out cities like Berlin, Hong Kong, and Copenhagen. The list cites the city’s many job options for programmer and developers, as well as its expertise in wearables and virtual realty (VR). It also mentioned Montreal’s burgeoning startup scene.
This was also the year that Technopolys launched — an ambitious united movement to promote Quebec’s tech sector. The movement will bring together all sectors of the tech industry and work as an advocacy group to raise awareness in the rest of Canada and the world. Like the plans developed by other digital capitals in France and the US, Technopolys aims to generate a sense of collective pride and engagement within the industry, and is being spearheaded by companies, universities, and associations.
The goal is to create a movement embodied by the leaders of the industry that is capable of inspiring a sense of collective pride, attracting the younger generations, and promoting the strengths and significance of the technology sector for Quebec society.
To help raise awareness, the message, designed by the industry, for the industry, will be transmitted by the movement’s five ambassadors: Yoshua Bengio, associate professor and scientific director at IVADO; Isabelle Bettez, co-founder of 8D technologies and member of the board of directors of Motivate; Sylvain Carle, Partner at Real Ventures; Serge Godin, founder and executive chairman of the board of CGI; Louis-Philippe Maurice, CEO of Busbud.
More than any single funding announcement or success story, we should take pride in what we have accomplished collectively as a community. Cheers to an incredible year, and now on to the next one.