5 startups disrupting eating and drinking habits at Montreal Grand’ Messe

We, humans, have never been so self-conscious about the way we eat, for better or for worse! We eat differently, we seek innovations in the products we choose, we want to be healthier, but while having fun! If you recognize yourself in the “we”, you should discover these 5 Montreal startups.

Innovation MTL discovered them during Fondation Montreal Inc. annual event, La Grand’ Messe. For this 3rd edition, 100 startups were gathered to present their newly crafted products to investors, media, influencers, and the general public.

Mushup coffee

Do you also have that colleague who decided to cut off his coffee consumption because he was experiencing chest pains, insomnia, anxiety? Perhaps he or she would be interested in Mushup coffee… quality and fair trade coffee beans, roasted in Montreal, but without all the negative effects of coffee thank to a magic ingredient: mushrooms! Not magic mushrooms, but medicinal mushrooms extracts that add healthier virtues while enhancing the taste of coffee beans. Who knew that the coffee industry still had room for innovation? Try it out, it is delicious (and the branding is gorgeous too)!

Cultur’ dough

Eating is about so much more than feeding yourself or even indulging, it is about living new experiences. If you cannot afford a trip to an exotic destination perhaps you can at least experience that change of scene during a handful of seconds by biting in one of Cultur’ dough cookies. You can jump from Japan to the Mediterranean, from Mexico to the Middle East, without any visa, directly from your taste buds to your imagination. For those who seek something different from regular cookies, it is definitely worth it.

Choco de Lea

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💓 💓 💓 #chocolate #vegan #heart

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Chocolate is a guilty pleasure in so many ways: it is rarely fair trade, it is a calorie bomb, it uses animal products, and often comes in non-recyclable packaging. Léa wants to solve (almost) all these problems with her craft chocolate bars. Using soya milk and gourmet ingredients, she advocates a more responsible consumption of chocolate. We had the opportunity to taste the camomile and cherry flavoured white chocolate. It was surprisingly delicious. It is brand new, so follow her adventures on Instagram!

Haumana

Haumana produces baobab natural energy bars. If you wonder what a baobab is, it is a tree that grows in Africa. People there consumes the citrusy fruit that comes from the tree after drying it and making a powder out of it. It is said to have true health benefits. Haumana is working with a cooperative of women in Senegal to produce their vegan, raw and gluten-free energy bars. The light sour taste gives it a funky twist. And don’t worry, there is an option with chocolate too, it is available here.

Blue Pearl Distillery

Last but not least, if you want to make that old gin & tonic look rejuvenated and more exciting, while supporting a Montreal based company, Blue Pearl Distillery has created a surprising, delicious and funny product to try. With 100% Quebecois ingredients, their Bleu Royal gin has a flowery flavour (it is distilled with juniper berries and coriander) and a natural blue color (apparently it comes from the butterfly pea flower) and… when you mix it with (1642) Tonic, it becomes pink. More than an ordinary liquor, Blue Pearl wants to offer experiences, and magical ones, preferably. You can find Bleu Royal gin at the SAQ.

Telling stories by designing authentic products

Designing, creativity and adventurousness run in the family for Antonio and Lorena. Having an industrial designer as a mother and an astrophysician as a father, the siblings have a passion for design. They are inviting Montrealers to embrace their innovative products.

Not interested by traditional paths

Lorena studied ceramic and graphic design while Antonio went for sculpture and industrial design. They both started their careers few years ago in the corporate world and in design studios. However, something was wrong – a sense of uneasiness, lack of authenticity? Antonio decided to go back to studying and chose an environmental programme in design and architecture at Universite de Montreal and Lorena quit her job. Brother and sister decided to become partners and Co/Crea Studio was born.

We did not agree 100% with what the market had to offer, we needed to create ourselves something that aligns with our vision of the world. 

Their conception of design is responsible and interdisciplinary, it embraces circular economy and has a positive impact of society while remaining viable. 

Going against the grain: durability vs. trends

(c) Tora Chirila

People are either graphic designers or industrial designers but studios rarely combine the two. Blending 2D and 3D is a way to provide richer experiences and mutually benefit from each other.

Lorena and Antonio work on the ideation process together, then, the lead will depend on the type of product or service. The focus is always on offering a sustainable product or service with an extended life – which is against the processes of the industry.

