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Can Montreal Become an Open Source Startup Hub? (nextmontreal.com)
88 points by evanprodromou on Feb 21, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

[disclosure: I'm a personal friend of the author of this article.]

I lived in Montreal for three years, or four winters, depending upon how you count.

I believe that Montreal has the most important element necessary to become an open-source startup hub, namely a lot of good talent. The language barrier exists, but is not strong enough that it has hindered any open-source efforts in Montreal (as far as I've seen).

The main hurdle to Montreal becoming any sort of startup hub is cultural. IMHO, Montrealais are not very opportunistic in starting and pursuing business.

I don't think this is Montreal-specific in any way, many cities are like this.

I think people are inspired most of all by other people they meet in their day-to-day lives, not images on TV or in media. The current difficulty is that Montrealais have very few positive role models around them, to show how it's done. In SF or NYC, you could easily move in a social circle that contains a successful business entrepreneur. "Oh, if he could do it, then I can do that too!" But most people in Montreal don't happen to know a successful tech entrepreneur, not even as an acquaintance in passing.

Note that I have found that Montrealais ARE very opportunistic when it comes to social entrepreneurism. Witness social events The Strip Spelling Bee http://stripspellingbee.blogspot.com/ (and other productions by Perpetual Emotion Machine Productions, like Slow Dance Night), musical innovation particularly in low-fi and DIY subgeneres, and non-profit activism like Head and Hands.

But business ambition is regarded with skepticism at best, and is generally considered a form of elitism and lack of social consciousness.

You've made some pretty awesome observations.

Having said that :) I'd like to point out that there were more than 700 attendees at StartupCamp last month. A relatively good portion of those people were not skeptical at all about business ambition. They have embraced entrepreneurship! They are opportunistic!

I think what happens when you have a social circle that contains successful entrepreneurs is you get better at business development and salesmanship by osmosis. You are more likely to pitch a million dollar deal if you're friends with a guy who did that a week ago.

Another commenter pointed out, Montreal use to compete on price and probably still does. I think it will take a while for the low cost crap to leave our bones. But that's already starting to happen ... so we'll see.

>>>Note that I have found that Montrealais ARE very opportunistic when it comes to social entrepreneurism. Witness social events The Strip Spelling Bee http://stripspellingbee.blogspot.com/ (and other productions by Perpetual Emotion Machine Productions, like Slow Dance Night), musical innovation particularly in low-fi and DIY subgeneres, and non-profit activism like Head and Hands.

Hell yeah!

There is no shortage of business ambition in Quebec in general. But we do need to develop a better culture of aggressively going after a target market.

i don't understand the purpose of the article, or of your post. if the city has what it takes it will happen. if it doesn't it won't. everything else is conversation. that is how i look at it, what am i missing?

I remember someone making a speech (borrowed from someone else) about "just words". Words matter.

Conversations matter.

if you want to trade proverbs i'm give this one: "a lot of talk and no action makes homer simpson a dull boy."

I know this will probably cost me, but Montréal brings a whole new dimension to the question, "What language should we use?" ;-)

Seriously, though, I recall visiting during YAPC, and the after-hours conversations slipping between English and French (and back) mid-sentence.

I really enjoyed the city, but if you want to fit in with the locals, learn you some French (or English).

(I should add that, personally, I don't see this as a negative. My French was pretty darned rusty, but it still made things fun. And everyone was quite cool and easy-going about it, perhaps because I was an American (i.e. culturally challenged ;-) ).

It may also have been your accent. I'm Australian but have lived in Canada for the last 5 or 6 years, so I knew of all the 'frustrations' that Anglophones feel when trying to speak French in Quebec.

Anyway, I was in a bar one night in Montreal and asked a waitress the best thing that I could do to improve my French. "In all honesty," she said, "you have an accent, so you're allowed to try". Basically, if you're Canadian, expect to have a hard time practising your French in Quebec. If you're not Canadian, however, have at it!

Now I don't know how true it was, but I did give it a shot and didn't do too badly... Oh yeah, and had an awesome time: I can't wait to find another excuse to go back!

For my part, I know that I love it when I see English Canadians trying to speak French - I do my best to help them practice. I could be pissed at someone who's lived in Quebec for a loong time (5 years +) and who still doesn't speak French, but that's about the only case.

