The C2 Conference Is a Billboard For Montreal as a ‘Smart Living Laboratory’ – Skift
TheÂ annualÂ C2 MontrealÂ conference every May is widely consideredÂ to be the benchmark for corporate event design in North America, butÂ itâ€™s actually muchÂ more than that.
Inside Montrealâ€™sÂ sprawling Arsenal contemporary art gallery this year, as reported last week in Skift, the show floor wasÂ filledÂ with dozens of creative activations, such asÂ networking experiences in trapeze chairs suspended from the ceiling. In a high point for the event, attendees booked more than 3,000 face-to-face meetingsÂ with each other to discuss topics of common interest via E-180â€™s Braindate platform.
Outside, a pop-upÂ big top circus tent with 360-degree ceiling projection hosted the keynoteÂ sessions. Surrounding the tent, stacks of brightly painted shipping containers served asÂ outdoor corporate VIP suites overlooking the dock and restaurant floating on aÂ channel connected to the St. Lawrence River.
In 2012, the Sid Lee adÂ agency and Cirque du Soleil â€” both headquartered in Montreal â€” launched C2 to engage a broader spectrum of potential partnersÂ for their respective companies. They also wanted to position Montreal as a wellspring of business and socialÂ innovation, with creativity celebrated asÂ the connectivity tissue that links communities.Â In 2013, the FrenchÂ Le Nouvel Observateur media group called C2 â€œThe Davos of Creativity,â€ and the unofficial tagline stuck.
C2â€™sÂ programming and content highlight innovative trends springingÂ from the convergenceÂ of â€œcommerce and creativity,â€ which givesÂ C2 its name.
Sample sessions this year included â€œRethinking The City of Tomorrowâ€ with speakers from the Brookings Institute, MIT, New Cities Foundation, and the City of Montreal.Â â€œThe Social Economy: Driving Innovation For a Thriving Cityâ€ session was presented by the City of Montreal and local startups advancingÂ social innovation. There was also a series of dedicated tracksÂ and workshops diving into themes such as artificial intelligence, startup accelerators, small business development, data, and diversity.
In the big scheme of things, however,Â C2 is a postcard for the future of Montreal, and by extension, the future of collaborative urbanism.
The conference is basically one big billboard designed to promote Montrealâ€™s evolution as a smart and highly livable city to entice international companies to invest in the regionâ€™s startup and academic sectors. Since the recession, the City of Montreal government, the regionâ€™s four major universities, and the local startup community have beenÂ working together to developÂ Montreal asÂ an â€œopen-air smart living laboratory,â€ and C2 is positioned as the front door of that urban engineering experiment.
â€œC2 Montreal is a unique platform that explores the trade-creativity dynamic through a variety of experiences and rich programming,â€ said Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre during C2. â€œThe influence of this world-class event reinforces the image of our metropolis internationally as a creative and innovative city. C2 Montreal also contributes to propelling our businesses byÂ putting Montrealâ€™s talent and know-how to the forefront.â€
Central to the smart living laboratory strategy, the downtown core and university campuses have been packaged and brandedÂ as theÂ Montreal Innovation Quarter. The Quarter was launchedÂ in 2013Â by McGill University, Concordia University, and Ã‰cole de Technologie SupÃ©rieur to capitalizeÂ on the complementary capacities among the academic institutions and area startup companies in research, education, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as their regional and international networks.
â€œWe have theÂ most university students of any city in Canada, so we haveÂ to have a playground to give them the possibility to play and use their know-how,â€ says Damien Siles, managing director of the Montreal Innovation Quarter.
Siles explained at C2 that many cities andÂ companies approach innovation with a siloed mindset. To transcend that, the Quarter outlined four pillars of innovationÂ at its inception that guide overall strategy for the future development of the city. The pillars are: education/research, industrial, social/culture, and urban.
The Quarterâ€™s website also postsÂ a wealth of content highlighting specific companies, research,Â and case studiesÂ relating to those fourÂ themes.
Siles saidÂ thatÂ all of those spheres of innovation need to be integrated in Montreal, and every community needs to be involved in their development, for the city to assert itself authentically as a smart living laboratory. That spirit of convergence and collaborative development, he added, is also attractive to outside companies.
â€œWhen youâ€™re speaking about innovation, youâ€™re not speaking about the special sectors in oneÂ industry orÂ another,â€ Siles said. â€œYouâ€™re speaking about how itâ€™s possible to humanize innovation when you connect everyone in the city. You canâ€™t just keep it in a laboratory.
You want the population to participate, not like a guinea pig, but like part of a new collaborative vision for whatâ€™s best for Montreal.â€
â€œHumanizing innovationâ€ has becomeÂ something of a public mantra in Montreal.
