Tech Center: Microsoft In Montreal, Puerto Rico’s Entrepreneurism

Tech Center Innovation Roundup

Another week, another tech center making headlines for pushing the envelope on tech innovation. In this week’s Tech Center tracker, we round up the latest tech news happening around the globe, including Microsoft’s expansion of its artificial intelligence (AI) footprint in Montreal, how Puerto Rico is taking on tech innovation and Indianapolis’ efforts to lure tech talent.

Montreal’s AI Future  

It looks as though Montreal, Canada’s robust AI community has left a good impression on tech giant Microsoft.

So good in fact, Fortune reported, that the company announced plans to double the size of its local AI research group, increasing the number of team members from 40 to 80. Microsoft also said it will gift $6 million to the University of Montreal and $1 million to McGill University over the next five years.

“Microsoft is excited to engage with faculties, students and the broader tech community in Montreal, which is becoming a global hub for AI research and innovation,” Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said in a statement. “Today’s news, along with the opening of Microsoft Vancouver and our ongoing work to create a new Cascadia Innovation Corridor connecting Vancouver and Seattle, reinforces the important role that Canada plays in Microsoft’s global business.”

Canada has gained recognition for its expertise in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning, both industries that have the potential to transform computing by developing useful insights from vast amounts of data.

Microsoft also recently announced it will acquire Maluuba, a Montreal-based company that runs what Microsoft called one of the world’s most impressive deep-learning research labs for natural language understanding.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Microsoft said Maluuba’s expertise in deep learning and reinforcement learning for question-answering and decision-making systems will help to “democratize AI and to make it accessible and valuable to everyone — consumers, businesses and developers.”

Microsoft said the startup’s vision to create literate computers that can think, reason and communicate like humans is in lockstep with its own vision.

The New Puerto Rico

In an effort to revitalize its economy, Puerto Rico is working to foster tech innovation and entrepreneurialism within the country.

Though the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico remains in a fiscal crisis — burdened with more than $70 billion of debt and a cut to corporate tax breaks — Puerto Rican officials are looking to technology and entrepreneurship as part of a new economic development plan, TechCrunch reported.

“Technology is certainly one of the pillars of our economic development program,” Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce Alberto Bacó Bagué told TechCrunch.

“As of today, we have a strong tech cluster with examples like Infosys, a global leader in creating breakthrough solutions that address mobility, sustainability, Big Data and cloud computing, and Honeywell, with a new EMI (electronic magnetic [sic] interference) research lab that alone will create 300 jobs.”

The country is also trying to position itself as a knowledge-based economy that can create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s on par with other global tech centers.

Lucy Crespo, CEO of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust, a public-private trust working to transform the island into a tech hub by 2020, noted that Puerto Rico graduates 22,000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students per year, of whom 60 to 70 percent leave the island.

“For many years, our schools and universities prepared our professionals to work for someone else,” Crespo explained. “So we didn’t develop a full ecosystem, we didn’t create a culture in which students from the universities thought, you know, how can I become an entrepreneur?”

While there are many new accelerators and startup initiatives in place, such as Paralle18, that are trying to bring the attention of venture capitalists to local startups, funding remains a challenge for the ecosystem.

“In general, capital is frozen because of the uncertainty surrounding the [island’s] fiscal issues,” Kenneth Kay, an angel investor and founder of the Puerto Rico Capital Network, noted. “Despite the challenging environment, I am optimistic that a vibrant startup scene is possible in Puerto Rico.”

Indianapolis Sheds Manufacturing Reputation

The city has long been known as a manufacturing center, but efforts are being made to curb brain drain from the state’s universities and lure out-of-state millennials in order to create a prime Midwestern tech center.

The New York Times reported that the tech community in Indianapolis has come together to create the nonprofit TechPoint, which will work to create new tech initiatives like a boot camp for new graduates and internships for college students.

In many ways, the city is steadily becoming a center for new technology.

San Francisco–based cloud computing company Salesforce laid out plans to grow its 1,600-person Indianapolis work force by another 800 employees. Entrepreneurs in the city hope that the company’s decision to expand its workforce and that its presence in Indianapolis will also attract other major tech companies.

“Once people visit, they realize it’s not a cow town; it’s got everything the big cities have,” David Becker, an Indiana native who founded First Internet Bank in Indianapolis, told the Times. “People are especially blown away by the housing costs and the quality of the schools.”

Universities such as Butler, DePauw, Indiana and Purdue and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology also make higher education in the city a big selling point. The result is a city that is producing large numbers of graduates with broad expertise in tech-related fields.