Making wine in the city to make Montreal greener

Veronique is leading the first urban wine grower project in Montreal, Vignes en Ville. From her sustainable energy to entrepreneurship, discover her journey to innovate urban agriculture.

A passion for nature, changing the world, and wine

Veronique Lemieux started her career in renewable energies with a background in international business. She always wanted to change the world and contribute to society. Being a young mum, she decided to step away and while taking care of her child, she started following classes in naturopathy and botany for three years.

Her passion for nature continued to develop and she took more classes in permaculture with the idea of creating a vegetable garden on her rooftop. In August 2016, she took part in the summer school in urban agriculture of the Laboratory on Urban Agriculture (AU-LAB) in Montreal, which had a huge impact in her life: she was not alone in her granola universe!

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(c) Rooftop Reds Facebook page

At the same time, Veronique started her own company specializing in the private import of natural and organic wines, Les Vins d’Epicure. As she was looking for ways to combines both her experiences, she discovered the work of Rooftop Reds, the world’s first commercially viable rooftop vineyard in Brooklyn, New York. After visiting their location, she was ready to move to the next level and presented her project to AU-LAB, it was the beginning of the “Vignes en Ville” adventure.

Growing Grapes as a way to make the city greener

Unlike Rooftop Reds, which is oriented towards making premium wine, Veronique wants to use vineyards and wine making as a social innovation tool. Growing vine plants is another way of promote Montreal green alleys. Going further, she wants to train city inhabitants to make this a community-level project.

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(c) Biopolis.ca

Of course, urban wine growing is also an experimental project that could benefit to the viticulture community. Veronique has initiated a partnership with the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec) to test the impact of Tricentris recycled glass on vineyards growing.

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Vine plants on the rooftop of Palais des Congres (c) Vignes en ville

Last summer, in 2017, 80 vine plants were set on the roof of Palais des Congres as a pilot and consequently, the SAQ announced in April 2018 that another project would be launched at its new headquarter in Montreal with 160 other vine plants. This 4-years long research study will help determine the evolution of rustic vine plants in an urban environment.

We are not focusing particularly on noble grape varieties but rather testing combinations with a learning purpose and using recycled glass powder is an innovative way of contributing to the circular economy.

Growing vines to make the city greener while having fun

Going further, Veronique wants to draw inspiration from other urban agriculture best practices around the world like the London-based Community Wine Making Schemethat has turned 850 kg of grapes into wine for London households since 2013.

My ultimate goal is to stimulate urban communities to get involved in the process: making their own wine, having fun in the process.

Indeed, there is already a tradition of making homemade wine in Montreal. It started in Little Italy with immigrants importing grapes from Italy and using a traditional technique. Veronique wants to go even further and promote balcony vineyards that would act like balcony gardens.

If you want to try the wine from Vignes en Ville and SAQ partnership, you will have to be patient as it will not be ready before 2022… in the meantime, you will soon be able to admire the plants at SAQ headquarter (Montreal East).

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.

 

Cook, eat and do not leave any crumb with A dévorer!

Montreal is thriving with innovative ideas to fight against food waste. A dévorer is the new player in town. It offers special food kits to buy at your local supermarket to prevent products from perishing.

Chloe, an electrical engineer, did not plan on becoming an entrepreneur in the food industry and yet, after her MBA, she decided that she wanted to do something useful. Knowing that every Canadian family throws $28 worth of food every day (yes, that’s $1500 per year), food waste was a perfect challenge to tackle. But A dévorer has another social aspect: it helps retailers avoid losses while strengthening the link between retailers and consumers.

Chloe a devorer

After improving her project in startup incubators (Entreprism 2016 at HEC Montreal) and pitching it in entrepreneurship competitions (Mouvement Novae 2018), A dévorer was ready to conquer Montreal.

Not just another meal kit

Yes, meal kits have become quite trendy but most of them are based on a delivery model: you order a kit of fresh vegetables or fresh products and get delivered every week. A dévorer sells kits in supermarkets so that retailers can benefit from the deal.

It’s not a meal kit, it’s an “anti-food-waste kit”.

The process is very simple: when doing your grocery at your local supermarket, you can find A dévorer kits with all the products required to cook a specific meal in less than 30 minutes. Kits are packed in a minimalist environment-friendly recycled material.

a devorerRecipes are focused towards healthier eating habits. They will change regularly and adapt to consumers’ preferences and feedback. Kits are offered for a recipe for 4 people and always include a vegetarian option.

