Walking into IC MTL‘s swanky Old Port space is a paradoxical experience.
The “lean” or “ramen” startup mantra that applies to so many companies that started in a parent’s basement? That flies out the window when one stands inside the beautiful loft space on St. Nicholas street. This incubator for CEGEP-aged creative entrepreneurs is likely held in some of the most high-priced real estate in all of Montreal.
Then again, if one wants to go big it could be argued they should be working like a rock star.
Madeleine Bazerghi, who was tasked with spearheading ICMTL and Dawson College’s greater entrepreneurial education needs, said the CEGEP college simply didn’t have enough space at its Atwater location. In fact, Dawson College is currently at a deficit of about 40,000 square feat, said the program lead.
Bazerghi told MTLinTECH that it remains an amazing deal for Dawson College students brave enough to enter the entrepreneurship world.
“IC MTL is based on building partnerships but it’s also very lean. The only thing we bought is chairs. We’re bringing in handmade tables, we don’t have janitorial services and we all clean the toilets around here.”
IC MTL is a not-for-profit creative incubator for creative and cultural entrepreneurs that was spearheaded by Dawson College and Cegep du Vieux Montreal. It’s main funding partners are Entente Canada-Québec, which is mandated to promote educational programs in both official languages. Entente has funded IC MTL for four years. Other partners include the Gestion Georges Coulombe realty group.
Among those on the advisory board include Canadian recording artist David Usher, creative entrepreneur Fady Atallah, Pixmob CTO Vincent Leclerc and more.
The young entrepreneurs are mostly new graduates of CEGEP. Photographers, filmmakers, actors, 3D animators, designers and more work out of the space. There they get one-on-one mentorship from IC MTL’s roster of mentors and business coaches.
Thus far the space in Old Port has offered both a place to work, where desk space ranges from $350 to $500 per month, as well as a 10-week educational pilot program. The real product will start on October 12, when IC MTL will become a “campus/incubator,” with an eight-month college accredited program based on design thinking and lean startup methodology.
“This is not a coworking space,” said Bazerghi, who graduated from McGill University in engineering and taught in the field of electronics for 12 years. “This is an entrepreneurial ecosystem where we have education, incubation and one-on-one support.”
The “semi-structured” program will run three days a week and will seek to teach the young adults how to launch their business, get their first clients, build strategic partnerships, how to apply for grants and more.
“It’s not going to be classroom style. They’re going to learn by doing experientially,” said Bazerghi. “We’re going to bring in speakers, hook them up with mentors and business coaches and we’ll attend events in Montreal.”
She said the 23 students currently working out of the space are filled with energy, creativity and a risk-taking mentality. Still, Bazerghi lamented the fact that little funding exists for creative entrepreneurs. She hopes to “sensitize investors” on what these young creatives have to produce.
Readers need not be reminded that investors want to make returns. If any entrepreneur, creative or not, can offer them a way to do that, they might jump on board. Bazerghi is aware of this and pointed out that ultimately many of the young entrepreneurs may work as freelancers or go on to university. But even in university they can continue their business while learning.
While they’re at IC MTL, Bazerghi and incubator manager / “chief inspiration officer” Linda Rutenberg are ensuring that entrepreneurs are being paired up with companies or mentors who share similar visions.
One of those mentors is Andrew Gryn, a veteran of the computer animation industry who formerly worked at Cinar Corp. He said he’s there to help the youth.
“One of the entrepreneurs asked me if I could join them at a conference and sit in and analyze their pitch, so I’m kind of a watchdog in a sense,” Gryn told MTLinTECH. “I’m not here to push people or to say ‘this is the right or wrong way.’ I want them to avoid the potholes that they’ll come across.”
IC MTL’s incubator manager Rutenberg, meanwhile, has been a fine art photographer for the last 30 years. With a BFA in film and music and an MFA in Photography from Concordia University, she’s keenly aware that creatives need to sell their work to put food on the table. That’s what she’s hoping to pass on to the young minds.
“Everybody needs to learn how to bridge the gap between art and business in this day and age,” said Rutenberg. “Promotion is the key to being able to carry on doing what we’re passionate about, which is our art. I think this has huge potential and there’s a huge amount of people out there who need this help.”
So long as the first fall cohort goes well for IC MTL, Bazerghi wants to expand in a big way. IC MTL will eventually become independent from Dawson College and Cegep du Vieux Montreal. It hopes to secure another, larger space in the Quartier Innovation. 22,000 square feet, to be exact.
“Once we’re in that 22,000 square foot we’ll do four cohorts per year and we’ll be sustainable because we’re going to be generating revenue from the coworking space,” said Bazerghi.
If the students are expected to dream big, their mentors need to as well. In that respect, IC MTL is right on schedule.