State of the Canadian startup ecosystem, June 2016 Edition

Via Montréal, A MarI Usque Ad Mare, and everything in between.

Events that happen on a regular schedule in Montréal, like Startup Festival and the FounderFuel Demo Day, have been marking the ebb and flow of our startup ecosystem for many years. Specific dates on the calendar bring a sense of urgency but also a comforting cadence. Most accelerators today are cohort based and time bound for a good reason. I personally used to think that time-boxing was a bug of the system, but it is really a fantastic feature. After five years of mentoring and two years of general management at FounderFuel, 9 cohorts and 73 startups, I can really appreciate how time is of the essence. The deadline is a catalyst. We ask Founders in our selection interviews: “What is your ambitious goal for the next 3 months? What will you be proud to boast about at the next Demo Day?”.

You will get a chance to hear the founders of our latest cohort answer this question live on stage for Demo Day, July 12th at 4:30pm, at the Olympia Theater. Putting together this showcase, working relentlessly with founders to help them develop their narrative, surely is one of the best part of what I do at FounderFuel. A well articulated vision becomes the blueprint of a solid business. A clear demonstration of potential multiplied by momentum is truly inspiring, for founders, investors and everyone in the startup community.

We want to believe. We have high hopes. The FounderFuel Demo Day ritual puts a shining light, literally, on some of the most promising entrepreneurs in Canada. Ask any entrepreneur that has been on stage at an accelerator demo day, they will all tell the same tale: it is a truly amazing moment. Often a relief too. Being a startup founder is hard. Committing to a program full time, for 13 weeks, adds a lot of stress in the rollercoaster of startup life. Ups and downs, weekly, sometimes daily.

Identity crisis, pivots, change in go to market strategy, customer development and validation, traction or the lack of, co-founder issues. Reframing, rethinking, positioning, growing or adjusting your team. Par for the course, at any startup, and amplified by the pressure cooker we call an accelerator. We accelerate everything, including crisis. A rite of passage. Exploration, discovery, model building, frameworking. In the midst of a lot of thinking and a lot of doing, clarity might emerge. It must. The steamroller of time never goes back, the calendar only moves forward.

We have been at this for 5 years now. Three distinct projects, loosely coupled but complementary: a seed fund, an accelerator, a community hub. Those 5 years might seem like a long long time in the fast paced innovation environment we live in. It also seems like we just started. At FounderFuel, we have been evolving the program, the process and the team constantly. There is a common thread: founders and teams matter the most. Resilience, curiosity, humility and persistence. As Biz Stone once famously said: “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success” .

As we have been working with hundreds of founders, mentors and investors, we now have a much better understanding (and appreciation) of the required ingredients for a great cocktail. The right people in your networks, the right environment to think and work, the right program and events to meet and learn…

We have distilled the essence of what we now refer to as “the FounderFuel way”. We have been asking three simple, but hopefully profound questions: Why should people care? Why should people believe? Why should people join? Hopefully, after spending weeks at FounderFuel every startup founder can answer these questions. At FounderFuel and Real Ventures, we do reflect on these questions ourselves as well..

Those simple questions need to be asked at a broader level, from an ecosystem perspective. From a macro-economic point of view, 5 years is a short period of time. We are certainly from the Brad Feld school of thought on this topic. Startup Ecosystems need a  20 years horizon. A couple hundred founders and 6 dozens startups from one accelerator in one city does not an ecosystem make. But our community is growing like crazy. Hundreds of startups, dozens of incubators and accelerators, thousands of events, from coast to coast. We are 10 years in that 20 years period.

Three really encouraging trends have emerged

Startup Culture is now well established in Montréal and in Canada. From universities, to media, to local government speeches, startups are now seen (rightly) as a key driver for economic development and social progress. Contrast the current situation to 2006.

Successful startups are raising good Series A, B and C, attracting smart and senior talent, becoming local anchors, making international deals, reaching impressive sales numbers. Founders are setting the bar real high and delivering results. Inspiration now comes from your neighbourhood entrepreneur as much as from Silicon Valley. And that founder in Mile-End or West Queen West is easier to book for a coffee then that guy in the Mission district. They might have Zuckerberg and @jack, but we have Lütke and @julien.

In terms of founders, startups, investors and organisations supporting startups, we are progressing from “a few” to “many”. With growth also comes coordination and collaboration, this is for me a key driver for the next phase too. We are moving up from single organisations driving growth to network and associations being formed, established and efficient.

We do have some challenges in front of us for the next 5 years

We need to continue making “The New Economy” into “The Economy (period)”. We need to actively create more intersections where the biggest and best large Canadian companies meet with amazing startups. We need to inspire large corporation looking for innovation to seek startup culture and process (think lean). We need an early adopter program for private corporations and public organisations to buy from local startups.

We need more small startups becoming large companies. Ecosystems need anchor tenants, yes sometimes from abroad, but more importantly from your own backyard. We need more exits and IPOs. More exits begets more angels. More really smart early money from entrepreneurs, engineers, designers and sales maven creates a much better environment for first time founders.

We need more support from every level of government. Municipal, provincial, federal. More support sometimes means more money. It can also mean easier processes, adapting regulations to new business realities, more support for a type of business born of the knowledge economy and not from natural resources or manufacturing. 21st century wealth comes from brains not trains.


I hope you all have a chance to join us for FounderFuel Demo Day July 12th. I am really proud of our diverse cohort, 6 startups, from BC to NB, from TO to OT, from Montréalers to Eastern Townshippers. From AgTech to EdTech, from Communications to Customer Experience, from Scientists to Social Causes. They really do represent the current state of our ecosystem(s) in Canada. Smart, driven, passionate and aware of the fantastic challenge they have embarked: building a successful tech company from scratch. It takes a village to raise a startup, we have to work as a network.

We will be proudly kicking off the startup festival week. From what I have been hearing recently, it is going to be an EPIC week. Planes, trains and buses from everywhere are coming to Montréal. Special events for founders, investors and accelerators on July 13th. 2 days of unforgettable and unconventional on July 14 and 15th. We will have a chance to get most of the Montreal+Startups and Startup North communities in the same meetups, parties, heated discussions and good times. It will also be your last chance to participate in the Montreal Startup Ecosystem Report and be counted (and represented).

It will be a time to tell our stories of good and bad luck, of perseverance and failure, of hopes and dreams. It will be a time to reflect on what we have accomplished, to roll up our sleeves thinking about all we still have to do, to pause for a moment and realize that we are living in amazing times, that our destiny is in our own hands, and that success is often mostly a matter of execution. We will think what we say, say what we think, and do as we say.

Bonus link: The Periodic Table of Tech in Canada published on CB Insights.

Also published on Medium.

Sylvain Carle
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