Entrepreneurs and big dreams shine at Montreal Startup Festival

Behind every start-up business, there’s a story and at the annual International StartUp Festival, taking place this week at the Old Port, there’s no shortage of stories, dreams and business plans.

Big dreams become reality at Montreal’s 4th edition of startup business showcase

Media pitch winner Michael Moszberg (right) and his business partner Damien Galan (left) came to Startup Fest hoping to attract attention to their fitness-based website (Melinda Dalton/CBC)

Montrealer Michael Moszberg was studying abroad and in the market for a gym, but didn’t want to make the commitment to a membership.

He simply wanted to pay as he went and be able to go to the one that was most convenient at the time, but avoid the hassle of researching all of their drop-in rates and conditions.

When Moszberg, 25, came back to Montreal, he realized that many people here were in a similar spot: They wanted the convenience of a membership, but not the commitment.

“It was a perfect fit between my passion for fitness and entrepreneurship,” he said. “So that’s how we got started.”

Behind every start-up business, there’s a story and at the annual International Startup Festival, taking place this week at the Old Port, there’s no shortage of stories, dreams and business plans.
Sally Ng of Fredericton N.B. finds a moment to relax in the shade at Startup Fest. The outdoor event at Montreal's Old Port attracted more than 1,500 people in its first two days. (Melinda Dalton/CBC)

Turning ideas into reality

Moszberg and his business partner Damien Galan started working on the idea that would become at the Google start-up event in February and won McGill’s Dobson Cup, the university’s flagship startup competition, in June.

Their site allows users to purchase pay-as-you-go gym passes online for a range of different yoga, fitness and Crossfit studios in central Montreal and the West Island.

They’ve already got 20 gyms on board and have sold 100 passes.

Moszberg won CBC Montreal’s media pitch competition at the Startup Fest out of a field of nearly 40 startups vying for the title.

He’s hoping to be accepted to the FounderFuel program, a Montreal-based accelerator that helps Startups develop their ideas and build capital, to expand even further.

The annual Startup festival attracts entrepreneurs from around the world hoping to attract investors to their ideas and draw inspiration from other success stories.

Success stories serve as inspiration

One of the biggest success stories this year is Busbud. It’s not a flashy idea, or a densely technical one, but a simple solution to a simple problem that, again, was born out of a real need identified by its founder, LP Maurice.

Maurice, a Montrealer who went to Harvard and worked for tech giants in Silicon Valley before returning home, was in Rio De Janeiro for Carnivale and wanted to travel around to other countries in South America.

“It was really, really hard to buy a bus ticket, which was surprising compared to how easy it is to book a hotel room or a flight, which can be done in 10 or 15 seconds,” he said.

“I always had to walk out, take my bag and go to bus stations to wait in line. We decided we could easily solve that for travellers with smartphones around the world.” lets you quickly route your trip, book your tickets online and avoid the ticketing counter altogether. It’s a simple solution, but one that makes sense in a world that is never short on people needed easy access to travel solutions.

It’s one that’s also making sense for investors.

Two days ago, Busbud raised $9 million in investments from Canadian and U.S. firms. 

Like Busbud, many of the ideas brought to Startup Fest are focused on making users’ lives easier through smartphones, a device that Alistar Croll, content chair for the festival, likens to a “prosthetic brain.”

'The ubiquity of access to this stuff through the web, through technology, is just transforming that industry.”- Alistar Croll, Startup Fest Content Chair

“When you get someone’s phone number and you have a smart phone, you forget that number. You gradually abdicate parts of memory and thinking to your smartphone. Many of the technologies this year are consequences of that – I can order my lunch, I can walk my dog,” he said.

"There’s a democratization that comes from that kind of access to technology," he said. "No longer are apps the tools of the elite."

“Busbud is a great example of a company that is intercity bus travel — it’s hardly the vehicle of the one per cent, but the ubiquity of access to this stuff through the web, through technology, is just transforming that industry,” he said.

‘Incredible startup city’

Not all the companies vying for attention at Startup Fest are on the scale of Busbud yet.

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t attracting attention.

Accompanied by Winnie, his Chief Dog Officer, Ben Syne came to Startup Fest hoping to generate interest in his task management app aimed at simplifying pet ownership. 
Ben Syne and his CDO (chief dog officer) Winnie hope their task-management app will catch on with busy pet owners. (Melinda Dalton/CBC)

Syne’s product, Dog Sync, lets users communicate with others in the household or dogwalkers about when a pet has been fed, walked and let outside.

Sixteen months ago, Syne’s team started working on the app full time and their Beta offering yielded 3,000 downloads in three months without advertising and tons of positive feedback from dog owners.

Dog Sync won best new start up at MTL NewTech and, along with that title, passes to the fest.

“It becomes very apparent very quickly that Montreal is an incredible startup city,” Syne said. “We have amazing talent… and the contacts that you pick up, the lessons you learn from the pitches, the demos…and we’re actually able to make some very strong leads.”

On Saturday, the International Startup Festival opens its doors for the public to come in and talk with the people behind the pitches.

The open house is free and runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Terrasses Bonsecours in the Old Port.