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Montreal is one of the world's top 20 startup cities

"The most important ingredient is the people," says District 3 co-founder Deborah Dysart-Gale
July 30, 2015

Montreal skyline at night

A 2015 ranking of the world’s leading startup cities puts Montreal at number 20 among urban centres that have the right financial, entrepreneurial and creative climate to support the development of exciting new companies.

"With its cultural diversity and high quality of life, Montreal has proven to be a fertile ground for entrepreneurs and innovative tech startups," states the Startup Genome Project, which suggests that the city is home to between 1,800 and 2,600 burgeoning new technology companies.

The 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Report measures each city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem based on its startups’ market reach, ultimate performance and exit value. Also factored in are the quality of talent, availability of venture capital and the levels of experience and mentorship among startup founders.

A large part of Montreal's success in the startup rankings is attributed to its large pool of homegrown, skilled software engineers — many of whom come from Concordia. The study ranked it 13th in talent, "thanks to the attractiveness of the city, combined with four well-known engineering schools that annually educate more than 5,000 computer science graduates."

Deborah Dysart-Gale is chair of the Centre for Engineering in Society and a founding member of District 3, Concordia’s own startup incubator. We asked her for her thoughts on Montreal's new position among the world's best startup cities.

Deborah Dysart-Gale: "Montreal has a great buzz, with a lot of incubators and accelerators, as well as corporations that can help new startups." Deborah Dysart-Gale: "Montreal has a great buzz, with a lot of incubators."
What, in particular, makes Montreal a great startup city?

Deborah Dysart-Gale: Montreal certainly has a great buzz, with a lot of incubators and accelerators, as well as corporations that can help new startups.

District 3 takes a somewhat unique approach, with near-total focus on the entrepreneur and the team, rather than on the product. Individual participants are encouraged to look inside themselves, to realistically assess their skills and interests.

Before they think about the product they want to bring to market, they're encouraged to think first about what they want from the experience of pursuing their startup. They have to also know what their teammates want as well.

That way, even if the startup fails (and the odds are overwhelming that it will), they'll come away having reached some personal goals, and will be ready to perform better on the next startup, and the one after that, and the one after that.

What are the key ingredients to a successful startup ecosystem?

DD-G: The most important ingredient is the people, the entrepreneurs. We know that the vast majority of startups fail, so it's not really about developing businesses. But there are always people who are willing to learn from their failures and try again, changing ideas and changing tactics.

Who are these people, and how can we help them develop? A successful startup ecosystem is simply a place where people can be supported to learn to fail as quickly and usefully as possible.

What could Montreal companies, institutions and government do to move the city up in the ranking?

DD-G: In light of the answers above, it would be unwise to ignore ranking systems! Often, looking outside to see what others are doing blinds us to what we are already doing well, and need to be doing to enhance our strengths.

Our strength at Concordia is to help develop new entrepreneurs so they can go the distance, and face all the obstacles that would otherwise be disheartening, leading to failure of the startup as well as the individual.

That's not to say we shouldn't ignore other groups that are also working to support startups and young entrepreneurs. In his article, Richard Florida talks about "friendly competition and collaboration."

We can look to other cities, institutions, and ideas to see what's new and interesting — if it's excellent and innovative, there's a good chance we're doing something very similar to it already! It's good to share with others in a similar situation, thinking about how we can adapt the best to our situation here at Concordia.

Find out more about Concordia's District 3 Innovation Centre.

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