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

 

Art promotion and social innovation in the city

If you consider that buying artworks is a privilege of the rich and that you could never afford having a sculpture or aquarelle painting from a recognized artist in your living room, here is a story that will change your mind.

Artothèque is at the center of innovation, entrepreneurship and social development: it gives you the opportunity to have a Riopelle painting in your living room for a short period of time. We have met with Artothèque’s brand new director, Justin Maheu.

IMG_0746

From performing to diffusing the arts

IMG_6810Justin’s piercing blue eyes can tell a lot about his motivation and determination. Indeed, when he starts describing his current occupations you begin to understand where he is heading: in addition to managing Artothèque, he is also director and pianist at Quattr’Opéra, a group of musicians aiming at promoting opera towards the general public, he is treasurer and executive member at the Quebec society for research in music (SQRM). Although Justin started his career with a music background, he realized that what mattered the most to him was to diffuse and vulgarize the arts. He could not have found a better place to do it than Artothèque, a library allowing art rental for individuals, organizations and businesses for short or long periods.

You might think that it is another consequence of the “uberization” of society but it’s not: this social economy enterprise was founded in 1995 and it is a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship and arts. Run by the Fondation des arts et métier d’art du Québec, it gives access to over 5,000 works created by some 1,000 local artists.

A new strategy to revitalize the art industry

FullSizeRenderFor now, Artothèque’s priority is to increase art rental – as a hybrid enterprise, it does not benefit from any public subsidies. Justin is working on systematizing the programming at Artothèque with a balance of exhibitions, training activities for children, cultural mediation. The organization is also based on a transversal renting model: “we do not only rent the artworks to individuals, we also target corporate companies and we work with members of the film industry”. Justin believes in the importance of diversifying and updating the collection: tendencies and trends evolve all the time and Artothèque has 500 “sleeping” works of art that no longer correspond to the clients’ taste.

A social enterprise first

IMG_0747

Of course, the business model is based on the benefits resulting from the renting but Artothèque’s mission is much larger:

“We want to give a taste for art to the greatest number of people by making works easily accessible while increasing our artists’ visibility.”

The innovative aspect of this non-profit organization is that it still provides benefits to artists: when they leave their pieces on consignment, they obtain visibility through the virtual catalogue, receive rental income from their work (between 20 and 40% of the price of the rent) and create relationships with the business sector and new clients.

Artothèque tries to find a balance between making artworks easily accessible and offering a showcasing opportunity to promising artists. Of course, individuals who become clients are already “educated”. “Our audience is very similar to people going to the opera, in their forties, with a high annual salary but we want to reach a larger public”, explains Justin.

Indeed, there is an exhibition currently happening, “Quoi de neuf“, and you can visit them in Rosemont, 5720 rue Saint-André.

From artists to entrepreneurs in construction

How can we start describing Malina and Steven? They are a surprising blend of adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs and landowners. In the arts, just as in real life, they believe in interdisciplinary work.

At the beginning of this innovative enterprise, two artists who graduated from the prestigious Valand School of Fine Arts (University of Gothenburg) in Sweden and needed a stable base to work, after moving from one art residency to another throughout the world.

An interdisciplinary way of life

In 2012, after exposing and creating in Sweden, Ireland, Germany, the UK, Finland, Iceland, Malina Cailean and Steven Ladouceur decided to come back to Montreal – Steven’s birthplace and Malina’s city of adoption – to look for a storing place which would also serve as a working studio.

“We considered our buying options and decided to go for an entire building – two floors and four condos.”

IMG_2283The building, on Notre-Dame in the new popular area of Saint-Henri, was in need of major repairs, in fact it had to be entirely reconstructed starting with the wood support pole. When normal people would have considered the help of carpenters, electricians, architects, or bricklayers, Malina and Steven decided to do it themselves. These two autodidacts went through hundreds of books, learnt the composition of walls, fire resistance of components, and completed the Autocad Training in Montreal for Interior Design.