Conveying messages through products

They are currently working on a series of products called the “Fundamental Series”, to promote good habits: a book-end, to leave technology aside and go back to reading books, candlesticks to give more light to our lives…

(c) Tora Chirila

To do so, they are partnering with Mexican artisans from a small village called Tecali which is famous for its expertise in marble and onyx craft. Unlike many manufacturers that go there for cheap but quality labour, the two Montrealers want to provide artisans with fair trade opportunities and… to come back to their country of origin!

Another product, “My Montreal, our island” was created after a call for projects inviting designers to reinterpret Montreal souvenirs (that are mostly made in China as we all know…). Using Montreal’s insularity, the designers created an original mug that showcases Montreal diversity and authenticity: it is made in clay as a reminder of the sand beaches on an island, it has the island of Montreal carved in the bottom, and the name is written just like you would write with your fingers in the sand. 

Of course, if you don’t know the story, you might just see it as another mug in a souvenir shop, but this is why design is so important for us – it helps conveying stories in a durable and creative manner.

You can buy these products online.

Hibiscus drinks from Africa made in Montreal

Montreal is a multicultural city and celebrates diversity in many aspects. Diversity can take the form of innovations, curiosity and sustainability. When it comes to the food industry, the city has known a real boom in innovations over the past years. A new drink is now entering the market for non-alcoholic beverages: Hibisko.

African flavors, made in Montreal

Hikmath is a dynamic, ambitious Montrealer who decided to become an entrepreneur and make other Montrealers discover her favourite drink, coming directly from her home country, Benin (West Africa).

Hibisko comes from the world “hibiscus”, a red flower that is emblematic of tropical destinations, but that can also be used in infusions. Hibiscus tea has been consumed in many parts of the world for ages – in Egypt it is called Karkade, in the Caribbean it is agua de Jamaica, and in West Africa, it is called Bissap and it is a traditional drink appreciated for its sweet and sour taste and deep red color.

I had never thought of entrepreneurship before. My parents wanted me to be a doctor.

After growing up in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire and Benin), and studying in France, Hikmath came to Montreal for a fresh start: she began her studies at HEC in 2012 and after graduating, started working in IT. All along the way, she brewed bissap at home, keeping her habits from childhood.

An unquenchable thirst for new products

As Hikmath experienced life in a corporate world, the idea of making a business out of her hobby kept growing in her mind and she saw a fit with the market:

Montrealers love testing new drinks and new products that are healthy and locally made.

Given the current trend of kombucha (cf. Mannanova) and cold-pressed juices (cf. LOOP juices), such products definitely fit with consumers’ expectations and the growing demand for attractive and tasteful non-alcoholic products that are not produced and bottles thousands of miles away.

Hibisko offers three types of flavours: El Classico (a blend of hibiscus and mint infusion), Phoenix (a blend of red and white hibiscus with maple syrup, lemon an cinnamon) and Senshi (a mix of hibiscus, ginger and baobab extract)

Home-made drinks. Home-made everything!

Yes, it is that simple: during the summer of 2018, Hikmath officially quit her job and started being a full-time entrepreneur. She went through a training in Hygiene and food safety and got a license from MAPAQ and she was officially allowed to start making and selling her product. All items are 100% home-made: the hibiscus is brewed, bottled, labelled, straight from Hikmath’s kitchen.

Selling the products online and at special events is a first step. The packaging is also subject to improvement and there is a lot to be done in sourcing raw materials. But I need to feel at ease with my product, take one step after the other, and be open to advice and positive criticism.”

For now you can buy Hibisko drinks online and follow the journey on social media.

Tero: Designing products for more sustainable habits

Elizabeth Coulombe and Valérie Laliberté are two Product Design students who made the choice of entrepreneurship to bring their innovative and sustainable design to the world. Elizabeth talks about human-centered design, sustainability and R&D.

 Building on the recycling trend

The idea emerged as Elizabeth and Valerie were doing their Bachelor in Product Design, a new programme at Laval University (Quebec City). They had to work on resolving a social or environmental issue. 

Traditional composting

In Quebec City we do not have an organized compost collection system from the city. People who want to compost have to take lessons but it is not so well-known. We wanted to design a new product that would make composting easier. 

Food Cycler in Korea (c) Amazon

A similar product was already designed in Korea – the Food Cycler is a machine that grinds food waste to reduce it up to 90% of it’s original volume and make it odourless. Indeed, food waste management is already well-advanced in South Korea, where the government initiated a “pay as you trash” policy: the heavier your trash bag, the more you pay. 

Composting with style

Drawing inspiration from Korea, the two Quebec students started designing a smaller and more ergonomic product:

We want Tero to be like another household appliance, something that you will feel comfortable leaving on your kitchen table.

