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C2 Montréal takes brainstorming to new heights |Montreal Gazette| May 23rd 2018

“Our goal is to have a C2 event on every continent within the next three years,” says C2 Montréal President Richard St-Pierre.

“It’s not just because it’s cool, it’s because when you have a brainstorm 50 feet up in the air, the results are actually different,” says C2 president Richard St-Pierre. GRAHAM HUGHES / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Richard St-Pierre wants to make people a little uncomfortable.

That, says the president of C2, helps ignite the “little spark” of creativity. 

“If you bring people to the limit of their comfort zone, something new will emerge,” St-Pierre said.

Now in its seventh year, C2 Montréal, the business conference created by advertising agency Sid Lee and the Cirque du Soleil, has become known for its “labs” — participative activities, like business meetings held on chairs that are suspended 50 feet in the air, designed to put people in a new environment and encourage them to talk about it with other participants. 

“It’s not just because it’s cool, it’s because when you have a brainstorm 50 feet up in the air, the results are actually different,” St-Pierre said.

One thing he looks for when choosing new labs for the year is an element of risk.

“If it doesn’t scare me a little bit, it’s not bold enough,” he said.

C2 Montréal, which begins May 23, comes as C2 is in expansion mode.

In late November and early December, the first C2-branded conference outside Montreal was held in Melbourne, Australia.

The Melbourne Convention Centre is also now home to a permanent C2 meeting space, as is the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

It’s just the beginning.

“Our goal is to have a C2 event on every continent within the next three years,” St-Pierre said.

“It’s not just because it’s cool, it’s because when you have a brainstorm 50 feet up in the air, the results are actually different,” says C2 president Richard St-Pierre. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE FILES

During the past year, C2 has also organized more than 20 conferences around the world for corporations — events like Movin’On, a Michelin-sponsored sustainable mobility conference in Montreal. Its second edition begins at the end of May.

There’s a demand, St-Pierre said, for C2’s approach to the business conference.

“If you look at a normal conference, everything happens on stage and we’re in a room and it’s a dark place and we listen to what’s happening. That’s called a monologue. We want to create dialogues,” St-Pierre said.

A study conducted by the Events Industry Council, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents 33 industry groups around the world, found that the number of conferences in the United States grew by five per cent between 2014 and 2018 to 1.9 million.

That does have conference organizers concerned about “conference fatigue.”

“It’s certainly a crowded space,” said Karen Kotowski, the CEO of the Events Industry Council. “But competition pushes event and meeting planners to creatively look for ways to differentiate their event from others while offering a value proposition that is unique to their own.”

And as the number of conferences grows, the number of people attending conferences is also rising, she said.

One thing that can set a conference apart in a crowded market is the quality of networking opportunities, she said.

Philip Barrar, the founder and CEO of Mylo, a Montreal-based startup that makes an app aimed at helping young people invest, first went to C2 in 2016 as part of an “emerging entrepreneurs” program.

He expected to see some interesting speakers and planned to take some notes.

“What I got out of it was something completely different,” Barrar said. “You have the opportunity to book an impromptu meeting with people whose agendas are typically booked three months in advance and you can do so in a creative, collaborative environment where people are open to new ideas and giving you constructive feedback.”

Barrar, who went back to the event last year and plans to go again this year, said he didn’t make any deals at C2 itself. Instead, he started building relationships at the event that would later benefit his business. 

That sort of networking is a big part of C2’s economic benefit for Montreal, said St-Pierre.

“Business deals aren’t signed between two corporations, they’re signed by two people,” he said.

A survey commissioned by C2, conducted by professional services firm PwC six months after the event, found that deals made as a result of the conference created 1,800 jobs in the Montreal region last year, with about one in five local companies who sent representatives to the event seeing a direct benefit.

A big part of that is the large percentage of participants who come from outside the country — 42 per cent of the approximately 6,500 people who attended the event last year were from outside Canada, with 61 countries represented.

This year, St-Pierre said, cabinet ministers from Estonia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the governor of the Australian State of Victoria, are expected to attend.

“Never in a million years would they have come and visited Montreal were it not for C2,” he said. “It’s like a reverse trade mission.”

Stéphane Paquet, the vice-president of Foreign Investments and International Organizations at Montréal International, the economic development agency responsible for promoting Montreal internationally, said events like C2 are an opportunity to introduce people to the city and to the “ecosystems” in different sectors.

“People don’t look at a map and say, ‘I’m going to invest there, because there’s a river, there’s an island, it looks nice,’ no. They go there and they want to do business with people, with an ecosystem, and this is a great moment to introduce people to Montreal’s ecosystem,” Paquet said. “Do they invest only because they come to C2? No, it’s way more complicated than that, but C2 was something that made them come to Montreal, that made them have a look at Montreal.”

While the participants themselves are big part of how C2 sells itself, the speakers it attracts also play a role.

“Name me one conference, whether you talk about Davos, Burning Man, TED or South by Southwest where you have Snoop Dogg, Chelsea Manning, Michael Sabia and Jim Coulter on the same stage,” St-Pierre said. “Impossible.”

As C2 expands internationally, the Montreal conference remains its flagship, St-Pierre said. 

“Our purpose from the get-go was to make Montreal shine,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Source : http://montrealgazette.com/business/local-business/c2-montreal-takes-brainstorming-to-new-heights