All in all, it's only a question of motivation. If you're focused and you keep practicing, you will get better... the trick is to prevent people from switching the conversation language (back to English) when they see you're having a hard time.

Bonne chance :)

That's a really good point and I appreciate you trying to help. To be honest, the 'frustrations' that I had heard about were all second hand stories, so it is hard for me to say that it really is a problem.

Having said that, I agree: everyone should be giving it a go. I live on PEI so it's a bit harder, but trips to New Brunswick are great as you see the English / French mix there as well: I think the bilingualism is amazing.

Merci :)

"As for talented potential employees… that’s tougher"

No kidding. What Montreal has going is pretty impressive, but Quebec has an abnormally high personal income tax rate and the language issue is always going to hang like a cloud over it. I know everyone in Montreal speaks english, but the default is French and all public signs are too. While some Canadians will put up with that because our country is founded on playing lip service to bi-lingualism, I can see it as a massive barrier to importing American talent in.

I don't agree. I think that the bilingualism is a strength. After all, the strongest Open Source markets in the world today are international. If Montreal can represent a bridge between North America and Europe, there's an opportunity for synergy there.

How will Montreal represent a bridge to anyplace besides France?

While France isn't nothing (60 million people with a bit less disposable income than the US), USA+Canada+France is less than 20% bigger than USA+Canada.

In my experience, Montrealers develop for an international market by default. Everyone knows the domestic market will be too small to sustain whatever you're doing. And your initial business plan will have to involve two languages and probably two currencies and two legal regimes -- at minimum. So in some ways it's even more internationally-minded than a small EC country.

I was very surprised when I started working in the US and encountered this concept of "internationalization". ;)

I'm not saying it's a killer advantage, but it could be leveraged.

Adding to your point, it is very important to note that France French != Quebec French. When a Montrealer goes to Paris and starts speaking French, the Parisian will get confused and respond in English if they know it.

I think you're exaggerating. Parisians may tease Quebecers, but that's just to keep themselves in teasing shape. Teasing is a sport, you gotta practice. Most French people will be able to understand most Montrealers.

It should be noted that France itself has many regional accents that are quite strong.

Also to be noted, there is a steady flow of young French people immigrating to Montreal.

Most French people will be able to understand most Montrealers sometimes, in the same way that someone from Britain would be able to understand a Cajun sometimes. The language is very divergent, with franglais words sprinkled here or there, shortened words, differing word usage, etc.

On top of that, for the reasons above as well as others (including their accent), people from France really dislike listening to people from Montreal speak 'French', and will avoid it whenever possible. This is similar to the way Francophones from Montreal will speak English rather than French to an Acadian, because their accent is really just that bad.

You seem to be living in Canada, but perhaps somewhere else? Our views are pretty different.

I'm a francophone, born in Quebec. I have never seen a francophone (from anywhere in the world) speak in English to another because the accent was too strong. Most francophones in Montreal actually speak pretty bad English, at least once you leave the technical spheres, and any Quebecois can speak something closer to "international French" when he knows an European is listening.

A large portion of my classmates at university were French people. They had no trouble understanding the local accent. They might be puzzled by some special expressions we have for snow, for "take a chair", for shortened forms ("je ne le sais pas"->"jelsépa"), swear words, etc. but nothing that can't be explained fairly quickly. The difference between French from France and from Quebec is important but I'd say comparing it to Cajun is exaggeration. It is not my impression that French people dislike Montreal French, but rather that they find it amusing at first (it sounds like a rural accent) and eventually just get used to it. Many Quebecois humorists and singers are popular in France as well.

Franglais is a large debate, but in short, the French are as guilty of it, if not more than the Quebecois. Many words like "email" or "shopping" tend to be said in English in France but in French in Quebec ("courriel", "magasinage").

Well, my sources for my comments on French vs. Quebecois consist of ten or twelve French individuals I've spoken with on the topic (whose views were unanimous, and who spoke for the people they knew at home as well). Likewise, my views on Quebecois vs. Acadians are taken from an Acadian friend who had moved to Montreal, and whose coworkers refused outright to speak French to her because they didn't want to listen to her accent.

Put another way: I've never met someone from France who didn't speak ill of Quebecois French when asked, and I've never met an Acadian who felt entirely welcomed in Montreal. They could be exceptions.