“We saw this reconstruction challenge like artists – we know we can do it all, we just need the proper tools”.

Multidimensional entrepreneurship: a do-it-yourself pulse

To finance this massive project, Steven & Malina received a Major Residential Renovation grant from the city of Montreal providing them with 60% of the total cost of renovation. To receive the grant, they had to work with an official General Contractor so Steven went through the whole training and got the official certificate to become his own general contractor.

IMG_3639

However, they still had to find the other 40% to renovate the building and both worked in diverse environments to earn money: Malina became a designer for a stationery shop while Steven worked as a projectionist or telemarketer.

Last year, as they were working on their endless renovation task, Malina looked on the other side of the road and noticed that a slot was for rent. Then again, following their surge for adventure and entrepreneurship, they decided to rent it, renovate it and launch a coffee shop – Café Tome –  with the perspective of selling coffee to pay the renovations. But wait, if they have to sell coffee… why wouldn’t they make it themselves?

IMG_2311

 

More challenge, more innovation, more originality. After working on an innovative concept of cold brewed coffee, Malina was awarded a grant to follow the Self-Employment program at SAJE Montreal, a management consulting organization whose mission is to stimulate, promote and support the expansion of small and medium-size businesses in Quebec. Soleil Mouvant will be a cold brewed coffee produced, bottled and distributed in different places, one of which will be her own coffee place.

“Cold brew has many advantages: we don’t use any preservatives, we do not need any costly equipment and it can be consumed within 7 days of preparation”

Today, Malina & Steven have many projects underway: they have to finish the renovation of the building by end of March while Malina resumes cost studies and seeking suppliers for Soleil Mouvant. But nothing is impossible for these promising entrepreneurs and it is with a sweet (Steven lives up to his name, Ladouceur) and untroubled perspective that they consider their future.

If you want to know more about the project, you can always contact Malina on her website and follow our Instagram feed as we post pictures of the building’s renovation.

 

 

Pollinating Montreal with social entrepreneurship

Did you know that honey is more consumed than maple in Quebec? Did you also know that in Canada, most of the honey consumed is imported? Alex, Declan and Etienne are young beekeepers who decided that they would spread their passion and bring innovation to the beekeeping industry in their home-city of Montreal.

alveole team

Making honey in the city is possible and you can even do it on your balcony.

Alveole is a unique and innovative enterprise aiming at mixing apiculture, education and society. It all started with Bruce, Alexander’s uncle, in Manitoba. He owns a beekeeping company where the three friends worked. Like most rural exploitations, their model is based on monoculture (one type of flower provides one type of honey).

We wanted to produce a more natural honey, following the movements of the bees as they pollinate all kinds of flowers in a radius of about
5 km

calendrierInternetAlveole is progressively changing the face of apiculture and using the company as a social tool. The company model is based on team-building: honeybee colonies are installed in schools, universities, CEGEPs, social reintegration organization. Didactic sessions are held to change common ideas related to apiculture, working without any protection, showing that bees rarely sting, explaining the role of bees in the preservation of biodiversity

In fact, the team has launched a nude calendar where they pose surrounded with bees – powerful images to change public opinion in the long term.

 

 

Building the company on public and private partnerships 

In 2013, when it all started, Alveole received a grant and mentorship from Montreal Inc Foundation. Since then, the company has been able to work through public and partnerships. Among the 85 organizations involved, Financement Agricole du Quebec, Caisse Desjardins, Aldo, Cirque du Soleil, Birks. “They pay a fix amount, obtain apiculture services, collect their own honey while we use their rooftops and backyards”, explains Etienne.  Only 7% of the pots are sold in stores and the profits are redistributed in R&D.

Other honey makers have developed urban apiculture in Montreal but the competition is positive as it means that people are more and more aware and that urban beekeeping is growing. What really distinguishes Alveole from others is its community-based vision:

We are not biologists, we want to focus our production on a didactic approach, so that our clients become producers.

