All About the Business of Startups

The International Startup Festival puts a new spin on entrepreneurship each year with content ranging from back-of-the-napkin ideas to champagne-popping exits. Keynotes, interactive how-to-sessions, powerful lessons from battle-scarred founders, and the list goes on. There’s nothing quite like Startupfest!


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Dylan Richard


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New Venue: Startupfest takes over industrial port-side haven

From a cruise ship terminal in 2011 to a private island surrounded by paddle boats and Cirque du Soleil in 2014 - our venues have been anything but predictable. And with a brand new round of speakers, innovative new startups, and an upgrade in experience - we managed to find an even better venue for Startupfest this summer. Surrounded by water, with an amazing view of the Montreal skyline, Le Jardins des Écluses is the perfect home for 2015's theme of Masters & Models. This venue offers more than just spectacular views, a cool breeze, and a true feel for Montreal's historic city, it will also provide attendees with an unbeatable view of the 31st edition of Montreal's International Firework Festival. (Don't worry, the dress code hasn't changed; shorts, flip-flops, and a cold beer in hand are highly recommended). For the majority of our attendees who are out-of-towners, find places to stay and hotels that offer special Festival rates HERE.Find our venue on the map:


After a month in Paris... I'm on cloud nine

We’re back home in Montreal, jet-lagged and freezing, but while it’s fresh I want to share our experience of living in Paris, and of last week's crazily successful Elevator World Tour – the fourth city on our whirlwind tour of the most impressive Startup cities in the world. To immerse myself in Paris startup culture, I moved my entire family there a full month ahead of the actual event date. We lived through the wall-to-wall sidewalks of the tourist-packed holiday season; the enormous tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo attacks; the spirit and unity of Parisians; and then finally a rocking event inside a monument that needs no address, let alone a description: the Eiffel Tower! Life in Paris is not far from the fairy tale outsiders think it is. The city is beautiful, the monuments are endless, the museums are inspiring and the baguettes are not only outstanding, they are on every corner. Baguettes are to Paris what bagels are to Montreal, truly inherent to the French culture. A true luxury to eat no doubt, yet one all Parisians can still afford. After all, life is always sweeter when you can eat warm, fresh bread at the beginning, middle or end of any day. This was an experience my family will never forget. We were in Paris the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and subsequent terrorist attacks that took place. As a foreigner with family in the city I felt vulnerable at first. I was afraid, in the same way I was after 911. By contrast, the Parisians around were far sadder than afraid in the hours immediately following the attack. And then quickly, sadness turned into stoic pride and unity. While messages of Je Suis Charlie circulated the globe, in Paris they were on every corner and in every window. Parisians epitomize a spirit of unity attitude, the Sunday rally an incredible show of resilience and social pride. And in the days that followed, it was the little things that made the French culture distinct to me, like the metro system being free the day of the rally. Intentionally or not, this seemed as a message that all citizens are free to come stand in solidarity for their culture and freedom. In Paris, we learned firsthand how differently cultures respond to terror. For those who follow the Elevator World Tour, you’ll remember that last November we were scheduled to run an event at One World Trade Center in New York City. Sadly, the building managers canceled our event with less than 2 weeks' notice, citing security concerns, despite the lack of any immediate public threat. Ironically, the Charlie Hebdo attacks also occurred less than 2 weeks before the event—on another continent in another famous building. I would not have been surprised if the authorities had chosen to cancel our event. Instead, after a meeting with those responsible – during which I was again so impressed by the cohesive stand of unity in the face of danger – it was clear that cancelling was not even a consideration. Business as usual was the overarching tone, sending a clear message that we cannot give into fear that today may be our last, but live as though the future depends on us standing up for what is right. The impact of this experience, as you can surely tell, was real. My fear turned to pride, and I stood tall with all Parisians in the most revered building, in perhaps the world’s most revered city. Working in Paris was more enjoyable and less stressful than expected. The Paris startup community is large; even with a month, there is no way to touch all corners of this vibrant scene. This was our first event in Paris, and the first time doing it in partnership with a local team — 50 Partners, a local French accelerator. I cannot sing the praises of this team highly enough. Not only do they connect with the highest levels in government, they are also extremely well respected by the angel and startup community. We were lucky enough to work out of the 50 Partners Loft, which houses some 30 early stage companies. 50 Partners is not a typical accelerator; they offer solid and guaranteed mentorship from 50+ of the top business angels in the city, in exchange for a small amount of equity. I would gladly partner with this team again. I also met other people instrumental to the Paris startup community, from organizations like France Digital, The Family, and the Rude Baguette. I went to a 700-person Founders Event and did as much just walking around talking to people as time would allow. Parisian startups are highly focused on solving problems for people that live in big cities, everything from delivery services to sharing applications. For example, the winner of the Eiffel Tower Elevator Tour was a local startup called Glowee, a company developing bio-illumination solutions (lighting using organisms not electricity). By all accounts, the event was a resounding success. A sold-out event in the world's most recognized tower, with over 300 people in attendance, and 65 pitching startups (each having a precious sixty seconds to pitch in the century-old elevator) and a single winner that walked away with a record $110,000 investment. Not bad for a quirky idea that started in a one-floor elevator in Montreal's old port three years ago. When we started the Elevator World Tour, our dream was to host an event in the Eiffel Tower elevators. People called us crazy, but here we are a group of crazy Montrealers that pulled it off. Where to next? Hong Kong, Panama City, Shanghai, Barcelona....who knows? For now, we turn our attention to making sure Startupfest this summer is the best ever. We will be announcing our speakers soon. Hope to see you there. Phil


