Launching Businesses in Montreal
- With plenty of support and funds available in Montreal, startups can more easily get their ideas off the ground.
- In Montreal and Quebec, the government is heavily involved in the cleantech space, giving startups the opportunity to test ideas and prototype products.
- Lower operating costs in Quebec and strong support allows entrepreneurs in the city to take more risks and step outside of their comfort zones.
The cleantech industry has a bright future in Montreal, with strong support systems and no shortage of good talent. For its full potential to be reached, companies and consumers alike have to begin adopting technological solutions in full, allowing for stronger innovation and competition.
What does O’land Stations do and what does it strive to achieve?
I am a marine biologist by training but have spent three years as an entrepreneur. This driving force of my passion for the oceans and the waste I saw out at sea is what really pushed me to create O’land.
Our vision is to create a world without single-use plastic waste. It pains me to see single-use plastics in our environments, livelihoods, waterways, and bodies. We aim to do this by bringing value back to infrastructure that has been forgotten. What is the infrastructure that has been forgotten? Refill stations or water stations. They are now alternatives to single-use plastics. I originally started with water refill stations as the main pane for replacing single-use plastic bottles in events. However, 2020 saw the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we wanted to remain relevant and create another solution so we expanded to include handwashing stations. That helps cut back on sanitizer bottles and all the other things that are temporary fixes during pandemic times.
What made you want to set up your business in Montreal?
I was working in California at the time that I thought of this idea. I thought of setting up in San Diego where I was based but I had a mentor who worked for the Canadian government who reminded me that Canada provides extremely good support for launching your company. Furthermore, Canada has lower operating costs, less competition, and nothing preventing you from bringing your markets back out west.
“Montreal is the number one city in North America for free outdoor festivals, which was perfect for my first target market.”
I moved back and realized how good of a quality of life we have in Montreal. We have lower expenses compared to California and greater proximity to nature. My company also benefited because Montreal is the number one city in North America for free outdoor festivals, which was perfect for my first target market. Montreal is really great for launching anything in the events space. Furthermore, we have access to steel, which is what my products are made of, and we have cleaner energy like hydro. Those are the advantages of starting in Montreal. Montreal is also really close to both Europe and the US, but with you living in Canada with a lot of good government policies and protections.
What is the business ecosystem in Montreal like and are there supports for cleantech startups?
There are lots of supports for cleantech. Ecofuel has an incubator and accelerator. I went through a couple of selection processes for Montreal-based startup companies with portfolios. There is Cycle Capital Management; I had an introduction there. I have had a mentor from Divergent Capital, an investment firm for green and clean technologies. I also had introductions to Anges Quebec because they have lots of interest in supporting environmental missions and other projects.
I also want to mention the AquaHacking network, which is a water entrepreneur hub. In 2019, I won the Great Lakes Challenge. They are amazing at connecting us with government and municipal support. They continue to reach out to their alumni. They have gone across Canada with lots of solutions that are being proposed by really small startups, a lot of which are led by university students. I was one of the older ones in my early 30s.
How would you describe Montreal’s business community?
I feel supported by the early-stage incubation systems. Those are really great and there are diverse amounts of them. I already mentioned Ecofuel, but there is also Centech, which is out of École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), the District 3 Innovation Center (D3) program at Concordia University, and Esplanade, where I was an entrepreneur-in-residence. They provide free office space, mentorship, and they helped me get great grants from Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation. I was also a member of Écotech Québec. They have a yearly membership where you can be a part of many events, including online events, to get connected to other people and find staff.
What is Montreal’s ability to attract foreign investors to the clean or green sector?
We definitely have the ability to attract international people. We need more of them. I was part of an incubation program for early-stage pre-seed funding called Founder Institute. It is a five-month program that I highly encourage for any entrepreneur out there as it really validates your business plan. What I learned there is that Montreal is hungry for international investors. Canadian investors are there but they play it safer and are slower to act compared to the big risk-takers in the US.
“In Montreal, businesses have so much space for prototyping and piloting with the government,”
In Montreal, businesses have so much space for prototyping and piloting with the government, which is a validation on its own. I have been lucky to get a little provincial and federal support already. This adds to your credibility. If governments are trusting in you and hoping you grow, all you need is an extra push to really scale quickly. The AquaHacking website has a list of recipients and alumni. This is a big teaser for investors to come check Montreal out and look at what these young people are doing.
It is such a diverse melting pot. It is a small city and you can get from A to Z in the Metro or go downtown for a quick meeting very easily. It is really easy to mingle in Montreal, and that really helps businesses. All the big conferences such as C2 Montréal are great places to attract international talent. I find a lot of Americans at these conferences who would love to set up shop here. These types of events really help Montreal shine.
How do entrepreneurs from Montreal compare to entrepreneurs from the rest of Canada?
We are multilingual and that is a really big advantage. Entrepreneurs from Montreal can tap into European markets thanks to our multilingualism, making the city a great place to test your solutions or business models. Last year, I was part of MT Lab, a tourism, culture, and entertainment incubator, and lots of opportunities arose.
“Entrepreneurs in Montreal are more willing to take risks than entrepreneurs in other places where they may go broke if they do not make the right decisions.”
Multilingualism is an advantage for sure, as well as the fact that we have a really good quality of life and lower costs for expenses and overheads. Entrepreneurs in Montreal are more willing to take risks than entrepreneurs in other places where they may go broke if they do not make the right decisions. It is difficult to keep up $2,000 or $3,000 a month for rent when you are launching your company, especially if you have a family.
What is the future for Montreal and Canada in the cleantech and green technologies sector?
We are off to a very good start. Quebec was a leader in clean energy and cleantech adoption. We still need to improve on customer adoption of the technologies. Fonds Écoleader is a provincial government support program that incentivizes companies to adopt technologies. For example, a company can rent products from O’land and get a third-party auditor to check our credibility. I have been pushing for this for two years. Sometimes, clients want to try my products but they do not have the budget. I tell them to use Fonds Écoleader as it will pay you to use my products. There is quite a bit of money involved, around $18.5 million that they have committed to support in this field.
“We need to have a more multifaceted approach to address the adoption of cleantech and social innovation, and not look at them as individual things.”On its own, tech will not solve our problems if it is not adopted by companies or consumers. We need to have a more multifaceted approach to address the adoption of cleantech and social innovation, and not look at them as individual things.