Photo: Phil Telio is the founder of the wildly successful International Startup Festival, which returns to Montreal this week for its fourth — and largest-ever — edition.

For the more than 1,500 attendees expected to show up at this year’s International Startup Festival in Montreal starting Wednesday, it will be the third and ever-larger venue they’ve seen in as many years, clearest evidence of the rapid growth this summertime startup celebration has enjoyed in its four years. As someone who has been to all three previous iterations, I can’t wait to see what this year’s bigger and better version has to offer. Here are some of the highlights I am looking forward to.

It’s all about the startups

As a huge fan of startups and the passion of the entrepreneurs behind them, the biggest draw for me has always been the wealth of incredible ideas and energy represented by all the young companies that flock to Montreal’s waterfront every summer for this extravaganza of pitching, networking and learning.

While 12 startups will officially pitch on stage, there are countless other formal and informal opportunities for startups to gain the attention of investors and win the festival’s grand prize of a $100,000 investment. The prize is open to every startup at the festival, not just the ones pitching on stage. Founders are encouraged to pitch the judges in their tent on Thursday afternoon or to buttonhole them at any time during the festival.

Another route to the $100,000 grand prize is to woo a panel of grandmothers who will hold their separate pitching sessions. The grandmothers in 2012 famously chose Onavo, a company that went on to be acquired by Facebook so their wisdom is not to be discounted.

The Business Development Bank of Canada will be holding a separate pitch contest featuring two companies from each of three of Canada’s leading accelerator programs. The six companies, Vanhawks, Provender, Hurrier, Uplette, Cinecoup and Learn Dot are graduates of FounderFuel, Extreme Startups and Growlab.

Tent Village is the place to be

Organizer Phil Telio must have been freaking a wee bit last year as the clock counted down the start of the festival and the rain continued to pour, soaking the ground where much of the festival would take place under canvas. But the sun both literally and figuratively shone, and the tent village was a huge success.

This year’s tent village will again see agglomerations of tents organised into different categories, such as location, with folks from New York, Toronto, California and Atlantic Canada; themed tents housing the grandmothers, talent and mentors; and sectoral tents focused on mobile, cleantech and gaming.

The social buzz and interaction around the tents is one of the things that really sets this festival apart from other more speaker-based conferences as people do more than just sit in chairs and listen to presentations; they get out and mingle with other founders and the rest of the startup ecosystem members.

This year’s venue is spectacular

Terrace-Bonsecours-1
Terrasses Bonsecours, on an island in Montreal’s Old Port, will be the locus of all things startup this week with the International Startup Festival.

The International Startup Festival has always been held on Montreal’s historic St. Lawrence River waterfront, starting out in a slightly grubby but perfectly serviceable cruise ship dock its first two years and graduating to the Montreal Science Centre and adjacent parklands last year.

This year promises another bump up in venue quality as the festival moves to the spectacular Terrasses Bonsecour in the middle of an island in Montreal’s Old Port. Virtually the entire festival will be out doors, with a massive tent hosting the keynotes, two other large tent-covered stages hosting the conference’s twin streams titled, “Future of” and “How to,” and the tent village and hammock-dotted play zone spreading out from there.

Take the bus. Or the train.

If you don’t already have your ticket, it’s way too late to get onboard one of the many organised road trips to the festival. Long a popular feature, road trips see folks from other centres travel together to Montreal by train or bus, holding pitch contests and learning sessions along the way. This year will see delegations from France, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, Fredericton, Toronto, Ottawa, New York and Quebec City.

I’ll be live tweeting

The International Startup Festival has become as regular a feature of my summer as time at the beach and this year will be no exception. I will be there for the whole of the festival, live-tweeting the presentations that catch my interest. If you’re planning on being there, let’s connect. And I will have a full report here on ITBusiness.ca next week.

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