5 Montreal social innovation startups in urban agriculture

Last Friday we got to discover truly innovative startups at a 5@7 organized by Quintus, a communication agency dedicated to sustainable projects. This edition of Quintus@7 was dedicated to urban agriculture.

Quintus@7 are free networking events organized throughout the year by Quintus marketing. They highlight best practices in sustainable living. In 2018, five events will be organized focusing on how can we become change catalysts.

Stefany Chevalier, CEO of Quintus defined change catalysts as entities that work towards changing society with a social or environmental impact and that encourage consumption patterns that are innovative and sustainable. Quintus helps change catalyst to promote their activities through accessible communication tools – videos, events, communication campaigns.

“Our intention is not to get people to consume more but to consume more sustainably.”

Among the great initiatives that we discovered last Friday were: 

Crickstart & La Mexicoise, two startups that are changing eating habits by promoting the use of insect-based products. Crickstart’s mission is to open people’s minds with flavourful products made out of crickets. Yes this is pretty unusual but it is also one of the most sustainable – crickets are used in their entirety with zero waste, unlike in traditional livestock farming and meat processing, and healthy ingredient – the protein in crickets is rich with amino acids.

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Daniel from Crickstart and Christelle from La Mexicoise © Quintus

Chicza, a 100% natural, certified organic, biodegradable and sustainable chewing gum ever made. It is made out of chicle, a natural gum extracted from tall Chicozapote tree followingMayan traditions. This is truly innovative as most gums on the market carry no more than 5-7% of gum base, if any at all – the rest is plastics (artificial, petrol-based polymers). If you really want to get scared, you can watch “The Dark Side of the Chew” a TEDx talk by Andrew Nisker on the subject. We tasted the mint flavoured Chicza and really liked it. Other flavours include Lime, Cinnamon and Mixed Berries.

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Chicza team © Quintus

Mamie Clafoutis– to be fair, we already knew Mamie Clafoutis’s products (traditional French bakery) but it was very inspiring to listen to its co-founder Joseph Sabatier talking about organic flour and organic bakeries in Quebec. Did you know that only 2% of Quebec bread is made out of organic flour? And Mamie Clafoutis is part of that small figure. As such, it is a real innovator and pioneer in the sustainable food industry in Canada.

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Joseph. Founder of Mamie Clafoutis © Quintus

Vrac sur Roues, a zero waste online grocery store with bike delivery. Launched by ambitious 21-year old Simon, this new player in the sustainable urban market allows you to buy dry and liquid goods delivered by bike to your door and poured in your containers. Simon is a carpenter but he wants to bring more than wood furniture to society – as the sole manager and employee in his startup, he takes care of all aspects (website, order preparation, delivery) and has assumed all cost with his job as a carpenter, not relying on subsidies or loans. We found his passion and mission truly inspiring.

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Simon, Founder of Vrac sur Roues © Quintus

The next Quintus@7 will be held on June 8 and focus on eco-living and ecotourism. You can already get free tickets.

 

5 exciting findings from Grand Messe startup invasion

Last Thursday, if you were walking on Monk boulevard in Montreal and passed by the beautiful church on number 5959, you would never have imagined what was happening inside… 100 Montreal startups were presenting their products and services to media, corporations, influencers and the general public.

In an old church transformed into Theatre Paradoxe, you could discover various innovative ventures in the food, travel, services, marketing, design or fashion industry. This 3rd edition of the Grand Messe was organized by Montréal inc and presented by Bell. Startups were pitching their ideas in confessionals to the media who symbolically awarded a benediction to their favorite emerging startup.

Innovation Montreal’s team was on the ground and discovered 5 innovative products:

Brwski, the first in-store digital beerologist that simplifies how grocery customers discover beer in-store. They invented a unique machine to help beginners and beer geeks look for the perfect beer in store.

Sagafrika, offering the first range of African frozen dishes cooked in Quebec. We met with Sandra, the founder, and tasted a delicious cassava leaves sauce from Congo.