“Tasting a good honey is really close to enjoying a good bottle of wine.”

Clientele is formed of epicureans who appreciate the fact that Alveole’s products are made without pesticides, unpasteurized and ultra local. Cities are the ideal ecosystem for bee colonies: they follow strict anti-pesticide legislation, they are filled with a diversity of flowers that haven’t been foraged yet and they are filled with large unused spaces (rooftops are a great example).

Alveole is constantly striving to improve bee health and innovate beekeeping practices and has developed a unique technology with a smartphone app to provide customer services and locate all urban beehives.

alveole mal.png

Next steps? Buzzing in the rest of Canada

Today, Alveole has created more than 250 beehives on the rooftops of Montreal or in the backyard of companies and individuals, producing 3 tones of honey every year. After pollinating rooftops of Montreal, Alveole has started opening beehives in Quebec City and Toronto. They are in fact hiring at those locations (see their job & internships offers).

The team is bustling with ideas to bring bees and citizens closer and meet their various goals: enhance consciousness related to sustainable cities and environment, produce more local honey, grow urban pollination.

You can follow Alveole on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and although bees cluster in the beehives during winter, you can take part in one of their training workshops very soon.

Shaking the world of food entrepreneurship, meet Amélie Morency

“When I was 8, I started selling potpourri baskets in the street one day, and I got 50 bucks out of it. I thought: that’s it, I’m an entrepreneur!”

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 11.31.05 AM

 

Amélie Morency is 24 today and she has already launched two startups, and one on the way. This time, she is ready to change the face of food entrepreneurship in Montreal through the FoodRoom an innovative culinary co-working place to open this spring.

Entrepreneurship, a means to achieve independence

content_ChefDivine-Amelie-WM04-1200__1_
photo by Foodivine Photography

Amélie is impatient, passionate and ambitious. Entrepreneurship has always been her way of achieving autonomy. Realizing the importance of earning money at 8, she had a bank account to keep her savings at 14 and started a landscape gardening company while studying. Her family gave her great examples: her father and grandmother were entrepreneurs and have always been supportive. “I didn’t need to do all this, but I have so many aspirations and I always want more responsibilities, more challenges”.

When her mother wanted her to go to university, Amélie preferred the more pragmatic Cegep program. She then graduated from Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ) and started working in a restaurant but moving up the ladder was too slow for her, she needed to achieve her goal faster and the solution was in entrepreneurship.

Amélie knows that entrepreneurship is not for idealists and sometimes you will break your neck. However, she did succeed in launching a successful first startup, A toutes les sauces, an eco-friendly catering company, and she earned several prizes and awards from the prestigious Founder Institute, Coop HEC and Fondation ITHQ…

The FoodRoom, an innovative solution to entrepreneurs’ problems

When Amelie launched A toutes les sauces, she quickly faced a major issue which wasn’t cash flow but a stable location to cook to meet the needs of her clients and fulfill impending contracts. Lack of infrastructure is what inspired the FoodRoom.

Other similar shared kitchen initiatives exist in Europe and the United States (the San Francisco’s Underground market was a pioneer). Montreal is a fertile ground for such innovative initiatives: Amélie is part of a broader community of young immigrants and Quebecers willing to build a food patrimony for themselves (on this subject, read Alix Food’s terrific blog), and she wants to provide her fellow entrepreneurs with the physical and social infrastructure to create delicious products, build partnerships with producers.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.39.58 PM

The 7500 sq feet coworking space will be located in the Ahunstic area in Montreal. Half of the space will be dedicated to cooking and half will be transformed in offices and a multipurpose hall to organize events and trainings.

“We want to become more than a kitchen rental project, we want to create a community with high quality equipment”.

Through monthly subscriptions, members will get access to customized services. Caterers, small-scale producers (salsa, cookies, ice cream), chefs or food-truck owners’, everyone need a space to cook and in fact, the FoodRoom has already secured 23 contracts with clients and 65 are on waiting list.

