Since Ubisoft’s foundation, participating in the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to promote local talent has been a matter of course. After providing support in recent years to hundreds of Quebec start-ups and SMEs in the techno-creative sector, the Montréal entertainment giant is taking a new turn with Ubisoft Lumen. Francis Baillet, Vice President, Corporate Affairs at Ubisoft, describes the details of this new program.
Contributing to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem
Entrepreneurship is in Ubisoft’s DNA. Every studio opening and video game project is a new beginning that necessarily involves risk. These intrapreneurial ideas are at the heart of the entertainment giant’s creativity and give the company an understanding of what start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses experience when they try to grow. In 2014, with this observation in mind, Ubisoft began to get involved with Quebec entrepreneurs in the techno-creative field. The goal was to have them benefit from the company’s expertise, leading to partnerships with initiatives like Creatives ♥ the future Mtl Inc. (mentorship of a start-up as part of Je vois Montréal), InnoBahn Ubisoft (an event co-created with the Chamber to drive innovative start-up solutions in large companies), and more recently, the Ubisoft Indie Series (presented by National Bank, this competition for independent studios offers winners support, financial resources, and a distribution network for their video games). There have also been many collaborations with companies of all sizes, including Behavior Interactive, Audiokinetic, D-Box, and so on. So what is the goal of this approach? “We want to nourish local, emerging talent so that it flourishes on the international scene and attracts more talent,” explains Francis Baillet. The collaborative aspect of this strategy also allows the company to take advantage of resulting business opportunities.
Ubisoft Lumen: driving businesses on the international scene
“Ubisoft Lumen allows us to formalize what we were already doing – mentoring, sharing expertise, and proposing partnerships – by adding a new venture capital component,” says Baillet. The idea is to inject $5 million into the projects of growing Quebec companies that have proven themselves and are looking to take off internationally. Since Ubisoft is not specialized in venture capital, the company decided to partner with White Star Capital (WSC). What motivated Ubisoft to make this choice? “We were looking for a company with a global network, but we also wanted a partner with Quebec leadership to ensure that decisions are made here. WSC met these criteria, and, moreover, its co-founder, Jean-François Marcoux, has expertise in the techno-creative field, having co-founded Ludia, a video game company that had Ubisoft as one of its first clients,” says Francis Baillet.
Thanks to this partnership, start-ups and SMEs in the techno-creative industry now have access to a complete range of services, whatever their stage of development, at both the provincial level and in Montréal, Québec City, and Saguenay, where Ubisoft has its offices. An indicator of the success of this new program will be to see an SME succeed in its international projects, promoting both Quebec’s talent and know-how in the process.
Success story: Dialogue
Since January 2018, two companies have already benefited from program funds. One of these companies, Dialogue, offers virtual health services for the business community (Ubisoft was one of its first clients). Dialogue benefited from the three pillars of the program. “Having Ubisoft as a partner helps us grow with other large companies in Quebec and outside the province,” says Anna Chif, co-founder of Dialogue. The start-up received $12 million in funding last spring, in part from White Star Capital and four other financial institutions.
Ubisoft Lumen is off to a strong start, with more than 350 business partnerships identified for 2017 and 85 techno-creative companies, including Thunder Lotus Games, specialized in the creation of video games and winner of the Ubisoft Indie Series presented by National Bank. As a result of this award, Thunder Lotus was able to benefit from support through the use of Ubisoft’s user experience laboratory for its game Sundered. “That kind of mentoring is worth its weight in gold,” says William Dubé, founder and CEO of the company. Meduzarts, a 3D animation and special effects studio, had a similar experience: “It’s always good to have a local partner that can help take our work to the international scene,” says Meduzarts Executive Producer Victor-A. Rainville.
Francis Baillet has only one piece of advice for companies looking to join the program: “It all starts with a human relationship. Often, we don’t think that it’s possible to integrate a given technology into a video game, but it can often be done with some adjustments. The important thing is to meet and have a good connection. What we are looking for at the end of the day is a win-win scenario.”