From Finance to Craft Brewing, an entrepreneur story

Today, Renaud Gouin has two microbreweries in Montreal, he has been one of the key industry innovators in the past decade, seeing the potential for hoppy beers. How did he become a brewer and entrepreneur? We will have a look at his journey, from HEC Montreal to Jukebox and Avant-Garde.

The beginnings

 

At first, Renaud didn’t like beer. Because beers were unflavored, standardised, industrial. When he discovered some Belgian beers, he realised that beer could be fruity with almost a non-existent bitterness.

During his studies at HEC Montreal he started home-brewing and discovered that he could actually brew beers that were above industry averages. He also found out that the community of craft beer lovers was a passionate and dynamic one, ready to share their knowledge and experience through social platforms like the MontreAlers on Facebook. Still an amateur, Renaud accepted a position at Desjardins as a Personal Finance Advisor and decided to explore his new passion further.

A potential for innovation

There is such a diversity of flavors in craft beers: fruity, sour, even salty flavors! Some hops like Citra can create flavors of tropical fruits, litchi, passion fruit, without adding any fruit in the brew! Some yeasts like Brettanomyces can give a sour taste of hay.

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one of the very interesting infographics made by https://vinepair.com 

 

In Quebec, in the early 2010s, over 50 types of beers where still not accessible. There was one particular type that was still not adopted by industrial and medium-sized breweries: that of American Pale Ales and Indian Pale Ales. Their intense bitterness made everyone wince. But Renaud was already creating his own.

When Renaud the corporate vision of life, he decided to take a leap in entrepreneurship but he knew that he could not invest in the heavy and expensive equipment and open his own brewery. He had read a lot about contract brewing and how it succeeded in the US. Without equity, this innovation in manufacturing industry clearly eased the transition to being an entrepreneur for home brewers.

Renaud pitched his idea to Brasseurs de Montreal. At that time, they had never tried the model but as they were not into creating similar products, they decided to go for it.

Introducing hoppy beers in Quebec

renaudRenaud analysed the market and clearly saw an opportunity to catch:

“Unibroue had concentrated their efforts on creating Belgian-style brews while McAuslan was more traditionally focused on English styles but hoppy beers were new to Quebec”

He also wanted to innovate the branding and offer a disrupting image to his beers: unlike industrial or regionally focused images used by the other players, Renaud wanted to offer a whole new world: in 2012, he created his first microbrewery, Jukebox, around the world of rock music. The hoppy flavor of each of the products is as electrical as the guitar on the labels.

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If amateurs and curious gourmets liked his new products, Renaud was still working part-time at Desjardins because he needed cash flow.

“Contract brewing was great for distribution and increasing sales revenues but it did not include representation and promotion which is a crucial part.”

Innovating vs. creating profits

With Jukebox steadily working, Renaud wanted to create new products and innovate:

“One thing is to be focused on growth but I am more interested in creativity, passion and innovation and contract brewing is a perfect tool for testing the market and testing new flavors”

Renaud had met with Shawn Duriez, an ex-brewer from McAuslan. They decided to create new innovative beers together and co-founded Avant-Garde. Shawn’s experience on the ground and Renaud’s entrepreneurial experience made them complementary.

Again, timing was of the essence: in 2016, they capitalised on another innovation in the industry: Julien Niquet and David Cayer, co-founders of Glutenberg, were launching Oshlag Brewery, and offering the first contract brewing service for craft breweries. Renaud and Shawn jumped at the opportunity.

With the high popularity of IPAs, they wanted to offer more classical beers while exploring new flavors. They focused their exploration on barrel-aged beers: the Porter Imperial Bourbon, for example, has a vanilla bourbon nose, mixed with coffee, caramel, even banana flavors. They also disrupt classical recipes with the Nocture Coco, an Imperial Porter made with an unconventional ingredient: coconut!

Introducing the new innovation in craft beer tasting, made in Quebec

If you live in Montreal nowadays, you must have heard of the art of craft beers. You must know that in Quebec, beer consumption can be as refined as wine tasting in France. To make this local strength more visible, Catherine Roux has created an innovative product to help you discover new microbreweries: Passeport en fût.

Create a local emulation

The original idea for Passeport en fût was discussed in August 2015, between Catherine and her co-founder Geneviève. Catherine worked with the Quartier Latin SDC (Société de développement commercial), an organization that helps retailers promote their activities in their local environment. In a neighborhood like Quartier Latin, where there are many breweries, bars and restaurant, she wanted to offer innovative ways to create a bond between SDC and the general public.

