NEXT Canada, the national nonprofit focused on developing entrepreneurial talent and facilitating the adoption of homegrown technology, will welcome the first Montréal cohort of the organization's globally recognized artificial intelligence accelerator, NextAI, starting in February 2019. NextAI – Montréal will be delivered in partnership with Executive Education HEC Montréal, one of the world's top ranked business schools. Both organizations are partners in SCALE AI, a supply chain supercluster initiative announced by the federal government in February.

While applications won't officially open until September 20, NextAI announced it will award an advance spot in the Montréal cohort to the strongest team to pitch their AI-enabled venture idea to a panel of judges at AI Fest – part of the annual StartupFest being held this week in Montréal. All ventures in NextAI, including today's winner, will receive up to $200,000 in seed funding for their business. The announcement was made by NEXT Canada CEO Sheldon Levy, Hélène Desmarais, Chairman of the Board, HEC Montréal and Co-Chair, SCALE AI, and Julien Billot, Program Director, NextAI – Montréal, Executive Education HEC Montreal, and formerly President and CEO of Yellow Pages Limited.

“We are thrilled to kick off our first expansion outside of Ontario at Canada's largest annual technology and startup festival, here in Montreal,” said Mr. Levy. “We are forging special relationships with HEC Montréal as well as with Hélène Desmarais and her colleagues at SCALE AI, who have built a consortium of incredible partners. We intend to make NextAI an integral part of Montréal's robust AI ecosystem.”

In his role as NextAI – Montréal's Program Director, Mr. Billot will be responsible for building a core team as well as a network of top faculty, scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs who can deliver the structured founder-development curriculum that is the backbone of all NEXT Canada programs. “NextAI is different from traditional accelerator models because it provides high potential founders with entrepreneurial training through exposure to leading experts in their field,” says Mr. Billot. “Our program will be delivered at HEC Montréal, and will leverage the immense talent at other universities and research labs in Montreal and beyond, building on HEC Montréal Executive Education's experience running multiple AI programs to date.”  There will also be collaboration opportunities with NextAI in Toronto, which will run concurrently.

Establishing a second NextAI cohort in Montréal is a logical move for NEXT Canada. The organization is already collaborating with organizations such as Quebec's Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO) and the Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), two of the province's world-leading AI academies, as well as Ontario's Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) on the digital platform.

“NEXT Canada is a critical partner in the SCALE.AI supercluster initiative,” said Hélène Desmarais. “They have a terrific model and a proven track record of supporting high potential entrepreneurs. This is a very exciting time for the Canadian AI community. We now have one great program delivered in two diverse Canadian cities that have quickly become global AI hubs.”

The NextAI – Toronto program, which runs annually from February through September, will soon celebrate the successful graduation of its second cohort.  NextAI – Montréal will join the fray beginning in 2019, with each program selecting roughly 50 founders to build approximately 20 AI startups. NextAI typically attracts highly educated and sought after global talent, with more than one-third of participants moving to Canada from abroad and two-thirds of the founders possessing graduate level degrees.