Having conquered the world with the Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté now wants to use Zú, a non-profit organization, to propel Quebec artists. At once an incubator, an accelerator, a coworking space as well as a place of distribution and inspiration, the project is set on the Complexe-de-La-Maison-Alcan site and its purpose is to support creators as part of an intellectual property protection and international marketing process.
To visit the offices of Zú along with its acting manager, Guillaume Thérien, is to travel through a labyrinth of corridors, stairs, elevators and overpasses connecting a variety of patrimonial spaces that will be renovated over the coming months. Upon completion of major preservation and modernization work, the NPO founded in 2017 will be able to welcome up to 300 creators—thereby making it one of the largest creative hubs in North America.
Place of effervescence when it comes to ideas and business, Zú (which means ‘zoo’ in Scottish) is a reference to the project’s instigator. “A zoo is a place of entertainment and learning,” explains Guillaume Thérien. “It’s a name that made Guy smile. He always said that he had created a circus without animals and, now, he’s creating a zoo without animals.”
Zú is located at the corner of Sherbrooke and Stanley streets and will pamper, guide and propel the artists it welcomes. “At present, Quebec’s creative industry is focused on service providers who fulfill the mandates of major foreign companies,” claims the manager. “Guy challenged us to find the best possible tools for Quebeckers to enable them to own their ideas. And it involves intellectual property.”
The NPO provides coaching, financial support, mentoring, equipment, contacts and à la carte services. “We will adapt our services to individual strengths. We will breathe creativity into people who are more entrepreneurship-oriented. In the case of people who are more creative, we’ll inject entrepreneurship. We want to accompany them at different stages: the birth of an idea, a prototype, a company that has already begun its marketing, etc.”
To enable creators to achieve their ambitions, Zú’s management is composed of artistic circle regulars who evolved with Spectra, Sony Music, Just for Laughs, Opéra de Montréal, advertising agencies and insurance industry players.
They all invested…
Guy Laliberté: $5M
Creators who hope to seduce the selection committee must all have one thing in common: they must hold intellectual property, be capable of renewing or improving existing intellectual property or be certain of their ability to develop new intellectual property. “It can be either technological or narrative,” specifies Mr. Thérien. “We’re looking for an idea that will be developed, protected and marketed.”
Citing as examples of creators who could have seduced Zú’s jury in the past, he mentions the Un gars, une fille show, the format and content of which have been sold throughout the world, the Spoken Adventures start-up, that uses voice recognition to create stories of which you are the hero, as well as Felix & Paul Studios, that has elevated virtual reality to a higher level in the past years.
When he is asked to predict what risks attracting attention in the future, he spontaneously answers 5G technology which, in his opinion, will make it possible to transform living spaces and the self-driving cars of the future into entertainment venues. That being said, the NPO will not be placing all of its bets on technology. “A promising human and artisanal experience will interest us as much if it has intellectual property and the potential to develop in various settings as well as abroad.”
Although Zú will be opening its doors to creators next July, three groups of entrepreneurs have already benefited from the organization’s support of the course of the past year.
First, Mentorly, led by Katherine Macnaughton and Ashley Werhun, is a platform that promotes collaboration between the Chinese market and Montreal when it comes to digital creativity. “China is a fantastic sandbox but it’s very complex, especially when it comes to intellectual property,” sustains Mr. Thérien. “Mentorly proposes to link Chinese artists with Montreal-based artists and enable them to exchange practices. Zú has put them in contact with Jean-Luc Hébert, an extraordinary mentor, with the goal of propelling them.”
Next, in the case of Affordance Studio directed by Kim Berthiaume, the idea is to create a game with a social impact in the open data age. “The studio uses the advertising boards throughout the city to allow people to learn and entertain themselves while interacting throughout the transit system.”
Finally, Atomic 3 wants to reinvent the ‘gathering around the fire’ concept by resorting to a technology that simulates a fire basket of light through social network activity. Previously, the company owned by Louis-Xavier Gagnon-Lebrun and Félix Dagenais was used to answering calls for projects. “We encouraged them to focus on a product, to register and market it, instead of focusing on a short-term appointment.”
At no loss of images to illustrate Zú’s ambitions, Mr. Thérien compares the facilities to a village. “We want creators to feel at home in their workspace. Our citadel is somewhat of a temple or church. The alleys correspond to the outdoor spaces that we are going to create.”
Of note, the creative hub will be open to both artists and the general public. “Innovation will be quickly confronted to the general public, providing timely feedback to creators to enable them to adapt.” Also, Zú intends to organize creative mornings, happy hour events and an incalculable number of activities to get Montrealers to make the place their own.