Perla Paletas, bringing typical healthy Mexican ice-cream and Popsicle to Canada. Made with real fruits and no additive, they offer an original healthy snack for summer days. We tasted their lime and cucumber Popsicle and their chocolat and raspberry frozen yogurt. Perla has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Ulule to extend her product line.

With the same healthy concerns in mind, we got to admire a bicycle made of wood, Picolo Velo. The wooden bike frames have been designed and built in Montreal with social, environmental concerns. We also discovered that the same sustainable concern was shared by corporations : Reunion D Sens offers companies two innovative locations in the heart of Montreal to organise meetings. These locations offer a unique experience that stimulates creation and helps to lower stress levels and increase confidence.

Stay tuned for more in depth stories on some of these innovative startups!

Montreal, an urban laboratory for experimenting artificial intelligence?

Montreal is considered as an international hub for artificial intelligence, a lab for innovation. What are the urban implications of this reputation? What is the social impact of artificial intelligence in the city? We have discussed all these issues yesterday at Newcities roundtable on the subject.

Newcities is a non-profit organization dedicated to making cities more inclusive, more dynamic, more innovative. They organized a round table dedicated to AI and urban issues. Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) was represented by Myriam Côté, Executive Director. She highlighted the importance of a socially responsible AI for founder, Yoshua Bengio.

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Myriam Côté, MILA (https://www.facebook.com/NewCitiesFoundation/photos/

At a time when technology and big data are blurring the limits of privacy, when academic research is driven by economic priorities, how can AI and innovation in general positively impact the lives of populations?

Cybersecurity and avoiding data deserts

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The main social concern with AI applied to the city is to avoid data deserts – areas where certain groups do not have data regularly collected about them. And a prerequisite to answer this concern is to educate citizens to the relevance and benefits of sharing their data in a well-defined framework.

Damien Silès is the Head of the Quartier de l’Innovation, an experimental laboratory supported by the four Montreal universities, the Federal and Provincial government and corporate partners. Its mission is to experiment with urban innovations in downtown Montreal.

We want to break down silos and make this neighbourhood a collective lab where private, public and academic actors collaborate. Only then can we truly protect data.

Artificial intelligence by and for the community

There are already great initiatives to improve the social and ethical impacts of artificial intelligence. Last November, a dedicated conference was organized by AI Alliance Impact (AIIA) and headed by Valentine Goddard. AI on a social mission presented best practices of companies applying AI in sectors like mental health, education, social work (Myelin was part of them).

During Newcities event, Valentine lead a roundtable on the subject with participants from various backgrounds: Cisco, IBM, HEC Montreal, the French Chamber of Commerce…

Today, we are beyond technological challenges when it comes to AI. Challenges are ethical. We need to present innovations as solutions to concrete problems

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Valentine Goddard (https://www.facebook.com/NewCitiesFoundation/photos/

AI can be a real solution to transportation issues: location-based search engines like Google Maps can allow to make predictions so that bus drivers spend less time on focusing on their route and more time on strengthening the social link with passengers.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, there is a fundamental gap between researchers and the general public. This gap is more than ever visible in the city.

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Visual representation of debates on AI and social impact

For people to adopt AI tools, it is important to educate them – not explaining the algorithms but showing how data can impact their daily lives.

Kinesix Sport is innovating sportswear the Canadian way

Canada is famous worldwide for its extremely cold winters so it is natural that a very promising Montreal startup has found out a way to leverage innovative tools to make people warmer. We met Jonathan Albrecht from Kinesix Sports during Startupfest 2017 edition. He is currently finalizing what could be the perfect smart object for urban Montrealers next winter.

The concept of a heating jacket

Have you ever heard of heating jackets? It is mainly used by amateurs of extreme sports (skiing or hiking). But Kinesix is taking a step further and working on making this a smart object, giving users the possibility to control temperature from their smartphones.

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Basically, heath is conducted through carbon elements to twelve heath zones. A manual mode is available but the app can also determine the optimal temperature. The fabric is similar to Gortex so it does not absorb water or perspiration for an optimal comfort. And the price remains competitive compared to Canadian premium winter jackets (it is $300 on pre-sale and eventually the final retail price will be $699).

