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.

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.

Impak Finance is innovating banking tools with a social purpose

Did you know that finance could be purposeful, and that soon you could open a bank account in a cryptocurrency that allows you to make a difference in this world? On the eve of its official launch, Paul Allard, CEO of Impak Finance told us all about the impak coin (MPK) and how it would change the relationship that bank users have with finance.

Indeed, when we think of finance and banking in general, we usually picture profit-driven tycoons, speculating over stocks, options and other tools with the general public being somehow exploited eventually. But have you ever heard of the impact economy? This alternative way of doing business is actually a new market force that strives to achieve an intimate connection between profit and purpose.

A new conception of finance

paul_allard_impakfinance_4x5_200dpiImpak Finance is a new Montreal startup that positions itself right in this context. As explained by Paul Allard, the mission statement is clear:

“In the context of extreme financial deregulation, we want to remodernize people’s experience of economy.”

Through this innovative and disruptive approach, Impak Finance wants people to understand what banks do with their money with transparency and social consciousness, and change the way people experience their relationship with money.

Impak coins

When we hear the term “cryptocurrency” we think of bitcoins, and we have a vague understanding that it is related to blockchain but we usually see these new fintech tools as suspicious because of the absence of regulation. Well, impak coins (MPK) aim at being the first cryptocurrency not only in Quebec but worldwide, that is created by the book with full transparency.

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It will have the assets of other cryptocurrencies –the ability to transfer money with no fees, but it will have a key differentiating aspect – its stability. It will only be tradable on a permissioned market managed by impak Finance, not on other digital asset exchanges.

Every transaction involving an impact-driven company will be rewarded and MPKs will only be usable at specific businesses that are part of the impact economy – for example, eating at Panthere Verte vegan restaurants, using Teo-Taxi vehicles, drinking Rise Kombucha beverages.

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To structure transactions, an online ecosystem will be launched at the end of 2017, with the perspective that it becomes eventually an online bank. Anyone will be able to buy MPK on this platform, to use their money sustainably. Citizens will be able to identify impact merchants and have access to products and services aligned with their values.

“People will be able to actively participate in transforming the world every day by responsibly choosing which companies their money will support.”

Canada’s first socially responsible chartered bank?

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You might ask yourself if all this is realistic, if it is possible to have a financial ecosystem that is secure, energy efficient, with no intermediary, no fees and with value. With an initial equity fundraise of CAD$1.5 million, it is clear that a significant community is interested in spending meaningfully.

With an upcoming official presale coming in August, impak coins is expecting to connect 500 enterprises, 150 capital partners, and 5,000 user participants by the end of the year.

If you want to understand all about this innovative project, you can read Impak Finance White Paper.

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.