Tech Shuk spotlights climate change innovators
Five hundred people attending the Tech Shuk in Montreal could very well have been the first to see publicly the next big innovation that could change the planet for the better.
The brainchild of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the annual event is a “Dragons’ Den” style live competition, with start-ups pitching their products to a panel of renowned investors, called “Lions”, who reviewed the presentations. from Medialpha, Capsolar, Carbon Neutral Club, Altiro Energy, Decap and Bello Water, all reflecting in some way the event’s theme of using technology to fight climate change.
Held in late April, the event raised funds for the Climate Solutions Prize, which organizers say supports the research and development of breakthrough solutions to climate change. Up to four researchers will share the US$1 million prize – awarded annually in Israel, alongside an annual C$100,000 prize to Quebec innovators. Top judges will evaluate the pitches and the winners will be announced during a live contest in Israel.
This year was the third edition of Tech Shuk, the first after a two-year absence due to the pandemic.
The Tech Shuk jury was composed of Mitch Garber (Mitch Garber Investments), Jacques Bernier (Managing Partner, Teralys Capital), Thomas Park (Lead Partner, BDC Deep Tech Fund), Stephan Ouaknine (President and CEO Inerjys Ventures) and Erin Zipes (the Spine Angels).
“It’s great because people in the audience can learn something from the presenters,” Garber said. “Maybe they want to invest in the land. One of the best things here is the combination of charity, entrepreneurship and helping young entrepreneurs.
“It was a really interesting evening, especially given how important climate entrepreneurship is.”
Park, for his part, added, “Montreal is a small community, but in the tech sector, it punches above its weight. This highlighted its technological potential.
Altiro Energy was the judges’ winner. It uses chemical compounds to create electricity, instead of the usual gas, coal or nuclear fuels. Its goal is to make residential and commercial buildings less dependent on conventional fossil fuels and generate less negative output.
“We felt that Altiro, even at a very early stage, would have the most impact and could be the biggest company, if they implemented their innovation,” Garber said.
Park added: “I think the fact that they identified a serious problem – building energy efficiency – and they had a simple solution that you could copy. This is a business opportunity. No one else was offering a solution, and they had a strategic, scientific response.
Carbon Neutral Club won the People’s Choice Award, in a vote compiled by members of the public.
Its concept revolves around a subscription service that estimates customers’ carbon footprints and sends money to certain climate change initiatives. Financially supported projects include Chinchiná Reforestation, Crow Lake Wind Power and Siam Solar Power, each verified by third-party climate scientists and each following Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard certifications. The icing on the cake: users are rewarded with various brand discounts including Frank and Oak, Village Juicery and KOTN.
Jack Bruner, co-founder, says that in less than a year they have already worked with Capital One and Kraft Heinz Company. “The support at the event was amazing. We’re building a solution for people – anyone, you and me – to take climate action. The fact that it resonated with everyone in the event showed that people are ready, willing to engage.
After the event, he said many spectators and investors approached him to find out how they too could register. “Something else that happened that was a bit unexpected was people were just coming to find out more about the business – just curious. I think that’s another layer of validation, that it’s just something that people realize is an accessible bar for people to learn, to grow, on their climate journey,” he said.
“This concept (for us) of rewarding individuals for measuring and offsetting their footprint with these sustainable businesses was that ‘ah ha moment’. It turned what was a disincentive into an incentive model – a financially incentive model – for that individuals create change in their lives and that businesses benefit from it, so that was the last piece of the puzzle and completes the value chain.
Of the startup presenters, two came with prototypes for the judges to review. Decap representatives showed a receptacle that fits in a person’s hand, used to safely dispose of syringe needles after an injection. According to Jamie Magrill, CEO of Decap, this is revolutionary because no such item has previously existed on the market that completely eliminates the risk of a doctor or nurse accidentally being pricked.
Bello Water presented a countertop device that, according to its CEO, Marc Schaal, filters tap water eighteen times more thoroughly than commercially available filters and, at a price of C$200, is significantly more economical – and less intrusive – than under sink filters. It also included the ability to insert proprietary flavor pods into the water after filtration.
At Tech Shuk 2019, weighted blanket company Hush was the big winner of the event and went on to appear on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, scoring a deal; in October 2021, he sold a majority stake to Sleep Country for C$25 million.
When asked what kind of advice he offers to startups like the ones that have featured, Garber said, “I generally think a lot of entrepreneurs should find a strategic partner or a strategic investor – someone who can really help the company. Usually you’re the founder, and it was your idea, and you actually need another partner. It should be a strategic partner to accelerate the business.