Concordia’s District 3 Innovation Hub: Helping bring ideas to impact

Learn about four successful startups at the forefront of innovation
December 20, 2021
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By Delanie Khan-Dobson, MA 21

From virtual reality training for nurses to making the detection of whales more efficient, startups from Concordia’s District 3 Innovation Hub have launched thriving businesses thanks to results-driven programming, one-on-one coaching, access to a network of experts and funding opportunities.

Led by executive director Xavier-Henri Hervé, BEng 87, DSc 11, District 3 offers the professional guidance and intensive, hands-on programs to help innovators — students, researchers, alumni and members of the wider Montreal community — to define and kickstart their careers as entrepreneurs.

Since launching in 2014, District 3 has supported more than 600 startups, many of which are at the forefront of 21st-century work arenas, including artificial intelligence (AI), life sciences, robotics and fintech.

Here are just four of the unique startups that have successfully scaled thanks to District 3.

Whale Seeker

Emily Charry Tissier Whale Seeker CEO Emily Charry Tissier | Photo: Richard Lam

Founded in 2018, Whale Seeker uses artificial intelligence and images to simplify the process of gathering key data on the location of whales, giving clients fast, accessible and accurate information on marine mammals.

CEO Emily Charry Tissier was driven to make whale detection — traditionally a slow, expensive and imprecise process — into a more efficient one, using aerial, satellite and infrared imaging to produce data reports using proprietary AI technology.

“Right now, most detection is done by the human eye, and it’s either captured out of an airplane or through a computer screen,” says Charry Tissier. “We are developing tools so that people or companies can better manage whales.”

Through the programs and services offered by District 3, Charry Tissier says Whale Seeker found the support to grow and develop as a company.

“Concordia and District 3 were essential in getting us off the ground when we were in an early stage of development. We didn’t fit the mould for other cookie-cutter programs, and they gave us access to experts, workshops and a space to work.”

Charry Tissier advises entrepreneurs who have the opportunity to use District 3’s services to “soak in all that District 3 has to offer like a sponge. Work with coaches, attend workshops and use any and all resources provided.”

UbiSim

Gauthier Dubruel Gauthier Dubruel, business director and co-founder of UbiSim | Photo: UniSim

As the world’s first immersive, virtual reality training platform for nursing, UbiSim is making simulation training labs more accessible and affordable for nursing students.

UbiSim founder and business director Gauthier Dubruel, BAdmin 03, explains that traditional, in-person simulation labs can be expensive, inaccessible and time-consuming to prepare and complete. The company mitigates these issues through the use of both digital, screen-based applications and immersive virtual reality (VR) in its nursing training.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — with many universities restricting physical access to classrooms, and labs and clinical placements being cancelled, the demand for UbiSim’s training platform has skyrocketed. The company has been able to fill the instruction gap and provide nursing students with the training they need to complete their studies.

“What I liked about District 3 was the variety of people and companies in that space, as well as the variety of feedback and advice we could get,” says Dubruel. “It was positively surprising, and it really helped us grow.”

Dubruel recommends District 3’s programs for many reasons, including the ability to access mentors in the startup industry who can give advice for how to grow.

For more intensive mentorship opportunities, startups can join District 3’s MentorConnect program, which helps entrepreneurs to better navigate and accelerate their journey from early startup to established company. UbiSim recently joined MentorConnect for access to more hands-on mentorship opportunities.

Hyasynth

Kevin Chen and Zach Wiltshire Kevin Chen and Zach Wiltshire, two of the co-founders of Hyasynth Bio | Photo: Richard Lam

Focusing on the future of the cannabis industry, Hyasynth Biologicals produces commercial cannabinoids (cannabidiol — CBD — and rare cannabinoids like CBDV) through a yeast fermentation process. It bypasses the need for cultivation and extraction of CBD from cannabis or hemp plants to make production 12 times faster and 10-fold better in environmental footprint.

By engineering strains of yeast to make these active compounds, Hyasynth can isolate high-quality, pure cannabinoids for both research and commercial purposes. As Hyasynth grows, the company seeks to move towards large-scale production and work with partners to further expand its share of the CBD market.

In the early stages of its development, Hyasynth took advantage of District 3’s services and products. Zach Wiltshire, MSc 16, the startup’s chief operating officer and co-founder, notes that it was helpful and convenient to be able to have District 3 as a home base within the university.

For Wiltshire, the greatest value provided by the innovation hub was the opportunity to meet and connect with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. “You want to be around people who have the same motivations and drives as you, because it brings you together with other startups to form a professional network,” he says.

BEEM

Alexandre Lataille BEEM co-founder Alexandre Lataille
Kevin Ferah BEEM co-founder Kevin Ferah

Fueled by the mission to democratize access and use of data for any organization, regardless of their size, BEEM provides a cloud-based data management solution that centralizes client data into one unified, secure and scalable data hub. Building on their experience in the automotive industry with their first data platform Fleet by BEEM, co-founders Alexandre Lataille and Kevin Ferah quickly expanded to launch this enterprise data platform to include new industries and companies across the corporate world.

When they started working with District 3, the founders were young engineers. Thierry Gauthier, BEEM’s chief growth officer, explains that although Lataille and Ferah displayed an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset, they had little experience in starting a company.

“They needed help to structure their business model, to start and grow their company, and define and validate whether their idea for a product would create value for customers,” he says. “District 3 allowed us to learn so much without having to make too many mistakes, and in a short timeframe.”

In the process of further developing their company, Lataille and Ferah used District 3 to help them develop their BMC (business model canvas), by talking to several different companies to validate their client’s needs. BEEM’s founders also took advantage of District 3’s MentorConnect program, where they received advice from mentors on the value of their company within the industry, and guidance on how to create growth.

Gauthier notes the added value in using District 3’s services, explaining that “mentorship and gaining industry access is essential to helping formalize a startup's business model, allowing entrepreneurs to see their company’s potential.”



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