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.

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.

When in Mexico City, using rainwater can save your life

Last week in Mexico City, I got to discover new innovations, which triggered back my inspiration!  Did you know that Mexico City, this giant urban territory, used to be a lake but it was drained by the Spanish in the 16th Century? Yet, today, it is facing one of the most serious water shortages in an urban space but fascinating projects are being launched by civil organizations to help people access water. One of them. Isla Urbana, has developed a system that collects rainwater and purifies it for drinking purposes and more generally for all other uses in the house, and it is equal or better quality than tap water in Mexico City!

Designing for communities

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Is drinking rainwater innovative? It was probably one of the most ancient ways of surviving, but today with pollution and air contamination it has become dangerous. Thinking of sustainable solutions to water shortages in Mexico City, the team at Isla Urbana came up with a system designed to harvest rainwater and purify it.

 

Today, 36% of families in Mexico City do not have adequate access to water and spend up to 20% of their incomes to buy trucked water. United Nations

A team of young engineers, urbanists and ecologist decided to come together and develop a new industrial design system for rainwater harvesting: a blue tank collects and filters rainwater which is then pumped into a house. The household system is $1,100 for the complete installation and $150 annual maintenance costs.

The average harvesting in the city for a 60 m2 roof is 45,000 Liters (11,888 gallons) per year to harvest de average rainfall in the city of 750mm per year, which covers an average of 5 to 8 months of water needsRenata Fenton, Director of Design, Isla Urbana

Beware of the “megacorte”

This will definitely be useful next week, when the public water service will be completely suspended for three days (this is the “megacorte” or “mega cute”). Starting 31 October 2018, 13 boroughs of Mexico City and 13 municipalities of México state will be completely dry. This is to allow maintenance and repair work on the Cutzamala pipe.

Earning trust for the future

So far, and after 10 years, Isla Urbana has installed about 8,700 systems, which provide water to more than 52,000 users. The kits are designed to provide different types of water quality (from water for toilets and washing up to purified water for drinking), for different types of buildings and roof sizes and for both the urban and rural context.  

The real challenge now is to change the community’s perception of rainwater, teach them to trust the rainwater collected, to use it. Renata Fenton

Also, by storing increasing volumes of water, families can then become completely independent from unsustainable sources of water. The empowering nature of the benefit is crucial.

What makes this project so innovative is its realistic nature. Isla Urbana does not aim at solving the water issue in Mexico City in one day, it aims at providing solutions to everyday problems.

 

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).

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!