5 Montreal social innovation startups in urban agriculture

Last Friday we got to discover truly innovative startups at a 5@7 organized by Quintus, a communication agency dedicated to sustainable projects. This edition of Quintus@7 was dedicated to urban agriculture.

Quintus@7 are free networking events organized throughout the year by Quintus marketing. They highlight best practices in sustainable living. In 2018, five events will be organized focusing on how can we become change catalysts.

Stefany Chevalier, CEO of Quintus defined change catalysts as entities that work towards changing society with a social or environmental impact and that encourage consumption patterns that are innovative and sustainable. Quintus helps change catalyst to promote their activities through accessible communication tools – videos, events, communication campaigns.

“Our intention is not to get people to consume more but to consume more sustainably.”

Among the great initiatives that we discovered last Friday were: 

Crickstart & La Mexicoise, two startups that are changing eating habits by promoting the use of insect-based products. Crickstart’s mission is to open people’s minds with flavourful products made out of crickets. Yes this is pretty unusual but it is also one of the most sustainable – crickets are used in their entirety with zero waste, unlike in traditional livestock farming and meat processing, and healthy ingredient – the protein in crickets is rich with amino acids.

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Daniel from Crickstart and Christelle from La Mexicoise © Quintus

Chicza, a 100% natural, certified organic, biodegradable and sustainable chewing gum ever made. It is made out of chicle, a natural gum extracted from tall Chicozapote tree followingMayan traditions. This is truly innovative as most gums on the market carry no more than 5-7% of gum base, if any at all – the rest is plastics (artificial, petrol-based polymers). If you really want to get scared, you can watch “The Dark Side of the Chew” a TEDx talk by Andrew Nisker on the subject. We tasted the mint flavoured Chicza and really liked it. Other flavours include Lime, Cinnamon and Mixed Berries.

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Chicza team © Quintus

Mamie Clafoutis– to be fair, we already knew Mamie Clafoutis’s products (traditional French bakery) but it was very inspiring to listen to its co-founder Joseph Sabatier talking about organic flour and organic bakeries in Quebec. Did you know that only 2% of Quebec bread is made out of organic flour? And Mamie Clafoutis is part of that small figure. As such, it is a real innovator and pioneer in the sustainable food industry in Canada.

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Joseph. Founder of Mamie Clafoutis © Quintus

Vrac sur Roues, a zero waste online grocery store with bike delivery. Launched by ambitious 21-year old Simon, this new player in the sustainable urban market allows you to buy dry and liquid goods delivered by bike to your door and poured in your containers. Simon is a carpenter but he wants to bring more than wood furniture to society – as the sole manager and employee in his startup, he takes care of all aspects (website, order preparation, delivery) and has assumed all cost with his job as a carpenter, not relying on subsidies or loans. We found his passion and mission truly inspiring.

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Simon, Founder of Vrac sur Roues © Quintus

The next Quintus@7 will be held on June 8 and focus on eco-living and ecotourism. You can already get free tickets.

 

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…

 

Kombucha is disrupting drinks industry with fermentation

Sebastien Bureau was with RISE Kombucha, the first Kombucha producing company in Quebec, since their first steps as VP of Research and Development. Today, he is spreading the word about this new innovative drink and creating fermented products through a unique food science consulting startup – Mannanova.

The challenge of creating a new market

With a BA in microbiology and biochemistry, Sebastien Bureau is a natural born innovator. He started home brewing Kombucha in the early 2000s when it was still completely unknown in Canada.

By the way do you know what kombucha is? Kombucha is a type of fermented tea that is lightly sweetened, flavored and fizzy. It is produced through the fermentation of tea using Scoby, a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”.

This fermentation process was what fascinated Sebastien the most. Co-founder of the first Quebec Kombucha company, RISE Kombucha as VP of Research and Development, he decided, after 6 years, to focus on a new mission: developing innovative procedures and helping other in the development, preparation and execution of Kombucha and other fermented products. Mannanova was born.

Spreading the word about fermentation

Sebastien wanted to educate the general public throughout the world. He started on his own back in 2014 and created a team in 2016 with Eduardo and Thomas, Debora and Nathaly.

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What makes this entrepreneurial adventure promising is that it answers a current interest throughout the western world: “From sauerkraut to kefir, miso to jun, the world of fermented food is rich and varied – and increasingly popular” (interesting article on the subject). Often associated with health benefits, fermented food is on the rise.

Eduardo, Vice President and business developer, is convinced that there are true opportunities in Quebec and British Columbia but also in emerging markets like Brazil (where people are already health conscious and curious about fermented food) or even in Africa. Kombucha making can even be a social development tool in countries like Haiti: the process is simple and easily accessible to economically disadvantaged populations.

A community-centered venture 

Another scope of Mannanova’s mission is to experiment with Kombucha production. Their partnership with MaBrasserie, a cooperative brewery, since Spring 2017 is one way of implementing innovations: every week, Mannanova team creates a new innovative flavor of Kombucha, served on tap in the microbrewery. Flavors are inspired by the season: on the menu this Winter you might have tasted the Pine & Christmas tree flavor (brewed with actual fir branches), Apple and Cinnamon or more recently the Kombucha Fuego, a balanced mix of spicy and sour.

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Beer lovers also find an interest in Kombucha because the brewing processes are very similar. Sour ales and brett beers. In fact, brett is short for Brettanomyces, which is the yeast used in Kombucha fermentation. In smaller doses, it is considered as a “beer sourer” and can produce wet hay “horse blanket” notes.

