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C2-MTL Draws Entrepreneurial Icons to Montreal

The creative juices were flowing as the likes of Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, makeup icon Bobbi Brown and a host of other high-powered business leaders converged at the second C2-MTL conference in Montreal.

​C2—shorthand for “Commerce + Creativity”—called on noted risk-takers in a variety of industries to look in their crystal balls and define emerging trends that will disrupt existing business practices, providing new opportunities for those coming in on the ground floor.

​Breaking conventional molds was the overriding theme at last week’s event, which also featured speeches from legendary entrepreneurs such as ING Direct founder Arkadi Kuhlmann, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and French designer Philippe Starck, all of whom built their businesses from the ground up.

​“Always, always, always be a rebel,” Starck, known for designing chairs, toothbrushes, toilets and other utilitarian objects with mass appeal, told a packed room of software engineers and other creative types. “Be subversive. It’s a duty.”

​Mackey, whose management team espouses decentralization at Whole Foods’ expansive chain of natural foods grocery stores, challenged business leaders to give their employees the freedom to experiment.

​“People are not a resource, they’re a source,” he said. “Human beings are sources of ideas, of creativity, of the future.”

C2-MTL also offered a range of freestyle workshops, networking opportunities and introductions to up-and-coming stars such as Canadian entrepreneur Mohamed Hage. His company, Lufa Farms, is building commercial rooftop greenhouses to feed thousands. Most the events were held in a high-tech, futuristic hangar-style space in an industrial district.

​Technology’s rapid influence on everything from healthcare to manufacturing was echoed throughout the convention, underscored by three-dimensional stage effects provided by Montreal-based entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, a sponsor of the event.

Environmental designer Neri Oxman demonstrated how her team is experimenting with the replication of efficient natural-design processes such as that used by the silkworm. “We’ll see more and more biology,” she said. “The inspiration from biology as model is moving toward biology as tool… biology as a fabrication.”

Steve Brown, “chief evangelist” at chipmaker Intel, told how computing is improving practical consumer applications such as automotive headlamps that can adjust the focus of light beams to maximize visibility in snow and heavy rain.

​“On the technology side of things, what’s coming in the next ten years is going to dwarf what we’ve gone through,” said Brown, noting that it is critical for engineers and others developing new technology to spend time in the trenches with customers. He added, “You can put computing into every part of the fabric of our lives.”

​While tech was clearly abundant at the three-day event, simple entrepreneurial messages appeared to resonate equally well with the largely youthful crowd, which hailed mostly from North America.

​“There’s no such thing as no,” said Bobbi Brown, who built her billion-dollar global makeup brand beginning with a small line of lipsticks created in the basement of her home. “Keep your eyes on the road. Don’t look at all the competition out there.”

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