Montreal Startup Scene

My focus as an angel investor has been New England companies, but I am thinking less about that 3.5 hour drive to Boston and more about making the 2 hour drive north to Montreal. I visited Anges Quebec for one of their monthly meetings last night and came out excited.

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Whereas most US angel meetings are done in the mornings, often in classrooms or in a lawyer’s spare conference room, populated with lots of grey-haired or no-haired old men, the Anges Quebec meeting was well attended (50 people), with 1/4 being women, with generally a younger but still more cosmopolitan tone to it, reflected by being held in the lushly appointed Board Room of the Royal Bank of Canada. And where beer seems to be the drink of choice at most startup events I’ve attended, this was a red wine crowd.

The companies that presented were mixed, with the best one pricing itself out of most angel’s valuation box, but the highlight was the featured talk given by JS Cournoyer of Real (as in MontREAL) Ventures.   JS and his colleagues essentially are positioning themselves as a cross between Dave McClure’s 500 Startups fund and First Round Capital. But probably with a very supportive provincial government helping to back their investments. To date they have about $45 million, and they plan on taking companies from incubator (think Y-Combinator or TechStars) through seed and following through the winners all the way through to B rounds, with $2.5mm or so available over time to any successful offspring.  They were coming to Anges Quebec looking both for money to fill out their round (they will be doing a rolling close throughout the rest of the year) as well as finding mentors to help nurture the startups they find.

The investment thesis–or at least my read on it–is that Montreal has all of the potential for being a hotbed for the lean, internet companies angels like to fund.

  1. Montreal is an important center for Canadian finance, telecommunications, aerospace, and software industries. Some reports state that as many as a third of the region’s workers are part of the “creative class” – scientists, technology workers, entertainers, artists and designers. Montreal and Quebec have the highest level of tax credit support for developer salaries: For every $1 spent on developers, companies can get up to 65 cents back in cash from the government. And with six universities and twelve junior colleges within a 5 mile radius, Montreal has the highest concentration of post-secondary students of all the major cities in North America.  (Original text here.)

But currently there is no TechStars, Y-Combinator, or MassChallenge type organization other than the earlier StartUp Montreal, founded by the same people that are creating Real Ventures.

The founders of Real Ventures look to fill in that gap, but I’ll need to dig more into the team, their abilities, etc. But from what I heard last night from Jean Sebastien Cournoyer, philosophically we are on the same course.  Sort of like putting TechStars and Foundry Group together, throwing in a little Project11.

Of the seed equivalents I know about in Canada, like Extreme Ventures (Toronto), Bootup (Vancouver), Mantella (Toronto) and WMedia (Vancouver), none are focused on Montreal, with 3.6 million people. There are some Canadian seed funds covering MTL among other cities, with those including iNovia And with two family members living in MTL, I am sure to do some more snooping around.  Anecdotally I have heard that recent legislation streamlined the previously horrific paperwork and withholding on foreign investors. I smell potential opportunity, and will be digging into a little due diligence. Anyone have knowledge of past efforts in Quebec or cross-border issues, let me know.

Meanwhile, I invite you to join me December 8th at “Le Defi des Anges Financiers”–“The Angel Investor Challenge”, where 12 finalists will compete for glory and the attention of investors. More info on the event here.


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