A Few Bagels and Coffees Have Turned into Something Great for Montreal’s Startup Breakfast

During one of his Startup Breakfasts in Montreal this past winter, organizer Steven Milstein’s unfortunate luck saw his car get towed.

He organized Montreal’s first event on January 15 where 80 people showed up. As sure as the city’s parking agents will nail an ill-placed vehicle, startup enthusiasts have been showing up in number since.

“I didn’t get that money back yet but maybe after a few more Startup Breakfasts,” joked Milstein. (He doesn’t actually make a profit; whatever money is brought in from ticket sales goes towards coffee and donuts).

Tuesday morning marks the latest edition of Startup Breakfast. It’s an informal meet up where an equal number of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, angels or service providers (like lawyers and accountants) meet at 7:30 in the morning for two hours. The breakfast kicks off when everyone in the room has sixty seconds each to explain why they’re there and what interests them. Following this, one pre-picked group gives a short presentation, followed by networking.

“There’s nothing really unique about the idea, it’s just the people who make it unique,” Milstein told Techvibes. “The startup community is great because everybody is just so interested in helping each other and everybody can relate to each other’s position. When a startup gets up there, everybody kind of pictures themselves in their shoes and I think that’s what gives it the appeal.

The first startup breakfast was a memorable one. After watching TechStars founder Brad Feld give a presentation at Montreal’s historic Notman House, Milstein organized the inaugural meet up. Feld joined via Google Hangout and it turned out to a great start for the fledgling event.

“I thought maybe I’d get 15 people the first time and then I started selling tickets and I got 80 people,” said Milstein. “I thought I was going to have to ask people to split the timbits and coffee”

Milstein, also the CEO of a new personal referral startup called International Startup Festival he watched countless entrepreneurs enter a literal “elevator pitch” only to flounder under the pressure. The events serve to help people refine their pitches while providing entrepreneurs with a longer-format opportunity to create connections with potential future investors, service providers or colleagues.

“It’s not the pitch that is going to change the world for you, its one of many pitches that you can iterate over, and get feedback, and over time you can build relationships with people interested in following your progress,” said Milstein.

His favourite story was when a recent McGill graduate working on a medical app startup showed up to a Startup Breakfast last summer. There the young entrepreneur pitched his idea and met a future founding team member that would join his advisory board. Later on his startup gained federal as well as provincial funding from Quebec, and is currently beta testing with 4000 users. A chance meeting facilitated by Startup Breakfast stimulated the growth of a company.

For Milstein it’s a great validity case for what he’s been trying to cultivate. From its brief success the event has been replicated in Quebec City and now Startup Breakfasts may begin in Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax. Toronto will likely be the first city to adopt.

It might be nothing more than a few bagels and coffee, but people seem to be gravitating towards this event. “People say ‘it’s hard to wake up in the morning they’ll say, but I know if I just get my self out of bed there will be one or two people that will be good contacts to have,’” said Milstein. “That’s part of the beauty, people will often say its casual, you don’t feel threatened, you don’t feel that you’re almost begging for an audience. Simple is the best.”