Montreal, a new lab for innovative cannabis health usage

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(c) Kevin Chen

For centuries, marijuana has proved to have a huge potential to alleviate pain especially when it is related to the side effects of chemotherapy and other degenerative diseases. Today, synthetized cannabis could be the next innovation in the health industry – at least it is the project of ambitious young scientist, Kevin Chen.

We met Kevin at an event organized by John Molson School of Business MBA Entrepreneurship Club (JMEC) earlier this year. With his 24 years old and geeky eyeglasses, Kevin is not the kind of guy you would imagine roaming around with a joint – in fact, he has never smoked any cannabis in his life, but he is passionate about biochemistry and that is enough to make a difference.

“As synthetic biologists, we adopt new technologies, innovations and models in making discoveries, finding cures, and solving problems.”

A pure Montreal innovation

This new innovation is a 100% Montreal project, from its premises to its actual stage: it all started at the beginning of 2014 at Bricobio, a biology lab where scientists and entrepreneurs met in Montreal. With a couple of friends, Kevin pitched his ideas to Irish biotech accelerator Indie.bio. After this, nothing was the same: Kevin started the company with his co-founders Zach Wiltshire, Alex Campbell, Shoham Mookerjee.

They decided to stay in Montreal, instead of Ireland: “we had a lot of incentive and support for moving there but for entrepreneurs, Montreal has a great talent pool and access to a lot of other resources that are great for early stage companies.” Fuelled with the cohesive and collaborative startup ecosystem, the team started the most difficult part of the job – collecting funds.

Getting funds one round at a time

The team closed a first round was as part of the IndieBio accelerator program. The  $520,000 second round was lead by Bill Liao at SOS Ventures, and followed by Ethan Perlstein of PerlsteinLab and Andrew Hessel of Autodesk. Major steps in achieving this were demonstrating potential through their results and ability to solve problems. Recently, Hyasynth Bio participated in MassChallenge in Boston this summer and won an award from Cydan, an accelerator of orphan disease research dedicated to creating therapies that impact the lives of people living with rare genetic diseases,

Synthetizing cannabinoids … and beyond

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Today, Hyasynth Bio is in the later stages of the development phase, and very close to commercialization. They are aiming to be on the market within the next year. The target audience is ultimately patients, but they are also getting there by partnering with other companies and organizations of different kinds.”

“We’re aiming to synthesize anything. The cannabinoids are going to occupy a large portion of the pharmaceutical industry, and there are a lot of molecules in that family. Beyond that, there are many more biologicals that would make great targets”

Moodmap, a digital urban guide customized to your mood

Have you Montrealers not always wanted to rediscover your own city following your own feelings while promoting local communities? Well Moodmap is designed especially for you. And the team is happy to unveil a new version for their first anniversary!

julien this.jpgThe idea was born when Julien, founder of the project, spent six months studying in Montpellier (France). He discovered there were flyers promoting places to go out depending on your mood and found it quite original. When he came back to Montreal, Julien let his idea mature. There was an innovation side to add to the project to become truly original: create a digital mood map for going out. To do so, finding the right people with the right expertise was critical: Julien had studied Communication but did not have any background in IT Development. This is where Gisele, Manon, Julien and Hugo joined the adventure.

The website which will soon celebrate its first anniversary is getting better and better: visuals, location-based research, social media sharing and… an English version of course! On Moodmap, you can customize your search through a huge list of actions and filters to discover the place that corresponds best. If you feel “chic” and want to “dance” and “date” you will find exactly the right spot to visit.

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Creating an interactive new media 

What makes the project truly innovative and different from other websites is its content marketing strategy: bloggers that are considered as experts of Montreal, curate Moodmap with reviews of their favorite places, depending on their moods and feelings, while promoting their own blog. A team of around 30 bloggers provides quality content to the platform like journalists. Among the latest reviews, Café Parvis by Foodologie.

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Moodmap has also developed an interactive partnership with Bixi for the “adventurous” mood: every month you will be able to find a special urban biking itinerary created by a blogger to discover new places in Montreal. Recently, Montreal Addicts created an exclusive itinerary to discover Villeray and Rosemont.

