By Christine Lacaze
When we talk about entrepreneurs, we often think of those at the fore of new goods, a new quality for existing goods, untested production methods, etc. But the cultural sector has also adopted rythms for innovation and a strong level of creativity. We met with David Santelli, chairman for La Piscine, the first incubator for the development of cultural and creative businesses in Montreal.
Cultural Entrepreneur: Entrepreneur like any other?
Montreal is bursting with inubators, accelerators and entrepreneurial goodwill - but Santelli felt there was a lack in the cultural setor. As early as 2010-2011, major cultural cities like Paris and New York were starting to establish infrastructure for cultural entrepreneurship, and Montreal was lagging behind…until today.
“Cultural and creative businesses represent approximately 15 sub-sectors, including living art, show business, music, audiovisual art, design, architeture, and even fashion. It’s a sector that represents 6% of the GDP for Montreal’s Greater Area, responsible for 90 000 direct jobs and 50 000 indirect jobs,” explains Santelli. But many of these professionals, facing the harrowing realities of being self-employed, have a hard time making a living from their art. Behind the La Piscine project, there was a desire to build an ecosystem around cultural and creative support, to succeed in “reconciling the tensions between the artist and the business person or entrepreneur.” But to bring the project to another level, the NGO had to set up in an iconic Montreal spot in order to create a physical meet-up space for exchanges between the various actors in the cultural and creative entrepreneurship sector. “We wanted this project to evolve in the QI (Quartier de l’inovation) framework so that there would be a link between technology, new use, etc. Anchoring ourselves in QI was important, and we quickly identified our future locale: Le Rodier,” said Santelli.
Le Rodier: Hub for cultural and creative entrepreneurship
When they started out, Le Rodier was owned by the City of Montreal, abandoned and awaiting refurbishment. A meeting and ensuing partnership with Georges Coulombe, real estate patron and citizen involved in promoting the value of Quebec’s heritage, allowed the dream to come closer to reality. “We want this project to surpass that of a simple business accelerator. We want Le Rodier to become a meeting ground, a rite of passage for cultural and creative entrepreneurship in Montreal,” explained Santelli.
Santelli believes Montreal is bursting with talent, and that it’s time to see infrastructure adapted to support it. In his launch speech, he added, “La Piscine gave itself the goal of shepherding businesses and NGOs with strong economic… and social... potential, and launched its first pilot program in the spring of 2016 to better understand the needs of entrepreneurs looking to optimize their value propositions and gain access to international markets (in a sector where many businesses are ‘born global’).”
The official launch is scheduled for fall 2018. The building, which will span five floors, covers a surface of 26,000 sq.ft. The project aims to establish a strong link and create a point of convergence between Montreal’s heritage and an expression of cultural innovation. To that point, its space will be divided into three zones:
● Public space: Transit area reserved for entrepreneurs with food and meeting spaces, exhibitions, conferences, and more.
● The cultural and creative entrepreneurship house of Montreal: with space to work, the presence of different partner organizations relevant to the ecosystem development, including higher education institutions at both college and university level.
● A program offer for incubation and acceleration
What kind of internal innovation are you expecting for the launch?
“Unfortunately, I can’t reveal that, but there are projects in the works that aim to increase proactivity for the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and projects aimed at scheduling as well. Two programs are already underway at La Piscine, which temporarily took up residence at 409 St Nicolas in Old Montreal. Le Petit Bassin is a short, four-month program that aims to grow businesses at a basic level. We encourage businesses to start with Le Petit Basin before entering the second program. More advanced businesses will have direct access to Deep Dive, a six-month program that involves working closely with entrepreneurs on ways of growing their revenu or elaborating strategies for financing. This program can also be extended according to a business’ needs,” said Santelli.
Stimulating Montreal’s cultural and creative industries
Cutural industries are important on an economic and social level, but they are also part of Montreal’s identity. Santelli said, “If we want to maintain our cultural strength, it has to be developed in sustainble economic models. Fundamentally, these industries are important, because what makes up an interesting and dynamic society has a direct impact on other industries.” An economy revealing itself, through its flexibility, as the laboratory for businesses of tomorrow.