Be innovative, add mushrooms to your next coffee!

Healthy products are currently booming and food innovation is becoming more and more growth-generating. People want to be able to eat tasty, quality and healthy products and at the same time, they want to generate as little waste as possible. This is just what Mushup is aiming to do: providing a healthy coffee alternative with a beautiful but sustainable packaging.

It all begins with friendship and travels

Rachèle brought her background in business development and her passion for sales and public relations. Maeva had a previous experience in sustainable development, events management, marketing. But most importantly, both of them shared one important asset: a true friendship.

We needed new challenges, we wanted to change the way we lived… so we went on a backpack trip to Colombia to find inspiration and see if we were ready to start working together.

Rachèle

In November 2017, on a hike in the beautiful zona cafetera, they decided to launch a business in the coffee industry that would be socially responsible. Back to Montreal, they met with a mycologist who introduced them to the complementarity between coffee and medicinal fungus.

After months of research and development, they came up with a coffee bean that integrates the positive mental and physical impacts of these fungus. Spark, Vigor and Vital each provide a different benefit.

It was important to select the best possible coffee. All grains are hand-picked and slow-roasted. 

Maeva

Innovation by curiosity

Neither Rachel nor Maeva have a technical training in mycology or in science. They are not inventors but they can be innovators because they have an acute perception of the market. They understand consumers, their needs and desires for alternative products.

Some people might find it strange to add mushroom extracts to coffee beans but not our generation. Curiosity is part of our DNA.

Rachèle

They also know how to make the solution attractive: they have created three types of coffee, with three exclusive visuals from French designer Julien Brogard, picked through an international competition and their boxes are zero waste.

Collaboration and independence all the way

Collaboration is key to their growth. Mushup is working hand in hand with partners like graphic designers (from the Billy Club) to develop, one coffee at a time.

Starting a new business was a way for us to come back to our original life objectives. We needed to gain control over our lives so it was natural to also keep control over our business

You can buy Mushup products online or in a (growing) number of local shops. You can also taste it, among other places, at the lovely Bistro Tendresse in Montreal Village neighbourhood.

These solar watches offer a sustainable and refreshing fashion alternative

Millennials are all about making a difference in our world, consuming wisely, giving up on some habits. But it does not mean that they give up on quality. This is the mission statement of Solios Watches, a young Montreal company founded by Alex Desabrais and Sam Leroux. We met them in the confessional at Fondation Montreal’s Grand Messe on 27 March 2019.

Where it all started…

Alex and Sam met at HEC Montreal during their Bachelor of Finance. They shared a common interest in case competitions and entrepreneurship. 

When graduating, they were looking for meaningful experiences. Alex joined District M, a tech startup, where he developed his sales leadership and learned how small companies were able to grow. Sam started working at Snowdon partners, an entrepreneurial investment fund, and realized that this smaller ecosystem was exactly what he was looking for. 

Both of them spent 4 years in their respective companies, learning, growing and … maturing their entrepreneurship project. They then started designing their dream watch in-house and building their business plan which, two years later, launched through one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of 2018.

Choosing entrepreneurship to make a difference in the world

When you are not an engineer or a developer, when you are not a millionaire, it is more difficult to find an idea for your startup. But we knew we wanted to focus on an eco-friendly idea.

Why solar watches? The technology is already well established and recognized, and it is a way to improve a very traditional consumer item. Also, in the watch industry, the affordable luxury watches market is the only part currently growing because consumers are aware that quartz watches are not sustainable.

Rather than offering direct consumption goods, fast fashion items, we want to make a fashion and sustainable statement. 

Responsible production

Sam in Hong Kong, checking on the production process

Eventually, Alex and Sam want to develop a portfolio of responsible products, with full transparency on the sourcing of materials. They work hard to create a relation of mutual trust with their suppliers and distributors and travel regularly to Hong Kong and Japan. Each component, each manufacturing process behind Solios Watches is carefully chosen to be as sustainable as possible while maintaining the quality, from the choice of packagingto the coloration of steel and the choice of bracelets.

People think that vegan leather is sustainable but in fact, it is made of plastic and petrochemicals, which is eventually polluting. Instead, we use silicon leather which is not vegan but more sustainable.

Responsible consumption

The team obviously aims at selling their products, but their goal goes beyond that sole purpose: they want to educate consumers and change behaviour patterns and common beliefs (yes, a solar watch can work in the UK where the sun does not always shine bright).

For now, the team has just received the first batch of orders from their Kickstarter campaign and started delivery in April 2019. You can order their products online.

5 startups disrupting eating and drinking habits at Montreal Grand’ Messe

We, humans, have never been so self-conscious about the way we eat, for better or for worse! We eat differently, we seek innovations in the products we choose, we want to be healthier, but while having fun! If you recognize yourself in the “we”, you should discover these 5 Montreal startups.