Creating a community beyond the website

Of course, competition is high in the field of “outing blogs” especially in Montreal – Narcity, SoMontreal, Mtl Blog… but it all depends on the way you classify information and how you promote it. Julien and his team decided to use what they did best to differentiate: creating connections and networking. They therefore decided to organise regular events to have the community discover a new café during a 5@8.

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Moodmap has also started partnerships around major events: Espace Libre, a performance space featuring experimental artists, is a partner of the “curious” mood and provides exclusive promotions and free tickets for the theatre season while Moodmap create customised articles on the plays and the places to discover all around it.

Summer days are also crucial for developing strategic partnerships: Moodmap partnered with Zone Homa where the festival’s team was given the opportunity to create exclusive itineraries on the platform, related to all the cultural events happening in Montreal.

Already celebrating their first anniversary, Moodmap is ready for more challenges: while integrating strategic brands in their articles, bloggers always keep in mind as a main concern to provide unusual and innovative ideas for going out, not only to millennials but also to older people who do not know where to search for ideas and even to tourists.

You can join the team and celebrate their anniversary on July 27 at Pub St Joseph and check the new version of the website… soon in English! Follow them too on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

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Transforming “likes” in money for a good cause

Lately, it has become so easy to get involved in pretty much everything through social media: changing your profile picture after a terrorist attack or a tsunami or an earthquake and getting 100 likes for it. Social sharing can create much awareness but it does not boost funds for the concrete projects (more on this very insightful “Likes don’t save lives” UNICEF campaign).

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Jason Dominique and his team have founded a new social marketplace for global good that lets you take action on causes you care about in an instant and is drawing more and more attention: he has recently been selected by Urbania magazine as one of the 50 people who are creating extraordinary projects in Quebec in 2016.

A social network for millennials

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With this in mind, Philafy was created. This certified Benefit Corporation wants to help millennials give and raise funds in an instant for issues that matters to them and their friends. Some might say that millennials are particularly individualistic but more and more studies tell a different story and Jason truly believes there is more to this thriving generation.

“Millennials realize a disconnect between their social engagement and online actions — only 2% of Millennials find their online philanthropic involvement satisfying”

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This is where Philafy enters the game: a tool that is technically adapted to the generation – a social network – to enable them to take meaningful steps towards action. Through the platform you can do much more than liking and sharing the world’s problems… you can share actionable content: causes you care about and a way to give in one step. The process is very simple: if you wish, when liking a project, you can share it with a ‘1-Click’ micro-giving (e.g. 50¢, $1 or more) call to action button and choose which social causes (e.g. Nonprofits, Charities, NGOs, etc.) will receive the funds.

“Every post can be a micro-fundraising campaign that uses the network to raise more donations faster.”

An innovative payment model

What makes the platform a real game changer is its payment model: when it comes to giving, users need to purchase Philafy prepaid donation credits, a virtual currency that lets them send donations. When traditional crowdfunding and donation platforms took a commission on all donations received by the cause, Philafy is working the other way around: charging a 5% fee to users when they buy prepaid donation credits on Philafy. This new transaction-based fee model is innovating and particularly attracting for causes as it redistributes 100% of donations to causes in 120 countries.

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Through a partnership with Stellar Development Foundation – a nonprofit organization focusing on making traditional financial systems more democratic – Philafy is using technology to send, track and stock the virtual currency that is indexed on US dollar: you buy USD and virtually get USD. For example, if a user wants to add 20$ to its donation wallet, a total amount of 21.91$ – 20$ + 1$ (5%) Philafy fees + 91¢ (2.9% + 30¢) credit card processing fees – will be charged.

Bootstrapped from day one, Philafy is still looking for additional funds to boost product sales & marketing but already has very concrete assets – part of the District 3 incubator – and ambitious objectives: in two weeks a private beta version will be finalised and a public beta version will be presented before summer.

Stay tuned for more information: visit their Facebook and Twitter pages.

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.

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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”.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.