Anyone who’s been to Montreal in the summertime knows that this city makes the most of its brief season of heat by staging a seemingly never-ending procession of festivals.
Three years ago, the calendar of music, dance and cultural celebrations gained a high-energy new entrant when local business consultant and start-up event impresario Phil Telio launched the International Startup Festival. The third iteration of this coming together of earnest entrepreneurs, passionate technology geeks, brand-name speakers, well-courted investors and other start-up enthusiasts got under way Wednesday evening and will run through Saturday.
Originally held in the cruise ship terminal on Alexandra Quay on this historic city’s storied waterfront, this year’s festival moved a few doors down and largely outdoors, with morning keynote sessions taking place at the Montreal Science Centre while the afternoon sessions — and a bustling village of about 30 themed tents — are clustered in adjacent park lands.
The outdoor venue, complete with beer tents, Montreal’s newly rediscovered food trucks, hammocks and yes, even the johnnies on the spot, has certainly ramped up the party atmosphere of the festival. When I spoke with Telio a couple of weeks ago, he said one of the key attractions of his event is that it is “fun and playful. I think people appreciate that it’s not a stuffy investors’ conference where people are all wearing suits and ties.
“And it’s Montreal in the summer!”
Party time notwithstanding, there is still a lot of serious business being done here. Most sessions, whether in the air-conditioned cool of the science centre or the blessedly breezy tent village, are standing room only as entrepreneurs are by turns inspired to remain committed to their passions and dreams or schooled in some of the more prosaic skills of marketing, raising financing, product development and human resources management.
No startup event would be complete without giving young companies the opportunity to pitch their ideas in the hopes of attracting investment and the Startup Festival is no exception. In previous years, the festival had a literal elevator pitch contest in which entrepreneurs had to tell their story to investors in the scant few minutes it took for the cruise terminal elevator to move between two floors. With no physical elevator available this year, startups will have to do their pitching in one of the pitch tents in the park. As in previous years, they can also do their best to impress a gaggle of grandmothers who have a perfect two-for-two record in selecting a startup that went on to land investment.
Between these pitching opportunities and formal on-stage company pitches, there is the opportunity to win $80,000 in “entrepreneur-friendly” convertible debenture investment from several investors who have kicked in at least $10,000 apiece, plus a prize package of legal, marketing and other services that Telio valued at another $20,000.
— Startup Festival (@startupfest) July 12, 2013
Some of those hoping to snare that prize were part of organized travel delegations. Last year saw a “startup train” bring entrepreneurs and others from Toronto and surrounding communities. This year, there were be two trains and three buses, each featuring some sort of programming for the startups who ride along. Trains came from Toronto again as well as from Quebec City while buses were dispatched from New York, New Brunswick and Ottawa.
The formal agenda for the festival ends on Friday but Telio has thrown the tent city open to the public on Saturday, hoping that Montrealers will gain some insight into the vibrant startup community that energizes this city both summer and winter.
Follow a live social media stream of the event:
International Startup Festival 2013
startupfest 2013, international startup festival, startupfest, #startupfest, @startupfest