Hibiscus drinks from Africa made in Montreal

Montreal is a multicultural city and celebrates diversity in many aspects. Diversity can take the form of innovations, curiosity and sustainability. When it comes to the food industry, the city has known a real boom in innovations over the past years. A new drink is now entering the market for non-alcoholic beverages: Hibisko.

African flavors, made in Montreal

Hikmath is a dynamic, ambitious Montrealer who decided to become an entrepreneur and make other Montrealers discover her favourite drink, coming directly from her home country, Benin (West Africa).

Hibisko comes from the world “hibiscus”, a red flower that is emblematic of tropical destinations, but that can also be used in infusions. Hibiscus tea has been consumed in many parts of the world for ages – in Egypt it is called Karkade, in the Caribbean it is agua de Jamaica, and in West Africa, it is called Bissap and it is a traditional drink appreciated for its sweet and sour taste and deep red color.

I had never thought of entrepreneurship before. My parents wanted me to be a doctor.

After growing up in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire and Benin), and studying in France, Hikmath came to Montreal for a fresh start: she began her studies at HEC in 2012 and after graduating, started working in IT. All along the way, she brewed bissap at home, keeping her habits from childhood.

An unquenchable thirst for new products

As Hikmath experienced life in a corporate world, the idea of making a business out of her hobby kept growing in her mind and she saw a fit with the market:

Montrealers love testing new drinks and new products that are healthy and locally made.

Given the current trend of kombucha (cf. Mannanova) and cold-pressed juices (cf. LOOP juices), such products definitely fit with consumers’ expectations and the growing demand for attractive and tasteful non-alcoholic products that are not produced and bottles thousands of miles away.

Hibisko offers three types of flavours: El Classico (a blend of hibiscus and mint infusion), Phoenix (a blend of red and white hibiscus with maple syrup, lemon an cinnamon) and Senshi (a mix of hibiscus, ginger and baobab extract)

Home-made drinks. Home-made everything!

Yes, it is that simple: during the summer of 2018, Hikmath officially quit her job and started being a full-time entrepreneur. She went through a training in Hygiene and food safety and got a license from MAPAQ and she was officially allowed to start making and selling her product. All items are 100% home-made: the hibiscus is brewed, bottled, labelled, straight from Hikmath’s kitchen.

Selling the products online and at special events is a first step. The packaging is also subject to improvement and there is a lot to be done in sourcing raw materials. But I need to feel at ease with my product, take one step after the other, and be open to advice and positive criticism.”

For now you can buy Hibisko drinks online and follow the journey on social media.

Tero: Designing products for more sustainable habits

Elizabeth Coulombe and Valérie Laliberté are two Product Design students who made the choice of entrepreneurship to bring their innovative and sustainable design to the world. Elizabeth talks about human-centered design, sustainability and R&D.

 Building on the recycling trend

The idea emerged as Elizabeth and Valerie were doing their Bachelor in Product Design, a new programme at Laval University (Quebec City). They had to work on resolving a social or environmental issue. 

Traditional composting

In Quebec City we do not have an organized compost collection system from the city. People who want to compost have to take lessons but it is not so well-known. We wanted to design a new product that would make composting easier. 

Food Cycler in Korea (c) Amazon

A similar product was already designed in Korea – the Food Cycler is a machine that grinds food waste to reduce it up to 90% of it’s original volume and make it odourless. Indeed, food waste management is already well-advanced in South Korea, where the government initiated a “pay as you trash” policy: the heavier your trash bag, the more you pay. 

Composting with style

Drawing inspiration from Korea, the two Quebec students started designing a smaller and more ergonomic product:

We want Tero to be like another household appliance, something that you will feel comfortable leaving on your kitchen table.

Closing the loop of the circular economy

The final product should turn one kilo of food waste into 100 grammes of fertilizing powder within three hours through a dehydration process – it is a quick and odourless process.