Combining a passion for sports and biomechanics

john.jpgJohn has always been into sports. After living in France during his teenage years, he came back to Canada and decided to study in kinesiology and in biomechanics. He worked in a sports store for 5 years where he clearly identified a need for simplifying winter sports clothing. His dream was to combine these two passions and work in the product development division for Nike.

His passion for entrepreneurship eventually led him to think of starting his own business – Kinesix, offering innovative high-end products for athletic usage. In this context, launching a smart heating jacket was the next logical move:

 “In sports apparel, innovation has to come from smart objects. Brands like Nike tend to innovate their equipment to produce better fabric but not to create smart connected objects”

A 100% Canadian product

love winterKinesix is working in partnership with the Centre de transfert technologique in Saint-Hyacinthe to integrate heating elements and develop the an expertise for mass production. The electronic elements are produced in partnership with DFX Tech and the heating parts with Memtronik. John has already raised interest from potential buyers in France and Switzerland:

It is important to offer a Canadian product especially when selling the product in Europe. It provides credibility.

For now, the team is finalizing technical elements, working on the rechargeable battery but the heating jacket has already raised a lot of interest (especially through an article on La Presse) and a Kickstart campaign will soon be launched. Pre-purchase requests come from various customers – senior citizen, students or athletes – which confirms the multiple usages of such a smart object.

Bringing artificial intelligence to the business world

Element AI is the new darling in tech innovation. This 100% Montreal startup is revolutionizing artificial intelligence usages and making a big name in the business environment. We met with one of its co-founders, Anne Martel, during the 2017 edition of Startupfest in Montreal. She shares glimpses of this fascinating journey.

After closing the biggest Series A financing of the year ($135 million) and less than a year after their launch, Element AI has become the leading global company when it comes to AI.

From Art History to Artificial intelligence

anne martelAnne graduated from Concordia University in Art History and Finance less than 10 years ago. Today, she is the Senior Vice President of Operations for possibly the biggest AI incubator in the world. Without any previous experience in AI or computer sciences, but with a natural tendency towards entrepreneurship, she started her career by taking over the family business in the healthcare industry, manufacturing hardware for medical equipment and helped structure the company before selling it. This first experience had given her the desire to start a new company, in the tech industry this time.

She met serial AI entrepreneurs Jean Francois Gagne and Nicolas Chapados who were brainstorming about launching an accelerator or an integrator of tech projects. Both had a strong successful background in AI projects, building companies over the years. Anne successfully shaped her role in that triangle.

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Joining dots in the AI network

Element AI’s business model is based on creating connections with AI centers (McGill, Université de Montreal) and “bringing together the best in entrepreneurship, technology and academia”. With AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio as a co-founder, the startup can only be on the right track.

The business goal of Element AI is to reorganize companies around AI, automatize and strengthen processes in the fields of logistics or supply chain. Through a strong strategy consultants team, the company is building relations with corporations and educating them.

We all know Siri, how it uses language processing to understand the questions we ask and then are able to make simple operations on our devices. But there is even greater potential when it comes to disrupting business solutions – imagine a device that could organize treatment procedures, memorize and assist doctors in making the most informed decision?

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During Startupfest 2017, Element AI presented the Mur.AI, demo provided in real time, a capture of the world as seen through the eyes of a street artist

Growing next to the tech giants

Although Element AI is backed up by big names like Microsoft, Intel and Nvidia, the idea is to remain an incubator of talents.

“We are focused on B2B solutions, so we provide an alternative to tech giants and attract different talents.”

Experts that are hired are not only specialized in AI research but they also understand robotics, manufacturing, cyber-security, financial services. They bring this unique transversal expertise to businesses.

Startupfest, a unique blend of innovation and impact

For two full days, the Old Port of Montreal was bustling with innovation, entrepreneurship and meetings of all kinds, be it under a lovely sun or heavy rain.

