Montreal, a new lab for innovative cannabis health usage

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(c) Kevin Chen

For centuries, marijuana has proved to have a huge potential to alleviate pain especially when it is related to the side effects of chemotherapy and other degenerative diseases. Today, synthetized cannabis could be the next innovation in the health industry – at least it is the project of ambitious young scientist, Kevin Chen.

We met Kevin at an event organized by John Molson School of Business MBA Entrepreneurship Club (JMEC) earlier this year. With his 24 years old and geeky eyeglasses, Kevin is not the kind of guy you would imagine roaming around with a joint – in fact, he has never smoked any cannabis in his life, but he is passionate about biochemistry and that is enough to make a difference.

“As synthetic biologists, we adopt new technologies, innovations and models in making discoveries, finding cures, and solving problems.”

A pure Montreal innovation

This new innovation is a 100% Montreal project, from its premises to its actual stage: it all started at the beginning of 2014 at Bricobio, a biology lab where scientists and entrepreneurs met in Montreal. With a couple of friends, Kevin pitched his ideas to Irish biotech accelerator Indie.bio. After this, nothing was the same: Kevin started the company with his co-founders Zach Wiltshire, Alex Campbell, Shoham Mookerjee.

They decided to stay in Montreal, instead of Ireland: “we had a lot of incentive and support for moving there but for entrepreneurs, Montreal has a great talent pool and access to a lot of other resources that are great for early stage companies.” Fuelled with the cohesive and collaborative startup ecosystem, the team started the most difficult part of the job – collecting funds.

Getting funds one round at a time

The team closed a first round was as part of the IndieBio accelerator program. The  $520,000 second round was lead by Bill Liao at SOS Ventures, and followed by Ethan Perlstein of PerlsteinLab and Andrew Hessel of Autodesk. Major steps in achieving this were demonstrating potential through their results and ability to solve problems. Recently, Hyasynth Bio participated in MassChallenge in Boston this summer and won an award from Cydan, an accelerator of orphan disease research dedicated to creating therapies that impact the lives of people living with rare genetic diseases,

Synthetizing cannabinoids … and beyond

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Today, Hyasynth Bio is in the later stages of the development phase, and very close to commercialization. They are aiming to be on the market within the next year. The target audience is ultimately patients, but they are also getting there by partnering with other companies and organizations of different kinds.”

“We’re aiming to synthesize anything. The cannabinoids are going to occupy a large portion of the pharmaceutical industry, and there are a lot of molecules in that family. Beyond that, there are many more biologicals that would make great targets”

Uber brings innovation to entrepreneurship in Canada

In Canada, like in several places around the world, Uber is raising polemic conversations around its paid collaborative services. Today, it had the brilliant idea of turning attention towards what it does best: innovation.

#UBERpitch your idea!

uber_philly_uberpitch_blog-etemail_header_r2From 11am to 3pm, on April 7, Uber gave Montrealers the opportunity to pitch their ideas to renowned investors during a short drive. Similar operations were held simultaneously in Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary.

“UberPITCH is a collaborative project that facilitates innovation within local startup communities. We are pumped to help connect local entrepreneurs with the resources they need to accelerate the growth of their ventures,” you can read on Uber’s website.

Among the eight investors participating to the initiative, François Lambert, MP of Impulse Capital and Dany Vachon, Founder of Winner4Life both investors in the very popular Radio-Canada’s Dans l’oeil du dragon, or Edouard Gaussen, analyst at White Star and a leading figure of Tinder’s expansion.

A thriving demand from Montreal entrepreneur wannabes

In theory, if you were in downtown Montreal, Plateau Mont-Royal, Mile-End, Old-Montreal and Griffintown, you could enter a specific promotion code when requesting a car and if connected, the car would arrive to your location with one of the investors on the backseat and you would have 15 minutes to give the best pitch of your life to your investor. All this was obviously free and you are driven back to the pickup location. In practice, Uber received more than 3,000 requests in 30 minutes.

Demand was exploding and it was hard for thriving entrepreneurs to get a vehicle available. Some of them did not get the chance to present their exciting project, like John Robin, serial entrepreneur, who has already launched a few innovative projects including Rentork, a mobile app to rent your profile and get paid for all your visits and actions on the web.

A few lucky ones got the opportunity to get top advice from angel investors: Frederic Moreau was one of them. He already has a very specific idea to address the problem nomadic workspace – GAB. This virtual franchise would be offered to Montreal coffee shop owners to bring co-working space to nomadic workers, charging by the hour/minute, using a mobile app.

Grabing an UberPitch was quite challenging due to a huge demand in Montreal. Got the opportunity to pitch my idea to Francois Lambert. He told me it was a fantastic one, he could see the need and the value. Then he gave me a few specific advice as how, as an investor, he would tweak part of the business plan.”

 

Turning bikes into smart objects: meet Cycle Labs

Did you know that a start-up project could actually collect 539.000 CAN on Kickstarter? Discover the key to success and the exciting journey of Maxime, Xavier, Gabriel and Olivier, four high school buddies from Montreal who decided to make their way into the very innovative market of “the Internet of things”, and created Smarthalo, a local smart product made on the South Shore of Montreal, one of the most biking-friendly cities in North America with more than 350 km of bike paths.image

Improving the cycling experience with simplicity

It all started during a road trip in Philadelphia: being avid cyclists and particularly obsessed with technology and innovation, the four buddies pointed out many shortcomings in the cyclist experience, especially in a city where you need to navigate on a GPS while watching out for cars. The four boys wanted to offer a project using the technology that people already mastered (a smartphone) and bring this experience a step further, without affecting the simplicity and purity of pedaling.

And this is how they took the leap of becoming entrepreneurs and developed the concept of SmartHalo: a device that is simple yet smart, and permanently fixed on the handlebars of the bike, connected by Bluetooth to the user’s mobile. You can watch this video to fully understand this great concept.

“The concept had to be simple: a circle with green and red LED to indicate the right and left”.

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A well-thought and well prepared crowdfunding campaign

What makes SmartHalo different than other entrepreneurial projects is the way it raised the awareness of urban population. The four friends spent a whole year preparing the crowdfunding campaign: “we spent our days talked about our projects, always asking questions and selling the concept to pretty much everyone in our immediate circle”, explains Xavier. They also applied for several funding programs (Montréal Inc, Concours Québécois entrepreneurial, HEC).

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An expanding market with an international public

The crowdfunding campaign was successful in many ways: obviously, it brought eight times more than the sum expected (67.000 CAN) but also it showed that a real community of urban cyclists existed and that it was fully implicated in terms of digital awareness and smart products.

Competition is high in this area – global companies are already developing GPS devices for bikes (like TomTom) and other similar startups create smart objects – but Xavier finds it stimulating as it shows that the market is strong and growing. Indeed, smart objects are trending nowadays: “the Internet of Things” is progressively making its way into our daily lives and the Kickstarter campaign’s success is a proof that demand is thriving and it’s only the beginning.

Pre-orders (the product will be available for delivery in May 2016) come from all around the world, especially from the United States, Germany, United Kingdom. Demand comes from countries where urban cycling is already well developed and where people use their bikes to commute to and from work.

“Only 15% of orders are placed in Canada. Kickstarter really helped to make our consumer base more international”

Next steps: launch and update!

Cycle Labs has already received 5000 pre-order requests. They intend to resume promotion but also update the options of the SmartHalo application to create a real community of users that will be able to connect to other “SmartHalo-ers”, perhaps create friendly competitions, games and many other interactional and innovative options.

You can pre-order SmartHalo for a discount price of $139. If you wait until May 2016, it will be $159