Getting the most out of Startupfest as a first-time attendee

The first time I went to Startupfest, I had just quit my corporate job and was about six months into my journey as a founder of Crescendo. My co-founders and I were part of the Next 36 founder development program at the time, and we made the roadtrip from Toronto to Montreal to attend the conference. We knew it would be chock full of all the must-know people in and around the Canadian startup ecosystem, but we had no idea what we were in for. This year, I’ll be speaking at Startupfest and emceeing the Founding Stage Workshop! From one founder to another, here are my top tips for getting the most out of Startupfest.

. . .

1. Set clear goals. No matter what stage you are at in your startup journey, it’s important to know what you want to get out of the event. Set clear goals for yourself and for your company – what kind of new connections do you want to make, and how many? Which pitches will you nail? What are the talks you absolutely cannot miss? If you’re going with co-founders, how will you split up responsibilities, and how do your individual goals complement your co-founder’s? Having this clarity is the first step to planning a successful Startupfest week.

2. Plan your agenda well, but don’t be afraid to edit on the fly. Take a first pass through the schedule and put everything you want to attend on your calendar. Serendipity is in abundance at Startupfest, so there’s a good chance that you will shift things around in favor of more urgent opportunities.

3. Do your research – who will be there, what do you want to say to them, and how can you add value to them in return? At Startupfest, meetings are a two-way street. It’s not just about give and take, it’s about authenticity and value add and pushing each other forward. Take time to get to know people on a human level, and those connections will be ones you keep.

4. Network early. Starting even just a few days before the conference will help you make the connections you want to and set up meetings with the people you don’t want to miss. Use the Braindate app! Startupfest’s Braindate section is very active, and in my first year I managed to meet with some key AI mentors who helped me lay out my strategy early on. Twitter is also your friend for casual, lightweight networking before and during the events.

5. Prepare for the weather. Startupfest is OUTSIDE. It’s awesome, but it means you’re exposed to the elements which, in Montreal in early July, usually means sweltering heat. The event organizers do a great job of providing refreshments throughout the conference, but it’s wise to bring your own water bottle (and snacks) to tide yourself over. Sunscreen, a hat, all your typical summer gear are highly recommended, and dress is startup casual.

6. Pay attention to the side events. I missed out on this one last year, I was so focused on getting value out of the days that I missed the evenings. Startupfest draws thousands of startup folk to Montreal, so there are dozens of side and unofficial events that happen in the same week. Use your existing and newfound network to get in and, when possible, try to nab tickets for the bigger events early.

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Quick things I wish I knew before my first Startupfest:

  • Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need
  • It’s not just for tech startups
  • Speakers are very approachable
  • The atmosphere is very welcoming and the team does a great job of making it inclusive of everyone
  • You will not see everything you want to see, so be prepared to let go and go with the flow!

Want to connect at Startupfest? I’ll be emceeing the Founding Workshop and giving an Ignite talk on Tuesday, July 9th, and debating whether accelerators are bad for startups on Wednesday, July 10th. Tweet me at @theTrendyTechie or connect with me on startupfest2019.braindate.com!

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Header image from startupfest.com.

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