DrivingÂ that forward last year, Concordia launched the first OpenLivingLab Days in the city, organized by the European Network of Living Labs and the locally based CommunautiqueÂ community participation platform. The mission was to create an open-source online and offline engagement ecosystemÂ for community members to meet with industry leaders in different sectors.
That concept is now being scaled insideÂ a series of venues that will make up Montrealâ€™s open-air smart living laboratory, which will begin to open later this year in the Montreal Innovation Quarter. Visiting and local professionals will be encouragedÂ toÂ meet with areaÂ leaders developing new systems around 5G technology and the Internet of Things. Those technologies will also be tested in the student dorms atÂ Ã‰cole de Technologie SupÃ©rieur to help local startups iterateÂ productsÂ and bring them to market.
Collaborative events, facilities, and platforms like these are spawning across Montreal to engage more locals and visitors in co-creating the future of Montreal and new research-driven, user-centric thought leadership around urban user experience.
The Faire Montreal online portal, for example, is aÂ â€œcollaborative platform for anyone to discover innovative projects, contribute to their development, and monitor their evolution.â€ And this month, Montrealâ€™s first Fab LabÂ (fabrication space) opened where the public can visit to learn about advanced manufacturing technologies and robotics design.
Speaking about the new 12,000-square foot Espace Fabrique facility, Mayor Coderre said, â€œThis unique, creative space of production will foster the creation of direct and indirect employment and help reduce costs related to the development of new manufacturing products.â€
Tourisme MontrealÂ has expanded its role considerably to help conferenceÂ organizers plug into the rise of public-facing developments in the local innovation economy. ForÂ Pierre Bellerose, VP of research at Tourisme Montreal, the C2 experience presents the best time to introduce the world to Montrealâ€™s knowledge base.
He explained that the tourism marketing agency has always leveraged the eventâ€™sÂ success and media popularity to showÂ outside companies how the city works together to organize conferences beyond the ordinary. Now, their responsibility isÂ evolving to promote the cityâ€™s innovation economy and startup community more aggressively, and work more closely with partner organizations like the Montreal Innovation Quarter.
â€œAs a convention and visitors bureau, weâ€™re creating a showcase of innovation to present to potential clients, because Montreal offers such a large ecosystem ofÂ creativeÂ companies and creative people,â€ saidÂ Bellerose. â€œC2 is that kind of business activity in action. It humanizes innovation, which we can show to international business leaders to prove that Montreal is the place to be.â€
The ROI of Innovation Events
Presently, Montreal and the province of Quebec are peaking.Â According toÂ BloombergÂ in January: â€œQuebec added 85,400 full-time jobs in 2016, more than theÂ other nine provinces combined, and growth in its labor market accounted for 42 percent of the Canadian total.â€
Technology, digital media, and other advanced industries are driving much of that growth in Montreal. Therefore, the localÂ government wants to build on that momentum, and Canadaâ€™sÂ national government wants to scale it across the country.Â SoÂ bothÂ governments are supportingÂ C2 to capitalize onÂ the eventâ€™s proven ability to attract foreign capital and talent from more than 60 countries around the globe.
At the local level, the City of Montreal granted $200,000 (US$151,000)Â in funds to C2â€™s operating budget on a yearly basisÂ from 2014 throughÂ 2016, and increased that to $250,000Â this year.
On the national front, Canada Economic Development for QuebecÂ contributed $1.5 million in non-repayable funds to C2 Montreal forÂ 2016 and 2017 to support small business development programming at home and expand marketingÂ overseas. The payoff: According to the Quebec Institute of Statistics, C2Â has generated economic impactsÂ of more than CDN$250 million for the province.
The innovation and economic development continues to grow. Montreal-based Element AI, which hosted the C2 Artificial Intelligence Forum this year, announced today thatÂ it has raised US$102Â million, representing the largest Series A funding round for an artificial intelligence company in history.
â€œArtificial Intelligence is a must have capability for global companies,â€ said Element AI CEO Jean-FranÃ§ois GagnÃ© in todayâ€™s release. â€œWithout it, they are competitively impaired if not at grave risk of being obsoleted in place.â€
That sums up the mission of C2 Montreal, where you can feel the energy and commitment to co-create new community platforms that aspireÂ to change the world.
The event isnâ€™t really about people sitting in the circus trapeze chairs hanging from the Arsenalâ€™s towering ceiling. But that type of creative conference design, and the big buzz surrounding it, gets people in the door. Montrealâ€™s creative ecosystem isÂ taking over from there.
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