The year 2016 was huge for Montreal’s tech community. We’re proud to say our work marked the first time a news outlet directly invested in reporting exclusively on our community. Well, here it is: Montreal’s top 10 tech news stories. – J.C
The triumphs and tribulations of this community were uplifting this year. Here’s our snapshot of 2016:
10. Diversity makes its mark in Montreal tech
This year saw encouraging efforts to advance diversity in the Montreal tech scene.
In October, Naoufel Testaouni, a 33-year-old sales lead at a Montreal tech startup called Local Logic, created the first tech meetup in Montreal dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, called Queer Tech MTL. As of this writing, there are already 338 members, they’ve already held two meetups, and there is an upcoming event on January 18th called “Creating the Authentic Self at Work”.
Meanwhile San Francisco’s Lesbians Who Tech, a “community of queer women in or around tech (and the people who love them),” opened a new chapter in Montreal; the organization’s uniquely bilingual chapter held its first ever happy hour event this October, with 40 people in attendance.
Arielle Beaudin and Stephane Atanga cofounded the LORI hub coworking space for women entrepreneurs, a beautiful new space on Saint-Ambroise street in St-Henri. After meeting and discovering their common interest, the two cofounders created LORI.biz, an online platform that encourages women to choose entrepreneurship as a career path and supports those who want to launch a business.
9. A significant amount of new funding sources hit Montreal and Canada
New funding sources established in 2016 were impressive in both their size and scope.
The year kicked off in January when iNovia Capital raised a new fund worth $175 million.
As winter started the melt away in Match, XPND Capital closed on a $75 million fund to invest in sustainable and electric transport. It’s first two orders of work were investments in Teo Taxo, an all-electric taxi service, and Lion Bus, a maker of electric school buses.
Two weeks later, fund-of-funds giant Teralys Capital closed a new $375 million fund. The fund was created under the Government of Canada’s Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP) in collaboration with the Government of Québec.
In May Novacap closed its new fund at $470 million, marking the largest partnership in the firm’s history. It was more than 10 per cent higher than the firm’s original goal of $425 million.
A few weeks after Novacap, TandemLaunch, a Montreal-based company creator and incubator, announced the initial close of its third fund at $12 million. BDC Capital led the round, contributing $4 million to the new fund. By the end of the summer, TandemLaunch officially closed its Venture II fund Tuesday at $15 million.
In June, the City of Montreal’s new $100 million mega fund, Capital Intelligent Mtl, told companies that it was “ready to do business.” Led by Quebecor, the new private fund will look to fund startups addressing the smart city.
Startupfest doubled the value of its investment price to $200,000 ahead of its July event, while Cycle Capital, a small investment firm focused on funding cleantech ventures, made its mark in Montreal over the summer. It invested in several Montreal startups including Green Mantra, Inocucor, Laboratoire M2 and more. As well, it funded a handful of seed-stage companies through the Ecofuel accelerator program.
Also in July, Ben Yoskovitz and Marcus Daniels announced their intention to have a presence in Montreal with the creation of Highline Beta.
That same month we wrote about former Dragons’ Den investor Bruce Croxon‘s new fund for Canadian startups worth $40 million. Croxon told Matthieu Charest of Les Affaires that Round 13 will be looking to invest in companies within Quebec, “probably one of the most exciting places in the country.”
In September, the Universite de Montreal, Polytechnique Montreal and HEC Montreal received over $213 million for three research projects dedicated to artificial intelligence and big data, medical technologies and neuroinformatics as part of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.
Frank + Oak, the hip online fashion store that counts 2.5 million people as online shoppers, announced in late October a new fund aimed at giving at least four $10,000 grants to Canadian and American startups several times per year.
In an effort to support innovative Canadian entrepreneurs leading the way in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, BDC Capital launched a $135 million clean tech fund in late November.
And finally in December, in yet another nod to how Montreal is paving the way in AI leadership, Microsoft Ventures officially launched, making its first bet on Montreal’s Element.ai.
8. Montreal startups make international mark
While Montreal is home to its own well-respected accelerator programs, several local startups participated in some of the world’s best programs this year.
In February, Sharethebus announced their participation in Y Combinator one year after completing the FounderFuel program in Montreal. A week later, Hykso, who completed the Founder Institute program, also announced their acceptance to Y Combinator.
This was followed up by the announcement in March that Heddoko and Navut were both heading to Techstars Boston for the Spring 2016 cohort.