At least 3 quebecois have told me they have had a french replying to them in english (in international contexts, like a conference). I guess it is only a reaction to an accent many of them have not heard before, but after a second they understand they are talking to a french-canadian

I don't know enough about the Cajun English language to comment on your analogy.

For what it's worth, here is wikipedia's article on Quebec French [citation needed]



This idea that the french canadian accent is cajun is a myth, bordering on preposterous. It's actually based on pre Napoleonic "Royal Court French:"


Sure, maybe two farmers from rural areas of each country won't understand each other, or a second language speaker who speaks in one accent won't understand the other, but otherwise it's simply pretentiousness.

The French definitely make fun of Quebecers but will also definitely not speak English instead. If the Quebecer has gone to school (which I believe is the target audience here), the accent will just be a minor nuisance.

It's not limited to language. It's also very much about culture. Montreal is literally and figuratively half-way between North America and Europe.

Montreal is literally and figuratively half-way between North America and Europe.

Either I'm really bad at geography, or it's only figuratively and not literally.

It's a literal statement for people on the west coast. It becomes figurative as you go east.

Montreal has a lot of other nationalities represented beyond the French. It's not unusual to find someone who speaks French, English, and their mother tongue. My wife, for example, speaks Italian, French, and English.

French is an official language in ~40 countries.

For localization purposes, people in Montreal are experienced with issues that are required to translate software properly. They deal with this stuff all the time for local businesses.

Oh well, this happens everywhere in non-english-speaking countries.

When your default market is multilingual, you don't just translate your software, you deal with supporting more than one language from the start. I don't know how many markets are bilingual by default.

I'm not saying that internationalization is the hardest problem to grasp, but there is a difference between building a single language system versus a multilingual system.

[edit] re: > non-english-speaking countries When your non-english-speaking country also speaks english, you're happier.

I think climate also counts too.

I can't remember where I saw this mentioned in the context of tech startups (pg's essays, probably), but if you're good enough and ambitious enough to choose whatever location you like, why not choose a location that has all the "nice place to live" qualities? Not to mention, "a nice place that wealthy tech investors want to live in".

Last week I saw Lane Becker give a talk at SproutUp here in Toronto. He's originally from Winnipeg, but was pretty blunt about the climate in California vs Canada. There's no way he'd ever come back. It's not the first time I've heard it.

Taxes, business, and tech-investment-friendly environment issues aside, this is a major weakness that our bigger eastern cities (Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Montreal..) need to make up for in other ways. What things can we use to make up for our crummy climates? I'm not sure... but I don't think local pride, ambition, or even "we have smart people" really resonate with anyone outside of those locales. Smart people are everywhere, and are globally-mobile.

"I don't think local pride, ambition, or even "we have smart people" really resonate with anyone outside of those locales. Smart people are everywhere..."

Disagree. I've never been to Montreal, but I've heard from people who are from there and would jump at a chance to live there for awhile. Smart, creative, talented people are everywhere, but in some places there are many more of them and they are easier to find.

Cold winters will turn off a sizable number of people, yes, but many would be undeterred.

Montreal girls make up for the climate ;)

Montreal companies have absolutely no problem hiring programmers who don't speak French (I'm the sole anglophone at my company, and they found me).

The real losers end up being the native Quebecers. There are really good programmers here working for pennies because they don't know enough English to move to or contract for companies in the Bay Area or NYC. This is true for a lot of other knowledge/creative professionals in Montreal as well.

If you look at Montreal neighborhoods and professions, you find that the ones where management and finance dominates are also the ones with mostly anglophones (of course Westmount dominates), and the ones with the highest incomes. The irony of francization is that it is creating an economic ghetto out of the native French speakers.

Anglophones having highest incomes in Quebec is an old myth. In fact, a recent report from Statistics Canada (StatsCan) shows that English-speakers have a lower median income than francophones with the same qualifications.[1]

Furthermore, I highly doubt that the fact "you could be working in NYC if you wanted to" has any influence on your salary.

Finally, even if what you stated was true regarding francization, it wouldn't be ironic at all. Francization isn't there to help out the economy, it's there to protect a culture.

/rant :)

[1] http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2010/09/quebec_anglo_incomes_lagg...

