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.

4 findings from Startupfest 2018

After a first experience in 2017, Innovation Montreal was excited to discover the new location for Startupfest 2018 and experience the magic of networking! Here are our four impressions from last week.

1. A new location for more dynamic opportunities

DSC_0355.jpgThe festival was happening at Parc de Dieppe, at the extreme end of the Cite-du-Havre peninsula, with an exceptional view over Montreal Old Port. From this location, the opening ceremony of Startupfest, on 11 July, coincided with the traditional summer fireworks in Montreal and provided a festive atmosphere to the launch. To access the venue, guests could arrive either by boat, bus, car or bike. This unprecedented venue encouraged small-scale networking opportunities for sure.

 

 

2. More premium fests, more targeted content

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This year, the festival was divided into 9 specific mini festivals so that startups, organizations, investors, could meet with their specific communities more efficiently. For example, ScaleupFest was dedicated to providing advice and knowledge on initial investment and growing. ArtupFest aimed at gathering artists, designers and all members of the creative community to discuss ways of improving society.

3. A contest for impact-driven startups

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The Quartier de l’innovation and MTL Newtech organized a pitch contest for startups that are driven by social impact considerations. Over the three days of the events, entrepreneurs got the opportunity to present their projects to a jury with the possibility of winning prizes in cash but also a promotional video produced and disseminated as well as coaching from MTL NewTech. They could either pick a technology (from those mentioned on the colourful cards) or explain how their startup impacted positively on the community. On Thursday 12 July, Aligo Innovation was part of the jury and offered the opportunity to develop already existing technologies or to help inventors and researchers move from research to development.

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4. A “young” entrepreneur with a vision for a greener future

img-2313.jpgThrough the brain dates system, Innovation MTL was able to meet with Gaston Beaulieu, a “young” entrepreneur of 72 years old who decided, after he retired, to develop a new concept of eco-energetic greenhouse that grows plants and vegetables without electricity nor water: Gaïa Écosystèmes. Through a concept of biomimicry, this engineer with experience in the aerospace industry invented and tested his inventions over the past 8 years. His is now ready to present his concept to investors and potential partners for prototyping. If his tests are correct, this greenhouse could provide 330,000 kg of vegetables annually. We will definitely be following his ambitious project!

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.

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.

 

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.