Co-Founder & Director of A.I. at Motorleaf

“Well, I came here originally to study at McGill, to do my master’s in electrical engineering. I am a co-founder and director of artificial intelligence at Motorleaf. So we’re an AI company here in Montreal, and what we do is we get data from greenhouses all over the world and we try to address their challenges. One of our products is to predict their harvest and their yield. So, without being physically in the greenhouse, we can, pretty much, tell them how much they’re gonna harvest at the end of the week or two weeks from now.”

From The Philippines To Montreal

“I grew up in a tropical country, so, there you go. That was my impression, this place is cold. And it gets dark at 4:00 pm. So the next question was, what am I doing here? But I came here to Montreal because I guess I was having like a quarter life crisis. I was at a very well-paying job back in the Philippines, it was an American company and I just figured, like I asked myself, is this what I want like forever? Is this it? So like a lot of those questions, you know, basically pushed me to decide to go back to school. And my dad told me, The world is your oyster.”

People Know How To Deal With Winter Here

“The plan was just to study and then go somewhere else. But staying in Montreal, you learn a lot of things. Like, it’s not a dead, slow city. I make a joke with my friends. The first time I moved here, they keep asking me what do I miss about the Philippines? And I say well, Manila, particularly. I always say in Manila at 7:00 in the morning, there are already tons of people pissed about something. And you never see it Montreal.”

Seasonal Changes Are Exciting

“We only have two seasons back in the Philippines. It’s summer and then typhoon season. So, like coming here where there’s four seasons, it’s part of the, like a nice thing, you know? About the country and city specifically. So I actually look forward to the change of the seasons. So every time it’s spring, you get excited.

Every time fall is around the corner, you get excited as well. So it’s not something that I hate. I do complain about the weather, but I feel like I’m doing it to sort of like, because it’s what people expect from you, you know? So you complain and then your friends complain, but, I mean, it’s part of the charm of the city.”

The Work Ethic Here Is Output Focused

“The Philippines is, it was a Spanish colony for 300 years and then it became an American colony for 50 years after that. So, like the city, the capital and the country itself is very Americanized and a lot of people might not like that that I used that word, but it is what it is. Like they’re pretty familiar with the North American culture so moving here was not a problem. It wasn’t like a culture shock or anything like that.

So, when I talk about Montreal, I definitely talk about it being like America but also like Europe because people they value work but they also know how to enjoy life. Which I think is very European. And work ethic is also, I think, very associated with American culture, like being output focused. So I think that mix and also the fact that a lot of people actually come here to study or to work, is adding to that, you know, character of the city, which I really like.”

I Am Where I Want To Be

“I actually remember my first party. I was at school and we finished our exams and a friend of mine said, come over, I’m having a house party. So I went to the party. I just remember like 200 people at the party and everyone’s from everywhere. So they would talk about their research and what they’re doing and where they were originally from. So you’d hear people saying like, oh, I’m from Greece, I’m doing this. Oh, I’m from Italy, I’m doing this. It’s very exciting. I remember thinking to myself I am where I want to be.”

So Many Vibrant Things Are Happening

“You can’t shield yourself from all of these vibrant things that are happening. So even if you are a person who wants to be alone, it’s impossible to ignore that the world is really very dynamic and the city itself, you know, there’s a lot of things happening, and you just want to participate.

It certainly helps a lot if you have friends who are into this thing. So you basically talk about the events and check it out. And if the events are too far away or you feel lazy, then you can just get together at home and talk about your work. And a lot of my friends are also working at a startup right now. There’s a lot of exciting things going on, so imagine talking about like new things that we’re doing at work over food that someone made from their home country with a Montreal twist. So it’s just a good place to be in.”

I Never Regretted Coming Here

“I already knew about McGill and Montreal before I even moved here. And when I got here, I thought everyone was friendly, everyone was polite, not to stereotype Canadians, but, yeah, like everyone is really nice. And my roommates showed me about the places that I should visit here in Montreal, talked about, like, particularly Québécois food. And so, yeah, I thought it’s a very exciting position and I never really regretted coming here. And I’ve only been here five years. So I’m really still getting to know the city and every day, like something new to be learned.”

Montreal Is The International Hub For A.I.

“The buzz created by the fact that you have startups like us doing interesting stuff with A.I. helps. So, it sort of like triggers it. And also creates that kind of impression for the rest of the world. Our business partners in Europe actually believe that. And when they talk to potential clients, they mention that Montreal is the hub for A.I., so. It’s becoming a thing and startups like us will obviously make that a thing for sure. But like, being a part of the city, there’s almost like an expectation to be good at it. But also, there’s a lot of funding from the government, from the local government, to allow you to explore A.I, you know, and so you’re in a space, in a city, where that is just encouraged. It’s hard to ignore it.”

The Possibilities For A.I. Are Limitless

“Our focus is to make sure we acquire the data. Come up with solutions to make sure that they’re safe, and then build from that. So right now, we’re helping them predict their yield. We also have products that will help scout diseases in their greenhouses. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to predict the prices that they’ll get from their distributor. Because there’s data in the transactions as well.

Everything that they collect, pretty much, we can take over and develop a product, so that they’re efficiently growing. They care about harvest, but they also should care about their return on investment, how much losses they’re gonna get every year, how they’re prices affect the prices in other parts of the world, because let’s face it, you know, everyone’s connected. You import produce, you export produce. And so yeah, the fact that everything is connected, and the fact that we work in an industry, in a food industry, then there’s a lot of data around it. And so for us, at least, I like to think that the possibilities are limitless.”

