By Warren Seuradge
In light of the 2008 financial crisis, fostering entrepreneurship has increasingly moved toward the forefront of economic development and city planning. Beyond acting as an important driver of innovation, employment, and productivity growth, entrepreneurship has also been hailed by some as filling the void between wages and living standards. But when we turn to examples of spontaneous entrepreneurial successes in Silicon Valley, is there a specific set of conditions under which these start-ups thrive and attract venture capital? What exactly is it about the environment that predestines such ventures to success?
While the answer is not as clear-cut as one would hope, there is compelling evidence that an ecosystem of enabling policies, leadership, financing, human capital, and culture ought to exist for entrepreneurs and start-ups to prosper. Even though these elements are intrinsic to every entrepreneurial ecosystem, the idiosyncratic interactions of available talent, financing and government policies render every district unique. Herein lies another layer of entrepreneurial complexity that inhibits the mass-replication of Silicon Valley to other cities and regions.
Recognizing the nuances of ecosystems such as the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, 22@Barcelona, the Boston Innovation District, and the Manchester Corridor in the United Kingdom, Montreal has recently joined the international ranks of innovation-centric cities with the Quartier de l’innovation (QI). Spanning the South-West boroughs of Montreal, the QI was founded by École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) and McGill University to strengthen the position of Montreal and Quebec on the international innovation and entrepreneurship scene.
At the nexus of the urban, sociocultural, industrial, research and education pillars of the QI, this budding entrepreneurial ecosystem acts as a unifying force and catalyst for innovation across private sector actors, entrepreneurs, students, faculty, and artists in the area. Facilitating the cross-pollination of ideas within the district, entrepreneurs can support their ventures in their early stages through incubators such as the Centre de l’entrepreneurship technoloqique (Centech) and Centre d’entreprises et d’innovation de Montréal (CEIM). While the CEIM largely offers customized management support and related services for start-ups in information technology, new media, life sciences, clean and industrial technologies, Centech focuses its incubator services toward ventures in the realm of manufacturing technology. Entrepreneurs can also receive specialized support in the form of training, rapid prototyping with échoFab, strategic partnerships through diverse organizations like BioFuelNet, McGill HPC or the QI Not-for-Profit organization. For example, SchedulingDirect, an interactive, employee scheduling platform for businesses in the retail, food, and hospitality industries, was born out of McGill’s Dobson Cup Start-Up Competition and among the first of this community to use the CEIM facilities.
“It was useful to speak with different mentors at the CEIM since they had specific expertise on different aspects of our business and were able to give actionable insights,” Brian Luong, SchedulingDirect co-founder and McGill alumnus, said in an email. “We encourage all aspiring entrepreneurs from the McGill community to consider CEIM and all of its resources to help grow their ventures.”
Underpinning the efforts to create a world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem in the cultural hotbed of Montréal, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on June 20 that the CEIM has been preselected for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program, or the CAIP, for its Innovation Québec Project. With the financial support of the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), the Innovation Québec project aims to develop and implement a platform to strengthen industrial cooperation and the creation of spin-off companies in partnership with McGill. Through this agreement, the two organizations will combine efforts and build synergies in a concerted attempt to enhance entrepreneurship and economic development of Quebec and Canada.
Furthermore, this partnership will provide McGill student and faculty entrepreneurs with access to an array of supports, expertise, and resources to incubate and grow their start-ups. In particular, McGill innovators are eligible to receive coaching and mentorship for strategic planning, raising capital, structuring legal and financial agreements, developing intellectual property, and initiating domestic and international sales throughout all stages of the commercialization process. The CEIM also boasts a spacious 57,000 square foot incubator facility in the heart of the Quartier de l’innovation, which is equipped with state-of-the-art group meeting, conference, and networking spaces. This partnership will open the door to McGill students who wish to dedicate their energy and talent to innovative and small and medium enterprises whilst experiencing the challenging world of innovation-driven entrepreneurship.
The QI is currently in its second year of mobilizing a creative and engaged community around innovation, as it moves towards a full-fledged ecosystem of self-regulating relationships in the public, private, and not-for-profit domains. To this end, McGill students with an entrepreneurial spirit, as characterized by selling textbooks in the beginning of the semester or providing freelance services to the community, are encouraged to look beyond Roddick Gates to the QI’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. By marrying their rigorous educational backgrounds with an entrepreneurial skillset of openness, resilience, and adaptability, McGill students and faculty are poised to transform the innovation landscape of Montréal, Québec, and Canada. To learn more, go here and here.