Why Montréal Is Winning the AI Race

May 7, 2018 — The Big Picture

For years, Montréal has led the international community in a number of tech domains. The birthplace of Bombardier, Montréal has long been a major aerospace industry hub. It is a center of research for the pharmaceutical industry, and is considered one of the best places in the world for gaming and visual effects, boasting industry giants like Ubisoft and Framestore.

In addition to these strongholds, there’s a growing excitement for an emergent field of practice, one that speaks to where we are headed. The rapid growth of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry in Montréal, largely over the past two years, has seen Montréal emerge as a leader in North America and globally. There are weekly announcements of new companies and projects establishing themselves in the city; a research talent pool that is unmatched elsewhere in the world; pledged government support; and a startup ecosystem that is exploding.

Few, if any cities in the world, can boast to hosting groups from Facebook AI Research, Microsoft Research, Google Brain, Deepmind, Samsung Research, and Thales CortAIx. Moreover, Montréal is home to many of the best research centers in the world, including IVADO, McGill University’s Center for Intelligent Machines and the world-leading Montréal Institute of Learning Algorithms (MILA).

But what some would say is even more exciting, is that Montréal has become the best place in the world to build an artificial intelligence startup. Montréal raised the most venture capital in Canada in the first quarter of 2018, and virtually every day a new round of funding is announced. This avalanche of startup activity started just under two years ago, when Element AI raised the largest Series A ever for an AI startup. Automat closely followed with their series A, and Lyrebird raised money from some of the most known venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. More recently, mnubo, Algolux and C2RO have all completed funding rounds. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Working alongside these new startups, right here in Montréal, are some of the best accelerators for AI companies in the world. Founderfuel is the longest running tech accelerator in Canada and considered by many the catalyst for the entrepreneurship movement across the country. Montréal is also home to the Creative Destruction Lab, a new player on the scene, but one that has some of the brightest minds in the world on their mentor roster. Where else can you get guidance from Patrick Pichette, the former Chief Financial Officer of Google? Another leading accelerator, TandemLaunch, develops some of the best tech startups in the world by seed funding science-based startups and building business teams around them. The success of their model is evident by the secured follow-on funding raised by nearly all their graduates (including the aforementioned Algolux and C2RO). And last but not least, when Techstars – arguably the best accelerator in the world – chooses your city to launch its first AI-focused accelerator, it’s safe to say that Montréal is the best place to launch an AI startup.

One factor though, above all others, has put Montréal in the enviable position of AI world leader—the quality and commitment of professors in the academic ecosystem. You can read articles about Yoshua Bengio, one of the godfathers of deep learning; Joelle Pineau and Donna Precup, world renowned professors in reinforcement learning at the prestigious McGill University; Hugo Larochelle, who leads the Google Brain lab in Montréal after being an integral part of Twitter Cortex; and countless other professors.

But what separates this industry and these professors from other cities? An openness and willingness to work together. No matter their affiliation, these researchers are choosing collaboration over competition, working together to promote and grow the Montréal AI community. They’ve shot videos together, co-hosted events together, and even raised more than $100,000 for charity together. In few other industries will you find the level of collaboration and dedication to a city as you do from this group of individuals. This is Montréal’s unfair advantage and why Montréal will continue to be a world leader in artificial intelligence.

With Montréal’s exploding startup ecosystem, the establishment of AI giants in the city, and the unique quality and collaboration of professors and industry leaders, Montréal is in the pole position of the AI race. A position that won’t be relinquished anytime soon.

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