Startupfest 2017 Recap – The Future of Everything

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People mentioned:
Mo Akif (McGill Dobson Centre) / [email protected]
Trina Chiasson (The Future of Food)
Kharis O’Connell (The Future of AR)
Kathryn Hume (The Future of AI)
Sarah Lacy (PandoDaily) / Twitter 
Anne Vandermey
Fitz Tepper
Jason Feifer
Philippe Telio


Resources mentioned:
McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship
Free book – Designing for Mixed Reality is hiring!
Sarah Lacy’s book: A Uterus Is A Feature, Not A Bug / Canadian link here
Sarah Lacy’s article: The Toxic Masculinity Bubble Has Burst
Jason Feifer’s article: Pitching Your Business to a Journalist? Here’s What Works.


Entrepreneurs are notorious for keeping their head down and working away to build their business. But once in a while, it’s important to look up and feel like a part of something massive, so you can get a bird’s eye view of what the world could evolve into.


I’m Mo Akif, Editor-in-Chief at the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, and today I’ll be sharing some of the highlights, of Startupfest2017. I won’t attempt to cover everything. Instead, I’ll be sharing handpicked insights from world-class experts covering the 3 domains which, if handled correctly, will have disproportionate results on the  future of the way we interact with the WORLD. I’m talking about: Food, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence. After that, you’ll be hearing about Silicon Valley’s Morality Crash, and exactly how to get the media interested in your startup.

Now, let’s talk about the future of food.

Future of Food

Trina Chiasson presented us with the current situation: we’ve got a growing population, a changing climate, and an epidemic of diet-related diseases. What do we do? What CAN we do?
In 2050, there will be 9 billion people on this planet. It’s tough to design a system that will sustain all of them. That being said, there is some good news: “population growth is decreasing, and caloric output per unit of land is increasing”.

Trina encouraged us to consider ideas that conflict with our current ones. Case in point: eating insects.  Over a quarter of the world’s population eats insects. They are a high-density source of protein that could feed a lot of people for a fraction of the resources, and will play a major role in the future of food.

Future of AR

Now, let’s talk AR. A quick refresher: Virtual reality is when you’re seeing an entire world that isn’t really there. Augmented reality is when data is added to your vision of the real world. And mixed reality is when you can see virtual objects and data, overlayed on top of your real-world vision. Kharis O’ Connell fr om Meta, argued that we don’t need to be worried about the advancement of the underlying tech. The real challenge, is design. Designers need to be responsible about the experience they craft, because one misstep could be life-threatening. Picture someone getting a distracting ad that pops up on their display JUST as they’re about to cross the street. Not good!


If you’d like to learn more about Designing for Mixed Reality, Kharis literally wrote the book on it, and he’s giving it away for free.


Future of AI

Next, the Future of Artificial Intelligence.

Kathryn Hume from integrate.AI painted a picture of the AI-enabled world that our kids and grand-kids may grow up in. This incoming, rapid change has a lot of people worried so I went and asked her how we can future-proof ourselves for an AI-enabled world. She explained that machines may have superhuman capabilities in very narrow domains, but they’re very bad at combining multiple things to come up with integrated solutions. And they don’t know how to choose the best ethical outcome. So here’s what you can do to future-proof yourself:

On a side-note, Kathryn’s company is hiring, so if integrate.AI’s work sounds like something up your alley, go check it out.

She also said we need to be careful about the past coloring the future. AI develops its intelligence through analyzing previous data sets. If we don’t pay attention to that, we won’t be creating the future we want, we’ll be creating the past we can’t help but inherit. Here’s an example of where this could go wrong: Let’s say we were to use an AI system to try to predict whether or not someone would be a good hire for a company. If historically, the system sees that you’ve tended to hire rich white males, then the system will realize this and tend to hire more of the same.

Silicon Valley’s Morality Crash

Speaking of rich white males, let’s talk about Silicon Valley’s Morality Crash. Sarah Lacy from PandoDaily has always been open and candid about large-scale moral issues. She presented us with the facts: PLENTY of data was used to show everything that’s wrong with the toxic masculinity behind Silicon Valley’s bro culture, and she posited that in 2017, the bubble has burst. Here, is Sarah. 

If you want more of Sarah Lacy, go pre-order her upcoming book – it’s called: A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug.

Get your media into the startup

Finally, here’s something you can take away if you’ve got a startup.

In a discussion with CBC’s Molly Kohli, three people from New York’s business journalism scene stopped by to share their wisdom: Anne Vandermey from Fortune, Fitz Tepper from TechCrunch, and Jason Feifer from Entrepreneur.

Here are some quick tips:

The number one reason most startups fail to get media attention, is that they don’t know what the media is looking for. Here are 2 ways to educate yourself:

The first way is to go study the publisher’s previous works – If you’re trying to make it into Entrepreneur Magazine for example, go look at the stories that have been published and take notes on what makes them interesting. See if you can find something about your startup that can fit into their narrative.

The second way, is to just ask. Get in touch with someone from the magazine you want to be in and ask them what they look for in a story. Magazines like Fortune often look at larger trends, not individual startups. So sometimes your way in is to find a way to be a PART of the story. Other publishers want to hear about your the memorable processes you used to get to where you are.

If you want more, Jason has written an article on what works when pitching your business to a journalist.

Startupfest is over, but the lessons we’ve learned, and the connections we’ve made will stay with us for years to come.  

If I can help you with anything, send me an email at [email protected]

Special thanks to Philippe Telio, the founder of StartupFest.

There are links to everything I’ve talked about at the top of this page.

See you next year!

Mo Akif

Mo Akif

The Editor-in-Chief of the McGill Dobson Chronicles. Never having started a lemonade stand as a child and tired of reading blog posts about entrepreneurship without actually doing anything, he was on the verge of giving up and joining a pyramid scheme. Luckily the McGill Dobson Centre decided to adopt him, allowing him to get a closer look at what it takes to build something valuable.