How Three Days at Startupfest Changed My Startup: Heddoko

It was just a matter of weeks before the International Startup Festival was to begin when Mazen Elbawab was scrambling to get a demo together. He had received a call from the Startup Fest telling him there may be a spot to demo his product and pitch it to hundreds of investors, media and startup enthusiasts for the annual $100,000 prize.That weekend, Elbawab saw a friend at a birthday party and ask if he could show him the business plan in exchange for a little advice. Skip ahead nearly six months later and Elbawab and Alexandre Fainberg are cofounders leading a hot new wearable technology startup for athletes, called Heddoko. Some may initially peg the new startup as another among a sizable list of wearable technology startups in Canada. But a look under the hood reveals something far more unique.The company is creating a full body suit- waterproof long sleeve shirt and pants- that measure the mechanical movement of the body. And this, say the cofounders, hasn’t been perfected yet. That’s because nearly every other wearable garment marketed towards the “quantified-self” market measuring biometric signals, like heartrate, breathing patterns, steps, pace and calories. But what about serious amateur or professional athletes that aren’t as concerned with their pulse? They want to know what their stride looks like during sprinting, and how they can improve it. They want to know if their backstroke pattern is correct or whether their back is the right position during squats. That’s the tool Heddoko is currently building.The sensors in the body suit are all integrated to the mobile app and the back-end, and users can even simulate a mirror effect by connecting the app to a TV monitor. “The human action recognitions and the machine-learning systems become more intelligent as it learns about your body,” said Elbawab. “Meanwhile, the web application shows the percentage of accuracy throughout week for how you did in a specific exercise.”It’s the first of its kind, say the cofounders, and it might even change that way athletes look at wearable technology. For Heddoko, it may have been that trip to Startup Fest that proved to be the boost the company needed. The startup ended up as a finalist in the festival’s three major awards and nearly took home the $100,000 investment prize for best on-stage pitch. They did end up walking home with $10,000 of legal fees from Fasken-Martineau and substantial coverage from several media outlets. In fact, Heddoko is currently one of two startup companies being followed for a six-part Radio-Canada documentary.Heddoko may have entered Startup Fest with a low profile, but it all changed after three days in Montreal. “The startup fest was what I would call the turning point where it sparked the interest of everybody around,” said Elbawab. “It was the first time that we showcased what the idea was and where we wanted to take it, and it skyrocketed during those three days.”For LP Maurice, the founder of Montreal-startup Busbud, “all the dots seem to connect” at crucial times for early-stage startups. At Startup Fest, Maurice served as a judge for the $100,000 prize, where Elbawab pitched his vision. “There were hundreds of startups pitching, ten other judges along with myself and I remember everyone was impressed with his pitch and the product,” said Maurice. “Everything took off for them.”Market research involved interviews and data from coaches, trainers, kinesiologists and over 340 surveys given out to various professionals. They even consulted with two professional sports franchises in Quebec who revealed what kind of a wearable tech solution they want for their players and what kind of data they want to extract.While live, mirror-simulated feedback will be a feature for the product, the cofounders want to give the athlete major analytics to scour over after-the-fact. The athlete and their coaches will be able to go over practices, workouts and performances. “Now it becomes a truly powerful analytic tool for fitness coaches, rehabilitation professionals and therapists,” said Fainberg.The technology came as a result of Elbawab’s previous work expertise in the game development industry in motion-tracking.The 32-year-old spent time working at both Behaviour Interactive and Ubisoft, working on projects like the Microsoft Kinect and games like My Sims, Your Shape Fitness Evolved and Michael Jackson The Experience. The guys feel that Elbawab’s experience will take motion tracking out of Hollywood and into the gym locker.“It’s interesting,” said Maurice. “I really like what they’re doing, they’re in the right spot in the market and [Elbawab] has proven himself as a very savvy young entrepreneur to go from a technical idea to building the company as fast as he did.”Looking back on the rollercoaster ride it’s been, the pair said they’re glad they came to Startup Fest. “Startup Fest was the rocket launch in terms of what Heddoku is doing,” said Fainberg. “We need more and more of these events in Canada that will put local startups on the map as it did for many others here in MTL.”As for coming back this summer, it’s already a lock for the pair of Joey Czikk