Creating the unwebinar

What’s an unwebinar?

Let’s start with all the things a webinar is: One-way, scripted, two-dimensional. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course: Since 2020, the team behind Startupfest have been redefining what’s possible online across many events we run—and helping music festivals, governments, and more create the best experiences they can online.

But we’re done staring at rectangles. So what do we want Startupfest to be this year?

As always, we start with value. Basic economics tells us that what is scarce is valuable, and what’s abundant is less so. That’s just supply and demand.

What’s scarce: Over the last two years, we’ve worked from home, and stuck to our bubbles. We’ve changed how we interact, and narrowed those in our lives to a smaller, more trusted circle. Some of us have never met our co-workers in person.

What’s abundant: There’s no shortage of experts online, streaming videos and running cohort-based courses. Videoconferencing is so easy, we pack our calendars with meetings. Our inboxes are full of invites we ignore, and our task lists are full of urgency while neglecting important, meaningful, creative work.

So when we started planning Startupfest, we had a simple creative brief: Double down on all the things COVID stole, and weave them into the fabric of the event. Ditch the stuff attendees can find elsewhere, and focus on what we can deliver better than anyone else. In short, build an unwebinar.

At the same time, the world of events in 2022 is fundamentally different. Recording and streaming content is the norm, and virtual events showed us ways for the audience to connect and contribute to what was happening on the stage. Freed from the tyranny of physical space, we could break into groups, call up apps to whiteboard or take notes, and augment our conversations.

We’ve leaned hard into this new reality, inventing entirely new activations we’ll be revealing at the conference in July. Like any startup, there’s huge risk in this: We can’t know how things will break when we roll them out to thousands of attendees, so we’re testing and building backup plans. But we have big ambitions. Here are just a few of the things we’re rolling out:

  • Five Fresh Faces: When registering, every attendee tells us a bit about their industry, role, and stage of funding, as well as why they’re coming to the event. Based on those goals and details, we run a custom set of heuristics to identify five people you should try to connect with onsite. Using a huge message wall, you’ll send them introductions—and receive introductions of your own.
  • Question Qube: We won’t say much about this throwable conversation starter, but you can expect it to make an appearance at the event!
  • Conversation Codes: Sometimes all it takes to spark an amazing discussion is the right question! We’re spreading themed QR codes throughout the venue. Find a stranger, or someone you haven’t seen in a while, and strike up a conversation around one of the hundreds of questions we’ve created to get you started.
  • Mentor Meetups: By now you’ve probably heard of the dozens of mentors we’re welcoming from Montreal and around the world. These experts will run huddles to tackle common startup challenges, from culture and fundraising to product and go-to-market strategy. Instead of talking heads speaking in the abstract, you get practical advice you can put to work immediately.
  • Stroll: Let’s take this outside! We’re partnering with Stroll, a new app for productive walking meetings, to give you a way to connect with people one-on-one and build your startup network from genuine connections.
  • Hive Mind: What if the smartest people in the room aren’t on the stage? Using interactive software and everyone’s phones, we crowdsource questions, upvote the best ones, and display stream-of-consciousness solutions onscreen that our mentors can riff on from the stage.
  • Speed Circles: You’ve probably seen speed networking, but not like this. Pairs of founders meet a mentor or investor one-on-two, connect, pitch, and get feedback—fast. Then we rotate the founders so you never have the same conversation twice.
  • Hacker, Hustler, Designer, Analyst: Dedicated areas for the four startup archetypes where you can meet your fellow founders, compare notes, and share lessons learned.
  • Dance cards and picnic baskets: We know our mentors and investors are always in high demand. So each of them will be carrying cards for pre-scheduled meetings. If you connect with them around a conversation code or speed networking event and decide you want to dive deeper, you can use these cards to go on a Stroll or find a quiet corner for a deeper conversation. Some of our out-of-town mentors will even have invites to a pop-up picnic!
  • Mentor Madness Chain Reaction: We ran our first Chain Reaction panel at an early Startupfest, and it’s become a staple of online events. In this format, each of our mentors will take a lightning-fast turn as interviewer, and then interviewee, sparking a conversation that heads in surprising and fascinating directions.
  • Demographic Aerobics: Tell us about yourself by moving! Audience surveys that get your blood moving will get everyone out of their comfort zones.
  • Connection Concierges: While we can engineer all kinds of interactions, there’s no substitute for a helpful human. So our onsite staff helps every attendee engineer meetings and make the most of their Startupfest experience.

It’s crunch time at Startupfest Central, and these are just some of the things we’re working on. Of course, we’ll still have our old favorites, from investment prizes to Grandmother Judges to fantastic speakers to the tent village.

But if you want to see what an unwebinar looks like, come to Le Grand Quai this July. We don’t want a new normal—we want a fresh start. And this is how we’re building it.