While it is important to be sensitive to the needs of investors, sponsors and policy makers, at Startup Weekend, we believe it is crucial to always listen to the community of entrepreneurs in every ecosystem. After all, Startup Weekend is a grass-root movement.
Building a Startup Community
After a successful customer survey campaign among the UP Montreal Startup Community of close to 3 thousand individuals, we have identified a need to focus on industry-vertical editions, rather than generic and open editions.
Usually, in new “emerging” startup ecosystems, entrepreneurs and wanna-be-entrepreneurs prefer to participate and support generic hackathons and Startup Weekend (SW) editions. The lack of existing industry vertical cluster in the local ecosystem seems to be the main reason for that, but also the lack of experience among the startup community of entrepreneurs. After all, on average, it takes 3 to 4 Startup Weekend editions to turn a wanna-be-entrepreneur into an entrepreneur, .and to turn a startup community enthusiast into a startup community leader.
Let’s not forget that Brad Feld mentioned in his book Startup Communities: ”It Takes a Village to raise a startup”. Without a community of subject matter mentors, industry partners and inspiring successful entrepreneurs, it is very hard to motivate, train and accelerate a new wave of entrepreneurs.
Montreal has fortunately passed that stage and it now forms part of the “evolving” startup ecosystems alongside Seattle, Chicago, Toronto, Waterloo and many others. At this stage, it’s where the community starts the process of sophistication to develop its own industry vertical clusters.
Clusters: EdTech as the big winner
The unexpected big winner among all industry verticals is the one in Educational Technology. Unexpected because there’s a complete lack of other grass-root events (meetups, hackathons, bootcamps, and incubators) specialized in that field. Just like Hacking Health (Luc Sirois) is building a great cluster around Health Tech that it is spreading globally, I believe Educational Tech might be another great pole/cluster to be built in Montreal. After all, Canada has always focused its public policies around Health and Education as a way to enhance the quality of life. It is intrinsically linked to our Canadian Values. Thus, it is normal, not unexpected, to have passionate wanna-be-entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs willing to improve and disrupt the current Educational system. That being said, our public infrastructures are way to slow to move and it requires time and patience to penetrate that field. Some local Montreal EdTech entrepreneurs like GradeSlam and Erudite Science have found fastest accessibility to the US market without having the need to relocate.
Last December, a Startup Next graduate, Phil Cutler (CEO, Gradeslam), who’s developing an amazing EdTech venture agreed to talk on “How to Launch an EdTech company” during a Founder Institute meetup event. It was a success! A room full of 100 people with educators, developers and enthusiasts attended the session eager to learn the process on launching EdTech ventures. The survey and the meetup event convinced EdTech entrepreneurs Phil Cutler and Patrick Poirier to lead the path for a Startup Weekend Montréal EdTech by Q2-2016. Stay tuned!
Sustainable City = Smart City and Sustainability
Surprisingly, the Smart City vertical had lower demand or appetite despite the presence of a Montreal tech accelerator specialized in that field. On the other hand, a new topic, “sustainability”, seemed to have slightly more traction than the precedent one. As a result, local community leaders decided to merge both topics to create the first Canadian “Sustainable City (Smart City + Sustainability)” edition (January 29-31, 2016).
Despite the challenges of the topic, in a very short amount of time (around 3 weeks), the Montreal ecosystem responded incredibly well with a high level of engagement. Some 100 entrepreneurs decided to enroll to that edition and there was even a “waiting list” of around 20 business persons. Quiet a success!
IoT and Financial Technology industry verticals
Thanks to the great effort of two amazing Montreal-born grass root movements, WearHacks and NeuroTech-X, that have managed to mobilize hundreds of enthusiasts in 2014 and 2015, there is definitely an interest to foster the Internet of Things cluster. Last November 2015, a successful Startup Weekend Montréal “Internet Of Things” edition captured the interest of 100 entrepreneurs focusing on building real businesses out of a multitude of hardware prototypes. More efforts to consolidate this cluster will set the grounds for establishing a striving IoT tech hub in Montreal.
Last but not least, FinTech has been identified as a very much popular topic around entrepreneurs. Actually, last Fall, Founder Institute tested in Montreal a “FinTech Fellowship” as well as meetup “How to Fundraise for your Fintech Idea” done in collaboration with FinFusion and Bitcoin Embassy. Despite the great interest, conversion to individuals willing to launch a company was not at the Rendez-Vous. Let’s face it, Financial Technology is more complicated due to legal regulations, entry-barriers and cost of implementation. Despite the challenges, a group of community leaders behind “Congrès Maghrébin du Canada” are willing to bring the 1st Startup Weekend FinTech to Montreal.
The sharing economy is right now changing paradigms in Canada. Edmonton is now the first Canadian city to legalize Uber and the Quebec Government is analyzing the situation. Montreal has recently produced some companies like FlatBook, Breather and ShareTheBus in that field. So,the Montreal entrepreneurial ecosystem seems to see this as an opportunity to disrupt several traditional opportunities.
Next February 19, the Quebec Federation of Young Chambers of Commerce (RJCCQ) will organize a huge public-private Forum on the “Sharing Economy” theme. The brave student association “SRA” at the HEC Business School has decided to push further along this bu launching the first Canadian “Startup Weekend Sharing Economy” edition. It will happen on March 11-13.
Laying the Foundations of Montreal startup ecosystem
In conclusion, 2016 will definitely be the “Year of the Verticals” in Montreal. It will be the pivot year to lay the foundations for important industry tech clusters critical to consolidate the startup ecosystem. Montreal is in the right path to catch up quickly growing and sophisticated tech hubs like Toronto, Boston or Seattle.
[Tweet “”The best #entrepreneurs follow their passion to solve a real pain in their lives, not a trend””] – Sergio A. Escobar, Global Facilitator Startup Weekend, Techstars Startup Programs