Note what the article states:

"The majority of migrants to Quebec are English-speaking – 33 per cent of the anglophone population is made up of immigrants, compared to only 7 per cent of the French-speaking population – and inflows of foreign migrants contribute to higher poverty rates among anglophones."

"A wealthy minority exists within the anglophone community, skewing their average income data upwards"

It is this Westmount/West Island wealthy minority I'm referring to when I say you should look at occupation and income levels.

There's no surprise blue-collar francophones earn more - that was the whole impetus behind the Quiet Revolution.

Programmer salaries in NYC are about three times what they are in Montreal, while the cost of living is only about twice as high. Salaries in the US have a very real effect on Canadian ones - it's so easy to get a NAFTA visa that the US and Canada basically share a labor market of programmers.

You seem to have a very distorted view of the job market in Montreal. Perhaps the company you're working at isn't very representative?

I won't disagree that NY salaries are higher but 3 times higher? It's probably more around 1.1 times higher. I'm frequently getting contacted by recruiters. Here is a sample of an email I recently received:

> Analyste-programmeur SHAREPOINT SR. [...] permanent temps plein et est situé à Montréal [...] salaire offert est entre 80000-85000$/an (selon le profil) + boni 20%

> Directeur Technologique (architecture et Base de Données) - Montréal - 100000-120000$

> Formateur technique (automatisation, DCS, régulation) - Montréal - 80000-100000$

> Analyste d'affaire senior (projets web et applic. mobiles) - Montréal - 80-90K$

> Analyste soutien informatique (SGPCR, régression, acceptation, - Montréal - 50-60K$

> Directeur Centre de données (conn. mécanique et électrique) - Montréal -100-110K$

> Conseiller principal bureau projet (adj. PMO) (conn. et expér. AGILE) -Montréal -90-95K$

> Développeur Iphone (objective C) - Montréal - 65-70K$

> Développeur Iphone TEAM LEAD (objective C) - Montréal - 80-85K$

> Développeur PHP Backend - Montréal - 60-65K$

> Développeur SQL-BI (datawarehouse, .Net, CRM) - Montréal 65-75K$

Just last week I had a talk with someone who knows the NY job market very well. Senior developers are getting 160-240 thousand dollars. That's 3x the team lead or senior analyst salaries in that list.

Personal income tax may be higher, but the advantages far outweigh the cost.

I'm thinking about: free healthcare, extremely low electricity cost, cheap rent (pretty much half as much as SF's rent) and everything that comes with living in a major city.

RE French: Ever learned a new programming language to go work somewhere? What's the difference? You don't have to be fluent in French, you have to understand it enough to read signs (which are usually just street or landmarks names with a symbol). I see this more as a great opportunity to become a better candidate in the future - by knowing another language.

I completely understand your reluctance, but you have to look at the bigger picture.

I spent a week in Montreal a few months ago, I'm an American and speak no french at all, and I didn't have any issues. All in all, I found it a pretty cool place to spend time, and somewhere I'd consider moving.

I even spent a day at a pretty nice coworking spot there: http://station-c.com/en

You can get all of those benefits by living in Vancouver (though rent isn't as cheap here, apartments and suites are much better maintained). On top of that, the weather is better, the people are friendlier, and you don't have to worry as much about not getting a position solely because your language skills aren't up to snuff.

Just a slight correction on "friendlier"; people in English Canada are more friendly according to the American norm, where you have one (maybe two) close confidants, and then many shallow cordial relations.

French Canadians do it another way. They have a small circle of friends they would do anything for, but most of the outside world is excluded. If you move to Montreal it will take a few years to break through into a social circle, unless you hang out only with expats.

Also, don't go to Quebec expecting the HI I'LL BE YOUR SLAVE TODAY treatment at a restaurant. Just... don't.

Well I found even outside of actual relationships, people in Vancouver are much friendlier. I moved to Vancouver from Montreal with a roommate who'd grown up in Montreal, and it took her well over a year to accept the fact that when people in Vancouver are nice to you, smile, etc. they're not being fake, they're actually being nice. She didn't understand, because it doesn't happen in Montreal.

In Vancouver, I find that people will be more open to starting (or participating in) conversations on the bus, being asked for directions, chatting at a cafe (including baristas, cashiers, etc.), and so on. In Montreal, even with those people who did speak English, the attitude I saw from people was generally 'get out of my face'.

