Invest Atlantic Conference Shows Maturity
By Megan Maltby
September is always a hectic time for the startup community here in Atlantic Canada. There is a kick into overdrive after the summer holidays, with numerous startup events and demo days flooding our calendars. In the sea of happenings, the 2015 Invest Atlantic conference has managed to stand out as an event that has grown by leaps and bounds.
In a way, Invest Atlantic has modeled the very startups it promotes. Confused? Let me explain:
Invest Atlantic began in 2010 with the aim to help entrepreneurs and startups forge connections with early-stage investors. Now in it’s sixth year, the conference has managed to scale rapidly. The event has seen attendance grow year over year, from just 115 to roughly 300. What started out as a single-day pitching event now represents a two-day conference chock full of opportunities for networking and learning. Even the pitching portion itself has grown to include three defined streams and 25 participating companies in 2015.
In order to scale, Invest Atlantic organizers have adopted another facet of startup methodology- customer listening. The conference hasn’t just grown, it has developed to include new elements that entrepreneurs need. While the inaugural event concentrated on pitching, in 2015 Invest Atlantic has evolved to include numerous learning opportunities. Five pre-conference workshops were added, 4 incredible keynote speakers were featured, and a whopping 14 breakout sessions were hosted, allowing entrepreneurs to learn from those who have “been there, done that.”
In addition, most entrepreneurs understand that while participating in a pitch competition can generate interest, the real deals happen outside of the spotlight. As a result, the conference has improved to feature an impressive amount of built-in networking time, providing entrepreneurs with the opportunity to truly hustle.
Finally, much like a startup, Invest Atlantic has benefited from embedding itself in the regional ecosystem. Here in Atlantic Canada, entrepreneurs, investors, and startup supporters are all connected by a narrow degree of separation- an issue that was directly highlighted at the event by Ellen Farrell’s Atlantic Entrepreneurial Ecosystem findings. Conference founder Bob Williamson has done an excellent job of garnering support and partnerships from all facets of the startup community including VCs, angels, accelerators, educators, and support organizations. I have no doubt that this networking has helped grow the conference immensely.
Williamson agrees, adding, “Last year, we took it from 245 attendees to 280, and we thought we were going to max out at 250. We have grown again because we raised the profile. I give a lot of credit to last year’s Chair Brian Lowe for raising the bar, and this year I had no choice but to raise the bar again! (New Chair) Nancy Mathis certainly helped me do so, and it has truly been a collective thing.”
All in all, the Invest Atlantic conference has really shown its maturity in 2015. Hats off to Bob Williamson, Nancy Mathis, and the other event organizers for putting on a great show. I look forward to seeing the conference scale further in 2016 as they pivot once again with a move to host the conference in Moncton!