Old Meets New: Startups Descend on Old Montreal for International Startup Festival

By Megan Maltby

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend International Startup Festival 2013 in Montreal. Hosted at the Montreal Science Centre site in the Old Port, the festival brought together entrepreneurs, investors, and other key players in the startup ecosystem to learn, network, and grow. It was a truly great experience and kudos are in order to the festival organizers (Phil Telio and company) for putting on such a great event.

After Wednesday evening’s kickoff barbeque, attendees were invited to listen to a number of keynote speeches on Thursday morning. Marc Garneau, former member of the Canadian Forces, Liberal MP, and astronaut started off the festivities with a rousing speech about the entrepreneurial culture and the need for governments to support startup businesses. As Garneau stated, “This young crowd is at the peak of creativity and we need to help you.” The morning continued with notable speeches by Blackboard founder Michael Chasen, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, and more.

After the keynotes and lunch, festival attendees had a chance to browse the Startup Village Tent Expo. The expo brought together groups from various organizations and regions in a themed village. Startups looking to learn more about user experience could visit the UI UX Design Clinic tent. Investors seeking to identify potential investment opportunities could visit a number of regional entrepreneur tents including New York City, Quebec, Ontario, and of course, Atlantic Canada. Entrepreneurs looking to learn more about angel investing and get feedback on their business pitch could stop by the Angel Investors tent. The expo was a great, carefully organized meeting space, and of course, the great weather didn’t hurt!

Thursday’s schedule operated much the same as Wednesday’s, with keynotes in the morning and tent expo in the afternoon. It is also important to note that each afternoon featured Roundtable Discussions and Work and Pitch sessions on the Festival grounds. I found many of the keynotes presented Thursday to be outstanding. The first session of the morning “How to avoid being a first year fatality” was enlightening, comedic, and on point (Outstanding memory: Fred Destin’s acronym CIMITYM- Cash is more important than your mother). Entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman also gave a spectacular keynote discussing entrepreneurship with a purpose. It was beyond inspiring and a personal highlight of the Festival.

On Saturday the festival was rounded up at an Open House Expo. The Startup Village was opened to the public so entrepreneurs (and any other interested individuals) who may had been unable to attend the full festival could get a chance to take in what the tent expo had to offer.

While the entire festival was definitely a huge success, I would like to draw attention to what I identified as the three shining attributes of the event.

Knowledge Sharing: Startup Fest created the ideal atmosphere for the transfer of knowledge. The keynote speeches provided guidance on a vast number of issues, including how to leverage data analysis for your business, tips for beating the Series A crunch and raising financing, and tools to avoid being a first year fatality. Experts from a number of areas within the startup ecosystem were excited to share their stories with the large audience, give advice about what has worked for them and what to avoid, and provide general education to the many entrepreneurs looking to achieve startup success. The roundtable discussions also encouraged educational discussion, while the pitching events provided entrepreneurs with the opportunity to learn what they are doing right and how they can improve. Even the tent expo offered founders the chance to learn more about the various organizations, investment networks, and accelerators available to help. I have no doubt in my mind that every single attendee left the festival with at least one new piece of knowledge.

Networking and Collaboration: There were a great deal of opportunities to network, both formally and informally, at the festival. While attendees got to know one another, I witnessed many important relationships form over the four day event. I watched B2B startups engage with some of the organizations in attendance to discuss sales opportunities. Founders came to the investment tent and made some great contacts for future rounds of financing. Accelerators were represented at the tent expo and were open to reviewing potential cohort opportunities. One entrepreneur even managed to raise $500K for his startup in just 48 hours- simply amazing. Even more incredible was getting the chance to witness founders helping founders. While many are probably in direct competition, I noticed entrepreneurs interacting with one another, offering advice, and just simply sharing their stories. There was even a tent dedicated to helping entrepreneurs find co-founders for their startups.

Energy: Unlike other attributes such as networking and knowledge sharing which are pretty standard requirements of any professional festival, energy is something which cannot be organized or forced. Every great event will bring with it a palpable energy and excitement from the crowd and Startup Festival 2013 had this in great supply. All attendees were enthusiastic and curious about the various people and programs on display throughout the week. Some individuals outwardly expressed their agreement during the keynote speeches. Others were very interested in visiting the various tents and gathering as much as they possibly could from the event. The Founder Fuel Demo Day (a fringe event of the Festival) really stands out to me as a prime example of the Startup Fest energy. The Rialto Theatre was absolutely packed, as entrepreneurs and investors came to view the 2013 cohort (9 startups in total) pitch. It was clear that everyone who had squeezed into the theatre was truly intrigued and excited to see what the cohort had to offer, and this was a sentiment that resonated throughout the entire Festival.

Founder Fuel Demo Day

Overall, I had a great time at International Startup Fest 2013. Acknowledgements are in order to the Startup Fest volunteers who helped keep the event organized, helped with the manual labor, and even helped attendees find refreshments. It is definitely an event that will be on my calendar for years to come.