People in Montreal, in my experience, are absorbed in themselves and have no interest in anyone around them. They won't (as a rule) try to strike up a conversation on the street, they won't offer to help you if you're having trouble e.g. carrying a package, they won't hold doors. There are exceptions, but they're much more rare than in Vancouver, where everyone generally seems pretty content with their lives and is happy to lend a smile or a helping hand or a compliment to someone they've never met before or will again.

The other reason I enjoy Vancouver quite a bit (aside from the weather) is the living accommodations. It's said that the cost of living in Vancouver is higher, but from my point of view it tends to be pretty close, in the sense that you have to pay more in Vancouver but you also get nicer places. In Montreal, there is no 'damage deposit' when you rent an apartment, so there's much less incentive to be careful when you live in a place. Likewise, if there is a problem after you've left the landlord has to pay for it out of pocket (or try to fight with the tenancy board, which is a futile endeavour for small sums). The places tend to get run down and stay that way for longer. Even most 'renovated' places I saw were below what I'd consider liveable. The cost of renting a place is convenient though, considering that the wages in Montreal are (often considerably) lower than in Vancouver or Toronto.

As someone who has lived in Vancouver, saying that its weather is better than Montreal's isn't saying much, unless of course you actually like six straight months of almost daily rain. Having lived over four years in California, the weather there is incomparably better.

I guess my comment (apart from the French part) applies to most big cities in Canada. Thanks for pointing that out.

"the people are friendlier" is too subjective though, can't really be sure of that.

Getting a position in a startup or open source team here isn't up to spoken language (unless like said early, it's customer facing). I think startups here prefer English. French is just that little extra (sad thing to say, but it's the truth).

"the people are friendlier" is too subjective though, can't really be sure of that.

Well that's a point, and it all depends on your own mentality, but I found that the culture in general is more friendly (people will smile at you more, strangers will start or participate in conversation, people hold doors, etc.) in Vancouver compared to Montreal.

Another problem I saw was that when trying to socialize in some social groups, the conversation would tend to be entirely in French solely for reasons of preference (given an equal anglophone/francophone split), making it incredibly difficult to do anything other than sit there and pick out the occasional word.

It can go both ways of course, depending on the group in which you find yourself, but it's just one of those little frustrations that can make it difficult to integrate into social circles in Montreal vs. an anglophone city like Vancouver.

I'm going to be graduating soon from Dalhousie in Halifax with a BCSci, and I would be more than willing to move to Montreal.

You won't import American talent to Montreal however, why would they come to Canada when they can move to New York, Boston, Seattle, or the mecca of technology in North America Silicon Valley.

This doesn't mean that Montreal won't be a technology hub, but it has to compete with Waterloo which has a lot of draw for new graduates. I know several of my graduating class have already secured jobs in Waterloo.

> "why would they come to Canada when they can move to New York, Boston, Seattle, or the mecca of technology in North America Silicon Valley"

As a Canadian working in Seattle... come here for a visit. There are a lot of Canadians in all of the above places, and most of them are just itching for a chance to go home.

Cost of living, social stratification (in a way that we really don't feel in Canada), health care... the list goes on.

Not to mention, if you like the whole metropolitan lifestyle, the Valley really cannot compete, nor Seattle (found that out the hard way)... and NYC/Boston are much more expensive than Toronto/Montreal.

if you like the whole metropolitan lifestyle, the Valley really cannot compete

There is a ton of startup activity in SF these days, as opposed to the Valley proper. Cost of living in SF is higher than in Toronto, but not by an enormous amount if you want to live downtown (Montreal is cheaper though).

I can't name an Open Source startup in Waterloo. Is there one?

Montreal has some pretty good universities too. There a lot of graduates here that would stay here for work except Google/Microsoft ... are stealing all of them.

Being an American programmer going to university in Montreal, I totally agree with this statement. :D

Getting Yanks to Montreal is easy as long as (a) they are single, (b) they are married and the spouse doesn't work and there are no school-age kids or (c) the spouse knows French and there are no school-age kids. Getting a work visa at the border merely takes a CV and an offer letter. School-age kids require French schooling, and customer-facing positions require French (both of which might be show stoppers).

