2014 International Startup Fest: Startups and the City

When the Montreal International Startup Festival announced that the theme of their four-day long event would be “Startups and the City,” I really didn’t know what to expect. How could a theme about cities actually be inspiring, I thought. Boy, was I ever wrong.

After the first speaker of the festival, Colin Harrison, gave a pretty technical 20 minute presentation on the subject of cities and innovation, it all became immediately clear about how the theme related to the startup world.

It wasn’t about cities per se. It was about the people in the cities.

Cities bring people together. People coming together drives innovation. Innovation can only come when great people come together and work together. And this is where the theme of the Startupfest really shined.

Teamwork. Collaboration. People coming together for a common purpose.

This view was also echoed by the next speaker, CEO of the Founder Institute, Adeo Ressi, who not only delivered a superb speech but also really had the crowd going. Adeo spoke on the subject of how it takes a city to raise a startup due to the fact that talent usually congregates in cities.

Things chugged on and the theme could not have been better exemplified than when the founder of Team Better Block, Jason Roberts from Dallas, Texas, took the stage. Sick and tired of seeing parts of his city being run down and with unusually high vacancy rates, Jason put together a team of passionate people with a similar mindset to help transform deserted neighborhoods into places that were not only visually pleasing but also exceptionally lively. Of course, Jason and his team had to break a few of the city’s outdated laws just to do it, but it goes to show that when you and your team are passionate enough about something, great minds can do great things.

CEO of Bitly, Mark Josephson, gave what I thought was one of the more interesting talks of the festival. Mark spoke exceptionally bluntly about the the truth about running a startup and what you need to do to survive. One tip for startup CEOs related to being a leader rather than being a boss and that your success depends upon the success of your team. Once again, the topic turned towards bringing great people together and ensuring that the environment that has been created for them allows them to excel. One can only succeed if the people around you succeed as well.

Another highlight of the festival went to Dave McClure, one of the founders of 500 Startups. Dave, who appears to constantly go against the grain, might have actually hinted at the fact that you might not need to be in a city to actually be successful when he said that being in Silicon Valley is not a necessary factor for success since the tools to becoming an educated entrepreneur now exist online.

A nice little fireside chat followed Dave McClure which featured Guy Rosen, co-founder of Onavo, which had been recently acquired by Facebook. When speaking about the keys to success in a startup, the one key that is always unequivocally constant is the team around you.

Margaret Dawson then gave a talk about how the future of digital is physical. She went on to say that we are way too reliant on technology and apps in our daily lives and that we should place more of a focus on building physical, face-to-face relationships. These face-to-face relationships apply to the team in your startup as well as the need to connect personally and develop trust with one another.

Margaret believes that trust can only really be built when you can look someone straight in the eye. As trust is an essential part of building a strong team, a relationship with your team members in the physical world is absolutely necessary.

The theme of the event was centering around cities. But the talks throughout the festival seemed to show that cities are not what’s critical to a startup’s success, people are. Cities just happen to be a place where people congregate which allows us to easily meet one another and develop working relationships.

By developing strong relationships, a startup can build a team that can all work toward a common goal and truly drive innovation. Throughout the event this was demonstrated time and time again.

The 2014 International Startup Festival was about a whole lot more than just cities. It was about great minds coming together and growing together. Sure, lots of the speakers touched on this theme throughout their presentations, but even more than that, this theme was mirrored in the interactions between all attendees

Everyone came together to pitch ideas, learn from one another and create lasting relationships. And, fittingly enough, all this took place in a city.

This guest article was written by Ryan Lazanis of Xen Accounting.