In March, Techstars announced its new AI focused accelerator in Montreal. Today, it’s a great pleasure to share with everyone that I will be Managing Director (MD) of this program. In this post, I’d like to share the reasons why I’m so excited about this challenge and talk about what an AI-focused program in Montreal means.
Being a Managing Director
As managing director, I’ll be in charge of recruiting the best teams to join the program and help them realize their vision. That help starts from the moment they become a Techstars-backed company, during the intense weeks of the program, and continues well beyond. By “helping” I mean way more than being a mentor myself. It’s connecting you with even better mentors from the Techstars network, finding the right connections to get that meeting with a prospective client, get that intro to the awesome candidate you want on your team, and whatever else is needed to help you succeed.
As an entrepreneur myself, with my share of duds and more successful attempts in the past 15+ years, I’ve learned how critical help can be even if you are convinced (maybe rightfully so) that you can do this on your own.
People I’ve met in the last few years in the local startup ecosystem know my passion for building tech products and the companies based on them. Since the acquisition of ContextIO, I’ve had the chance to mentor entrepreneurs at FounderFuel and Founder Institute and developed lasting bonds. The best part about those relationships is they begin with you providing help based on past experience but quickly morph into a source of learning for both parties.
I’ve probably learned as much from the startups I’ve advised in the last few years as I have leading my own startups! Becoming a Techstars MD means I can now do this full time, on a much grander scale, backed by a world-class network and organization. What more could I ask for?
AI will profoundly change our lives
Artificial Intelligence is a term that generates excitement as much as it generates fear. When faced with something that can deeply and irremediably transform the way humans live, both reactions are justified. This must have been how people felt when the first steam engines and human-built machines got to a point where it became clear that production of goods and life in general would never be the same. It turns out that humanity adapted and the change was for good. We used to clear snow from the streets after a storm with people shoveling it in sleds pulled by horses (this program is in Montreal after all). Does anyone think that’s better than how we do it today?
I have worked in a startup that uses AI to make preventive screening for early detection of skin cancer something people can do from home on a monthly basis, rather than in a clinic every year. I’ve also worked on projects automating removal of personally identifiable information from purchase receipts so they can safely be used for aggregated reporting of e-commerce activity.
Add to those all the founders I’ve met applying AI to solve problems we can’t currently solve at scale, and I’m convinced a few decades from now, people will wonder how we could ever have lived without the changes AI is bringing upon us.
Techstars in Montreal
Montreal has always been a great city for university students with the highest concentration per-capita in North America. This both reinforces and feeds off the creativity of people living here. With top engineering and science faculties, training wasn’t the problem, but retaining talent was. It used to be only those who were stubborn or deeply in love with the city (or with someone living in the city) who refused to move out. Not anymore.
In recent years, we’ve seen AI focused labs in local universities establishing themselves as world-renowned leaders in the field. The AI ecosystem in Montreal grew organically from its academic research roots and Real Ventures, the main partner for this program, has been instrumental in this growth. It is now the most active early-stage venture fund in Canada. In addition, leading corporations like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung, Thales, and others have invested millions of dollars in AI labs across the city.
Now, Techstars amplifies this ecosystem to make Montreal the place to launch and establish the most ambitious AI startups. As Managing Director, I want to make it a gateway that brings more talent and ambition to our beloved island as much as it will be a path for local talent to shine internationally.
We’ll be hosting an AMA session on April 17th to answer questions you may have about the program, register here to join us.