It's a great place to live and work, but we fall into one of the above categories.

My husband's company opened a (English-speaking) branch office in Montreal two years ago. Language is definitely an issue for working spouses. It is very difficult to find an English-only job in Montreal if you don't work in tech or finance. Plus, the insular Anglophone community that used to make it possible to function in Montreal without French doesn't exist anymore. You need to learn French. Thankfully, if you're willing to put in the work, the Quebec gov't offers ridiculously cheap intensive French lessons that can be scheduled around a 9-5 job.

Also, if your children were originally enrolled in English, they can get into an English-language primary school in Quebec.

I might be wrong, but I thought that only parents from Anglo Canadian schools can select English schools? If those from UK, US, ... can pick English schools, that would remove a huge stumbling block.

Did some quick checking via Google, and what I found requires attending a Canadian english school (based on law 101).

You are right that it's much more difficult for immigrants. It is possible to send your kids to an English public school if you're on a temporary visa, but not as a permanent resident. If you can afford tuition, an alternative is to send them to an unsubsidized English-language private school while they learn French.

Either way, moving to Montreal requires that the whole family makes a commitment to learn French - kids included. It's not an effort that children generally appreciate until they're later in life. =)

Bringing people to Montreal in the summer is a pretty easy recruitment strategy.

That's just cruel, though.

I don't know for Open Source project, but I often think about leaving Montreal as it's really hard to find good co-founders and to get investments. Usually, investors have ideas on what they would like to invest and you'd have to forget your project and build theirs. Also, IMO, the french problem isn't a problem since the big majority of the startup world speaks english. For instance, if one person speaks english and 5 speaks french, the conversation will be in english as Quebec people are way better in english than the inverse.

I totally agree that it's a hard place to have a startup. That's one of the reasons ecosystems matter to founders (see http://nextmontreal.com/12-reasons-a-healthy-startup-ecosyst... for my thoughts on the matter).

I think if there's critical mass, there can be a strong ecosystem here if we specialize.

The premise doesn't make sense to me. Open source is a business model, not a technology. How do you build a "hub" out of that?

I think you are arguing that familiarity with the business model is transferable across organizations, but that seems dubious. At least so far, there has never been a "hub" based on an investing or management talent pool. It's always been based on the employee talent pool -- for the Bay Area, electronics and software.

FYI, I'm a Montrealer by birth, San Franciscan by choice.

Hey. I grew up in SF, moved to Montreal in 2002. So, you know, we probably crossed around Iowa City or so.

There's a lot to unpack in your comment. Is there enough similarity between Open Source companies that they will benefit from being near other OSS companies? I think so, for a few reasons.

1. Local investors will have experience with Open Source (we've seen this here in Montreal; our big seed investor MSU has invested in 3 OSS companies).

2. Local service providers (accountants, lawyers, consultants) are aware of and can work with Open Source business models, licenses, etc.

3. A pool of business talent -- people who know how to commercialize Open Source.

4. A pool of Open-Source-sensitive technical talent. It's hard to make Open Source work from a technical level. Some people have the chops for it -- others don't. The ones who do a good job make it look easy; and then there's the hundreds of thousands of 1-person projects on sourceforge.net.

I think that making a successful Open Source company is as different from making a shrink-wrap software company as making a Web company is. It's a sufficiently different model that you have to have a much different team to pursue it.

Perhaps. But it sure as hell won't be including any immigrant folk in it, which is quite against the spirit of free software. Any immigrant in Montreal who is even remotely into that sorta stuff that I personally know have moved onto more welcoming lands such as the US (me, and some others) or Ontario/British Columbia (several others). In my opinion, Montreal is still very much a preferred destination for francophone immigrants from impoverished nations who aren't functional in a non-francophone environment, but the English speaking folk (South Asia/China/Rest of the World, if you prefer) are usually better off elsewhere. Really pains me to say this, I gotta say ...

I've worked for a couple of startups in Montreal. Their biggest competitive advantage was always that they could do things for less. This is because wages are low and so is the cost of living.

I don't think that undercutting your competitors is a viable long term business strategy since you end up being cheap labor. This also discourages innovation since the focus is on copying what someone has already done and doing it for less.

There is already a lot of talent in Montreal but if Montreal is to become an open source startup hub, it needs to change this cheap labor mindset into one of innovation.

