Startupfest goes hybrid: Q + A with the festival founder
Montréal’s Startupfest is the largest and longest-running startup festival in Canada. There are many reasons why this beloved Montréal festival has been so successful. But one of the main reasons is that they’re agile. Last year, when it became clear that large, in-person gatherings would be severely restricted, Startupfest pivoted and created a new hybrid model.
We chatted with Startupfest founder Philippe Telio about the challenges of pivoting, the lessons learned, and what he’s most proud of.
Tourisme Montréal: Last year, your event needed to pivot. Startupfest implemented a hybrid model. What worked well? What were the challenges?
Philippe Telio: The government for a very brief moment allowed us to gather up to 50 people at a time, so we set up a virtual studio in Montréal’s Old Port to broadcast a virtual event, and had a rotating schedule for a live studio audience of no more than 50 people at a time. What worked well was the outdoor studio vibe. Up until that point, all you would see at virtual events was rectangular boxes of people sitting in their home offices. The outdoor studio gave it the feeling of being a show. The biggest challenge by far was getting Internet deployed in an environment where venue staff was pretty much non-existent. In the end we made it, but a virtual event without Internet would have been disastrous.
What will Startupfest be doing differently this year?
Like many events we are looking to reinvent what the future of business conferences will look like. Content is free and abundant. This past year has made creators out of all of us. This year is about bringing people back together. We will not focus on content, instead our goal is to slowly but surely get us meeting with each other in a safe and comfortable way. After more than a year of being alone in houses, people will need to be taught how to interact in public again. When it comes to content, we will aim to blend opportunities with genuine interactions. Think reality TV for the startup world.
What advice can you share about optimizing hybrid events?
Be ready to spend a lot more money than usual. Virtual events are inexpensive to run from home — but setting up the infrastructure necessary to broadcast from a live stage will increase cost substantially. Make sure you have solid partners able to create backups to your backup solutions.
Editorial suggestion: See the article 10 Hybrid event venue options in Montréal
What digital platform will you be using for the hybrid aspect of this year’s event? Why did you choose that specific platform?
We’ve used a variety of platforms and tools. On the production side you need great cameras and crews editing the stream with tools such as Vmix or Streamyard. On the user platform side, there are a myriad of solutions out there, each with their own value add. When looking at solutions you need to ask yourself questions like: How many virtual attendees? Do you want to control access or broadcast to the world? Is the event a single stream or multi-channel? Do you want interactions between the live audience and the virtual audience? We have used a series of platforms over the past year depending on the format. They include: Swapcard, Grip, Kumospace, Wonder, Hopin, Facebook Live, and yes, even Zoom.
Looking back over the past decade, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the success startups have had coming to Startupfest. When we began this journey 11 years ago, there was no gathering place for innovative startup-minded entrepreneurs. Our goal was to create an event that would educate, connect, and create real opportunities for our entrepreneurial community. Today, nearly every successful startup in Canada has participated at Startupfest. When I look back at videos of our first event and see a video of Dax Dasilva (Founder of Lightspeed) speaking to a tiny audience or people like Harley Finkelstein (CEO of Shopify) trying to explain what online shopping will look like in the future, it makes me realize the kind of impact we’ve had on our ecosystem. Finally, it would be impossible to answer this question without also highlighting the incredible team of people that have banned together over this past decade, each person bringing something special to the event.
Stay tuned! The Startupfest dates for 2021 will be announced soon!
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