Closing the loop of the circular economy

The final product should turn one kilo of food waste into 100 grammes of fertilizing powder within three hours through a dehydration process – it is a quick and odourless process.

We worked with agronomists and academics to find the best way to recycle food waste. We did not want to burn it. The dehydration process allows to retain all the nutriments to use as a fertilizer for gardening

It is one goal to design an innovative product, it is a completely different one to launch your first company after only three years of studying! The two entrepreneurs are still studying today – Elizabeth is doing an MBA – and working with engineers to make the best and most affordable product (through partnerships with Solutions Novika and the Center for industrial research support in Quebec – CRIQ), But entrepreneurship is also about finding investments, selling products, marketing…. 

From designers to entrepreneurs

We remain designers – we always focus on putting the user at the center of conception and development.

When the product is finalized, you will be able to order it through a crowdfunding campaign. In the mean time, you can follow Tero’s adventures on their website or Facebook page.

Bringing sustainable collaboration to freelancers in Montreal

Job seekers are increasingly choosing freelancing over traditional employment. Millennials are embracing the concept so they can work directly from their bed. How is this a real opportunity for innovating collaboration? Pierre-Luc Thivierge, a Montreal entrepreneur has decided to develop his own tool for optimal collaboration

Freelancing, for better or for worse 

Today, 2.18 million Canadians are part of the gig economy – including freelance, contract and other temporary workers (BMO, 2018). By 2020, 45% of Canadians will be self-employed, almost have of the workforce (Intuit Canada, 2017). There are several benefits to this condition that include autonomy, control and work-life balance. However, being a freelance can sometimes be difficult – financially (no benefits medical, dental, disability) and psychologically (no long-term perspectives, absence of colleagues).

In Canada, many initiatives exist for structuring freelancing: job websites (Workhoppers, Glassdoor, to mention only a few), dozens of Facebook groups, and even a freelance union but what if you could find all these services at once?

Pierre-Luc has been a freelancer himself, but he also worked on the other side – with agencies and IT companies. With his background in web development, he noticed how many freelance web developers worked with agencies and how important it was to provide them with a community and to provide agencies and companies in general with a pool of freelancers that were reputable and skilled.

I want to put the spotlight on these talents, who do not fit in the frames of traditional jobs.

Using each other in a trusting environment

(c) Albert Zablit

Collab Machine is like a mini-incubator for clients and talents to find each other. 

For two years, Pierre-Luc has deliberately kept the network at a small scale (approximately 170 members and a pool of carefully selected advisors), with most of the activity on Slack and regular meetups. Recently, he has developed a dedicated social platform that allows clients to post their requests and freelancers to apply, but also to draft and send invoices. Soon, Collab Machine will also offer public liability insurance, life insurance and other social benefits.

We want to act like a community and as such, we play the role of human resource advisors.

Collab Machine has been involved with the BEC (Bureau d’entraide aux communicateurs) and recently partnered with ADI (which stands for Acceleration, Design, Innovation – read our article about this key player in the hardware innovation ecosystem) to strengthen the community-building initiative and better retain talents.

Collaboration can only be sustainable if it is based on trust.

This conception of collaboration is truly innovative – creating a community cannot only rely on technology, algorithms and technical excellence. There has to be human values and human relations too.

Check Collab Machine website and write to Pierre-Luc to get a chance to register on this innovative platform.

Two students are offering a more impact-driven “Uber” in Montreal

As Uber continues to infuriates taxi drivers in Quebec, and Teo Taxi files for bankruptcy, two entrepreneurs in their twenties are fine-tuning a different business model for a ride hailing app based on the social economy: Eva.

An improved and socially responsible version of Uber 

Dardan Isufi and Raphael Gaudrault are 22 and 23 years old and both still studying, but they are also full-time entrepreneurs and co-founders of a young startup: Eva

It all began in the Fall of 2017 as Uber was once again making the headlines in Montreal. The two friends started thinking of the ride hailing economy.

“The problem with Uber is not the concept of ride sharing but its implementation.”

Uber creates a precarious environment for drivers and an economy that does not invest benefits in the local economy (with 25% of revenues collected by the company).

From the old capitalism to the new sharing economy

Eva has completely shifted the economic model and offers a decentralized solidarity cooperative. Drivers and passengers are part of a community based on the redistribution of wealth (a great interview with Crypto Tim is available here)

When it comes to revenues, the driver members earn 85% of the total ride fare. While the rest does not go to any shareholder’s pocket but instead, 10% is used to provide funds to the cooperative and 4% goes for ecosystem treasury, and the rest goes to the Eva foundation (technical maintenance, communications).