Innovation MTL discovered them during Fondation Montreal Inc. annual event, La Grand’ Messe. For this 3rd edition, 100 startups were gathered to present their newly crafted products to investors, media, influencers, and the general public.

Mushup coffee

Do you also have that colleague who decided to cut off his coffee consumption because he was experiencing chest pains, insomnia, anxiety? Perhaps he or she would be interested in Mushup coffee… quality and fair trade coffee beans, roasted in Montreal, but without all the negative effects of coffee thank to a magic ingredient: mushrooms! Not magic mushrooms, but medicinal mushrooms extracts that add healthier virtues while enhancing the taste of coffee beans. Who knew that the coffee industry still had room for innovation? Try it out, it is delicious (and the branding is gorgeous too)!

Cultur’ dough

Eating is about so much more than feeding yourself or even indulging, it is about living new experiences. If you cannot afford a trip to an exotic destination perhaps you can at least experience that change of scene during a handful of seconds by biting in one of Cultur’ dough cookies. You can jump from Japan to the Mediterranean, from Mexico to the Middle East, without any visa, directly from your taste buds to your imagination. For those who seek something different from regular cookies, it is definitely worth it.

Choco de Lea

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Chocolate is a guilty pleasure in so many ways: it is rarely fair trade, it is a calorie bomb, it uses animal products, and often comes in non-recyclable packaging. Léa wants to solve (almost) all these problems with her craft chocolate bars. Using soya milk and gourmet ingredients, she advocates a more responsible consumption of chocolate. We had the opportunity to taste the camomile and cherry flavoured white chocolate. It was surprisingly delicious. It is brand new, so follow her adventures on Instagram!

Haumana

Haumana produces baobab natural energy bars. If you wonder what a baobab is, it is a tree that grows in Africa. People there consumes the citrusy fruit that comes from the tree after drying it and making a powder out of it. It is said to have true health benefits. Haumana is working with a cooperative of women in Senegal to produce their vegan, raw and gluten-free energy bars. The light sour taste gives it a funky twist. And don’t worry, there is an option with chocolate too, it is available here.

Blue Pearl Distillery

Last but not least, if you want to make that old gin & tonic look rejuvenated and more exciting, while supporting a Montreal based company, Blue Pearl Distillery has created a surprising, delicious and funny product to try. With 100% Quebecois ingredients, their Bleu Royal gin has a flowery flavour (it is distilled with juniper berries and coriander) and a natural blue color (apparently it comes from the butterfly pea flower) and… when you mix it with (1642) Tonic, it becomes pink. More than an ordinary liquor, Blue Pearl wants to offer experiences, and magical ones, preferably. You can find Bleu Royal gin at the SAQ.

Telling stories by designing authentic products

Designing, creativity and adventurousness run in the family for Antonio and Lorena. Having an industrial designer as a mother and an astrophysician as a father, the siblings have a passion for design. They are inviting Montrealers to embrace their innovative products.

Not interested by traditional paths

Lorena studied ceramic and graphic design while Antonio went for sculpture and industrial design. They both started their careers few years ago in the corporate world and in design studios. However, something was wrong – a sense of uneasiness, lack of authenticity? Antonio decided to go back to studying and chose an environmental programme in design and architecture at Universite de Montreal and Lorena quit her job. Brother and sister decided to become partners and Co/Crea Studio was born.

We did not agree 100% with what the market had to offer, we needed to create ourselves something that aligns with our vision of the world. 

Their conception of design is responsible and interdisciplinary, it embraces circular economy and has a positive impact of society while remaining viable. 

Going against the grain: durability vs. trends

(c) Tora Chirila

People are either graphic designers or industrial designers but studios rarely combine the two. Blending 2D and 3D is a way to provide richer experiences and mutually benefit from each other.

Lorena and Antonio work on the ideation process together, then, the lead will depend on the type of product or service. The focus is always on offering a sustainable product or service with an extended life – which is against the processes of the industry.

Conveying messages through products

They are currently working on a series of products called the “Fundamental Series”, to promote good habits: a book-end, to leave technology aside and go back to reading books, candlesticks to give more light to our lives…

(c) Tora Chirila

To do so, they are partnering with Mexican artisans from a small village called Tecali which is famous for its expertise in marble and onyx craft. Unlike many manufacturers that go there for cheap but quality labour, the two Montrealers want to provide artisans with fair trade opportunities and… to come back to their country of origin!

Another product, “My Montreal, our island” was created after a call for projects inviting designers to reinterpret Montreal souvenirs (that are mostly made in China as we all know…). Using Montreal’s insularity, the designers created an original mug that showcases Montreal diversity and authenticity: it is made in clay as a reminder of the sand beaches on an island, it has the island of Montreal carved in the bottom, and the name is written just like you would write with your fingers in the sand. 

Of course, if you don’t know the story, you might just see it as another mug in a souvenir shop, but this is why design is so important for us – it helps conveying stories in a durable and creative manner.

You can buy these products online.

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.