Graduates with an entrepreneurial spirit


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In all kinds of sectors of activity, young shoots bloom on the campus of the University of Montreal. Here are four notable things created by alumni.

Young shoots have been blooming for a long time on the campus of the University of Montreal. With UdeM launching a new training and support program to support entrepreneurship thanks to a record-breaking $40 million donation from the Kibekor Foundation and the Chopin-Pelado Foundation, here are four notable alumni-created businesses.

Valencia: AI for drug design

The record of funding obtained through the filming of a young man based in Mila, the Quebec Institute of Artificial Intelligence, was smashed by Valence last December. She managed to raise at least $8.5 million. With world-renowned AI, Yoshua Bengio as a scientific advisor, the company founded in 2018 has built a deep learning-based engine to target, test, and optimize different molecules with the goal of designing new drugs.

“Deep learning needs a lot of data, but this is not always possible in the field of drug discovery,” says Therence Bois, co-founder of Valence and a master’s degree in Molecular and Cellular Medicine from UdeM. Our company stands out because it has been able to build predictive models, even with very little data, which makes it possible to achieve higher quality and faster particle design. “

Working with a few partners, including pharmaceutical company Servier, biotech company Repare Therapeutics, and contract research firm Charles River, Valence has developed its platform in recent years.

With $8.5 million received, the company now wants to start developing its own drugs. “We are still at the beginning of this transition, but we are already very interested in rare diseases, oncology and diseases of the central nervous system,” Therence Bois notes.

To achieve its goals, Valence, which currently has dozens of employees, plans to triple its workforce in the coming months. The race for talent is international.

Nuvagro: gardening on your kitchen counter

When spring comes, we rush to the nursery to buy good herbs that we will pamper all summer, and in the fall we will be sad to see them wither with the onset of cold weather. But what if we prepared ourselves to grow it all year round on our kitchen counter? This is what Novagrow offers. Do you feel like you’ve heard of this company before? Very possible. I went on the TV show In the eye of the dragon Last spring, it received offers from three investors. “Broadcasting the show has generated $250,000 in sales,” said Simon Dufour-Prefontaine, co-founder of the company that was set up in 2019.

Novagrow’s (beautiful!) problem is that there aren’t enough of its counter gardens designed and assembled in Quebec to meet demand. “We are working hard at the moment to speed up our production rate,” explains the businessman with a law degree from UdeM.

The challenge for the eight-person start-up is to find funding that will allow it to hire more to produce more. Fortunately, she has already received support from several organizations, such as the Center d’entrepreneuriat de l’Université de Montréal, which, in addition to providing financial support, has allowed her to benefit from the advice of Cédric Duvivier. “It really helped us develop our competitive advantages,” says Simone Dufour-Prefontaine, who has Simon Robertage, a Montreal Polytechnic graduate in mechanical engineering, as a partner. Regional and federal governments also support, through grants, the company that holds patents on its technologies. Business Development Bank of Canada and PME Mtl also gave Novagrow a boost.

“We are currently finalizing our orders and in April or May, the co-founder determines, we will have units ready for delivery!”

BocoBoco: Grocery shopping without wastage and loss in just a few clicks

That’s after she moved her tools from jars from one waste-free grocery store to another across town in an effort to find what she needed – and practically spent the day there! – That Lauren Rochat had the idea to launch BocoBoco. This online grocery store is zero waste, zero waste, organic and as local as possible.

With an internet connection, the business does not need a storefront and fewer employees are needed, allowing for competitive pricing. Also, stocks are managed strategically.

“Customers have until midnight until Tuesday to order,” explains the entrepreneur. On Wednesday mornings, we send the exact quantities to our suppliers of fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, breads and pastries. We receive the products on Thursday morning and deliver them in the afternoon in our returnable containers.”

Orders are delivered by bike, Communauto or Prius hybrid, from Verdun to Hochelaga-Maisonneuve via Ahuntsic. It is also possible to get groceries from BocoBoco, located in the Mile End, and pickup points will be added soon.

BocoBoco was barely at the business plan stage when it was already rewarded: Bourse Montréal inc. In 2018, the first prize in the competition don’t roar From the City of Montreal in 2019, Novae Award for Innovative Projects with Great Social Impact and Honorary Scholarship from the Government of Quebec in 2020.

If BocoBoco initially had to convince people to shop for groceries online, everyone wanted to get started at the start of the pandemic. “Our site has gone from 40 products in 2019 to more than 750 today,” says Lauren Rochat, who has a master’s degree in geography from UdeM.

Her husband, Guillaume Sirois, lent her a big helping hand and they now have three employees.

With its strong growth, it covers an area of ​​135m2 Casgrain Street is getting very small. “We are looking for one that is three times bigger,” the young woman identifies. “We also want to improve our website and logistics to provide a better customer experience. To implement all these projects, we are looking for financing.”

E2-Sport: Electric bikes are not for the lazy!

Electric bikes are for the lazy, the elderly and the disabled. That’s, in general, what people thought in 2017, when Frances Marie and Laurent-Philippe Baudouin graduated in industrial design from UdeM, and opened their E2- Sport electric bike shop in Montreal’s Griffintown area.

“The advantage of an electric bike is that it allows you to go at your own pace, so the difference in power disappears,” says Francis Marrier. “So a friend or relative who does a little cycling might be able to follow an enthusiast who travels more than 3,000 kilometers a year.”

Slowly, the two entrepreneurs convinced more and more people to adopt the electric bike. And there’s something for everyone: mountain bikes, road and hybrid. calendar? The company’s sales have increased by 500% since the first year of operation.

Then, although they still believed in the power of good old-fashioned customer service, they made E2-Sport take the e-commerce cycle for a year and a half before the pandemic hit. “It’s convenient for people far from Montreal and it’s good for our bad reputation.”

Entrepreneurs are also accustomed from their first year of business to running a challenging show. Francis Marrier points out that “Canada is a small market and our suppliers often keep large quantities of equipment for large markets, such as Europe. We were really always asking for more than we thought we needed, so we didn’t run out of stock when demand rose during the pandemic.”

The company continues to grow. The place of sale has recently doubled to include two floors. However, the two founders still contemplate the dream they cherished when they opened their shop after college: one day, when they know the market better, they will make their own electric bikes.

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