With the rise of craft beers in consumption patterns, focusing on microbreweries was the most natural move. Especially as there were no efficient models to help retailers promote their products: there are big events organized every year to promote the craft brewery industry (cf. Mondial de la Bière) but there is no real product or service to encourage people to discover breweries by themselves, throughout the year.

“Microbreweries are real partners, they do not participate to our project, they are fully part of it”

From vouchers to a mobile application

photo Pascale Martel

A new startup was born. The original project was as simple as revolutionary: a booklet of vouchers – 12 vouchers for 12 beers (or non-alcoholic drinks) in 12 Montreal microbreweries, at a very attractive price, for a limited period. The vouchers were mailed directly to buyers. This model really put forwards breweries through a B2C approach.

For the two first editions, in 2016 and 2017, this paper version of the passport proved to be very popular but Catherine received a growing demand for innovating her product: turning the passport into a mobile application was an attractive idea, but it needed capital and expertise to succeed.

In 2017, Catherine met with the founders of a web agency, Okam and got a “professional” crush with its co-founders, Samuel and David.

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With this new partner, she could develop the app and bring her entrepreneurship adventure to the next level: through technology, she could extend the service to the rest of Quebec and serve a wider audience.

In October 2017, the new version of Passeport Local and the app were launched, with the opportunity to discover 12 locations out of 70 microbreweries throughout Quebec.

A new technology startup to promote local entrepreneurship

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The success of Passeport en fût crossed both the provincial and national borders and Catherine is currently working on possible projects in the rest of Canada and the US.

To implement these new developments, she has created another startup, PSSPRT, that specializes in developing technology products dedicated to discovering local companies and their products. Along with her partners from Okam, they are working on bringing personnalisation and customization to a whole new level, to help local companies expand their visibility with mobile tools.

“We are looking at opportunities to expand our technology beyond Quebec by selling usage rights to our app.”

We can’t wait to discover these new innovative products, but until then, a little bird told us that 15 additional microbreweries will join the Passeport en fût this Spring. To discover it all, you can download the app here.

Engineers are innovating the wine experience in Montreal

More and more studies of drinking patterns in Canada show that consumers are moving toward premium beverages and especially towards wine. Following this trend, two young engineers have decided to create the first mobile application that makes wine more accessible to the general public.

Techies that love wine

The seed was planted back in 2011 when a trip to Napa Valley sparked Terence Kao’s passion for wine. Upon his return, he found conventional channels of wine education, such as internet, books and tasting classes, too costly, time consuming and hard to understand. To combine his passion for wine and expertise in mobile, Terence enrolled into an entrepreneurship program at ÉTS, where he met his associate, Jérôme Combet-Blanc. Both came from engineering backgrounds and had a common objective: to democratize access to wine.

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This is where Jessica Harnois comes in the story – indeed, to become a reality, the project required a wine expert and Jessica, a renown sommelier, was looking for a technical partner to develop her idea of a wine tasting game. Chance allowed them to meet and the team was born.

With a starting grant from the BDC in 2016 and support from organizations such as Centech, SAJE and Fondation Montréal inc., the Vegas Tasting mobile application was born.

A blind tasting game and much more!

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Launched in December 2016, Vegas Tasting is the first mobile application focused on making wine tasting more accessible to the public through a game. The app is divided into two parts.  In the first part, the user learns to taste like a pro in 3 simple steps while blind tasting a wine: 1) visual analysis 2) olfactory analysis 3) gustatory analysis.  In the second part, the user starts with 50 tokens and is invited to bet on the characteristics of the wine, such as the grape variety, country and vintage.  This interactive game is the funnier part of the app. To complement this app, Jessica made instructive videos to help players improve their tasting techniques.

A marketplace for tasting products

Wineout is relying on a very smart and innovative business model by offering Vegas Tasting as a tool for wine and beer companies to promote their products and educate their customers.  Considering the very restrictive and regulatory environment that governs the sale of alcoholic beverages, it is indeed an innovative way to disrupt the industry.

Growing the business

biere.jpgWineout has started to think of ways to expand and added a beer tasting game to the app, which received much positive feedback at Mondial de la bière 2017. They are also exploring partnering opportunities to add other beverages such as coffee, spirits, and tea.

