Why I chose Montreal for my tech startup location

15 September 21

I chose Montreal as the place where I wanted to live and grow my company. So many reasons went into this decision and although Montreal is not for everyone, I do think it is the best place in Canada to launch a tech startup.

First I’ll share my story so you can see how my decision making evolved in choosing Montreal as my new home.

I’m from Toronto and have lived in many parts of the city over the years. Toronto is an exciting place as the city is growing and evolving very fast. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, Toronto’s real estate has exploded like there was no crisis at all. Construction went into overdrive. If you’ve been away from Toronto in the past 10 years, you might not recognize a lot of it today.

I think Toronto is a good and bad place for a tech startup so this really comes down to pros, cons and your preferences.

The pros

  • Toronto has tech talent galore
  • Networking with anyone and everyone
  • Reputation for cryptocurrency and blockchain

The cons

  • Becoming Canada’s most unaffordable cities
  • No real plan to address traffic and transit issues
  • Talent leaving the city

If your tech startup is focused on cryptocurrency or blockchain tech, then Toronto is possibly the best place to be for your startup. The founders of Ethereum were all from Toronto and that spinoff has just influenced the city. Toronto is unofficially the blockchain and cryptocurrency city of the world.

The cons are mostly why I decided to leave the city a good year before Covid-19 hit. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford Toronto but I’d hate to hire talented people only to see them leave. This thinking was before remote working became what it is today thanks to coronavirus.

I’ve read a lot of articles about people leaving Toronto and being happier. To compound that, I watched first hand Toronto’s transit system seemingly deteriorate where trips anywhere in the city take longer. I tried moving downtown to be near my office but despite getting closer, transit gridlock would still make it 1 hour transit each way.

I think Toronto is becoming like a New York city which is a good and bad thing. Bad if you look at the cost of commercial real estate. NYC isn’t really a place people think about tech startups in the United States but it is a big city where companies would have access to talen and capital. San Francisco has the reputation for the tech startup world but everything is changing fast and we all know SF has major housing issues.

Small town life

I took a break from the city and moved to a small town east of Toronto in Belleville. It had a population of 50,000 and thought I’d give it a shot at a place to live as well as have a home base for a company. I lasted almost 2 years there and although I moved to Montreal in 2021, I actually miss that town.

That said as much as I think smaller towns will slowly start to becomes centres for various tech companies, I think I needed a city for all the resources I think I will need down the road.

NACO influence and regional innovation centres (RIC)

My company to date hasn’t needed to raise capital but I wanted to keep that door open if and when it might be needed. I was very interested in the process and knew there would be a chance for networking and mentoring by going down the investing rabbit hole.

I already made use of the University of Toronto OnRamp entrepreneur space so this gave me the idea of staying close to Regional Innovation Centres aka RICs. When I moved to Belleville, the local one had shut down which was a real downer. Everywhere else had one but this area was without one and needing it.

That brings me to NACO which stands for National Angel Capital Organization. I’ve followed a few seminars by them and it got me networked with a few mentors there. I’ve had 2 of those mentors listen to my pitch and rip it apart as best as they could. The feedback was very valuable and occasionally I ask these 2 for advice here and there.

Their biggest advice for me was move to an area that has a RIC. They were promoting Peterborough as a good place but I didn’t feel like leaving Belleville for Peterborough and I knew I wasn’t going back to Toronto.

Covid-19 influence on my decision

By end of 2020, Belleville was getting a ton of people from Toronto moving into town and it was accelerating the cost of housing. So much so that I think it made Montreal look cheaper.

On top of this, we all saw ecommerce get accelerated like you wouldn’t believe. My company does some adtech so that puts us inline with ecommerce. This meant our line of thinking was building more adtech that supported more than just English. This also means Montreal becomes a more favourable place.

What about the language laws in Quebec?

We can’t talk about Montreal without the language laws. My previous concern about even choosing Montreal was the government wanting my company to do more in French even though at the time we did everything in English. Any competitor I have does almost all their business in English and our potential customers are all around the world.

Since I decided to jump more into adtech, this meant embracing languages rather than avoiding them altogether. So moving here means needing to speak French myself and I think this will open more doors.

I could write more about the language laws that exist in Quebec but opinions aside, I accept that by moving here I have to embrace French. Anyone that is looking to move to Quebec I’d suggest everyone do the same, despite how easy it can be sometimes to only speak English in Montreal.

OK so what else is good about Montreal?

You can find all sorts of clickbaity articles on how Montreal is the coolest city in the world or why you should move here. I’ll cover some of those topics but try to focus more from a business point of view.

My summary points are;

  • Lower cost of living
  • Lower cost of commercial real estate
  • Canada’s 2nd largest city
  • Talented people

Lower cost of living

Montreal’s real estate is heating up despite what seemed like a lot of people leaving major city centres in 2020. That said Montreal has always had cheaper real estate compared to Toronto and the same goes for the provinces of Quebec and Ontario respectively.

Cheaper commercial real estate

It is no secret that office rental spaces have taken a massive dive with this work-from-home stuff almost everyone is dealing with. That means there is more office space to rent and it might remain like this for years. Not just more space but at low rates. I don’t really need an office right now but down the road will want one.

Montreal is Canada’s 2nd largest city

According to Montreal’s Wikipedia page, the city has a population of 1.7M. They have excellent universities here and Montreal is basically the video game developer capital of the world. Being the 2nd largest city in Canada means the city is happening. You are a train ride away from Toronto and New York City, you can fly to Paris easily enough. The city has a ton of bars and restaurants and is a very festive city.

Despite being the 2nd largest city, it really feels like a small town especially coming from Toronto. Montreal has a lot of space so the strain on public transit I don’t think is going to be a problem for a long time. Yes Montreal has traffic issues like any other city but I think Toronto is getting far worse.

Talented People

If you need people to speak any language, you can more or less find that diversity here in Montreal. When you need French speakers on your side for doing business, of course you have it here. You have McGill, Concordia, University de Montreal here and countless other schools. At some point StatsDrone will need to hire some local talent to help us fill tech jobs in Montreal.

Montreal Resources for Tech Startups

Here is a short list of resources and links if you are in the tech space wanting to consider moving to Montreal.

More reading about the city of Montreal