> it needs to change this cheap labor mindset into one of innovation. I agree with your point that Montreal needs to change its cheap labor mindset, but I'm pretty sure the innovation part is and always was very strong here.

Thankfully, Canada's currency has reached parity with the US Dollar, in part because of Canada's stability during the clusterf*ck recession but mostly thanks to our country's vast natural resources. The dollar parity is forcing a lot of people to rethink the cheap labor approach, whether they like it or not. It was not so long ago that the US dollar was 1.5 Canadian dollars, but wages and costs were much less than 1.5x. The arbitrage opportunity was way too easy to ignore. That's over.

I didn't find any use in the article. Apparently, the useful information will be coming next week:

"Next week, I’ll give what I think is a potential plan for Montreal to take the lead in Open Source commercialization."

I hope he isn't going to ask for government money.

Why not? Don't you think local government has a stake in building the startup ecosystem in the city?

I think there's some serious opportunity for some jurisdiction to pwn Open Source startups with significant tax incentives for Open Source development.

What about tax incentives on salaries for developers who release code under an OSI license? Incentives for "soft" Open Source work like community management? Infrastructure like an accelerator space, business development aid?

Building a market helps, too. Vancouver has made it city policy to put Open Source software on an equal footing with proprietary software.


Other governments have chosen to use OSS exclusively.

If there's not yet an established Open Source startup hub (and I think there's not), there's an opportunity for cities around the world to claim that mantle. And that's going to take the contributions of all stakeholders.

Procurement is definitely an area that should be looked at. Open data too, since it creates opportunities - it's a disgrace that we give Google transit data but locals can't compete.

Cheap, fast internet connections: the city could engage with Ile Sans Fil. Municipal fiber too.

The biggest challenges are not technological. On the political front, I think we're falling far short of what we'd need to compete.

"it's a disgrace that we give Google transit data but locals can't compete"

my city and transit system offers that info to locals if they want to compete.

Glad to see there are fellow Montrealers on HN. As a totally unrelated side note, it would be nice if it was possible to create "groups" on GitHub so that smaller communities can unite their forces on open source projects. It would also make it easier to discover related projects.

Check out http://devlabmtl.org/

I haven't been yet, but planning on going soon.

That's actually a really awesome idea, probably use the github api and write a third party app pretty easily.

guildhub.com? guilds for github...

I'm not sure I agree with this article, but Montreal does have one thing in it's favor when it comes to the tech industry: incredible subsidies. With the low wages and cost of living, plus gov't handouts, it can be cheaper to hire developers in Montreal than in Beijing.

Agreed. Montreal developers do have a pretty low salary range and at up to 50%, the tax credit definitely makes a dent.

Interesting discussion. I make a lot of software for Arduinos for my robots and publish it open source on my blog. I rarely get contacted from fellow Canadians (let alone fellow Montrealers). >_>

Arduino is a super example of open source, so if Montreal were to be a "hub", that would entail that a lot more people would be excited about Open Source and would be downloading the code or getting in contact, right?

I find that there's not enough excitement yet. There are ways we could garner excitement, by investing in small companies, creating open source hockey players that can shoot the puck at the back of the net, and gaining more media attention, harnessing power through local politics. Long-term thinking, it may happen!

http://foulab.org/ is where most of the visible arduino work happens in Montreal, although I'm sure you know about that.

I think you're overestimating the amount of interested people have in Free Software/open source and Arduinos, though.

I think it's interesting that people here on HN are focusing on the pros and cons of Montreal as a city rather than the article's main point: that startup ecosystems outside of SF and (possibly) NY need to specialize to thrive. Maybe it's Open Source, maybe it's... I dunno... defense contracts, but in order to get that critical network effect, you have to be the best in something.

Specializing in "open source" seems like a strange choice: open source is a business model / licensing decision. I think it would make a lot more sense to specialize in a vertical industry (e.g., biotech, hardware, robotics, etc.)

Is anyone here looking for a potential employee from Ottawa? Already a Canadian and available for the whole summer ;)

@matchFWD is ;-)

send resume, links to code and why you think you'd be a valuable asset for a new startup at phil AT matchfwd.com

thxs @philgo20

I live in Montreal and can attest to our growing ambitions in the startup tech community. Great place to start a company.

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