Silicon Island: Montreal’s High-Tech Community

Montreal Harbour.

I fell in love with Montreal in my late teens. It’s quite unlike most cities in North America — you can practically feel the place’s history, and everything from its architecture to the “feel” of its streets just seems different. It’s like having a little bit of Europe, but closer by and cheaper to get to. If you’re from North America and looking for a different vacation destination and on a budget, I recommend Montreal.

Today’s Montreal Gazette features an article titled Silicon Island?, which takes a look at their high-tech community’s grassroots movement:

Inspired by the collaborative nature of the Internet, local geeks with bright ideas started meeting at informal, community-organized events called BarCamps. The global movement that began in the Silicon Valley was the grassroots retort to stuffy, invitation-only tech conferences. In a BarCamp, computer whizzes show the first drafts of their garage projects to anyone who will listen.

This type of networking results in lasting connections that can pay off. Now when [George Favvas of Montreal-based] needs someone with a particular skill, he puts the word out on his blog, his Facebook profile or on his LinkedIn page, a social network for business contacts. Other bloggers write about it. Someone who knows just the guy gets wind of it, and Favvas has a candidate in a few hours.

This way of doing things has been so fruitful that it’s being seen as a model for other sectors of the technology industry, like telecommunications and life sciences.

“The young entrepreneurs today are different from the IT entrepreneurs of the ’80s and ’90s,” said René Barsalo, the director of strategy and liaison for the Society for Arts and Technology, which has become the preferred venue for local tech gatherings.

“They are very good at organizing themselves. … It’s sad to see more established companies not seeing this as a core of business,” he said.

There’s also a gathering called YULbiz, a monthly get-together for local business bloggers (YUL is the airport code for Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau airport). Montreal StartUp encourages successful entrepreneurs to become angel investors. Guy Kawasaki’s Garage Technology Ventures has a branch office in Montreal.

Montreal metro map
Map of Montreal’s subway.

As with Toronto, the chicken-and-egg problem also plagued Montreal. As the article puts it: “Do risk-takers attract smart money, or does the availability of money encourage risk-takers? Ideally, both factors are at work, in a mutually reaffirming symbiosis.” The seed money is now coming in, and things are looking up:

With its pool of tech talent, the emergence of seed money, and a budding network of mentors, “Montreal has the right mix of elements and we’ll see it really flourish next year,” [Austin Hill] said.

The next step is to get people from different tech and business sectors talking to each other. René Barsalo, the director of strategy and liaison for the Society for Arts and Technology (“the preferred venue for local tech gatherings”) says that in his ideal world, a presentation by a 3D animator would have engineers, musicians, medical technicians and furniture designers in the audience.

The article closes with a line that people in the Toronto tech community will find familiar: “The grassroots is moving up quite nicely, but a top-down movement isn’t happening at all.”

[This article was also posted on Global Nerdy.]

2 replies on “Silicon Island: Montreal’s High-Tech Community”

Leave a Reply