The grandmother's tent is one of the highlights of the tent village at the annual International Startup Festival, the seventh edition of which starts in Montréal July 12. Entrepreneurs must be able to explain their startup in ways their grandmothers could understand. (Image: Francis Moran)

Published: June 27th, 2017

When Phil Telio, founder and impresario of Montréal’s annual four-day festival of all things startup, is asked about the luck he has had in his life, his thoughts turn to “those genies in my life that have supported me,” and he lists off several stalwarts who have supported the International Startup Festival since it started. “I consider myself lucky to have met these people,” he told me in a recent interview.

Telio is thinking about luck because this is the lucky seventh edition of the festival, which gets under way on Montréal’s waterfront on July 12. The first day sees a repeat of three of the popular “premium fests” first introduced last year; these are more focused mini-events catering to accelerators, angels and founders at scale.

For the first time this year, one of the premium fests on the opening day will be a day of programming in French at what has until now been a wholly English event in a mainly French city. A hackathon premium fest starts at 6pm on Friday and runs for 24 hours. A final premium fest, focused on artificial intelligence for which Montréal is rapidly becoming a major locus of activity and investment, will close out the festival on Saturday, July 15.

The main event kicks off with a party on the Wednesday evening and continues with two full days of keynotes, breakout sessions and meeting tents that foster face-to-face interactions with investors, delegations from other countries and other regions in Canada, and the ever-popular grandmothers who will judge startups on how well they can explain their concept to, well, their grandmother.

The lucky seven theme will extend to speakers who will be asked, Telio said, “to explore the role that luck plays in success and failure. Everything from getting the lucky breaks because you met the right person, being at the right place at the right time … and all those sorts of themes.”

While Telio is clearly happy the festival will have a full day of French-language content and calls it “one of the big, new pieces” of this year’s edition, he said it would have been impossible to do so seven years ago for fear “we might have been viewed as just being a local event.” He applauded his provincial and municipal backers for their “counter-intuitive” support of an English-only event.

One of this year’s new tents will see CIOs from large corporations, such as Johnson and Johnson, General Motors and a few of Canada’s large banks, be available to meet with startup entrepreneurs.

“The large corporates are interested in connecting with the startup community and … the idea (is) to give startups the opportunity to establish relationships, to start to talk about what they’re doing,” Telio said.

But don’t expect immediate results, he cautioned. “It’s like finding an investor. You don’t find them in your first run out the gate. You’ve got to establish relationships. You’ve got to start to explain to people what you’re doing. They’ve got to start getting comfortable with you, and so it’s really a first step on the path to working with some of these large corporates.”

I have been a huge fan of the festival since its first edition and sorely missed the past two years while living overseas. I am very much looking forward to renewing acquaintances, doing some real learning, and re-igniting my passion for entrepreneurs and startups. See you all in Montréal in a couple of weeks.

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