Changing perceptions, innovating habits

“We want to get consumers involved in the process: they can solve a real environmental problem in a recreational way.”

It is common to consider perishable products that are close to the expiration date as “old” and less fresh. But they are just ready to eat and even better: they are discounted!  The kit system allows to make these products more attractive and to show how cooking can be a fun, quick and easy process.

Instead of choosing ready-to-eat meals, you can eat fresh products and spend 30 minutes of your time in your kitchen, discovering a new recipe.

A pilot project in Montreal

A dévorer has managed to secure a partnership with one of the leaders in Canada food retail: Provigo. As of April 23, you can find the first line of kits at Provigo Eric Boivin, near metro Crémazie.

 

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.

A social impact story: creating value out of food waste

If your mission goes beyond selling your product, you will sell more products. That was the first lesson learnt from listening to David Côté, VP of Loop Juice. He discussed entrepreneurship, alive food, fermentation, health, circular economy and innovation at HEC Montréal…

Trekking, traveling, food experimenting

David has always been interested in health, nature and plants. When his father wanted him to follow his footsteps and become a doctor, David was yearning for more – more passion.

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He had a revelation when trekking the Appalachian mountains and eating candy bars to get his daily dose of energy. He was surrounded by natural beauty but he was eating unhealthy transformed products. He decided to travel and test all kinds of food habits from fasting in a cave in Hawaii, to experimenting raw food habits. Eventually, after 8 years of traveling and working on organic farms throughout the world, he came back to Montreal with the goal of changing the world.

Entrepreneurship, a way to change the world

“I learned to be an entrepreneur. Starting a venture was not my original idea, but it became the most relevant means to deal with the issue of healthy food and eco-friendly products.”

With his friend Mathieu Gallant, David was experimenting with new food habits taken from his travels in Hawaii and California: making vegan no-bake energy balls and brewing Kombucha in the kitchen. He started delivering lunch boxes made exclusively with raw food to companies and decided to create two startups – a restaurant to promote raw-foodism (Crudessence) and the first Quebec Kombucha company (RISE Kombucha)

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(c) RISE Kombucha

“With Crudessence, we wanted to innovate eating habits and give back to people the ability of better feeding themselves.”

In 2016, after 8 years of managing two impact-driven ventures, David decided to sell his shares. His mission was accomplished. He had democratised the fundamentals of raw-foodism and provided an alternative to traditional soft drinks.

More than a serial entrepreneur, a serial world-changer

What other challenge could David address? And what innovation to tackle? For his new venture, David decided to partner with his girlfriend Julie Poitras-Saulnier. They wanted to focus on food waste after getting goosebumps from alarming figures (check this very interesting video from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations):

45% of all the fruits and vegetables produced in the world are wasted

team 1David and Julie decided to open a cold-pressed juice company to fight against food waste. They met Frédéric Monette from Courchesne Larose, a historical player in the Canadian fruits and vegetables industry. When they found out that the company was throwing 16 tons of fruits and vegetables every day, their mind was set and LOOP Juices was born.

Looping around a circular economy

Some might say that it is a project “dans l’air du temps”, that circular economy is nothing but a green washing concept. Maybe. But what David wants to prove that it is possible to provide valuable solutions to a problem.

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Everything in LOOP is targeted towards recycling and reusing food waste: one bottle of juice is made out of 1.5 kg of unused fruits and vegetables. But the circular process goes even further: The residual but still nutritious high-fiber pulp is then reused by a pet food company, Wilder & Harrier.

Loop is revolutionizing the value chain by making it circular. It is also providing a model for conscious capitalism.

Limitless innovation possibilities 

Starting next week, LOOP is launching a partnership with Sobeys to blend cold-press juices exclusively with products from the giant food retailers. In two months, they will launch their first beer, brewed with dry unsold bread. They are also thinking of making milk out of brewers’ spent grain and flavored water out of leftover essential oils…

 

A “Biotifull” startup revolutionizing Quebec organic cosmetics

Launching a startup can be a project undertaken at any time of your life: a mother of two teenagers, Isabelle decided to leave her comfortable job at Universite de Montreal to launch an innovative and social business called BiotiFULL.

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How can teenagers get interested in organic products?

The market for local organic beauty products in Quebec is already established (cf. Emporium “made in Quebec” products) but the design and marketing are not made to appeal to teenagers. What BiotiFULL is offering is a HEALTHY, YOUNG and ENVIRONMENTALLY COMMITTED product.

