Montreal’s Cleantech Innovation Ecosystem
- Montreal’s high concentration of universities and research facilities allow for a steady flow of skilled talent.
- Key elements of the cleantech industry from universities to startups all converge in Montreal’s conducive innovation ecosystem, creating a hub for cleantech.
- With strong collaboration between organizations, Montreal’s cleantech sector is set to develop significant innovations in the field.
Innovation is the key to tackling climate change. Investors must ensure that their companies can benefit from an environment that fosters collaboration. Montreal has all the key ingredients for this, being a thriving cleantech hub promising to foster the growth of startups and companies.
What does Cycle Capital do?
Cycle Capital was founded in 2009. Cycle Capital is Canada’s leading cleantech venture capital private investment firm. We manage five funds and have half a billion dollars in assets under management.
We do three things: first, we invest in leading cleantech companies in North America. We also have a Chinese fund where we invest strictly in China. We also founded Cycle Momentum, a cleantech accelerator, and we now have Cycle Central, an innovation zone dedicated to cleantech and more specifically, green chemistry startups.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Montreal’s cleantech ecosystem?
We have a lot of great things in Montreal. The Montreal cleantech ecosystem does not differ a lot from Quebec or Canada’s ecosystem in the sense that there are a lot of startups in various subsectors including green chemistry. There are also a lot of organizations to support them such as incubators and accelerators like Cycle Momentum. We also have a cleantech cluster, Écotech Québec, which was founded about 10 years ago. Cycle Capital actually co-founded Écotech Québec.
There is a lot of collaboration between those organizations. What we are lacking is access to capital to scale as well as access to talent to build strong management teams, specifically qualified or skilled talent in the cleantech ecosystem.
In which segments of Montreal’s cleantech ecosystem do you see the most potential?
Energy and green chemistry are two sectors that are really active in Montreal and Quebec. The challenge to transform the whole petrochemical industry as well as plastic recycling is a big one. We are well-positioned to take advantage of the active and growing green energy and green chemistry sectors in Montreal and Quebec. We are lucky enough to have important employers like Suncor, SUEZ, and other companies in Montreal so we should definitely take advantage of those. Quebec and Canada are also well positioned to play a role in the global hydrogen sector. We have been tracking investment opportunities for 12 years at Cycle and so we know that the pipeline is really active in the subsectors of green energy and green chemistry.
I love hearing about connections between different parts of Canada. You mentioned Suncor, Canada’s largest oil and gas company, investing in Quebec’s cleantech sector. In Quebec, we have Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), which has invested in Alberta. I love telling that story because Canada could be more connected.
We are one of the early investors at NRCan. We have been supporting them for the past 10 years now, so we definitely see the potential for those types of technologies.
It is worth providing a bit of background on NRCan. NRCan is one of the largest cleantech investments in Canada. NRCan is looking for ways to develop a variety of green molecules, thus changing the whole energy profile of the petrochemical industry. It is not a surprise that a lot of energy players such as Suncor have been supporting NRCan for years now.
What competitive advantages of Montreal and Canada’s cleantech ecosystem should foreign investors know about?
Access to talent is not strictly a challenge for Canadian or Montreal-based companies, it is a global challenge. However, we are lucky enough to have great universities in Montreal attracting a big pool of skilled talent, which is an advantage for us.
We have a strategic location near the United States and in North America. There are many European companies that want to expand in North America. We also have competitive costs, competitive salaries, and access to subsidies such as research and development (R&D) tax credits. This is definitely attracting a lot of early-stage companies that need those types of incentives.
We also have low energy costs, depending on the type of technology or company you are in. These are definitely key advantages for Montreal and Quebec as a whole. Finally, Montreal also has a great quality of life. There are other areas in Canada where these companies could locate but they choose Montreal for its great restaurants, parks, and quality of life.
What is the Cycle Central innovation zone?
When I joined Cycle eight years ago, we were already looking around and attending different events in the US and Europe. We were always taking the opportunity to visit hubs and learn about the great ways to foster an environment for innovation and technologies to develop. Bringing together the whole cleantech ecosystem into one location accelerates innovation.
Two years ago, we brought different people together—industrial partners, investors, startups, and even universities such as Concordia, McGill, École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), and Polytechnique Montreal. These universities and players came along and helped us think about what that innovation zone would look like. Currently, we have an exciting project that we are working on.
“There is no better way to accelerate innovation than knowing what startups, scaleups, and industry investors are each looking for.”
We have presented that project to the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, and we hope things work out. What we intend to do is try to accelerate and bring together startups, scaleups, and industrial investors. There is no better way to accelerate innovation than knowing what startups, scaleups, and industry investors are each looking for. This means having daily discussions and working in the same area. There are other innovation zones and hubs in Canada such as the MaRS Discovery District, but what we intend to do is to specifically have a green innovation zone in Montreal.
What excites you about the future of cleantech in Montreal?
The growth of cleantech is not only a matter of capital; it is also about policymaking. Fostering an environment for cleantech to scale means having more than just capital, it requires great policymaking from the municipal, provincial, and federal governments. This is happening not only in Canada but all over the world. We all have these green recovery plans taking shape and that creates a very positive environment for these startups and scaleups to grow. We have been around since 2009 and the early days of cleantech were not as positive as they are today so that is very exciting. We are definitely growing at Cycle as well.
Does the looming threat of climate change give extra meaning to Cycle Capital’s mission?
Absolutely. Finance is a very powerful tool to change things and that is why we chose to use venture capital. We need innovation if we want to reach our targets. Innovation has a big role to play in tackling climate change. We are happy that this topic has become the number one topic on the list, which was not the case in the early days of cleantech.
Clean or green energy is no longer the alternative choice, it is now good business. It is interesting to see clean energies being competitive and sometimes even cheaper than fossil fuels. Sometimes, we choose one type of energy over another just because it is cheaper, but we also have to consider choosing the right thing. Clean or green energy is no longer the alternative choice, it is now good business. It is interesting to see cleantech becoming the right choice for a variety of reasons including from a business perspective, which is very exciting.