The Founder Institute’s First Canadian Cohort Graduates in Montreal

The first cohort to graduate from international startup accelerator The Founder Institute’s Montreal chapter celebrated their accomplishment on Friday.

Twelve entrepreneurs successfully completed the program out of the 45 who started it and out of the almost 400 people applied to participate in The Founder Institute’s first session in Canada.

“We kick a lot of asses,” says Sergio Escobar, a co-founder of the Montreal chapter. He says the program is designed to be gruelling to weed out those who aren’t ready to be startup entrepreneurs. “If they succeed here, they have the skills to succeed in the real world.”

The program focuses on early-stage companies, helping entrepreneurs develop their ideas into business plans and getting them read to launch.

“It’s very different from Founder Fuel” and other Montreal-based accelerators, says LP Maurice, the chapter’s other co-founder. Participants “don’t necessarily have an idea,” or don’t have a well developed idea, he says; they’re usually working for someone else when they join the program.

By they end, they’re expected to quit their day jobs and “make it a real company, not just a business plan,” says Maurice, who is also the co-founder and CEO of Busbud.

First started in Silicon Valley in 2009, The Founder Institute is now active in over 60 cities in 33 countries and has seen graduates start over 1,185 companies. The program boasts an impressive success rate, with 89.5 per cent of graduate companies still operating and over 40 per cent receiving funding.

“The goal of the program is to flip the failure rate,” says Maurice.

His colleague Escobar says the program is “globalizing silicon valley.”

“We have been incubating startups here with the wrong mindset,” he says. The Founder Institute’s program is designed to create sustainable companies that “solve a real need,” and have a strong value proposition.

“We’re not using any kind of magic recipe,” says Escobar instead it’s about launching a product and validating it.

“What we want to avoid is procrastination,” he says. “Those excuses are stopping us from starting a successful company.”
The program skews older than that tech startup founder stereotype, the average age in the Montreal cohort was 31, says Escobar.

“Between the age of 30 to 40 is the best time to start a company,” he says. Because older people have more responsibilities, he says they’re more likely to persevere. “For young people it’s a game.” He says many of the participants also have ideas that are directly related to solving problems they experienced in their previous jobs.

Of the 12 entrepreneurs to graduate, three were singled out for special recognition:

Julien Denaes who has developed a password-less “identity platform for cloud services” called Loggr which will allow people to log-in to cloud-based business applications by scanning a QR code with their smartphones. He says password-related issues are the most common issues dealt with by help desks, costing companies millions.

Mazen Elbawab, whose company Heddoko is developing a sensor-equipped “smart compression suit,” that will help people move better while playing sports and give ordinary people the type of information elite athletes get through motion-capture.
The company aims to start with yoga and cross fitness before moving on to sports like golf.

Francois Poirier, the founder of MakerBloks, toy blocks that allow children to create electric circuits and which will be integrated with an iPad app.
“Parents want their children to succeed but out society isn’t built on wooden blocks, it’s build on electric circuits,” Poirier says.

Also graduating were:

  • Chris Hendricks, a former dating coach whose Anniversary Co. has already started selling anniversary gifts online and is aiming for a “sweet spot” – higher priced than Etsy but lower than fine jewellery.
  • Elyes Ben M’rad whose company Fidelizr aims to replace punch cards for small businesses with a digital loyalty program that’s currently being tested by six Montreal coffee shops and aims to be in 20 by the end of the month.
  • Hadi Mazloum, who wants to make it easier for clinical trials to find participants with Curebox.
  • Kaelan Desilets Langelier, whose Grape Mate app provides wine recommendations based on what the user is eating and their personalized preferences.
  • Sacha Ferrari Apollon, whose Billifyme automatically extracts information from emailed invoices and plugs it into spreadsheets.
  • Sophie Schwartz, who has created an comic strip-based messaging app called hugamy which is aimed at children and mothers.
  • Vanessa Cherenfant who wants to make it easier for wealthy young people to plan “experiential luxury travel” with Elysia.
  • Victor Gomez who is developing a visual search app called Ventana, that uses Slyce technology to make finding – and purchasing – women’s clothes easier.
  • Yrina Janvier, who is launching an ecommerce site selling “ethical handmade accessories” from Haiti called Zafè.

The Founder Institute’s next Montreal cohort is scheduled to start in six months while the first session at its second Canadian chapter, in Toronto, is ongoing.