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Isabelle Audet has a background in mathematics and project management. Nothing predestined her for entrepreneurship. However, as her two daughters started growing and developing allergies to most of the products sold in general stores, she started investigating cosmetics ingredients.

I discovered that 4 out of 5 beauty products used by young people include at least one ingredient suspected of inducing environmental or health issues.

Generation Z is more aware of the social impact of their consumption but they remain teenagers and they expect a “cool” packaging and fruity fragrances.

With these thoughts in mind, Isabelle decided to pitch her ideas directly to the Montreal community of entrepreneurs and investors to find out if it was relevant. She registered for Les Affaires Défi Startup in February 2017 and pitched BiotiFULL to a jury that included Julien Brault (check our article on Hardbacon), Sylvain Carle (Mr. FounderFuel), Sophie Boulanger (Bonlook) and many other innovators.

Isabelle was awarded the “coup de Coeur” from the jury and she was more than ever convinced of the viability and need for innovating youth cosmetics.

How can an innovative startup make a social impact?

biotifull teenagersIsabelle did not only want to create a new product and make a lot of money. She wanted her venture to make an impact and to help teenagers in their projects. She knows that a lot of them involved in sports club or school clubs usually launch fundraising campaigns and sell chocolate or cakes.

Instead of industrial chocolates, why wouldn’t they sell organic shower gels and shampoos? Why wouldn’t they sell products that teenagers would actually like? She decided to launch a crowdfunding tool dedicated to these projects where BiotiFULL products would be sold.

Advertising local products, made in Quebec, that are attractive to teenagers is a way to trigger their social conscious and make them sensitive to cosmetics’ ingredients

BiotiFULL offers the logistic and marketing support of the fundraising campaign to school associations and 40% of the revenues are diverted to them. So far, $10,000 have been collected by school associations.

Products made for teenagers, with teenagers

products biotifullTeenagers are at the center of every consideration for Isabelle. Products are created in collaboration with teenagers: a panel of testers is giving personal opinion on the fragrances, the design, the name of the products so that they get exactly what they need. This is also a way for BiotiFULL to heighten awareness of teenagers on cosmetic ingredients.

For now, Isabelle is working with a chemist to make products that have a SHORT and EASILY understandable list of ingredients but she would love to have her own lab one day, to create her products

Next moves…

BiotiFULL is selected for the final round of LADN Montérégie that celebrates Leadership, Audacity, Determination, Innovative spirit of entrepreneurs. The final will be held on March 21, until then you can vote for BiotiFULL !

Myelin makes artificial intelligence a social innovation tool

Marc-Olivier thinks artificial intelligence (AI) can be a solution to human problems and can innovate health promotion.

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Providing a digital structure to social help

Marc-Olivier Schüle, along with his two partners, Marise Bonenfant and Francois Menet, is introducing Myelin, a new innovative startup that gives access to the best, most accurate information on autism. The AI tool adapts its answers to your level of knowledge and the type of question you want to ask.

Myelin is not inventing anything new, it innovates the way actual knowledge is processed, structured and delivered.

When you look at current information on Google related to autism, it is non-professional, non-official and… probably false. Myelin will be a source of knowledge supported by recognized institutions like the School of Psycho-Education from Université de Montreal, Quebec Federation on Autism, Ivado (the Institute for Data Valorization) and many other.

Academic excellence at the service of social intervention 

Marc-Olivier knows what he is talking about: he has years of experience in psychosocial intervention that made him realize the need for a serious and reliable foundation to build trusting relations with patients and their parents. At the same time, his academic experience (he is doing a PhD at Université de Montreal) reveals that the latest advances in research are unfortunately buried in universities’ intranet servers.

There are over 2000 articles published every day on mental health. How can we all process it and make it useful? Psychosocial actors need secure and reliable tools so we can spend more time on working on our relation with parents and children

From a prototype to a social artificial intelligence tool  

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This is only the beginning of the story: Marc-Olivier’s speech at TedX Laval was viewed over 40,000 times on Youtube (an all-time record) so it is undeniable that people believe in artificial intelligence applied to health issues.

The prototype is now ready for autism but Myelin wants to touch on other subjects in the future: ADHDH, anxiety, Alzheimer… to provide the general public with the proper tools to make a free and informed choice in their lives.

With a successful crowdfunding campaign on La Ruche, support from prestigious academic, medical, institutional and entrepreneurial actors and – last but not least – a dedicated and passionate team of entrepreneurs, Myelin is clearly innovating the startup scene.