Being Able To Connect With People Is Important

“I think everyone who wants to come here to Montreal needs to answer the question what do they want to get out of it, you know? They need to, I think you shouldn’t move to a city thinking that it’s gonna solve your problem. I think you should have very specific questions that you want answered. And for me, it was education, and a research program that I respect and the world respects. And being able to live in a city that is dynamic, that’s a good work-life balance. And I think, just connecting to people. I cannot stress that more.

Being able to connect to people, because you’re pretty much restarting your life in a new city, right? So it’s important to have friends, to build relationships, and, you know, whether that’s professionally or personally, I think having someone to tell you like, that’s a good idea, you’re not crazy. Or someone to tell you winter’s gonna be over soon. So, I think relationships and being able to connect to people is very important. If you’re gonna survive in a new city.”

A Very Diverse City That Celebrates All Cultures

“It’s really just a very diverse city that celebrates cultures, you know? And I think it helps define the city. It also helps evolve the city, like moving forward, I think. There’s obviously a very strong French Canadian culture and then you have immigrants or expats, or whatever words you feel comfortable using, that are coming here. So it adds like a layer of character to all these things and then whatever festivals that keep getting celebrated over the summer or the winter, I think that just makes it easier to live here and enjoy life.”

A Dollar Goes Longer Here Compared To Bigger Cities

“I’m actively part of raising funds. When we hit the seed round and then going into series A, so I’m familiar with the kinds of dollars that we’re requesting from investors. What I can say is that because we have a relatively lower cost of living here in Montreal, that a dollar goes longer compared to bigger cities like Toronto, or New York, for instance, and definitely better than Silicon Valley.

Also, the local government does a lot funding to help startups like us go even longer with our limited investments. So, for instance, they can give you a funding for hiring people less than 25 year olds. Or funding for doing something in A.I., for instance. So, there’s a lot of help that we can get from the government, from the federal government, and from the local government. And so, I think that Montreal definitely is one of the easiest cities to launch a startup, because, like I said, your dollar goes a long way.”

A Lot Of My Friends Are Working At Startups

“A lot of my friends that I went to McGill with are all working at a startup here in Montreal. So one of my friends is working at and they do speech recognition using AI, that’s very interesting. He actually got an internship at MILA right now, so that’s good, and then he’s gonna do his PhD soon after.

One of my friends is also working at, they’ve kind of pivoted for a bit, but they basically use video processing and image recognition to come up with cool stuff, you know. For instance one of their products is to identify your joints. If they take a picture of you right now their system could identify different joints of your body. So I think that’s really cool. And one of my other friends is also working on an AI company a startup here in Montreal. And they come up with algorithms that will detect diseases using CT scans and MRI scans, so that’s also very interesting. So yeah, there’s a lot of these tiny startups doing really cool stuff here in the city.”

How I Started At MotorLeaf A.I.

“They posted an ad for an internship. And at that point, I was waiting for my thesis to be reviewed, so I wasn’t doing anything anymore. I was just looking at available jobs in the city. And so I interviewed for them. I remember thinking that, you know, I’m just gonna come in and didn’t really have a lot of expectations ’cause it was a hardware company, and seemed like at that point, that the hardware was done, so I didn’t really know what contribution I was gonna be able to give.

I interviewed and the co-founder starting talking about what they want to do and the system in place. And I remember thinking to myself, they’re collecting data. And where there’s data, there is AI. So I remember being very sold at the moment that they interviewed me because I think that there was really like a lot of potential to grow. So I got home after the interview, I got together with my friends, and then I got an email. They said that they created a job, well like a job for me, basically. Because the funny part of that story is that I showed up for the interview and then like one of the co-founders asked me, So you have a very impressive resume, why do you want to work for free? And I said, well I didn’t know this is like a posting for a free job, so I’m like, I’m not gonna work for free. So they created a job for me, and that’s that.”

There Are Limitless Opportunities In A Startup

“How do you wanna find a job, how do you do it? I think it requires a lot of honesty to yourself. ‘Cause this is the kind of advice that I give people. Like I think you should be honest about your qualifications. Structure your resume according to that, and target it according to like the jobs that you wanna go after, right? ‘Cause, whether you like it or not, if you interview for something and you know that you’re not qualified and you show up for the interview and you get rejected, it’s still a heartache, right? It’s a blow to your ego but also it makes the job finding even harder. Because then you accumulate a list of rejections.

I think it’s important to look at startups. I think there’s a lot, like limitless opportunities in a startup. I’ve worked for a big company for over six years. So the amount of contribution that I’ve given there compared to my two years and a half at MotorLeaf, it’s not even comparable. And the reason is that you can dictate what you want to contribute. There’s a lot of room for people to listen to your inputs and there’s a lot of validation and you’re just more involved. You’re not just a piece of computer.

So I think looking at startups, trying to understand what they’re trying to accomplish, and trying to ask yourself like what are your skill sets that will help that company reach their potential? And tell the companies how you can help bring them from point A to point B.”

A.I. Data Helps Farmers Predict Harvests

“The organic question is, what can you do with all this data in order to do your job more efficiently? And I think that, basically, is what AI is trying to do. Like, there’s a lot of functions that your brain is capable of doing very efficiently. So the idea is how do you transport that into software? So that’s what we’re doing.

In our field, specifically, farmers are trying to predict how much harvest they’re gonna get. They’re using data and they’re using their experience, maybe their education in horticulture, but there’s always a question of is this the best way to do it? Is it the most efficient way to do it? There’s a lot of numbers. Is this tractable? Is your brain, or you as a person, can you manually, really do a very efficient calculation so that you can get the best answer to the question that you’re trying to answer? And so that’s AI. It helps you bridge the numbers and the data to the question that you wanna answer.”