We worked with agronomists and academics to find the best way to recycle food waste. We did not want to burn it. The dehydration process allows to retain all the nutriments to use as a fertilizer for gardening

It is one goal to design an innovative product, it is a completely different one to launch your first company after only three years of studying! The two entrepreneurs are still studying today – Elizabeth is doing an MBA – and working with engineers to make the best and most affordable product (through partnerships with Solutions Novika and the Center for industrial research support in Quebec – CRIQ), But entrepreneurship is also about finding investments, selling products, marketing…. 

From designers to entrepreneurs

We remain designers – we always focus on putting the user at the center of conception and development.

When the product is finalized, you will be able to order it through a crowdfunding campaign. In the mean time, you can follow Tero’s adventures on their website or Facebook page.

Bringing sustainable collaboration to freelancers in Montreal

Job seekers are increasingly choosing freelancing over traditional employment. Millennials are embracing the concept so they can work directly from their bed. How is this a real opportunity for innovating collaboration? Pierre-Luc Thivierge, a Montreal entrepreneur has decided to develop his own tool for optimal collaboration

Freelancing, for better or for worse 

Today, 2.18 million Canadians are part of the gig economy – including freelance, contract and other temporary workers (BMO, 2018). By 2020, 45% of Canadians will be self-employed, almost have of the workforce (Intuit Canada, 2017). There are several benefits to this condition that include autonomy, control and work-life balance. However, being a freelance can sometimes be difficult – financially (no benefits medical, dental, disability) and psychologically (no long-term perspectives, absence of colleagues).

In Canada, many initiatives exist for structuring freelancing: job websites (Workhoppers, Glassdoor, to mention only a few), dozens of Facebook groups, and even a freelance union but what if you could find all these services at once?

Pierre-Luc has been a freelancer himself, but he also worked on the other side – with agencies and IT companies. With his background in web development, he noticed how many freelance web developers worked with agencies and how important it was to provide them with a community and to provide agencies and companies in general with a pool of freelancers that were reputable and skilled.

I want to put the spotlight on these talents, who do not fit in the frames of traditional jobs.

Using each other in a trusting environment

(c) Albert Zablit

Collab Machine is like a mini-incubator for clients and talents to find each other. 

For two years, Pierre-Luc has deliberately kept the network at a small scale (approximately 170 members and a pool of carefully selected advisors), with most of the activity on Slack and regular meetups. Recently, he has developed a dedicated social platform that allows clients to post their requests and freelancers to apply, but also to draft and send invoices. Soon, Collab Machine will also offer public liability insurance, life insurance and other social benefits.

We want to act like a community and as such, we play the role of human resource advisors.

Collab Machine has been involved with the BEC (Bureau d’entraide aux communicateurs) and recently partnered with ADI (which stands for Acceleration, Design, Innovation – read our article about this key player in the hardware innovation ecosystem) to strengthen the community-building initiative and better retain talents.

Collaboration can only be sustainable if it is based on trust.

This conception of collaboration is truly innovative – creating a community cannot only rely on technology, algorithms and technical excellence. There has to be human values and human relations too.

Check Collab Machine website and write to Pierre-Luc to get a chance to register on this innovative platform.

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!

11110163_715421101919156_3603280456767214371_o.jpg
(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.

E-q_RPP-1024x674
(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.

DSCF6178_worked.jpg
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).

When innovation meets diversity: African dishes made in Montreal

Innovation has a lot to do with diversity. Today, we are presenting an exotic, promising startup: Sagafrika, by Sandra Muaka, a Montreal-based frozen African dishes maker. Between working with food industry giants and entrepreneurship, Sandra made her choice.

We met with Sandra Muaka from Sagafrikaat Montreal Inc. “Grand Messe” last month (read our full article on that great event). Here is the story of her new venture, started in May 2017 with her sister Aicha, and her own fascinating story, from Africa to cold Canada.

From Healthcare to Food Transformation

sandra muaka

Sandra was training to become a doctor in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) when she got the opportunity to continue her studies in Canada. She flew halfway through the world and decided to study Food Science and Technology as it had a health-oriented component. With a Bachelor from Laval University, she could start building her experience in Food Quality Assurance. For 10 years, Sandra worked in Quebec and Alberta in various food companies such as Old Dutch Foods, Kraft Foods, Olymel Red Deer, and O Sole Mio

She definitely drove her entrepreneurial inspiration from her last job experience, more focused on ready-to-eat meals. As an immigrant, she knew the challenges that diaspora face when living abroad. She decided to create Sagafrika to offer a convenient, tasty, and accessible alternative to cooking African dishes. Offering frozen food products to African populations in Quebec was a new innovative way of answering a real need.