“Getting investors to believe in you and your company is the toughest part.”

Investments for the FoodRoom came from Amélie’s private funds, from private investors and bank loans, but today, more than 500 000$ have been invested in the company and the building permit is settled so nothing will stop this exciting project from blooming this spring!

For now, you can visit their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and you can meet Amélie at La Gare co-working if you’re in the area.

Bastien Poulain, innovating the cola industry

It might be cold in Montreal but the city is bustling with hot innovative projects. Bastien Poulain is one of these dynamic young entrepreneurs surfing on the wave of innovation. He has launched 1642, the first cola made of maple syrup, in a country where the soda industry is clearly dominated by multinational firms.

Entrepreneurship? It runs in the family

bastien-poulain.jpgBastien is not from Montreal but his heart now belongs to the city. Born in the French city of Rennes, he was raised in Brittany in a family of entrepreneurs.

“My father and grandfather were both entrepreneurs. It runs in the family. I spent my childhood immersed in this world. Every Saturday morning, I opened the cheques with my father and gave him the amounts.”

However, Bastien knows that having childhood memories is not enough: to be an entrepreneur, you need to have an original idea, and be passionate about it. Bastien started his professional life in China and Montreal in the hotel industry and the idea of a Quebec cola only came to his mind in 2013.

Innovative financing tools

Like many startupers and entrepreneurs, Bastien had to juggle with several financing tools: although he had put money aside before the project, he launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and raised $7,111 CAD in a month. He also earned a grant from Fondation Montréal Inc, and credit from Banque Nationale and from private investors through the TV show “L’Oeil du Dragon”. Bastien knows that money is the backbone of his effort: “financing is a continuous goal that we have to consider on a daily basis to manage our growth”

Producing a local soda through social entrepreneurship

bouteille1642.pngProducing alternative sodas is not a new idea and there are many examples in the world, such as Breizh Cola, a soda launched in Bastien’s original region of Brittany, but what is so innovative and special about 1642 is that (almost) everything about it is local.

“In Quebec, we have the chance of having the most natural and healthy sugar so when we asked ourselves what we would put in our cola, the answer was crystal clear”.

Not only is the product local but it is also perfectly adapted to the changing market: Today, consuming local products is not a trend anymore, it is a fact.

Bastien is dedicated to working with quality local actors: his company is the only one in the soda industry working with the best Canadian micro-distillery, Le Domaine Pinnacle. All providers and employees are local. The cola itself is named after the foundation date of Montreal, and Bastien has already developed strategic language elements and strong communication.

“We want to tell a story with our 1642, a story for all Montrealers, whether we were born here or made it our home. This is the story of our proud city”.

Consumers become influencers

1642

Bastien started his adventure by targeting the Canadian market and neighbour states who have a good image of Canadian products. His target consumers are in their twenties and thirties, they are striving for innovative products and they like to tell all about it. “1642 is not a luxury product, it is a quality product”. Although an individual bottle will cost around $2 CAN in Canada, it is distributed in more than 600 locations in Quebec (you will find a helpful interactive map of Montreal on the website), in prestigious restaurants (Le Toqué, l’Européa in Montreal), in supermarkets and delicatessen shops. 1642 wants to create a niche on the fizzy drink market.

Next steps?

There is no doubt that 1642 will continue to grow in Canada but the company wants to develop sales in Europe, China and the US. They have also started to expand the range of products with 1642 Tonic, their new soda. In the short term, communication and PR remain a key issue and Bastien will represent Canada as a delegate at the G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit (G20YEA) in Beijing in August 2016, along with 16 other entrepreneurs.

1642 is sold in more than 600 locations in Quebec and 20 in France and Belgium, you can also buy it online. It is very active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Personally, I have tasted it at L’Intermarché Universel, 89 av. du Mont-Royal Est.