The team has also developed a new base material called Manna-K: this highly concentrated Kombucha is an ingredient that solves most of the problems kombucha producers face every day: alcohol control, lack of space, time and money:

Discover their consultation, education and production activities and go to MaBrasserie to taste one of their latest inventions.

A “Biotifull” startup revolutionizing Quebec organic cosmetics

Launching a startup can be a project undertaken at any time of your life: a mother of two teenagers, Isabelle decided to leave her comfortable job at Universite de Montreal to launch an innovative and social business called BiotiFULL.

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How can teenagers get interested in organic products?

The market for local organic beauty products in Quebec is already established (cf. Emporium “made in Quebec” products) but the design and marketing are not made to appeal to teenagers. What BiotiFULL is offering is a HEALTHY, YOUNG and ENVIRONMENTALLY COMMITTED product.

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Isabelle Audet has a background in mathematics and project management. Nothing predestined her for entrepreneurship. However, as her two daughters started growing and developing allergies to most of the products sold in general stores, she started investigating cosmetics ingredients.

I discovered that 4 out of 5 beauty products used by young people include at least one ingredient suspected of inducing environmental or health issues.

Generation Z is more aware of the social impact of their consumption but they remain teenagers and they expect a “cool” packaging and fruity fragrances.

With these thoughts in mind, Isabelle decided to pitch her ideas directly to the Montreal community of entrepreneurs and investors to find out if it was relevant. She registered for Les Affaires Défi Startup in February 2017 and pitched BiotiFULL to a jury that included Julien Brault (check our article on Hardbacon), Sylvain Carle (Mr. FounderFuel), Sophie Boulanger (Bonlook) and many other innovators.

Isabelle was awarded the “coup de Coeur” from the jury and she was more than ever convinced of the viability and need for innovating youth cosmetics.

How can an innovative startup make a social impact?

biotifull teenagersIsabelle did not only want to create a new product and make a lot of money. She wanted her venture to make an impact and to help teenagers in their projects. She knows that a lot of them involved in sports club or school clubs usually launch fundraising campaigns and sell chocolate or cakes.

Instead of industrial chocolates, why wouldn’t they sell organic shower gels and shampoos? Why wouldn’t they sell products that teenagers would actually like? She decided to launch a crowdfunding tool dedicated to these projects where BiotiFULL products would be sold.

Advertising local products, made in Quebec, that are attractive to teenagers is a way to trigger their social conscious and make them sensitive to cosmetics’ ingredients

BiotiFULL offers the logistic and marketing support of the fundraising campaign to school associations and 40% of the revenues are diverted to them. So far, $10,000 have been collected by school associations.

Products made for teenagers, with teenagers

products biotifullTeenagers are at the center of every consideration for Isabelle. Products are created in collaboration with teenagers: a panel of testers is giving personal opinion on the fragrances, the design, the name of the products so that they get exactly what they need. This is also a way for BiotiFULL to heighten awareness of teenagers on cosmetic ingredients.

For now, Isabelle is working with a chemist to make products that have a SHORT and EASILY understandable list of ingredients but she would love to have her own lab one day, to create her products

Next moves…

BiotiFULL is selected for the final round of LADN Montérégie that celebrates Leadership, Audacity, Determination, Innovative spirit of entrepreneurs. The final will be held on March 21, until then you can vote for BiotiFULL !

Myelin makes artificial intelligence a social innovation tool

Marc-Olivier thinks artificial intelligence (AI) can be a solution to human problems and can innovate health promotion.

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Providing a digital structure to social help

Marc-Olivier Schüle, along with his two partners, Marise Bonenfant and Francois Menet, is introducing Myelin, a new innovative startup that gives access to the best, most accurate information on autism. The AI tool adapts its answers to your level of knowledge and the type of question you want to ask.

Myelin is not inventing anything new, it innovates the way actual knowledge is processed, structured and delivered.

When you look at current information on Google related to autism, it is non-professional, non-official and… probably false. Myelin will be a source of knowledge supported by recognized institutions like the School of Psycho-Education from Université de Montreal, Quebec Federation on Autism, Ivado (the Institute for Data Valorization) and many other.

Academic excellence at the service of social intervention 

Marc-Olivier knows what he is talking about: he has years of experience in psychosocial intervention that made him realize the need for a serious and reliable foundation to build trusting relations with patients and their parents. At the same time, his academic experience (he is doing a PhD at Université de Montreal) reveals that the latest advances in research are unfortunately buried in universities’ intranet servers.

There are over 2000 articles published every day on mental health. How can we all process it and make it useful? Psychosocial actors need secure and reliable tools so we can spend more time on working on our relation with parents and children

From a prototype to a social artificial intelligence tool  

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This is only the beginning of the story: Marc-Olivier’s speech at TedX Laval was viewed over 40,000 times on Youtube (an all-time record) so it is undeniable that people believe in artificial intelligence applied to health issues.

The prototype is now ready for autism but Myelin wants to touch on other subjects in the future: ADHDH, anxiety, Alzheimer… to provide the general public with the proper tools to make a free and informed choice in their lives.

With a successful crowdfunding campaign on La Ruche, support from prestigious academic, medical, institutional and entrepreneurial actors and – last but not least – a dedicated and passionate team of entrepreneurs, Myelin is clearly innovating the startup scene.