Quality Assurance is critical in the food industry. I wanted to use my expertise in that area to offer an innovative product.

From food scientist to entrepreneur

 

To fine-tune her concept, Sandra organised focus groups and tastings. Today, products are specifically targeted towards immigrants living in Montreal – students and families.

sauches.pngSagafrika offers six recipes all inspired by her home country – DR Congo. Saka saka is the most famous one: a sauce made out of cassava leaves. Among other choices: a sauce with fish and sorrel, another with eru leaves and smoked fish or a more traditional spinach sauce.

Sandra currently cooks her products herself by renting a spot in an industrial kitchen, in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Cuisine des pays d’en haut.

Frozen dishes bring a real security when launching a food startup: they can be sold within a year.

Sagafrika is focused on expanding its product line to the rest of African dishes and towards offering spiced side dishes like cassava or sweet potato fries.

For now you can order these delicious dishes here.

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.

 

Save money as you spend through Mylo

Fintech comprises all kinds of innovations that aim to compete with traditional financial methods and answer the financial needs of populations. It is currently booming in Canada, as Millennials as starting to earn a living and are not satisfied with what traditional banks have to offer.

We have already touched upon fintech on Innovation Montreal: the use of cryptocurrencies and blockchain to finance projects with a social impact (Impak Finance), or Hardbacon’s app that allow users to become better self-directed investors.

Today we present Mylo: a mobile app that automatically rounds up every purchase you make and invests the spare change.

Fintech on a social mission

mylo bannerWhat drives Mylo’s founders from the beginning is to make saving and investing accessible for all Canadians and especially for Millennials.

To use Mylo, you do not need any knowledge in finance. Mylo works through a partnership with Tactex Asset Management advisors who invest your money in Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs).

Basically, the more you spend, the more you save… simple, right? If you buy a $3.60 coffee through your debit or credit card, Mylo will automatically round your purchase to $4.00 and invest the extra $0.40.

Going even further, Mylo is not just a tool for investment, it gives recommendations that are customized and personalized. Using artificial intelligence, the app helps its clients optimize important financial decisions such as insurance coverage, interest payments, travel purchases…

“We’re focused on building the next generation of innovative technology, using AI in conjunction with financial data, to help Canadians improve all aspects of their financial lives.”

The financial model is very attractive: there is a monthly fee of $1 to get access to the app. The customized recommendations are completely free but if clients implement the recommendations, the Mylo team then earns a success fee from their partners.

Finance veterans turned startupers

_F4A0188

Phil Barrar and Liam Cheung, Founder and Chairman, are already veterans when it comes to financial investment.

Phil is less than 30 but has been into the Canadian entrepreneurial community for a while. He successively launched and sold two ventures after graduating from Concordia University and ended up joining a Montreal investment fund in 2015: Ferst Capital Partners. This is when he started thinking of ways to democratize financial investment decisions. Mylo emerged from his market study in 2016.

Liam joined the adventure later in 2017. With over 25 years of expertise in finance and technology, he had founded Tactico Inc., the parent company of Tactex Asset Management, an investment firm that manages client-focused equity portfolios.

Mylo acquired Tactex gaining more credibility in the process: a relatively new fintech actor had enough power for acquiring a team of portfolio advisers that manages over $110 million in client assets.

From pitching to seed investing, a tremendous growth

Mylo participated to the iconic TV show Dragon’s Den and got a great deal from three of the investors but as months past and as they worked on a beta version, the team managed to secure a strategic offer that made more sense for our company. They raised $2.65-million in seed financing lead by Desjardins Capital which allowed them to officially launch on the App store.

Today, the startup wants to offer more than just an app. On International Women’s Day, Mylo released a report analyzing the gap between women and men when it comes to saving and investing and offering recommendations to reduce the gap and innovate investing habits.