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Speaking out, networking, pitching, judging…

If you were frightened by the impressive amount of rain that poured on Friday afternoon, you could listen to influencing speakers sharing their experiences during keynote sessions. Kimberley Bryant and her daughter told the moving story of their journey towards empowering black girls and encouraging them to become “the new Mark Zuckerberg”. Justin Schier explained how he created Scruff in the strategic niche market of gay dating apps. Tom Williams pointed out the best practices when it comes to recruiting talents…

When the sun came back, or if you were motivated under the rain, you could discover dozens of startups in the tents outside. Fondation Montreal’s tent was presenting different startups every day and we met with one of Unito’s cofounders, Eryk Warren, who explained how they were providing unique solutions to companies by synchronizing their tasks and projects through a unique platform.

Quartier de l’Innovation was presenting the newly opened Neoshop, which is the first physical location for innovation in Montreal, bringing startups’ products to the people.

In the Demo Zone we discovered Food Trip To, giving people the chance to travel around the world through their exclusive gift boxes.

We also met with lovely ladies who, under their candid looks, were actually impartial judges – the Grandmothers tent is one of the most popular pitch contests and many courageous entrepreneurs were queuing to take a chance, pitching for 30 seconds and answering questions for 30 seconds. Brenda, Doreen, Marilyn, Pearl are all grandmothers but they are also influential business women who have been at key managerial positions for years. During two days, the busy ladies heard over 350 pitches!

Eventually, making an impact

In the end, it was very inspirational to find out that the big $140,000 Prize was awarded to a startup dedicated to making the world a better place – FlashFood is an app helping groceries in Ontario fight against food waste by providing clients with discounts (very similar to Eatizz in Montreal, that we portrayed last year!)

So yes, innovation is surely about discovering new technologies and unwinding the potential of artificial intelligence but it is above all about finding better ways to address simple matters.

Montreal, the smart city to be this summer

So much is happening in Montreal in Summer. You might definitely have heard of the Jazz Festival but did you also know that there was one of the biggest international Startup Festivals? Innovation Montreal is happy to introduce you to this unique event and give you some glimpse of the action throughout a week.

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Introducing the “Startupfest

Quick facts – this is already the 7th edition, 4500 people are expected, coming from 20 countries, invading the Old Port district of Montreal July 12-15. There are exclusive events happening –premium mini-events, hackathons, but also traditional keynote sessions, networking breakout sessions, a giant tent to present innovative projects including, last but not least, the Grandmother’s tent, where entrepreneurs will have to pitch their projects with such simple words that grandmas should be able to understand! Quite a challenge, right?

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Creating wins

Of course, the festival is about showcasing innovative projects, but they main idea is to connect entrepreneurs with investors, but also with corporations, to strengthen the community. It is a unique opportunity for Montrealer startups to meet with international investors and to create synergies between international startups. For Matt Kanas, a blogger recalling previous editions,

It was a visceral example of how a community can truly help and support itself with a singular purpose: achieving a prosperous future for Canada’s startup community.

Montreal, a global smart city

This is also a great opportunity for the city of Montreal to show to the world all its potential as a hub for innovation in North America. People often think of the Silicon Valley, or New York or Toronto as dynamic technological hubs but Montreal is also a smart hub with dedicated programs like Montréal Smart and Digital City Action Plan (2015-2017) and as the city celebrates its 375th anniversary, it is more than ever in the mood for showcasing how digitally-savvy its people are, how the city bustles with new projects and how it creates opportunities for financing and development.

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A glimpse on the program

On Wednesday, dedicated sessions in French will require a separate registration but from Thursday July 13, things will seriously get started with Best Pitch competitions, Brain Dates, “How-to” sessions where notorious speakers will be sharing their experiences, “Future-of” sessions where they will be discussing what will be a key differentiator for entrepreneurs moving forward – automation, finance, augmented human intelligence…

Stay tuned for pictures, quotes and exciting discoveries on our Instagram and Twitter accounts and more articles to come!