Montreal will be the technology hot spot in the world next week July 11-13 when the second annual International Startup Festival opens at the Old Port next to the Science Centre..
Last year I was impressed with the creative entrepreneurs trying to develop the next “Big Thing” many of them hailed from Montreal and Quebec. The festival is an opportunity for startups to network and pitch their ideas to people and organizations who might be interested in providing financing.
The 2011 International Startup Festival was an exciting event and the 2012 edition looks to be even better with he theme: Startups That Matter..Alistair Croll described it best in the Festival blog..this is what he wrote:
“When Paul Allen and I started Microsoft over 30 years ago, we had big dreams about software,” recalls Gates. “We had dreams about the impact it could have. We talked about a computer on every desk and in every home. It’s been amazing to see so much of that dream become a reality and touch so many lives. I never imagined what an incredible and important company would spring from those original ideas.”
When Bill Gates set out to build Microsoft, he had a clear vision. He wasn’t thinking small, even though he was only working on a BASIC interpreter or a CPM/M knock-off at the time. His aspirations meant that Microsoft wasn’t just a financial success, but that it was important. Operating systems matter.
When the transistor was first invented, there wasn’t much of a market for it. So confident were its inventors that they sold the first batch at a loss, knowing that would handily defeat the incumbent vacuum tubes. From the early days of Shockley and Fairchild—who literally brought the silicon to Silicon Valley—today we have Intel, a direct descendant of that early faith whose chips are in virtually every machine we use. Microprocessors matter.
Bob Metcalfe built MIT’s network because Harvard wouldn’t let him play with ARPAnet. He fell in love with the network—so much so that he wrote his PhD on the subject, and eventually built Ethernet at Xerox, then founded networking pioneer 3Com. Today, Ethernet has supplanted nearly every other local area network. Networks matter.
The founder of Shockley Semiconductor, William Shockley, liked to say, “try simplest cases.” By this he meant that should to try simple things first when exploring new ideas. This resonates with every smart startup: small, measured experiments that move the risk early in the company lifecycle. It’s the essence of lean.
But a lean mindset shouldn’t mean lean aspirations. Lean startups need massive visions. The first release can be agile—but the end game has to matter. We’ve forgotten just how huge the shoulders on which we stand really are. Every line of code, byte of data, and packet of information owes something to Gates, Shockley, Metcalfe, and their peers. Every startup stands on the shoulders of microprocessors, operating systems, and networks.
Tim O’Reilly, whose 2005 manifesto defined Web 2.0, urges companies to work on stuff that matters. Today’s technology giants all worked on stuff that was important—many of their innovations have completely transformed how we live, learn, love, play, and work. They dreamed vast dreams, and made them happen. They surfed the big waves. And because what they did mattered, they survived economic ups and downs.
Working on what matters isn’t just good for your soul: it’s good for your balance sheet.
Technology has the potential to defeat disease, improve understanding, revolutionize education, deliver clean energy, and more. As a burgeoning 7 billion humans stretch the limits of our planet, it’s no exaggeration to say that technology may well save humanity.
Those are lofty words, and these are transformative times. Some companies—like Google—clearly get this, investing in everything from alternative energy to self-driving cars to local food production. Yet many of today’s startups are looking for the quick exit, relying on shallow game mechanics instead of revolutionary ideas, hoping to cash out on buzz and hubris before the bubble bursts. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” Facebook alumni Jeff Hammerbacher told Businessweek. “That sucks.”
In technology, those who can’t remember the past can’t see the forest for the trees. They can’t spot the big waves. They can’t see the ley lines. They want to react to human history, rather than shape human progress. Have we forgotten how to dream big? Have we lost the drive to change the world? How do we separate the merely novel from the truly earth-changing?
At this year’s International Startup Festival, we aim to find out. We’ll look at how to work on things that matter. We’ll hear from those who were there at the start, learning where they got their inspiration and how they defied the nay-sayers. We’ll examine the truly tectonic shifts in society that pose new threats and open up new opportunities, and discuss how to spot them and capitalize on them.