Uber brings innovation to entrepreneurship in Canada

In Canada, like in several places around the world, Uber is raising polemic conversations around its paid collaborative services. Today, it had the brilliant idea of turning attention towards what it does best: innovation.

#UBERpitch your idea!

uber_philly_uberpitch_blog-etemail_header_r2From 11am to 3pm, on April 7, Uber gave Montrealers the opportunity to pitch their ideas to renowned investors during a short drive. Similar operations were held simultaneously in Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary.

“UberPITCH is a collaborative project that facilitates innovation within local startup communities. We are pumped to help connect local entrepreneurs with the resources they need to accelerate the growth of their ventures,” you can read on Uber’s website.

Among the eight investors participating to the initiative, François Lambert, MP of Impulse Capital and Dany Vachon, Founder of Winner4Life both investors in the very popular Radio-Canada’s Dans l’oeil du dragon, or Edouard Gaussen, analyst at White Star and a leading figure of Tinder’s expansion.

A thriving demand from Montreal entrepreneur wannabes

In theory, if you were in downtown Montreal, Plateau Mont-Royal, Mile-End, Old-Montreal and Griffintown, you could enter a specific promotion code when requesting a car and if connected, the car would arrive to your location with one of the investors on the backseat and you would have 15 minutes to give the best pitch of your life to your investor. All this was obviously free and you are driven back to the pickup location. In practice, Uber received more than 3,000 requests in 30 minutes.

Demand was exploding and it was hard for thriving entrepreneurs to get a vehicle available. Some of them did not get the chance to present their exciting project, like John Robin, serial entrepreneur, who has already launched a few innovative projects including Rentork, a mobile app to rent your profile and get paid for all your visits and actions on the web.

A few lucky ones got the opportunity to get top advice from angel investors: Frederic Moreau was one of them. He already has a very specific idea to address the problem nomadic workspace – GAB. This virtual franchise would be offered to Montreal coffee shop owners to bring co-working space to nomadic workers, charging by the hour/minute, using a mobile app.

Grabing an UberPitch was quite challenging due to a huge demand in Montreal. Got the opportunity to pitch my idea to Francois Lambert. He told me it was a fantastic one, he could see the need and the value. Then he gave me a few specific advice as how, as an investor, he would tweak part of the business plan.”

 

Shake your financial habits with innovation bits

You must have heard of bitcoins and “The Internet of Money” before but do you really know what they are, and how useful they can be to you, in your daily life? Did you know that in fact, they could be a new revolutionary way to enhance freedom of speech in parts of the world? We have met with Jean Amiouny who told us all about these new financial technologies and his brand new startup, Shake.

gif shake
Tap & Pay using Shake

A taste for technology, finance and … entrepreneurship

Jean was born and raised in Montreal but his interest for digital innovations makes him a real citizen of the world. After graduating from McGill in Civil Engineering, he decided to go to Dubai for a few years and quickly got attracted by the startup way of life. He started a project in the payment industry, White Payment. “What was really stimulating in the project was that banks are not so innovative in the Middle East so there was a real market for digital payments”, explains Jean. In the end, although Jean came back to Montreal, he had caught the bug of entrepreneurship…

Using innovation to make payments more simple

FullSizeRenderAs he sat last autumn with Roy Breidi who would become his partner, they started brainstorming on finance, digital products, cryptocurrencies and bitcoins… the main question that held their attention was “How can we use bitcoins to buy our daily life products?” What makes bitcoins so interesting and promising is that digital currencies are so much more usable on a day to day basis: using the Tap & Pay system, you only need the app on your phone to pay for your coffee.

“A bitcoin account is very similar to an email address in its process: just as you can send emails from anywhere, you can send bitcoins from different “wallets” to anyone”

Another important factor of simplicity is that developing bitcoin services does not require to integrate financial processes of each country (SEPA in Europe, ACH in the United States): payment becomes universal. Is all this new technology free? Not really but it does not cost you more than the more traditional one: when you use your Shake account with Starbucks or Provigo, for example, the merchant pays an interchange fee to Visa that makes its way back to Shake.

To find out more about this part, check this very insightful article by Code Love.

