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Montréal’s Experiment in Cultivation and Collaboration

Beatrice Couture

General Manager, InnoCité MTL

The smart city doesn’t just happen — it needs to be cultivated. While vision and planning are requirements, a city must also take advantage of the uncontrollable and unpredictable speed, energy, and creativity that startups, in particular, bring. This new reality has critical implications for municipalities, which must seek out and nurture innovation at the source. This is the experiment Montréal has taken on.

As head of Canada’s first smart city accelerator, InnoCité MTL, with a mandate to cultivate stakeholder dialogue and engagement, I’ve been in the unique position of working to bring these two worlds together. If Montréal has come to be known as one of the world’s top smart communities, it’s because the city and its business community have recognized the role of startups in finding out-of-the box solutions. The early results are in: a vibrant startup ecosystem is generating valuable innovations that are transforming the city.

Montréal’s experiment began with the launch of the city’s Smart and Digital City Action Plan in 2015. A key component of the plan was the creation of InnoCité MTL, an independent non-profit with financial support from the city and from corporate sponsors. With its comprehensive three-month training and mentorship program for smart city entrepreneurs from around the world, InnoCité MTL offers its startups unique access to a broad range of potential clients, including the city of Montréal, while opening doors to international markets. Participating entrepreneurs have the opportunity to receive feedback, collaborate, and prototype solutions with the city. As for Montréal, InnoCité MTL represents a dynamic cohort of entrepreneurs working to address priority areas of the plan.

Here are a few of the things we’ve already learned along the way. 

#1 Breaking Silos

In Montreal’s smart city, municipalities and startups are breaking silos that once hampered innovation. Rather than trying to solve problems internally, smart cities need to work with the startup community, and that means sharing relevant data. For example, by adopting an “open by default” policy, Montréal allows its data to become a very real driver of innovation to the benefit of its citizens.

Consider Netlift, a Montréal startup’s platform that helps commuters leverage the right combination of carpooling and public transportation. Netlift’s technology integrates data from multiple cities, levels of government, and transport authorities to help users plot the best routes in real time. Through its ability to access city data, Netlift is able to save its users time, money, and stress while reducing traffic congestion and pollution.

#2 Providing Access

Smart innovations rely on early access to customers and decision makers.

Another Canadian startup shows the way. Thanks to its participation in the InnoCité MTL accelerator program, Digital State is currently collaborating with the city of Montréal on a pilot project to provide digital services to citizens. Digital State’s simple drag-and-drop platform enables city governments of any size to build digital services, engage with citizens, and report on service performance. Clearly, by providing startups with access to the city’s decision makers, InnoCité MTL is allowing Montréal to meet one of its key smart and digital city action plan objectives.

#3 Crowdsourcing the City

Successful startups are extremely agile — testing their products and constantly iterating based on customer feedback. Smart cities would do well to not only accommodate startup agility but to cultivate it.

As part of InnoCité MTL’s first cohort, Montréal startup Prkng has taken full advantage of the city’s move toward even greater transparency and citizens’ eagerness to participate. Prkng’s mobile app uses the city’s open data to help users find available parking spaces quickly. What’s more, Prking enriches existing data by inviting users to file error reports. Users benefit from updates in real time.

Prkng’s entrepreneurial duo is making a very real contribution toward the urgent need to decongest Montréal’s streets, a key factor in the city’s smart mobility program. Prking’s relationships in Montréal have translated into opportunities in other markets including New York, Seattle, Boston, and Québec City. In fact, Prkng aims to be in at least 15 markets by the end of 2016.

The Smart and Digital City Action Plan launched InnoCité MTL as an experiment in cultivating startup-municipal collaboration. In 2016, the Intelligent Community Forum listed Montréal as one of it top seven smart cities in the world. We’re seeing the recognition as one indication of our experiment’s success. What is Montréal’s key learning? When startups and cities collaborate, great things happen. For startups, cities, and citizens, cultivating all these advantages is a win-win-win.

Beatrice Couture

General Manager, InnoCité MTL

Beatrice is the General Manager of InnoCité MTL, the first smart city startup accelerator in Canada. Prior to InnoCité, she gained solid experience with municipal sales and infrastructure project management as…