Michel Leblanc is President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, Quebec’s leading private economic development organization. In this position, he is the official spokesperson of the organization and is responsible for planning, managing, coordinating and monitoring all its operations.
With extensive experience in the public and private sectors, Michel Leblanc has an in-depth knowledge of metropolitan issues. A trained economist, he has a clear understanding of economic questions and the challenges facing the business community.
A recognized expert in strategy and in economic development, Michel Leblanc was an Associate Partner at SECOR. He had previously occupied senior-level positions at Génome Québec, Montréal International, and the Institute for Research on Public Policy. He has also worked as an economist for the Department of Finance Canada.
Michel Leblanc received a Bachelor of Science in economics in 1987 and a Master of Science in economics in 1992 from Université de Montréal. He has been named the 2009 honorary graduate of the Université de Montréal’s Economics Department. In October 2012, he was honoured by the Université de Montréal’s alumni association for his professional achievements.
Michel Leblanc chairs the board of directors of MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE. He also sits on the boards of directors of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal Foundation, the Institute des troubles d’apprentissage (Institut TA), C2 Montréal and Goodness TV. He is also a member of the Conseil emploi métropole, of the Comité directeur sur la mobilité des personnes et des biens dans la grande région de Montréal (Mobilité Montréal), and of the Steering Committee of Montréal, Cultural Metropolis. He is also ambassador of the Quartier de l’innovation (QI).
As head of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, what are some of the projects that you have planned to help small business owners successfully grow their business?
We’ve been active for several years with services directly aimed at SMEs.
One of them is a service for new entrepreneurs which assists them with intelligence about markets, how to develop a business plan, strategic planning. It also provides them with information on all government programs at all levels for funding or resources.
We also have a service that aims at helping all those new businesses going global or international as fast as possible. We organize missions abroad and we make sure that we try to bring together all the SMEs that could be of interest to large organization’s procurement services.
Lastly, we have services that aim at helping immigrants learn French and helping businesses find qualified immigrants.
Of course, what we are as an organization is the voice of a business service. We’ve been working with the City of Montreal for several years on a program that would compensate small retail stores affected by large scale road work. I went to Europe to do some research on how large scale road work affected small businesses and I realized that in Europe there are programs that compensate local stores for loss of business. This program is now running in Montreal.
Montreal is a very diverse city when it comes to small businesses. What would you say are some of the current trends that you see in the small business industry in the city?
First, a little bit on the numbers on the intent of starting a business – Quebecers were less inclined to be entrepreneurs compared to other Canadians a decade ago.
In 2007, when we were asking surveyors regarding their intention of starting a business, we had a 7% intent. In 2018, it’s 19.5%. It has almost tripled in 10 years. Furthermore, immigrants are even more inclined to start a business than the local population. As an immigrant, you might be more of a risk taker and the entrepreneurial qualities are there to provide a greater advantage for immigrants.
Montreal had the highest growth in GDP in Canada recently and this environment helps those that have a will to start their business go ahead. The public finances in Quebec are extremely strong. We have been in surplus, and you won’t face continuous fiscal pressure of increasing taxes. In fact, it has been the opposite.
Big players are opening up AI centers in Montreal, as well as smaller businesses.
Mile X is an area in Montreal, booming with new businesses – both large and small.
There has been a tradition of Montreal being a university city. It helps to have all those university level students in the sense that the environment is a growing environment. That certainly has an impact on the willingness to start a business in the high tech sector for example.
Montreal is voted as being one of the top cities in Canada to start a business. It’s also been featured as one of the top 20 Startup Ecosystems in the world by Startup Compass. Why do you believe that is? What makes Montreal stand out from other cities when it comes to starting a business?
If you have a young environment with dynamic people with the intent of starting a business, it’s a big plus. Cost of labour is relatively low compared to other cities in North America. You won’t be strangled by cost at the start where you might be elsewhere.
If you set up shop in Montreal, you’ll be able to reach your markets with free trade agreements with so many countries around the world. Obviously, other Canadian cities have this same advantage, but the general environment is very conducive towards growing your business here.
The more “international” a city is the more significant positive impact on productivity and the economic performance of that city, which has undoubtedly helped Montreal, be a top city in Canada to start a business.
What is the best advice that you can give to entrepreneurs who are looking to start a small business in Montreal?
One is preparation. You have to prepare, and you should not run your business based on improvisation.
Second is that we strongly advise on having a “Born Global Approach.” When you start with your plan, project yourself on going global. This will help with your website and other tech tools that you will implement. Thinking of ways to go global later on will always be more difficult.
Lastly, hire a good team. I think that’s old advice, but it’s as valuable today as ever. You can’t do it all on your own. They don’t have to be extremely experienced, but they should complement your vision with their strengths and the motivation to succeed.
In your opinion, what are some success factors that every small business owner should have?
Resilience – it won’t be an easy road. You’ll have bumps along the way but successful entrepreneurs are resilient.
You also have to allow yourself to fail fast. Failure is not final. An energetic entrepreneur in a robust entrepreneurial area has to let them have a few attempts to learn from their errors.
You will face obstacles, but you’ll need to have the wisdom of knowing when it’s time to move on to the next project.
A lot of startups fail within the first five years of business. What do you believe is the number one mistake that entrepreneurs make when starting their business?
I believe that you have to be passionate. The people that are most prepared are the individuals that astonish me. Without that high level of preparedness, it’s very difficult to reach success. It doesn’t mean that you have to do it all by yourself. There are so many available resources out there to help you along the process.
The government of Canada provides a lot of resources to help business owners launch their business. What is the best support for Canadian SME startups that CCMM offers?
We offer two elements: First, we offer a voice. The voice is that government and public institutions are aware of the challenges that SMEs face and the programs we run are designed to address that. Secondly, we offer a networking area that’s unique. Through our services, an SME that has an innovative proposal be it a service or a product will reach the decision makers of large corporations. One element of developing your business is going out and meeting customers. We’re providing this in a B2B environment, and we offer an excellent platform for that.
On a final note, what does the future hold for the business industry in Montreal moving forward?
I’m extremely optimistic. I’m an economist and have been in the business of economic development – trying to understand what stimulates business creation. Right now, the recipe in the Montreal environment is working exceptionally well. The willingness to start a business, the strong economy, the focusing on talents, attracting immigrants – all that means that it’s going to be a very dynamic decade ahead of us. With tech and AI, some jobs will disappear, but many new jobs will be created in Montreal to develop AI, big data, deep learning applications. We’re very excited to see what’s in store for Montreal in the next decade.