C2 Montréal reboots to spark a new wave of creative connections
At C2 Montréal, tomorrow begins today — in a completely different setting.
For its eighth edition, which runs from Wednesday through Friday, Montreal’s most eclectic conference is taking its talents to Grandé Studios in Point-St-Charles, near the Victoria Bridge. The new site, a former train repair shop with massive windows and 60-foot ceilings, covers about 19,000 square metres. That’s about double the space C2 occupied at its former location in Little Burgundy.
“I love the idea of moving, because C2 needs to reinvent itself,” conference president Richard St-Pierre said in an interview last week at his bustling downtown office. “A new space means new ways.”
Those ways include a bigger amphitheatre, complete with a rotating stage for major speeches; enhanced opportunities for attendees to interact with speakers; as well as a new crop of the popular “labs” that put people in unusual situations and force them to think differently.
C2 stands for commerce and creativity, and aims to prove the two can happily coexist. One of this year’s labs will see participants learn the art of “slow looking” to come up with innovative solutions, while another will make them work on body mechanics with professional dancers as a means of solving problems.
St-Pierre expects about 7,000 people will attend the three-day event, including about 40 per cent from abroad. Conference-goers wandering the premises are as likely to run into roving acrobats or piano players as they are to encounter movers and shakers from the Quebec business universe.
This year’s theme is Tomorrow, and C2’s lineup of lively luminaries promises to tackle topics ranging from climate change to food, space, ethics and artificial intelligence.
Speakers of note include American filmmaker Spike Lee, of Do the Right Thing fame; Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté; teenage climate activist Jamie Margolin; former Apple retail executive Angela Ahrendts; and acclaimed Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson, who just opened his first Montreal restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel.
And in what promises to be an out-of-this-world moment, Quebec astronaut David Saint-Jacques will address participants from the International Space Station.
That’s the kind of variety and unpredictability that has made Karl Moore, a professor of management strategy at McGill University, a C2 regular.
“Being exposed to very interesting people from around the world is great for getting your creative juices going,” Moore said. “To use an old cliché, an event like this helps you think outside the box. You get to hear about where the world is going, as opposed to where it’s been.”
Catching a glimpse of the future doesn’t come cheap: a three-day pass will set you back $2,995, while one-day passes are listed at $1,395.
Even so, St-Pierre disputes the notion of C2 as a playground for the rich.
“C2 is not elite,” he said. “You see people with ties, without ties, young guys, people with tattoos. You want a mix of industries and points of view. If you’re a local company, you can invite people to your Montreal plant, pack your three days with ‘brain dates’ to connect with people from 60 countries. It’s more cost-effective than flying to Shanghai.”
Simply put, St-Pierre said, C2 is good for business. He cites the conclusions of a study by auditing firm PwC, which found that about 1,700 jobs were created last year as a result of deals signed at the event.
“That’s the number I’m proudest of,” he said.
St-Pierre is also unapologetic about the dense lineup, which forces participants to be selective.
“It’s on purpose that there are always three to seven events happening at once,” he said. “As in real life, you have to make choices. You are the master of your own experience. Some people find this intimidating at first, but by the third day they master it.”
Speakers such as Lee “are there for the inspiration,” St-Pierre said. “But the real foundation of this conference is to create connections.”