In addition, Wineout is also collaborating with Professor Jeremy Cooperstock from McGill University to create an artificial intelligence to provide users with personalized recommendations based on their taste preferences.

Stay tuned for their next monthly event on 1st November 2017 at Wework. They will be presenting Vegas Tasting for an exciting wine and beer tasting event.

Potloc: innovating marketing research while serving local communities

You have been looking at this empty store on your street for weeks and dreaming that a bakery opened there so you could get your daily fresh baguette… what if you could turn your dream into reality? Potloc might be the new innovation to help you do this, in Montreal and throughout the world!

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It all started when Rodolphe Barrere and Louis Delaoustre, two French buddies studying at HEC Montréal walked in their neighborhood (the not so original but oh so picturesque Plateau Mont Royal) and started betting how long a new shop would last in that street and how long before they would go under bankruptcy and they were usually not wrong.

They had pinpointed the problem: desertification of retail. Now, they wondered how they could find a solution.

Tackling a concrete problem

Rodolphe and Louis started questioning people in the streets of Plateau Mont Royal about the kind of businesses they would like to see in their district and progressively, in a year, they collected 5000 answers throughout the city. This was a unique bundle of qualified information. They had created a local collective intelligence.

The social innovation orientation of the startup was clear from the beginning – using crowdsourcing to create smart neighborhoods and involving citizens in the selection of retailers – but it also had to become profit-driven.

Finding a business solution

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Now that they knew what the community needs were, they had to find the right entrepreneurs to answer these needs and this is how Potloc became a unique B2B tool for retailers to find the ideal location for their business. In other words, Potloc is selling location-based data and exclusive market research. Using social media, the team mobilizes residents of a specific district to vote on which stores they would like to see open. Through a home-made algorithm, the team is able to understand customer intents and to analyse the positive feeling under comments.

Growing by expanding throughout the world

“We offer services worldwide – although I have never been to Chicago, I can help a client find out if opening a sauna in a specific street is worthy or not. It works just like Airbnb”

If Rodolphe does not need to live in Chicago to offer services there, the company has already grown by opening a second office in Lille, in the north of France. The city was chosen instead of Paris because it is the capital of retail, where most clients are and in the future, Potloc is planning on opening offices in Toronto and in the US.

What Potloc is now doing is very simple: it serves as an intermediary between citizens, retailers and property developers. Revitalizing local retail is a real problem in Montreal and its suburbs. It is more and more difficult for retailers to survive and it is with a renewed optimism that Innovation Montreal tells the story of Potloc and Moose, two innovative startups that decided to tackle that issue with different means.

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.

MiumMium, bringing Chefs to your dining room

How many times have you wished that you could eat that lovely foie gras and gingerbread without having to pay for the expensive menu at this soulless restaurant downtown? What if you could have the chef coming directly to your very own place? What if your dining room could turn into a 3-stars restaurant? Well, your dreams are about to turn into reality thanks to Miummium.com! Founded a little more than a year ago by a young Canadian chef, the website allows you to pick a date, choose a menu and… invite your friends while the chef takes care of the rest.

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So, is this the “Uber of chef”?

chloe saint cyrWe asked Chloe St Cyr, the 26 years old founder, this very “dans-l’air du temps” question and here is what she answered:

We want to democratize the culinary art, make it accessible to all, help professional chefs increase their income and reduce their financial dependence on restaurants. The time has come to take the chef out of the kitchen and into the customer’s home.

Miummium is truly about selling an innovative experience: an exciting and less expensive dinner with an average price of $55 per person and rates ranging from $16 per guest to +$100 per guest (in Montreal). It is about delighting the customer with all kinds of cooking styles (barbecue, vegan, Italian, Moroccan…) anywhere in the world.

miummium website

A family business

miummium 2It all started when Chef Chloë St-Cyr, who has become an internationally recognized culinary talent, started receiving requests from friends and family to cook for special diner parties. She sensed that there definitely was a need for alternative gourmet dining experiences. Although venture capital and other innovative sources of financing grow in popularity, it was a family matter to bring Miummium to life: everyone involved is either part of her family or a close friend of Chloe with her father acting as a mentor and her closest advisor.

My dad thought me that the best businesses are the one you can grow without having to continuously add people and infrastructure. Keep it lean and focus on the one thing that you can do better than anybody else.

