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.
Reunion D Sens
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!
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.
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.
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.
Today, Renaud Gouin has two microbreweries in Montreal, he has been one of the key industry innovators in the past decade, seeing the potential for hoppy beers. How did he become a brewer and entrepreneur? We will have a look at his journey, from HEC Montreal to Jukebox and Avant-Garde.
At first, Renaud didn’t like beer. Because beers were unflavored, standardised, industrial. When he discovered some Belgian beers, he realised that beer could be fruity with almost a non-existent bitterness.
During his studies at HEC Montreal he started home-brewing and discovered that he could actually brew beers that were above industry averages. He also found out that the community of craft beer lovers was a passionate and dynamic one, ready to share their knowledge and experience through social platforms like the MontreAlers on Facebook. Still an amateur, Renaud accepted a position at Desjardins as a Personal Finance Advisor and decided to explore his new passion further.
A potential for innovation
There is such a diversity of flavors in craft beers: fruity, sour, even salty flavors! Some hops like Citra can create flavors of tropical fruits, litchi, passion fruit, without adding any fruit in the brew! Some yeasts like Brettanomyces can give a sour taste of hay.
In Quebec, in the early 2010s, over 50 types of beers where still not accessible. There was one particular type that was still not adopted by industrial and medium-sized breweries: that of American Pale Ales and Indian Pale Ales. Their intense bitterness made everyone wince. But Renaud was already creating his own.
When Renaud the corporate vision of life, he decided to take a leap in entrepreneurship but he knew that he could not invest in the heavy and expensive equipment and open his own brewery. He had read a lot about contract brewing and how it succeeded in the US. Without equity, this innovation in manufacturing industry clearly eased the transition to being an entrepreneur for home brewers.
Renaud pitched his idea to Brasseurs de Montreal. At that time, they had never tried the model but as they were not into creating similar products, they decided to go for it.
Introducing hoppy beers in Quebec
Renaud analysed the market and clearly saw an opportunity to catch:
“Unibroue had concentrated their efforts on creating Belgian-style brews while McAuslan was more traditionally focused on English styles but hoppy beers were new to Quebec”
He also wanted to innovate the branding and offer a disrupting image to his beers: unlike industrial or regionally focused images used by the other players, Renaud wanted to offer a whole new world: in 2012, he created his first microbrewery, Jukebox, around the world of rock music. The hoppy flavor of each of the products is as electrical as the guitar on the labels.
If amateurs and curious gourmets liked his new products, Renaud was still working part-time at Desjardins because he needed cash flow.
“Contract brewing was great for distribution and increasing sales revenues but it did not include representation and promotion which is a crucial part.”
Innovating vs. creating profits
With Jukebox steadily working, Renaud wanted to create new products and innovate:
“One thing is to be focused on growth but I am more interested in creativity, passion and innovation and contract brewing is a perfect tool for testing the market and testing new flavors”
Renaud had met with Shawn Duriez, an ex-brewer from McAuslan. They decided to create new innovative beers together and co-founded Avant-Garde. Shawn’s experience on the ground and Renaud’s entrepreneurial experience made them complementary.
Again, timing was of the essence: in 2016, they capitalised on another innovation in the industry: Julien Niquet and David Cayer, co-founders of Glutenberg, were launching Oshlag Brewery, and offering the first contract brewing service for craft breweries. Renaud and Shawn jumped at the opportunity.
With the high popularity of IPAs, they wanted to offer more classical beers while exploring new flavors. They focused their exploration on barrel-aged beers: the Porter Imperial Bourbon, for example, has a vanilla bourbon nose, mixed with coffee, caramel, even banana flavors. They also disrupt classical recipes with the Nocture Coco, an Imperial Porter made with an unconventional ingredient: coconut!
If you live in Montreal nowadays, you must have heard of the art of craft beers. You must know that in Quebec, beer consumption can be as refined as wine tasting in France. To make this local strength more visible, Catherine Roux has created an innovative product to help you discover new microbreweries: Passeport en fût.
Create a local emulation
The original idea for Passeport en fût was discussed in August 2015, between Catherine and her co-founder Geneviève. Catherine worked with the Quartier Latin SDC (Société de développement commercial), an organization that helps retailers promote their activities in their local environment. In a neighborhood like Quartier Latin, where there are many breweries, bars and restaurant, she wanted to offer innovative ways to create a bond between SDC and the general public.
With the rise of craft beers in consumption patterns, focusing on microbreweries was the most natural move. Especially as there were no efficient models to help retailers promote their products: there are big events organized every year to promote the craft brewery industry (cf. Mondial de la Bière) but there is no real product or service to encourage people to discover breweries by themselves, throughout the year.
“Microbreweries are real partners, they do not participate to our project, they are fully part of it”
From vouchers to a mobile application
A new startup was born. The original project was as simple as revolutionary: a booklet of vouchers – 12 vouchers for 12 beers (or non-alcoholic drinks) in 12 Montreal microbreweries, at a very attractive price, for a limited period. The vouchers were mailed directly to buyers. This model really put forwards breweries through a B2C approach.
For the two first editions, in 2016 and 2017, this paper version of the passport proved to be very popular but Catherine received a growing demand for innovating her product: turning the passport into a mobile application was an attractive idea, but it needed capital and expertise to succeed.
In 2017, Catherine met with the founders of a web agency, Okam and got a “professional” crush with its co-founders, Samuel and David.
With this new partner, she could develop the app and bring her entrepreneurship adventure to the next level: through technology, she could extend the service to the rest of Quebec and serve a wider audience.
In October 2017, the new version of Passeport Local and the app were launched, with the opportunity to discover 12 locations out of 70 microbreweries throughout Quebec.
A new technology startup to promote local entrepreneurship
The success of Passeport en fût crossed both the provincial and national borders and Catherine is currently working on possible projects in the rest of Canada and the US.
To implement these new developments, she has created another startup, PSSPRT, that specializes in developing technology products dedicated to discovering local companies and their products. Along with her partners from Okam, they are working on bringing personnalisation and customization to a whole new level, to help local companies expand their visibility with mobile tools.
“We are looking at opportunities to expand our technology beyond Quebec by selling usage rights to our app.”
We can’t wait to discover these new innovative products, but until then, a little bird told us that 15 additional microbreweries will join the Passeport en fût this Spring. To discover it all, you can download the app here.