To visit District 3 on the seventh floor of Concordia’s Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building) is to enter a hive of incessant activity.
In one corner, a group of students are building models of a polymer chair that would sense and respond to an individual’s posture. In another spot, a team is developing a software application called Augmented Reality that would allow consumers to point their smartphone cameras down multiple store aisles and receive information to enhance their shopping experience.
There’s also the ElecLab team, which has a vision for a rapid prototyping centre housed in the heart of Montreal that would help accelerate the development of new products at a low cost.
These are just three of 12 student teams that will be working all summer toward a common goal: to create products or services that actual consumers would be prepared to buy.
That’s the essence of District 3’s mission: innovation and entrepreneurship.
Xavier-Henri Hervé, co-founder of the Montreal-based flight simulator company Mechtronix, has helped lead District 3’s evolution. The engineering alumnus and 2011 Concordia honorary doctorate recipient defines innovation as “meeting an unmet need.” Rather than being “magic,” he adds, innovation results from bringing certain perspectives together and then taking a series of steps to arrive at a marketable product or service.
In contrast, Hervé describes entrepreneurship as taking the risk of starting something new — launching a company and offering a novel product. District 3, he explains, is where innovation and entrepreneurship run in parallel.
Along with Hervé, students have sat in the initiative’s driving seat. They include Sydney Swaine-Simon, a graduate of Concordia’s psychology program and a current computer science student; Ali Talhouni, a recent industrial engineering graduate and soon-to-be master’s student; and Charles Gedeon, a John Molson School of Business marketing student.
“We wanted to start District 3 because we could sense an entrepreneurial spirit within our student community,” says Talhouni. Gedeon adds, “It shows what meeting the right people can achieve. When the four of us set out, we expected several years of work before liftoff, but meeting Xavier boiled that time down to six months.”
The students and Hervé acknowledge the importance of the constant support of and encouragement by Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Robin Drew over the past five years. They also stress that part of District 3’s value is that it brings together people from varied academic backgrounds.
“It’s truly multidisciplinary,” says Hervé. “Something as simple as a common vocabulary is sometimes a challenge. Even the word ‘design’ doesn’t mean the same thing to an engineer as it does to a student from fine arts.”
Swaine-Simon, District 3’s current project coordinator and facilitator, agrees. The top priority at the outset of any project, he says, “is learning how to communicate with each other and how to work as a team.”
Startup Weekend Montreal
District 3 is an integral part of the entrepreneurial activity going on at Concordia this summer. From July 12 to 14, the EV Building atrium will be the site of Startup Weekend, a pitch-and-business-creation extravaganza. The event will welcome hundreds of visitors, many of whom will be working long hours to start up new companies, forge new connections and explore bold new ideas.
What: Startup Weekend Montreal
When: Friday, July 12, to Sunday, July 14 (more details on the Startup Weekend website)
Where: Abe and Harriet Gold Atrium of the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (1515 Ste-Catherine St. W.), Sir George Williams Campus
• District 3
• Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science
• Startup Weekend Montreal