It was a literal insight tornado! Startupfest 2023 at a glance

published on July 17, 2023
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The view from the all-glass Grand Quai de Montréal was grandiose on Day 2 of Startupfest last week, when the thousands of attendees took shelter indoors from a bona fide tornado that passed through Montréal. The lighting, thunder and torrential downpour provided an exciting high point — but in truth the whole three days of the 2023 festival gathering experts on founding, funding and running startups were filled with highs.

“Artificial intelligence” is the wrong term

Though AI was this edition’s main theme, speaker Randy Smerik, President & CEO of Tarari, Inc, warned attendees not to trust anyone who claims to be an “AI expert” — the field is so extremely broad, he specified, that no one can grasp its breadth. Whether it inspires fear or faith, we should specify our reactions to AI technologies on a case-by-case, platform-by-platform basis. Wise advice.

The theme of AI’s potential on business practices was approached in a fascinating variety of ways relating to various stages of business development, from how to augment your startup to how large language models disconnect business owners from the truth of their data. There were as many viewpoints as there were speakers.

A stellar roster of speakers

Lead by host Alistair Croll, who hosted all roundtable discussions with aplomb and provided his own fair share of takeaway insights, Startupfest 2023 boasted a great roster of founders, investors, accelerators and authors.

After an opening Keynote chat with Shopify founder Harley Finkelstein (who, he revealed, has decided to move his family back to his native Montréal!), attendees heard from strategist Farrah Bostic, author Sean Silcoff, Innova Capital investor Magaly Charbonneau, Alchemist Accelerator managing director Ian Bergman, tech exec and mentor Edwin Miller, computer operator Harper Reed, 2048 Ventures partner Neha Khera, appliedAIstudio’s Jerry Overton, Jane co-founder Alison Taylor and Google DeepMind’s Paige Bailey, to name but a few.

In a format that looked to generate conversation and an accessible, real-life exchange of ideas, most knowledge throughout the fest was exchanged in panels with questions from the audience (and an AI chatbot, for the entertainment factor) and in a fair-style format, with experts sitting at large tables and the attendees invited to join the one they were most interested in. Experts in that context included everyone from Mitch Joel to Kristen Hamilton, Jonathan Lowenhar, Michelle Yu, Georgiana Laudi, Anne Phan, Ron J. Williams and more. It was truly star-studded.

Meanwhile, in the tent

The most thrilling activity for attendees looking to pitch and fund their own startup was, of course, the Tent Village outside, where various committees awaited to hear pitches and consider projects as candidates for the festival’s competitions, including for the $100K Best of the Fest Investment Prize.

Among the groups of experts were the $100K Black Entrepreneurship committee, the $100K Women in Tech committee, the $50K Student Entrepreneurship committee, the Next AI Pitch committee and the famous Grandmothers’ Choice committee — a committee of carefully selected literal grandmothers, whose life experience, instincts and bullshit-detectors are extra well-honed.

Grand ideas at the Grand Quai

The Grand Quai and Port of Montréal Tower, a cutting-edge, high-tech and all-glass building on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, felt particularly apt as the setting for the world’s Next Big Ideas.

As pretty as the it was on the chair-dotted lawn on the riverbank or the sunny deck decorated with bean bags (pre-tornado, that is!), the atmosphere was one of serious insight. The Braindates people scheduled and small groupings that formed around the food trucks and bar were brimming with excitement and future-thinking. Because this is serious stuff!

Last year’s winners of the fest were among the speakers and this edition (including Jacqueline Good from Magnestar Inc. and Brittany Charlton from Ooh! Foods), having used their wins as a launchpad for international attention and funding. Like them, we can’t wait for next year’s Startupfest already.

And finally, announcing the 2023 winners!


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