The scene was a darkly lit room on the sixth floor of a downtown high-rise in Montreal on Wednesday night. Several people made a circle around the speaker to provide support as he admitted he had an addiction.
“Hi, my name is Phil and I’m an entrepreneur.” Of course, the addiction that every person shared last night was building a company.
Philippe Telio of the International Startup Festival was the guest speaker chosen to address the crowd of startup founders. The event was Entrepreneur’s Anonymes, a monthly meet up put on by a group of five startup founders to encourage fellow entrepreneurs to come together.
Entrepreneurs Anonymes started a year ago when Louis-Philippe Maurice and Antoine Valin were unknowingly holding the same event on opposite sides of the same street, every month. The two events merged into Entrepreneurs Anonymes in its present form.
Around 20 people showed up at the first event, while last night’s meet up attracted over 50 startup founders. The other three organizers are Christine Renaud, Amyn Benhassi and Eve Lefebvre MacDougall.
While the name plays on the rather serious Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) organization, Valin assures that like alcoholics, entrepreneurs have problems too. “Actually, we have 1,000 problems,” he joked.
Unlike AA the members of this group come to drink a pint and enjoy the company of those who face the same daily challenges. Maurice calls it a sort of “Cheers for entrepreneurs," reflecting the high return-rate of first time members.
Part of the appeal comes from the fact that everyone must be running a company. To join one has to fill out the short request form on the entrepreneurs anonymes website. It’s less a function of exclusivity, said Valin, than making sure members aren’t constantly being sold on various services. “We’d go to an event of 100 people and only five of them would be entrepreneurs and you had to be lucky to find those people,” he said. “So I think we were looking for a way to have something just for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.”
It’s what attracted Roxanne Genier, the founder of Luxe In A City, and a frequent goer of Entrepreneurs Anonymes. She said it’s nice to gain value out of event like a future partnership, rather than being accosted by people trying to hide a thinly veiled sales agenda.
“I feel like here it’s all entrepreneurs who can teach me or I can teach them,” said Genier. “Its more about exchanging ideas and helping each other build our businesses rather than someone trying to sell me a product or accounting, so it makes it very different.”
Other than those few restrictions, entrepreneurs are encouraged to discuss anything. They don’t have a specific focus, but rather it’s about entrepreneurship in the broadest sense. One founder who manufactures soap in Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood can be discussing ehealth or mobile growth strategies with someone whose business provides ecommerce solutions for Chinese-Canadian trade.
“It’s all over the place and that’s why the cross-pollination between all the different disciplines is actually interesting because you don’t get that elsewhere,” Maurice told Techvibes.
Nearing the end of his speech to the crowd of founders, Telio spoke about what motivated him to build the International Startup Festival, once an event of 70 people and now easily topping 500 patrons every summer in Montreal. “I love connecting people,” he said.
The theme of Telio’s speech couldn’t have better matched what Entrepreneurs Anonymes is trying to do. It’s a creative city like Montreal that fosters such events like this, and its name is being heard around the world as a good place to build a company. More than that, it’s an organic community, said Maurice, where the efforts of its members are building its reputation.
“Hopefully if we provide some kind of a support group for entrepreneurs they feel they have roots and they’re connected here and maybe that’s a small part of the equation,” said Maurice. “If everyone put on events in the community, all of these play a key role in building a vibrant scene here where you want to start a business in Montreal.”