A global innovative venture from the beginning

miummium mapAlthough Chloe is originally from Montreal, she has lived all over the world and she is currently between the Maldives and Dubai. So just like her founder, Miummium was a global company from the beginning: it started operating in nine countries since day one, with people in Asia, Europe and North Africa and with the core of their operations currently originating from Spain. Success was instantaneous with more than 11,000 chefs registered in less than 12 months.

In Montreal, the Personal Chef culture is establishing itself rapidly but Chloe explains that it took longer for the rest of Canada and the US. Chefs have also evolved in their offerings and become more responsive. Behavioral trends are changing everyday with new services, over customized offers. Today, the core of operations actually originates from Spain.

Chloe has seen how new start-ups are disrupting the service industry and she believes that inviting a Personal Chef in your home is a trend that will explode in the coming years:

Wherever we go, we need transportation, a roof over our head and, of course, food in our belly.

A marketplace for chefs… 

chef pictureConsumers are clearly benefiting from this new tool, but so do chefs: they are classified either as professional or foodie depending on their experience and after careful consideration from the team, their profiles are published. Eventually, for the best chefs, MiumMium becomes the principal source of income. Private Chefs are not competitors but become partners with the possibility to monetize their free time just like drivers monetize their car on Uber.

… with ambitious expansion plans

When most new start-ups need an average of three years to start making profits, Miummium is expecting a small profit after a year of operation and has no debt. Despite this promising start, Chloe is definitely interested in seeking capital, through partnerships. It started with Homeaway.com so that clients renting a vacation home can be introduced to a MiumMium chef.

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But what Chloe really wants Miummium to become goes beyond the marketplace and has to do with innovating the food services as a whole, partnering with other start-ups in the industry such as Alfredsommelier.com, a Quebec startup who delivers a sommelier in your pocket. Providing always more services and customizing the dining experience when booking a meal on MiumMium, you will have the opportunity to get the perfect wine pairing through the professional advice of a sommelier and even get the sommelier to come to make your dinner a perfect evening!

In a nutshell, when it comes to food, even the craziest dreams can become reality.

Revolutionizing the soda industry, one flavour at a time

One year ago Innovation Montreal launched by introducing 1642 Cola, an innovative soda company from Montreal founded by Bastien Poulain. Today, we have decided to give you an update on how they are doing and how they are making a name in the entrepreneurship sphere in Quebec.

From 1642 Cola to 1642 Sodas

portrait-bastienBastien has understood that in order to grow you need to diversify. Priorities today are to improve distribution networks and expand product lines. After the Cola came the Tonic and after the Tonic came most recently the Ginger ale, a blend of honey, ginger and maple syrup, always aiming at a premium and local product.

To sustain the development of these new products, Bastien has made the move that many entrepreneurs do – he has opened ownership to four angel investors from the Quebec version of “Dragon’s Den”, Mitch Garber, Martin-Luc Archambault, Alexandre Taillefer and Serge Beauchemin. They own 7.5% of the shares since February 2016.

To expand distribution networks, 1642 Sodas partnered with Lassonde, Quebec leader in ready-to-drink fruit, juices and drinks. This partnership allows 1642 Sodas to expand sales points from 600 to 440 throughout Quebec.

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“What matters the most is that all sales point reorder the product – once the order becomes recurrent, we have overcome most of the challenge”

An innovative gourmet product, not an organic product

It is clear from the beginning that 1642 Sodas are NOT organic products. This is how they differentiate from Bec Cola, a product that was launched in Quebec long before them. “It is difficult to promote both healthy and local products” explains Bastien. 1642 Sodas have made the choice to offer products that are 100% natural in their composition but not organic. Obviously they do not attract the “granola” customers but they do attract another growing target customer basis – epicureans!

What 1642 Sodas can do, unlike organic products firms, is that they can sell alcohol. Indeed, they have partnered with Ungava Spirits and created 100% Quebecer signature cocktails such as their Gin & Tonic,  or their local Cuba Libre, “Gaspésien Libre” with Chic Choc. The team participated to dozens of food festivals (like Premiers Vendredis, which is the largest food truck festival in Quebec). They have also partnered with a famous Montreal snack and food truck, Le Gras Dur, to create a signature dish – General Tao chicken with 1642 Cola.

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“We have the same target as microbreweries – consumers that are interested in quality, taste and pleasure”

1642 Sodas will certainly expand in the near future to the rest of Canada and beyond. After selling 350,000 bottles in 2015 and 530,000 bottles in 2016, it is clear that the innovative company is on a strong upward slope especially considering Montreal is celebrating its 375th anniversary this year.