Notetracks was the lone Canadian startup accepted to Project Music at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center in Music City, Tennessee.
In May, PACTA‘s Charlotte Rydlund pitched the judges at the Google Demo Day 2016 in Mountain View, California, representing Montreal’s Notman House. PACTA‘s service turns contract management into a “smart” exercise.
Also in May, Datacratic and SportlogiQ made it into 48Hrs in the Valley, C100’s signature program. Meanwhile, Salima Visram and her innovative Soular Backpack turned heads at the Oxford Africa Conference. Soular Backpack won just over $3,800 after being awarded the Innovation Prize at the conference.
In June, Montreal startup Makerbloks was named to Techstars Retail’s inaugural cohort with a toy that teaches 6 to 10 year-olds how to build tech hardware using lego-like blocks. The accelerator, launched in partnership with Target, saw startups spend 12 weeks at Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis beginning June 20.
In October, four Montrealers were named to Shopify’s Partner Accelerator, which selects Canadian and American entrepreneurs working on Shopify-related challenges and gives them office space and mentorship: they were Deni Guerrera, Elyes Ben Mrad, Raff Paquin and Marek Zaluski.
7. Groove gets acquired by Microsoft
This one really resonated with our readers. The trio at Groove are simply three well-liked, nice people.
In February, Tri Nguyen, Bruno Sylvain and Eduard Lucic announced that they had been acquired by Microsoft. Groove is a music service that powers music recommendations and generates personalized playlists using machine-learning.
The acquisition came after four years of hard work for the Montrealers. Their startup had completed the FounderFuel program in May, 2013.
6. Montreal named intelligent community of the year
“Our jury believed that Montreal played the innovation game at the highest possible level,” said ICF cofounder Lou Zacharilla. “The City has found perhaps the strongest link and example of how to go from the revolution of technology to the new Renaissance that we believe cities can enter. Montreal never strayed far from the DNA that gave the world Cirque de Soleil and a powerful games industry. It has continued to invest in innovative urban statements such as the Quartier des Spectacles, where broadband and ICT, in our view, play the proper role in enabling the economic and human expression of culture.”
This was followed up by a Reuters report in November in which Montreal rose five places to take over the 11th strongest venture capital city spot in North America. According to the report, $736 million was invested within Montreal compared to $645 million in Toronto, officially putting Montreal at the number one spot for Canada.
5. Montreal companies raise big rounds
It seemed like so many startups raised huge rounds of venture capital this year to power their businesses.
Back in February, Blockstream raised $55 million in Series A funding bringing their total funding to $76 million over two rounds. Noted Montreal tech godfather Austin Hill was later ousted as Blockstream’s CEO amid a front office shake-up.
In October, the Fonds de solidarité FTQ, CTI Life Sciences Fund and the Canadian affiliate of French pharmaceutical company Servier invested $21 million to help launch Ilkos Therapeutics.
4. Dropout founders flourish in Montreal – and influence a younger crop
Do CEOs and entrepreneurs have to go to university to develop into the visionary tech leaders they become? In June we reported on several fascinating youngsters leading highly-publicized startups. But they had one thing in common: none had graduated from university.
Retinad CTO Anthony Guay achieved more than the average 19-year-old before he dropped out of Computer Engineering at McGill to start his first (profitable) company.
“When I got into university I was mesmerized about how I was not learning what I expected to learn,” Guay, 23, told MTLinTECH. “I lost interest in school, not only because my business was going well but because I was learning by myself.”
Rémi Richard had a similar experience. He founded Chronometriq, a startup developing software for hospitals and clinics that reduces wait-times for patients.
“I was overwhelmed with Chronometriq and I was losing time working on fake complaint letter assignments for professors,” Richard said. “It got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, I really don’t have time for that.’”
Perhaps a future Peter Thiel fellow could be Antony Diaz. He founded Uvolt, a startup creating a bracelet that harvests thermal, kinetic and solar energy. The energy stored by the bracelet can be used at anytime to charge a mobile device. Diaz is the youngest cofounder at Concordia University’s District 3 centre, and started Uvolt when he was still in high school.
He was named the young scientific innovator of Quebec in 2015 and received the eco-energetic prize from Hyrdo-Quebec. Uvolt recently won $20,000 after winning a business contest run by Quebecor media.
3. Montreal’s list of awe-inspiring coworking spaces blows up
One of our favourite projects this year was profiling every legitimate coworking space in Montreal.
