UPDATE: The Notman House campaign is complete. In 20 days they raised over $100,000 towards making the Notman House campus a reality. The Notman House campaign was the most successful community crowdfunding campaign ever run to date in Canada to date, and in the top 20 out of over 20,000 campaigns run on Indiegogo across the world.
With two weeks left in its funding campaign to raise $100,000, Montreal startup hotbed Notman House is garnering much attention.
It’s all part of an ambitious movement that will see the 163-year-old former residence of William Notman receive a large face-lift.
Notman, a Scottish-born professional photographer in the late 19th century, co-founded the Montreal Arts Society with John Molson. As a creative advocate of art, technology and business in his day, he would have been happy to see how 51 Sherbrooke St. W is being used.
“A curator from the McCord Museum made the comment that Notman would be totally stoked that we’re working in his house and entrepreneurs who are media-technology focused are using it to build startups,” said volunteer Gabriel Sundaram.
The solution to the house’s renovation obstacles lies in the financial figures. The OSMO Foundation, a non-profit charity created to spearhead the project, is set to purchase the house with assistance from a $4.3 million loan from Investment Quebec and the BDC. Another $1.7 million in government grants has been secured from all three levels of government. To access the cash Notman House must continue to raise $100,000 on top of another million already pledged by private entities.
Once the community has contributed the funds, via crowdfunding tool IndieGoGo, renovations are set to begin in mid-November.
An abandoned old women’s hospice located behind the building will be converted into dozens of offices for startups. There will also be a large event space, another large co-working space and a centrally located café that will serve as the gateway to the complex.
“There’s going to be so much buzz in the place it’s going to be crazy,” said Sundaram. “Over 100 entrepreneurs will be jam-packed here working on 30-40 businesses.”
A grass roots and community driven initiative, Notman House has served as the de facto centre of creative collaboration in the Montreal startup community. Four main groups occupy it: early stage web startups, freelancers who assist startups (including graphic designers, developers and copy writers), early stage investors and support organizations.
Along with four other volunteers Sundaram takes care of everything from invoicing to coordinating events to making coffee.
He stressed just how much of a community initiative the project is. People who rallied around finding a common space for the startup community created it from the ground up.
“Something that has made us feel good is how much the community has pitched in: we’ve had community cleanups, barbeques and different people have helped out,” he said. “Everybody’s doing it because they love the idea of it.”
One of the support organizations located in Notman House is FounderFuel, a startup accelerator now preparing to nurture its third cohort of businesses. The company could have selected anywhere in Montreal to run its program, but Notman House was an obvious choice from the start based on its central location and its constant buzz.
“There’s finally going to be a ‘real’ place for us rather than having all of us scattered all over the place,” said FounderFuel general manager Ian Jeffrey. “It’ll be a place where everyone’s like-minded and thinking about [or currently] building a business, and right now that doesn’t really exist.”
Wavo.Me benefitted under FounderFuel’s tutelage and currently runs its social network for music in the attic of Notman House. Given that Montreal is quickly becoming a boomtown for tech startups, they think a central location is a must.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest co-working spaces for startups in North America,” said co-founder Conor Clark. “Having that kind of community right here in the hub of Montreal will be an incredible resource that a lot of other cities don’t have.”
With just two weeks left the Notman House Project has almost reached its goal. Along with a couple large contributions, one highlight last week was when it raised $20,000 in 24 hours.
At this point only one question remains for all the members of Notman House, effectively summarized by Jeffrey.
“Have you given any money?”