Everyone at Startup Fest has a story to tell. It doesn’t matter if the company is at employee number one (founder) or 101. Get past the elevator pitch, which everyone has down pat, and you find out that you’re talking to an artist, a musician, a mathematician, a person passionate about addressing social justice, a doctor, an engineer, a friend, a person with a burning problem to solve, a person hoping to change and shape the way business is done.
I got to spend my afternoon listening to stories and watching bright young things (and some not so young things) share their enthusiasm. It was truly an inspiring and invigorating atmosphere where the networking continued non-stop.
I arrived at the site by Parc Jean Drapeau’s metro, where a man with a theme coloured umbrella directed me to the shuttle bus located up a small hill. I was dropped off in front of a hand-graffitied sign for the festival and a garden of pink flamingos. Everything felt reminiscent of summer camp, only instead of swimming and arts and crafts, there would be pitches and hand shakes.
Once inside, I found tents featuring speakers, lots of food trucks, and plenty of excited people sporting badges with their names and role, whether that meant startup, accelerator, investor, speaker, or other. Most of all, there were lots and lots of places to meet and converse. Large pink bean bags, picnic benches, tables, chairs, grass… everything was arranged to encourage interaction. Some places made that interaction formal, like the Braindate Lounge, but most were informal. People chatted over water coolers, lounging on bean bags, at empty tables, and along the water.
I toured the tent city, which included a number of tents dedicated to taking pitches. The longest lines were those hopeful for pitching to win the biggest prizes, including the Grandmother Judges Tent and the $100,000 award. Inside, potential investors listened attentively to the different projects before them. Pitches were short — mere minutes. And some of the participants told me they didn’t expect to get anything, but they just wanted to practice and see how they faired.
There were also tents featuring places trying to attract talent at all stages, whether for specific cities, like Marseilles and Calgary, banks, or accelerators. Most offered mentoring and support for all stages of development.
And, of course, there were the startup folk, in large numbers. Some sat in on speaking events and a few others were showing off their projects, but most were out and about, sharing their ideas.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part II to hear their stories…