Montreal event pits developers against time

Developers hungering for a challenge can head to Montreal next month to Blitzweekend, a 48-hour challenge that asks developers to create a viable product over the course of a weekend.

The free event will be held on March 1 and 2 at Montreal's Universitité de Sherbrooke where up to 75 to 100 competitors grouped into teams of one to eight people will "design, build, and launch in one weekend" a technology product of their choice. The event will also be open to developers looking to noodle around on their designs but who aren't interested in marketing their product or creating a business plan for it. Developers can present their proposal on the event wiki, where they can also search for potential team members.

The space, food, and drink, and wireless will be provided, care of the event sponsors, while attendees are responsible for bringing their own equipment and materials.

The Montreal-based co-organizers Heri Rakotomalala of Web development and start-up consultancy Mad Media and recent Concordia University graduate Mehdi Akiki came up with the idea after they attended startupweekend, a similar event down in Boulder, Colorado last summer.

"But there it was 50 people working on one project," said Rakotomalala. "That's a bit stupid, as you lose a lot of time just getting to know one another. We wanted to invite small teams instead."

The weekend timeframe will make room for those with day jobs and students attending classes, while the speed of the event will accommodate those stuck in an innovation rut or short on time to work on their design. This speedy turnaround, however, could be the way of the future, said Montreal-based financial advisor David Massé, who aided in bringing in the sponsors.

"The innovation cycle is getting shorter and shorter," Massé said. "If they can't start to bring it together in a weekend, it's not a good idea."

Akiki also found that the startupweekend participants didn't have any sort of plans for the project once they left the event. Said Akiki: "We wanted to have our teams take the product go further. Here, we really want to make this a launchpad for a start-up company and help people with (the skills needed for) after the weekend."

That's where the sponsors come in. In addition to their financial help, the companies--which include venture capitalists iNovia Capital, accountant firm BDO Dunwoody and insurance company Globalex--and advocates like Massé have offered up their network of contacts so that marketing, development and financial consultants will be on hand to lend their expertise to the developers, especially when it comes to the business side of their projects.

At the end of the weekend, participants, along with a panel of judges comprised of sponsor representatives and the consultants will vote on the end results, with the winner receiving a session with Embrase, a local business consulting firm that will help finesse the group's pitch for venture capitalists and investors, according to Akiki.

He expects that most developers will concentrate on Web applications, although anything tech-related is welcome, from video games to software to hardware.

According to Rakotomalala, he'll be advising developers working on Web-based designs to use existing Web frameworks such as Djanjo and Ruby on Rails. He said, "With such a short timeframe, you have to know your tools and just do it. The development cycle is already so short, though, (in real life), that this is the way of the future--it's the way IT is going."

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