Every summer, thousands of young entrepreneurs, innovators and investors converge on Montréal from all over the world to meet, network and support one another. What brings them all together? The International Startup Festival, founded by Philippe Telio. CONTACT MTL sat down with this inspiring Montréaler, who is helping transform the city into a true technology hub.
“Every time I invite someone to come to Montréal, I tell myself that I’m doing that person a huge favour.”
Are you from Montréal?
Yes, I was born in Town of Mount Royal, but I grew up in Hudson. After moving to Lennoxville and Ontario for my studies, I came back to Montréal. This is MY city.
What do you like most about Greater Montréal?
The people and the vibe! You’ll find people of all backgrounds here—intellectually stimulating, creative and highly dynamic people. If you look at other big cities, you’ll realize that Montréal has such an amazing mix of people and cultures. It’s truly inspirational. As for the vibe, Montréal is a fascinating phenomenon considering that the temperatures remain below freezing for weeks at a time. This city and its people are so full of life. You can see it and feel it everywhere: in the street, in the city’s bars and cafés, on sidewalk patios, at festivals. It’s a great place to live, with all the benefits of a big city minus the impersonal feel. Here you can connect easily with others. People talk and help each other whenever they can. I call that social generosity à la Montréal, a sense of community that makes it easier to build personal and professional relationships.
What are the three words that best describe Greater Montréal?
Heritage, to honour and remember the “old world” that surrounds us.
Innovation, for the city’s ability to keep reinventing itself every time there is social, industrial or technological change.
How did you come up with the idea for the International Startup Festival?
Eight years ago, I was organizing ad hoc events for young Montréal entrepreneurs. The idea was to bring together people and ideas for one evening. Those meetings became better known and increasingly popular over the years. At some point, the project grew too big to manage. I felt like we needed to let the rest of the world in as well and create a link between Montréal and innovators or investors from afar. Montréal is a city of festivals, so turning our event into a startup festival was the natural thing to do. It was the perfect formula because young entrepreneurs like to work together. Today, the conference draws close to 2,000 people from across Canada and the world. Some of our events are also open to the public and they are a great way to explore the future. This year we even have a Family Day for kids. It’s amazing how quickly kids pick up on new technology. They are the next generation of entrepreneurs!
Why is Greater Montréal the perfect breeding ground for a startup?
Well, there’s a good balance between ideas and available funds here: if you have a solid project, you can even get financing for your startup business. What’s more, with so many schools and universities in the area, there’s no shortage of talent, even in highly specialized fields. And that pool of highly skilled workers is stable. People like it here and have no intention of leaving everything behind to move to California. People’s loyalty to their city has a positive impact on startups. Multiculturalism also plays a key role: diversity in the workplace promotes creative thinking and boosts ideas.
Why is it important for you to be an ambassador for Greater Montréal?
I love my city. I’ve travelled a lot and I can tell you no other city comes close to it. Actually, I became an ambassador on the day I launched Startupfest five years ago. Today, half of the people who attend our events are from other provinces or overseas. That gives you an idea of all the work that goes into promoting Montréal and its innovators to other provinces, the U.S. and the world. My role became official when I joined the CONTACT MTL network. I truly believe this is a great initiative that will make Montréalers even prouder of their city.
What do you hope Montréal will be like in 20 years?
I hope it will rank once again among the world’s top 5 cities. What do companies do to show how global they are? They highlight their connections to New York, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Sydney and London. Montréal used to be on that list, but other cities moved up and took its spot. It’s clearly just marketing because Montréal is actually internationally recognized as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
If you could have a superpower, what would that be and why?
If I had a superpower, it would be to help people feel empathy—help them look at life and the world through the eyes of others. It’s a bit poetic, but I think it would make each of us a better person.
Follow Philippe Telio on Twitter : @PhilippeTelio