Red Herring’s inaugural Canadian event, Innovation Illuminated, took place September 5-7th in Montreal. The event took place against the backdrop of persistent rumours of financial problems at Red Herring.
Some key trends based on observations from the conference:
- China rising (and India, too): These are big markets and only going to get bigger. The US market is no longer the sole destination for tech firms from Canada and elsewhere.
- The emergence of Israel as an innovation hub: The level of technology innovation coming out of Israel is by any measure way disproportionate to their population size. Israeli venture capitalist Orna Berry shared some interesting insight, arguing that while the stereotype of Israel excelling in the security area (witness CheckPoint Software), they also do well in other technology sectors due to their having practically no natural resources.
- Cleantech: Lots of presentations, but these company founders clearly have little experience pitching investors. Please don’t make me sit through 10 minutes and 15 slides talking about how your energy conservation system is manufactured before showing the slide on how you tested it in a real office building and reduced their power consumption by 2/3. This sector is still dependant on the regulatory environment and I don’t see it really taking off until a cap and trade market is finally instituted – which will happen eventually. Still, until governments wake up and do it, investors will be placing their chips and making some early bets in this sector.
Feedback on the conference organization itself:
- The good
- Company presentations: You don’t go to conferences for the boring talks, do you? My personal favourites were Mobivox and EQO, both mobile plays
- Red Herring CEO Alex Vieux’s ego: He’s not shy to ask direct questions and push his presenters. From “When will you reach $100M?” to “Will Israel ever make peace with the Palestinians?” nothing is taboo.
- Disappearing speakers: You could not find a better disappearing act even if it were put on by the Cirque du Soleil. Gérard Lopez (of Mangrove Partners) was scheduled to give a “fireside chat.” Alas, there was no fire, and no chat. Salman Ullah (Director of Corporate Development at Google) was quietly dropped from the program and Sean Wise (From Dragon’s Den show on CBC) didn’t show because he had a paid gig elsewhere. Worse yet, some speakers such as Louise Guay (MyVirtualModel) and half of the four VC’s on the “Meet the money” panel just didn’t show when it was time for their talk or panel, with no explanation.
- The price tag: Definitely not worth the $2500 ticket.
- Alex Vieux’s ego: He hogged the stage, moderating most of the panels and boring the audience with his endless mentions of how he’s been “good buddies” for decades with Bill Gates, Tim Draper, John Doerr, etc etc, etc. He could have made things a lot more interesting and engaging by at least taking questions from the audience. Instead, conference goers deserted the main track presentations in droves, opting instead to network amoungst each other in the hallways.
Read more blog coverage on the event from Mat Balez (here, here, and here), Roberto Rocha (here, here and here) and Alec Saunders. (By the way, Alec has a cool new Facebook conference call application.)
Oh, and I presented the first public preview of SmartHippo.com, which is currently in closed beta. SmartHippo is a consumer-powered marketplace for financial services. Here’s the video I opened with: