Sizzling Energy in the Montreal Tech Scene

Yesterday, I attended the Montreal Tech Entrepreneur’s Breakfast organized by my friend Ben Yoskovitz. The event was a smashing success. Over 25 people came, and they were the exact kind of people I have been aching to meet ever since I contracted entrepreneurship fever; the kind of people that I was never able to meet before, for one reason or another.

To understand why I am so happy with this turn of events, I have to provide some background on the state of the Montreal Tech Scene. I had been meaning to post about the state of the Montreal Tech Scene for quite some time, but my friend Julien Smith beat me to the punch with his posting “Montreal Needs Brains” a couple of weeks ago. The following quote summarizes my feelings on the matter quite succinctly:

People in other places, they talk. In Montreal, we don’t– like, ever. Somehow, the geek culture, where people talk about their ideas and help develop them, it doesn’t happen as much here. It’s weird.

His post (and the followup post) unleashed a firestorm of controversy; but it rang quite true to me. In fact, the Montreal Gazette published an article (“The Invisible Industry“) saying pretty much the same thing back in December. The article recounts my desperate networking experiences:

Local computer engineer Fred Ngo tells a similar story. He went to a tech powwow in Boston, hoping to find like-minded Montrealers who wanted to start their own businesses. What he found were people from Toronto and as far away as Europe. “Of course, me and my buddy were the only ones from Montreal there,” he recalled. And then the irony of it all hit him: He had left Montreal to find Montrealers.

What had happened is that I went to Startup School in Boston, organized by Paul Graham. And yes, that really was my thinking: That I would find other Montrealers there; presumably because they would have read the same stuff that I been reading and thus heard about Startup School.

I was to be disappointed; I did not meet any other Montreal entrepreneurs there. (To be fair, I met Carl Mercier a few months later when I randomly found his blog because he mentioned that he also went to Startup School — The magic of Google at work.)

“Why didn’t you try harder in Montreal?” You ask. Believe you me; I tried. I went to every business networking event I could find. YES. CEO. BNI. They were a blast to attend (afterall, I could always talk about Cat’s Corner), but I did not find startup entrepreneurs there. I found instead entrepreneurs who were starting photography studios and investors who only understood investing in ethanol plants (and demanded 50-page business plans). While all entrepreneurship is to be applauded, it wasn’t my own cup of tea, and I would not be able to find the right co-founders and investors in such a setting.

So there I was, one summer day in 2006, having lunch in Chinatown with my buddy JJ (who went to startup school with me), brainstorming big ideas (and lamenting the lack of other people who do the same); when a huge one hit me. Why not do a BarCamp in Montreal? I had heard about it months ago, checked the Wiki to see if there was one in Montreal (of course there wasn’t, grumble grumble), but it only just occurred to me that if I don’t stop saying “I wish there was BarCamp in Montreal” and actually bear the torch on this, nothing would ever happen. That very day, I announced BarCampMontreal1 on the BarCamp Wiki (I think Austin Hill had already put up a landing page at that point with a few names on it) and the rest is history, stored in the BarCampMontreal1 wiki archives.

My own feeling; corroborated by talking with a few others at the breakfast, is that for some reason everybody was just waiting for something to happen (which is weird since, as entrepreneurs, we are action people). That thing was BarCampMontreal1. It showed us tech entrepreneurs that we are not alone. Ever since, a certain energy has been in the air, and we are all feeling more confident than ever.

Nowhere is this energy more apparent than the initiatives that are taking place:

These are all amazing initiatives, and all of us who profess to be a part of Montreal’s tech entrepreneur scene need to support these initiatives.

Montreal is going to hit a home run this year. I can feel it. And no matter who hits that home run, it will boost all of us along with it.

  1. Josh said:

    Great recap! I was looking for them as I couldn’t attend this time.

    I think it’s fantastic that you launched BarCampMontreal, and that others helped in a big way, like Sylvain Carle and Jean-Jacques Taoko.

    I was actually looking to connect with people in the local Tech scene myself, and from there read the Gazette article and found out about BarCampMontreal, DemoCampMontreal and DemoCampCUSEC1.

    Kudos on incorporating the MTL logo and writing about it.

    Super Additional Kudos for being a doer too! After all the debate, Action needs to be taken.

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