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!

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(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.

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(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.

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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

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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.

 

5 exciting findings from Grand Messe startup invasion

Last Thursday, if you were walking on Monk boulevard in Montreal and passed by the beautiful church on number 5959, you would never have imagined what was happening inside… 100 Montreal startups were presenting their products and services to media, corporations, influencers and the general public.

In an old church transformed into Theatre Paradoxe, you could discover various innovative ventures in the food, travel, services, marketing, design or fashion industry. This 3rd edition of the Grand Messe was organized by Montréal inc and presented by Bell. Startups were pitching their ideas in confessionals to the media who symbolically awarded a benediction to their favorite emerging startup.

Innovation Montreal’s team was on the ground and discovered 5 innovative products:

Brwski, the first in-store digital beerologist that simplifies how grocery customers discover beer in-store. They invented a unique machine to help beginners and beer geeks look for the perfect beer in store.

Sagafrika, offering the first range of African frozen dishes cooked in Quebec. We met with Sandra, the founder, and tasted a delicious cassava leaves sauce from Congo.

Perla Paletas, bringing typical healthy Mexican ice-cream and Popsicle to Canada. Made with real fruits and no additive, they offer an original healthy snack for summer days. We tasted their lime and cucumber Popsicle and their chocolat and raspberry frozen yogurt. Perla has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Ulule to extend her product line.

With the same healthy concerns in mind, we got to admire a bicycle made of wood, Picolo Velo. The wooden bike frames have been designed and built in Montreal with social, environmental concerns. We also discovered that the same sustainable concern was shared by corporations : Reunion D Sens offers companies two innovative locations in the heart of Montreal to organise meetings. These locations offer a unique experience that stimulates creation and helps to lower stress levels and increase confidence.

Stay tuned for more in depth stories on some of these innovative startups!

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.

Cooking to end food waste with Coriandr

There will never be too many startups to find against food waste in a city like Montreal. Coriandr is a website that provides you with recipes to use what you have in your fridge and maximise food utilisation, i.e. giving a second life to that last tomato and half broccoli.

Not just another culinary search engine

On Coriandr you will be able to enter every ingredient you have in your fridge, add search options (preferences, dietary restrictions) and find the optimal recipe to cook. The Coriandr database offers 8000 recipes from partners. This is the purely technical part of the innovation.

However, there is more: Coriandr wants to provide a tool that helps every key actor of the food industry. This is why an interactive map will be added to geolocate the nearest grocery store. And if you really do not want to use an ingredient, instead of throwing it, you can make a good action. Coriandr has partnered with the Food Banks of Quebec to facilitate donations of food or cash to the Food Banks of Quebec to support heir activities.

From traditional retail to tech innovation

David B Potvin - photo .jpgHow did this all happen? Initially, David worked as a Business Developer in the wine and spirits retail in Montreal. He did not have any background or particular interest in cooking or technology and yet he decided to become an entrepreneur. His experience volunteering at the Youth Chamber of Commerce of Montreal (JCCM) clearly triggered his interest in entrepreneurship. and gave him the confidence and methodology to structure his idea:

You have to be a little crazy to launch a business but also lucid: it is important to put money aside and question the viability of your project

David started by learning IT basics. He took part in the Lab 12 program, an initiative from Les Pitonneux, a non-profited hosted by Notman House. During 12 weeks, this bootcamp program gives learners an opportunity to become proficient programmers and developers and access to mentors and networking opportunities.

Financed by the people

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Now that he had the skills, he had to finance his project and decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign in January 2018.

It was a real challenge to raise money on a crowdfunding campaign when I was not selling a concrete product, only an experience

Using La Ruche, a crowdfunding tool dedicated to supporting new projects that have a social impact in Quebec, Coriandr raised $5,290 from 89 contributors from Canada, the USA, France and Italy in 45 days. Even better, it got selected by the Fonds ADM / 375 Idées of the JCCM and received 3,750$ in microdonations.

Supported by a community

After less than a year, David has already built a lot. Through the Youth Chamber of Commerce (JCCM), La Ruche and Montreal Network against Food Waste (REGAL), Coriandr is part of a community dedicated to growth, innovation and social impact. David draws inspiration from role models and best practices like Hardbacon or Smarthalo. He has many other ideas to make Coriandr a smart tool for food inventory purposes. For now, the official launch of Coriandr is set for Spring 2018. 

Follow Coriandr on Facebook and Instagram and register on their website to find out about the official launch.

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…