Montreal NewTech Illuminates the Powerful Potential of Crowdfunding in Canada

Crowdfunding has always been something exciting for many: it seems to offer the sense of potential for any project.

Was your idea rejected by angels? Your best friend? Everybody around you? Have no fear: there’s always funding available for you from some crowd out there, even if it might not be the crowd around you right now. With the rise of the $55,000 potato salad KickStarter, the slippery idea that anything goes in crowdfunding has only gone stronger.

Montreal NewTech decided it was time to convene together a bunch of startups who had successfully funded projects, and which were undergoing the process to do so in order to bring some real-life examples to the discussion.

This was capped with a group panel that brought in experts in the crowdfunding field: Amanda Williams, a hardware entrepreneur who raised $150,000 for a smart software-enabled lamp called Clyde, Chris Arsenault, the managing partner at iNovia Capital, and Diana Yazidjian, the founder of Invest Crowdfund Quebec, a political advocacy group pushing for equity crowdfunding in Quebec.

(Full disclosure: I moderated the group panel at this event.)

First off came VRVANA, who recently kicked off a Kickstarter campaign for the Totem Virtual Reality set, a Montreal-based competitor to Occlus Rift that has already raised more than $100,000 in just a couple of days. It offers a host of innovations over its competitors, including the ability to extend your range of motion with virtual reality—onboard cameras in Totem allowed for there to be more movement from left to right while you are immersed in different worlds. There was also the nifty ability to allow users to switch from the real world to the virtual one without taking the headset off—rather a button toggled different views. The project was raring up for a campaign it would kick off only weeks later.

Then came Tastebay, a platform that promised to help filter out your tastes, and recommend just the right restaurants for you. The startup had a team, and a product that was a few months away—but they were looking for that extra little bit of funding that would help them along.

Third was RevolSound, custom-fit earphones that would mold to your ear, adjusted by a software application. Software is eating the world—and smart hardware is helping it do so.

Fourth was Wuxia the Fox. The interactive children’s storybook was primed to create a whole different user experience than the typical Silicon Valley gadget: instead of trying to trap children for as many hours as possible, it aimed to liberate kids, and get them to look outside of screens. The application interacted with you if you walked outside in the physical world, and after twenty minutes of continual interaction, it would lock you out. The counter-intuitive twist on digital storytelling defied everything Silicon Valley has been trying to build as the ideal experience—and it successfully raised $65,000 from crowdfunders looking for anything but a monetary return on investment.

Finally, the District 3 co-working space was raising money for a MakerSpace that would help give the Montreal startup community and students at Concordia University the ability to tinker with cutting-edge hardware products such as Google Glass, and the MakerBot 3D printer.

If you sit back and look, it does seem like crowdfunding can enable anything. A scintillating sense of possibility hung over every presentation. It was the panel that brought a strong dose of reality about just how hard crowdfunding is—a successful campaign begins months in advance, with the collection of ardent fans proceeding any pitch made on crowdfunding platforms. It continues months after, all the way until the last perk is delivered to your last supporter.

While it’s hard work, crowdfunding does enable a diversity of ideas to become reality. Founders and creators are rewarded for their efforts with a tangible product they can now sell to the masses.

Whether it’s a delicious potato salad, or the next world-beating hardware product, crowdfunding is empowering builders around the world to vivify their dreams.