Last week Place Bonaventure hosted the Expo Entrepreneurs, an innovative event which brought Quebec’s entrepreneurial community together for two very inspirational days of conferences, networking, workshops and much more. Even though it was the very first edition of the Expo, it counted over 6000 participants, including a surprise visit from Montreal’s very own Valérie Plante, who announced the City’s support for the second edition of the event.
Some facts about the Expo
Expo Entrepreneurs, a celebration of local entrepreneurship in all its forms, turned Place Bonaventure, for two days, into the place to be to get inspired, make connections and find business solutions, and its main goal was to help launch and promote business projects. In order to provide full access to all, the event was free for the participants, everything being financed by the Quebec government, Ville de Montreal, Polycor and other investors. The Expo was the initiative of Nima Jalalvandi, who wanted to create an event and accessible gathering place "for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs".
After I’ve been hearing about the Expo for quite some time and I knew some of the people behind it, I knew it had to be an interesting happening. And indeed it was. First of all, the Expo was in many ways different than the business events, trade shows and conferences I’ve attended so far. It was definitely designed around the event’s motto: “Inspirer. Connecter. Solutionner”, with a big center stage with an impressive lineup of conferences, two domes, the “Public Markets”, each with its own lineup of workshops, an area with free 1-on-1 sessions with specialists in law, accounting, marketing etc. and vast sitting spaces.
Something that I noticed right away was that this wasn’t really a “trade show”. There were some exhibitors, but nothing laid out in the traditional booths you would expect from a business conference. WeWork had a very welcoming and creatively designed space, with tables and chairs, while other local businesses were displaying their products very openly and organically. The only area that was somewhat booth-style was the Quartiers area, where a number of organizations offered business solutions to the participants.
WeWork Area at Expo Entrepreneurs:
Day one of the Expo (January 24), was the most crowded one and had the longest schedule, starting at 9am and ending at 8pm-9pm after an edition of Fuckup Nights and some after-hour drinks. And everything there (except the food) was free: the coffee (shout-out to Cafe Liegeois), all the conferences, workshops, 1-on-1 sessions and the after-hours drinks were all free. I made it there around 11:30 am, and after a quick tour around, I made my appointments to whatever workshops and counceling sessions I wanted to attend throughout the day. The stage was constantly hosting conferences, mostly two at the same time, and to make this possible, the big stage was split in two, and the participants in the audience were all given headphones - quite an ingenious idea which allowed for good quality sound in a massive room, without bothering all the other activities. With a few thousand participants, the Expo was an amazing networking opportunity, so I spent a good part of my first day talking to people, catching up with old connections and making new business contacts.
An important moment of the first day was the Grande Finale of the Tournée Objectif Monde, an initiative which offered entrepreneurs throughout Quebec an exchange platform on design thinking and on commercialization of innovation, and an opportunity to participate in the Quebec delegation to SXSW 2018. I was a bit distracted by the cocktail hour so I only got to see the last part of the Grand Finale. What followed on the stage was the Expo Entrepreneurs edition of Fuckup Nights (a global movement and event series that shares stories of professional failure), a great and fun way to end the night with good stories and (why not?) a round of shots...on the house :)
After an intense Day 1 at the Expo, I said that on day 2 I would take it easy. I had a couple things I wanted to attend, I said maybe I would talk to some people, but my plan was to sit at a table, take out my iPad and catch up on some work. Well that didn’t happen. Shortly after I got there Valerie Plante, the mayor of Montreal, made a surprise visit to the Expo to applaud the initiative and to announce that Ville de Montreal will be financing the second edition of Expo Entrepreneurs. Amazing news!
Day 2 (January 25) at Expo Entrepreneurs:
I spent a big part of the second day in the Quartiers area, where a variety of organizations were offering a wide array of services and business solutions, such as financing, incubators, counselling etc. Time flew fast, and there it was, the closing time….Expo Entrepreneurs was over. Well, not quite. There was one last special moment, a great ending for the whole experience: a very energizing speech with the sponsors and the team that made everything possible. It’s was great being a participant at the Expo, but witnessing the energy backstage...well that made everything that much more special, and left me excited and looking forward to the 2019 edition!