Where Start-ups And Angels Come Together

Startupfest now a staple in Montreal’s Summer events

By Byron Toben

I often cover established business events where dark blue suits and ties are de rigueur among the middle-aged men who attend, and few women abound.

Quite a difference from the fast growing Startupfest Montreal at its sixth anniversary from July 13 to 16 – the crowd there was much more T-shirt and jeans and decidedly younger, with gender parity. Lots more comfortable during a sweltering four-day spell at its outdoor tent city in the Old Port at the foot of St-Laurent and de la Commune.

How did this festive setting come about for a showcase of new high tech endeavours?

In the beginning was not the Word, as Matthew of gospel fame declared, but the Image as created in 1986 by NFB alum Daniel Langlois in his Softimage company, which he eventually sold to Microsoft for megabucks. Its 3D animation software was used in such films as Jurassic Park, Star Wars 1 and The Matrix.

john stokes startupfest westmountmag.ca

John Stokes

Then along came Stokes… John Stokes, a Manchester educated venture capitalist fresh from 10 years In Tokyo. He moved to Montreal in 2006 and became a founder of Real Ventures which, since 2010 has become Canada’s largest and most active early stage fund, as well as FoundersFuel, an Accelerator program.

Philippe Telio, who had been running StartupCamp Montreal finally created the present International Startup Festival.

Three thousand participants were expected for a rich mix of investors (some called “angels”), pitches by new start-ups, lectures by seasoned pros and display tents. Prizes totalled $500,000 in all, with the largest being $200,000 to be given to one winner or split by two if the judges so decreed. A cute non-monetary honorary prize was given by a panel of three grandmothers.

I counted about 60 lectures and workshops, averaging 30 minutes each. Many of the booths had “loot” for passer-byes. I garnered a light blue T-shirt and some neat sunglasses from Sendgrid, a cloud based e-mail service from Colorado. Our own CBC handed out a superior ballpoint pen. I eschewed a bag of sticky Crackerjack from a Chinese marketing outfit.

I did attend a number of pitches moderated by Mr Stokes himself, whose British accent and deep voice was reminiscent of Simon Cowell of American Idol fame (though not so intimidating).

The powers that be are now working on converting the historic Notmam house on Sherbrooke near St-Laurent into a year round meeting centre to continue to grow the synergy of present and future start-ups.

startupfest westmountmag.ca

Images: Dominick Gravel

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club

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