Investment | Quebec wants to stimulate innovations on the water

From toxic algae to microplastics to leaks in water distribution systems, freshwater issues often go unnoticed. It will now be the task of a brand new accelerator, AquaEntrepreneurs, financed in large part by Quebec to the tune of 2 million, to find young companies ready to tackle it.

Posted at 7:00 a.m.

The announcement will be made this Wednesday in collaboration with AquaAction, founded by the Gaspé Beaubien Family Foundation in 2012. For seven years, this non-profit organization has funded the start-up of 36 small businesses with its AquaHacking Challenge, a pre-incubator aimed at students who want to tackle freshwater issues.

“Our generation caused the problem, it’s the next generation that will find the solutions,” says François de Gaspé Beaubien, Chairman of the Board of AquaAction. We were missing a bridge: when the entrepreneur arrives in front of a municipality, it has neither the funds nor the expertise. There is no budget to innovate. »

Predict water main breaks

This “bridge” is AquaEntrepreneurs, which will redistribute the $2 million in subsidies from Quebec, to which will be added 1 million from private partners. Funding will be offered to 38 companies selected from a pool of 75 to carry out pilot projects. The meeting of program managers with The Press took place in the premises of a young shoot typical of those sought by AquaAction, CANN Forecast. This company has partnered with cities, including Montreal, Sherbrooke and Gatineau, to use artificial intelligence to predict water main breaks.

We also want to enable innovative companies to work with water technology users, particularly municipalities, to test and validate their solutions. These companies will be guided to find their first customers, while municipalities will be supported to implement pilot projects.

AquaEntrepreneurs “is non-profit”, specifies Mr. De Gaspé Beaubien. “We are not here to make a return on investment. Our return on investment is for citizens. »

For the Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon, this type of program compensates for what he describes in many forums as a weakness of Quebec, “the commercialization of innovation”.

“Public research, we are strong in that. When we look at private research, applications, and the start-ups we have in Quebec, there is a failure, we are less efficient. »

The 2 million over three years in subsidies invested by his government, “we will not see them again, at least not directly, and that is not serious, he explains. If there are 25 companies that will be created and exist, we will win as Quebecers”.

Export knowledge

The Minister notably cites Singapore and Israel, whose models he has examined, for their ability to set up subsidy programs giving a boost to innovation. “You have to differentiate between the innovation grant and business loans. What we miss is before […] Here we are upstream. I want us to increase the number of entrepreneurs in Quebec who will engage in innovation, all sectors combined. In the case of water, obviously, there is an additional environmental benefit, for climate change. »

The program will be managed in partnership with IVEO, an NPO funded by Quebec and cities that describes itself as an “innovation broker” to implement the best solutions. As for AquaAction, it is an NPO with a name directly inspired by ParticipACTION, founded in 1971 by businessman Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien, then owner of the Telemedia media empire. For his son François, tackling what he calls “the freshwater crisis” was the choice of the youngest members of the family.

“Did you know that we swallow the equivalent of a credit card every week because of the plastic in the water? Me, I was not aware. […] We are privileged in Quebec and Canada to have more than 20% of the planet’s fresh water. It is blue gold that must be preserved and for which we should be able to export our knowledge. »

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Investment | Quebec wants to stimulate innovations on the water

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