“The idea is to maximize the profit for the driver members who often have to pay for the car, the maintenance, a driver’s license, fines, and energy costs.”

This is made possible by blockchain: based on the decentralization of data, this technology avoids the cost of stocking data on servers while offering more security and confidentiality. Everything is explained in this White Paper.

A taste for risk and for impact-driven values  

Both students are invested in impact-driven organizations and deeply believe in values of cooperation, respect, and social justice. Dardan is studying Political Science and handles operations, i.e. legal constraints and authorizations. Raphael is studying Computer Software Engineering and handles the tech part of the work, i.e. blockchain. Both have a deep interest in solving problems and getting out of their comfort zone.

“A crazy idea will become realistic when it is embraced as a team.” 

(c) Sylviane Robini, 2019

The co-founders have surrounded themselves with a team of technical ninjas and communications aurors who are getting ready to make their crazy idea a reality. As for the general public it can become part of the coop by joining as a rider, as a driver or as a support member.

A harsh market with high barriers to entry

Building sustainable innovations is not easy, especially in a market dominated by a giant like Uber. Some players have learned this lesson the harsh way: less than three years ago, Teo Taxi had brought a fleet of electric cars to the taxi industry in Montreal (we have written about them here) but it announced the shut down of its operations on 29 January 2019.

“Teo Taxi was a strong player in the transport industry. It provided a green alternative and had made the idea of electric transportation realistic”. 


(c) Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

Hopefully, Montrealers will continue to embrace socially responsible innovations when it comes to ride hailing, and Eva will provide a highly differentiated alternative to Uber that can attract a community that believes in impact-driven initiatives.

Eva is more than a ride-sharing application, Eva is a movement empowering people with automation and inclusion.

After receiving legal authorization from the Quebec Ministry of Transportation, the Eva App should be launched in Montreal by the end of February 2019Download the app and find out more about it.

When in Mexico City, using rainwater can save your life

Last week in Mexico City, I got to discover new innovations, which triggered back my inspiration!  Did you know that Mexico City, this giant urban territory, used to be a lake but it was drained by the Spanish in the 16th Century? Yet, today, it is facing one of the most serious water shortages in an urban space but fascinating projects are being launched by civil organizations to help people access water. One of them. Isla Urbana, has developed a system that collects rainwater and purifies it for drinking purposes and more generally for all other uses in the house, and it is equal or better quality than tap water in Mexico City!

Designing for communities

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Is drinking rainwater innovative? It was probably one of the most ancient ways of surviving, but today with pollution and air contamination it has become dangerous. Thinking of sustainable solutions to water shortages in Mexico City, the team at Isla Urbana came up with a system designed to harvest rainwater and purify it.

 

Today, 36% of families in Mexico City do not have adequate access to water and spend up to 20% of their incomes to buy trucked water. United Nations

A team of young engineers, urbanists and ecologist decided to come together and develop a new industrial design system for rainwater harvesting: a blue tank collects and filters rainwater which is then pumped into a house. The household system is $1,100 for the complete installation and $150 annual maintenance costs.

The average harvesting in the city for a 60 m2 roof is 45,000 Liters (11,888 gallons) per year to harvest de average rainfall in the city of 750mm per year, which covers an average of 5 to 8 months of water needsRenata Fenton, Director of Design, Isla Urbana

Beware of the “megacorte”

This will definitely be useful next week, when the public water service will be completely suspended for three days (this is the “megacorte” or “mega cute”). Starting 31 October 2018, 13 boroughs of Mexico City and 13 municipalities of México state will be completely dry. This is to allow maintenance and repair work on the Cutzamala pipe.

Earning trust for the future

So far, and after 10 years, Isla Urbana has installed about 8,700 systems, which provide water to more than 52,000 users. The kits are designed to provide different types of water quality (from water for toilets and washing up to purified water for drinking), for different types of buildings and roof sizes and for both the urban and rural context.  

The real challenge now is to change the community’s perception of rainwater, teach them to trust the rainwater collected, to use it. Renata Fenton

Also, by storing increasing volumes of water, families can then become completely independent from unsustainable sources of water. The empowering nature of the benefit is crucial.

What makes this project so innovative is its realistic nature. Isla Urbana does not aim at solving the water issue in Mexico City in one day, it aims at providing solutions to everyday problems.