MTLinTECH anticipated that the amount of coworking spaces rose from just a handful a few years ago to around 25 in 2016. Clearly the concept increasingly resonated with people. Our series was called The Coworker.
Here’s every coworking space we profiled over four months:
Old loft apartment makes for a homey coworking space – September 21
Le Salon 1861 blends history with social impact – September 13
La Gare positions itself in the heart of the action – September 6
Should I stay or should I go? – August 30
Petite Nuwrk has grand visions – August 16
Esplanade creates a familial atmosphere – August 2
Le 402 is small but the price is nice – July 26
2. Unique ideas that bettered the world – Cricket powder, Soular backpacks and VR in hospital beds
One of the thing we love about our city is the pure creativity its entrepreneurs seem to possess. Montreal has long been known as a creative hub in Canada, unique from other cities. It seems to rub off on the tech thinkers.
One of our favourite stories this year was about cricket powder, and two entrepreneurs leading companies that both use the sustainable food source for tasty treats.
William Walcker, the founder of Naak energy bars for thiathletes and long-distance runners, and Phillipe Poirier, cofounder of Bug Bites treats for dogs (Hexa Foods), both use cricket powder as the main ingredient for their foods.
Cricket powder is one of the most sustainable forms of protein. Sustainability remains a huge issue as experts around the world furiously warn the world’s growing population about future food production woes. Crickets, say these two entrepreneurs, could be a missing link.
Walcker went on to crowdfund his product in September.
Perhaps the most inspiring of all news stories we chased was Salima Visram’s Soular Backpack. We profiled the McGill student in our Inspiring Founders series in March. The backpack allows kids in rural areas to leverage the power of the sun on their long walks to and from school every day. It takes an hour to charge in sun light, and provides up to five hours of light for children to study at night. This is important given that 1.2 billion people in the world are without electricity.
In May Visram and Soular backpack won the innovation prize at the Oxford Africa Conference. Soular Backpack won just over $3,800 after being awarded the Innovation Prize at the conference, which focuses on Governance, Youth Leadership, and Business in Africa.
Finally, we were inspired by the work the OSMOS Academy and its work through the VR Passport program for sick children at hospitals. Osmos Academy is an innovative and diverse community of learners and leaders in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).
VR Passport was their first campaign aiming to create social impact. It involves bringing virtual reality experiences to children in the hospital and letting them stamp printed passports with each virtual destination they visit.
One girl asks to visit Istanbul and a volunteer quickly removes a phone from her viewer, taps on the screen, and slides it back into place. Moments later, the girl is swivelling her head from left to right, a huge smile on her face. A boy with the Spiderman viewer tests out a horror game, alternately shrieking and laughing as another volunteer swivels him in a circle. It was the culmination of a month’s worth of learning, programming, and designing for VR Passport, Osmos Academy’s virtual reality and 3D game development for a social purpose.
1. Montreal establishes itself as a global AI hub
Artificial intelligence (AI) was all the craze in 2016 and Montreal firmly established itself as a global leader. That’s partly because the city long had impressive roots that went back to the 1980s.
But the city experienced a renaissance of sorts this year.
Things really started to heat up in early September when the federal government dolled out three significant grants to the Université de Montreal, Polytechnique Montreal and HEC Montreal. Research teams from the schools received $213,187,000 for projects dedicated to artificial intelligence and big data, medical technologies and neuroinformatics.
$93 million of the funding went towards the school’s artificial intelligence lab, headed up by AI and Machine Learning posterboy Yoshua Bengio.
“Artificial intelligence and operational research are expanding at lightning speed,” said Dr. Guy Breton at the time, Universite de Montreal’s rector
Bengio wasn’t finished in the news. In late October, Jean-François Gagné, Nicolas Chapados and Bengio founded a new incubation-style “AI startup factory” in an attempt to retain the city’s AI talent. Element AI will partner up with larger corporations and veteran researchers in the city to enable local entrepreneurs to build products.
From there the money came pouring in from some of the world’s most notable tech giants. Google poured $4.5 million over three years to support Bengio’s Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA).
Then on December 12, Microsoft Venures announced it had created its own venture capital fund devoted to AI startups. Their first investment: none other than Element.AI. Element will now hire 40 local workers by the end of February.
Montreal has come a long way as an AI research hub. Now it looks like the city is finally transitioning to producing meaningful AI products as well.