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District 3 receives $1M startup gift, christens new collaborative space

Support from André Desmarais and France Chrétien Desmarais will propel innovation and accelerate entrepreneurs at Concordia’s business incubator
September 28, 2015
By Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

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Budding entrepreneurs with big ideas will get an additional boost towards success, thanks to a generous gift from leading Montreal businesspeople and philanthropists.

At a ribbon cutting for the District 3 Innovation Centre’s modern, collaborative new space on the sixth floor of Concordia’s Faubourg Building, officials announced that André Desmarais and France Chrétien Desmarais have given $1 million to propel startups.

Longtime supporters of Concordia, André Desmarais and France Chrétien Desmarais are the first major benefactors to support District 3. The André and France Desmarais District 3 Fund will advance entrepreneurial projects with proven market viability — and help further transform entrepreneurial ventures from concept to startup. The investment is timely, since 1,500 aspiring entrepreneurs have sought District 3 expertise and requests for support are growing.

André Desmarais André Desmarais

“We firmly believe that accelerating innovation and nurturing talent is fundamental to our society’s long-term prosperity,” said Concordia graduate André Desmarais, BComm 78, LLD 07, deputy chairman, president and co-chief executive officer of Power Corporation of Canada.

“Our donation to Concordia’s District 3 is a concrete way for us to support innovation and further bridge the gap between higher education and private enterprise.”

France Chrétien Desmarais France Chrétien Desmarais

France Chrétien Desmarais, president of the Society for the Celebration of Montreal’s 375th Anniversary, said: “In our 21st-century knowledge economy, incubators increase innovation for Montreal, Quebec and Canada. The most effective conduits for these startups are universities.”

The André and France Desmarais District 3 Fund will support three major initiatives:

  • Seed funding to help District 3 entrepreneurs — makers — focus on prototyping.
  • Makerspace expansion through investment in District 3 product development tools such as sensors, laser cutters and 3D printers.
  • Ramped-up operations through the hiring of new District 3 staff, such as expert consultants and coaches, to provide diversified and specialized skills to a broader range of startup teams.
Alan Shepard Alan Shepard

“We are grateful for the Desmarais’s investment in Concordia’s District 3 Innovation Centre,” said Concordia President Alan Shepard. “This gift gives our most talented students the tools they need to fuel their creativity and seize opportunities to innovate.”

The André and France Desmarais District 3 Fund will help young entrepreneurs bring products and services to market faster by attracting investment. Startups generated through District 3 may qualify for the Business Innovation Access Program, a $20 million funding program that partners businesses with universities and research institutes.

A gateway for new commerce

District 3 is an entrepreneurial community within Concordia in the heart of downtown Montreal launched in 2013. The incubator brings together people who collaborate, create and innovate. District 3 provides coaching, access to cutting-edge technologies and apprenticeship-style learning.

Xavier-Henri Hervé Xavier-Henri Hervé

“District 3 is a growing success story thanks to our generous donors, formidable volunteers, mentors, coaches and entrepreneurial students,” said Xavier-Henri Hervé, BEng 87, DSc 11, and District 3 founding director. “Thanks to the opening of our cool, collaborative and modern new space, the future of District 3 startups is even brighter.”

Growing demand for District 3

Since its 2013 inception, requests for District 3 coaching and mentoring have grown annually. District 3 coaches and mentors have helped more than 1,500 individuals including: 760 students and alumni in 2015; 500 students and alumni in 2014; 230 students and alumni in 2013.

The majority of its startup clients — called makers — are recent university graduates who possess the necessary time, experience and financial support required to launch a new business. District 3 is allowing Concordia to deepen its community outreach. Of its clientele:

  • 40 per cent are Concordia University alumni
  • 25.9 per cent are alumni of L'École de technologie supérieure (ETS), Université de Sherbrooke and the general public
  • 19.4 per cent are HEC Montréal alumni
  • 11 per cent are McGill University alumni
  • 2.5 per cent are Université de Montréal alumni
  • 1.2 per cent are Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) alumni

The majority of District 3 volunteers are students, faculty, staff and alumni. District 3 volunteers have included 500 Concordia students, 45 external contributors who represent organizations, 36 external contributors and seven coaches.

To date, District 3 startups have all reinvested profits back into their companies to hire more staff. About 15 startups begun through District 3 have created 100 new jobs. All positions have been paying, full-time jobs additional to positions assumed by startup founders. About 85 per cent of District 3 startup jobs went to recent Concordia graduates and a few final-year students.

Success stories

Revol crew The Revol crew, including co-founders Navi Cohen and Daniel Blumer (third and fourth from left).

In June 2015, District 3 startup team Revol gained four months’ access to the HAX Accelerator, the world's first hardware accelerator, in Shenzhen, China.

Revol manufactures custom-made, wireless headphones.

Spoil Spoil’s co-founders are (from left) James Traf and graduates from Concordia’s engineering and business programs Cristian Asenjo, Charles-Eric Gascon and Mikhail Levkovsky.

In November 2014, three Concordia graduates launched the District 3 startup Spoil Inc., an internet gift service.

Spoil received backing from California-based venture capital firm Y Combinator, the world’s biggest business accelerator.

Heddoko crew Mazen Elbawab (far left), co-founder and CEO of Heddoko, and members of the Heddoko crew.

In February 2015, a District 3 startup team, Heddoko, competed as finalists in the Munich, Germany, WT Wearable Technologies Innovation World Cup.

Heddoko impressed competition judges with its high-tech suit that feeds body data to smartphones.

Team Glas The award-winning Team GLAS (from left): recent John Molson School of Business graduate Charles Gedeon, Sami Sayegh and Al-Hurr Al-Dalli, a Concordia film studies student.

In June 2014, District 3 startup Team Glas earned a gold medal at the highly competitive Shell Idea360 international sustainability challenge in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Team Glas, whose three members have backgrounds in business, science and film studies, beat out 700 others for its theoretical concept, Skywell, a water harvesting device.


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