Shake, a startup for a young, digitally aware and international public

What makes Shake really original is that it is a virtual bitcoin debit card with no foreign transaction fees, no fraud, and tap & pay. Jean and Roy created Shake thinking of fellow young executives who travel a lot but complain about foreign transaction fees, who are addicted to their smartphones but very concerned with fraud issues.

Indeed, Shake’s public comes from all parts of the world and the system support more than 20 currencies. In developed and financially mature countries, more and more people are more interested in technology and innovation and believe that eventually, most financial services will integrate bitcoins and “blockchain” services. Another important public for Shake lived in emerging countries – in Africa, in South America – where governments have a higher control on financial services and where bitcoins can allow anyone to have financial assets that can be moved.

A promising future for the digitalization of our daily lives

Bitcoin payments are already well developed in some parts of the world, especially in Europe. The continent acts as a pioneer for digital innovations: did you know that Estonia had made all government services digital? You can actually become an e-resident of the country in a few clicks and each citizen has an ID card allowing to vote and to complete annual tax reports online.

As far as Shake is concerned, the team started communicating on the service, they were at McGill Career Fair last week. They are also currently testing the virtual card in different countries (you can check a quick video of the first tap & pay move in Brazil) to improve its process and you can join the list and test their product by writing them on alpha@shakepay.co.

Turning bikes into smart objects: meet SmartHalo

Did you know that a start-up project could actually collect $539.000 on Kickstarter? Discover the key to success and the exciting journey of Maxime, Xavier, Gabriel and Olivier, four high school buddies from Montreal who decided to make their way into the very innovative market of “the Internet of things”, and created Smarthalo, a local smart product made on the South Shore of Montreal, one of the most biking-friendly cities in North America with more than 350 km of bike paths.image

Innovating the cycling experience with simplicity

It all started during a road trip in Philadelphia: being avid cyclists and particularly obsessed with technology and innovation, the four buddies pointed out many shortcomings in the cyclist experience, especially in a city where you need to navigate on a GPS while watching out for cars. The four boys wanted to offer a project using the technology that people already mastered (a smartphone) and bring this experience a step further, without affecting the simplicity and purity of pedaling.

And this is how they took the leap of becoming entrepreneurs and developed the concept of SmartHalo: a device that is simple yet smart, and permanently fixed on the handlebars of the bike, connected by Bluetooth to the user’s mobile. You can watch this video to fully understand this great concept.

“The concept had to be simple: a circle with green and red LED to indicate the right and left”.

smarthalo2 (1)

A well-thought and well prepared crowdfunding campaign

What makes SmartHalo different than other entrepreneurial projects is the way it raised the awareness of urban population. The four friends spent a whole year preparing the crowdfunding campaign: “we spent our days talked about our projects, always asking questions and selling the concept to pretty much everyone in our immediate circle”, explains Xavier. They also applied for several funding programs (Montréal Inc, Concours Québécois entrepreneurial, HEC).

image.jpg

An expanding market with an international public

The crowdfunding campaign was successful in many ways: obviously, it brought eight times more than the sum expected (67.000 CAN) but also it showed that a real community of urban cyclists existed and that it was fully implicated in terms of digital awareness and smart products.

Competition is high in this area – global companies are already developing GPS devices for bikes (like TomTom) and other similar startups create smart objects – but Xavier finds it stimulating as it shows that the market is strong and growing. Indeed, smart objects are trending nowadays: “the Internet of Things” is progressively making its way into our daily lives and the Kickstarter campaign’s success is a proof that demand is thriving and it’s only the beginning.

Pre-orders (the product will be available for delivery in May 2016) come from all around the world, especially from the United States, Germany, United Kingdom. Demand comes from countries where urban cycling is already well developed and where people use their bikes to commute to and from work.

“Only 15% of orders are placed in Canada. Kickstarter really helped to make our consumer base more international”

Next steps: launch and update!

Cycle Labs has already received 5000 pre-order requests. They intend to resume promotion but also update the options of the SmartHalo application to create a real community of users that will be able to connect to other “SmartHalo-ers”, perhaps create friendly competitions, games and many other interactional and innovative options.

You can pre-order SmartHalo for a discount price of $139. If you wait until May 2016, it will be $159