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CoolWay

Montreal

It was such a good idea: At a time when “protein” was the big culinary buzzword, the market seemed primed for an ice cream infused with whey—and no one was making it (at least not in Canada).

Three young pals, Noah Bernett, Benjamin Outmezguine and Dino Vassiliou, tinkered with and tasted several permutations before launching CoolWhey, their protein-packed confection, in 2014. “We were in love with it,” Bernett says. They started selling it via supplement retailers and gyms in and around Montreal. They expanded into Ontario. They got picked up by a few chains. They started thinking national, and soon 500-millilitre cartons of CoolWhey were being sold in hundreds of grocery stores.

Les Garçons / L’Éloi

What was an easy sell in supplement stores, however, failed to excite average shoppers. Some worried the product would taste chalky, others that it would prompt Hulk-style bulk. Most were more interested in the calorie count than anything else. The CoolWhey co-founders faced a choice: Try to change consumer behaviour or cater to it. “We wanted to appeal to a mass of people,” says Bernett, “so we redirected.”

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In early 2018, the company replaced its core offering with a low-calorie frozen dessert (with a lower but still higher-than-average protein content) and rebranded as CoolWay. Shoppers noticed: CoolWay is now a darling of the freezer aisle in more than 1,600 stores across Canada, including Metro, No Frills and Walmart.

It may not be what the founders planned, but they’re, well, cool with that. “Most entrepreneurs get tied to their idea,” Bernett says. “That’s how I was. Now I have a completely different philosophy: Assume you don’t know, test those assumptions, and use the feedback to decide whether to pivot or persevere.”

COOLWAY FROZEN DESSERT

  • 280 to 390 calories per 500-ml tub (not serving-tub)
  • 14 flavours plus limited-edition seasonal offerings
  • 1 million pints sold in the year following CoolWhey’s pivot to CoolWay

Blackline Safety

Calgary

Cody Slater and Brendon Cook’s greatest hit came from picking the right moment.

As Blackline CEO and CTO, respectively, the pair oversaw the development of the G7, a portfolio of hardware, software and services used to monitor the safety of industrial workers. Individuals working in remote—often hazardous—environments wear G7 wireless devices that trigger response protocols in case of an emergency such as a harmful gas leak or health issue. The gadgets also send for help if needed and alert the employer, who can monitor the situation through web-based software.

If it sounds like serious work, it is. “The entire value of the company is saving peoples’ lives,” says Cook, who cofounded the business in 2004.

Les Garçons / L’Éloi

Blackline originally specialized in GPS tracking. But by the time Slater took the helm as CEO in 2011, the team knew its future was in something more comprehensive. Slater had spent 20 years building gas-detection equipment manufacturer BW Technologies (later acquired by Honeywell) and believed adding similar tech to Blackline devices would represent a major innovation.

Preparation took two years. Blackline needed not only to secure capital (raised through public markets) and develop the offering but also to ensure its development, marketing and support infrastructure was sufficiently robust. “You could call it intuition, and a few sleepless nights, but once I could see we were strong enough to do this, we pulled the pin,” says Slater. Patience paid off: The G7 started shipping in 2017. Today, it's used in 56 countries. Says Slater, “It was the right time.”

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G7 WORKER-MONITORING DEVICE

  • Won a Red Dot Award for product design in 2017
  • Cartridges can be switched to measure specific gases
  • Speakerphones are designed to be audible in loud industrial spaces

Motion Composites

Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, Quebec

From headquarters in a tiny town an hour north of Montreal, Motion Composites has spent over a decade building stunning, ultra-lightweight, manually powered wheelchairs. For the first eight years, its specialty was a foldable carbon-fibre wheelchair, a groundbreaking invention that earned the company a fervent fan base.

Then one competitor bought another, and suddenly there was space in the rigid wheelchair category—a smaller but much more high-profile segment. It presented CEO Eric Simoneau with an enticing challenge. He told his team, “It'd be a big investment and involve a focus outside our comfort zone. But it is an opportunity.”

Les Garçons / L’Éloi

They decided to try building one, but instead of an engineering-first, design-second approach—the company's favoured process up to that point—the team opted to start with aesthetics. “We had learned that users, especially rigid wheelchair users, find it important to be in a chair that looks good,” says Simoneau. So they developed a mood board, which featured everything from exotic cars to interesting buildings, to solidify their creative vision. They also visited trade shows for other industries—including, notably, high-end bicycles—to research fabrication techniques.

This clean-sheet approach to design (and the meticulous engineering that followed) led to the creation of the company's first rigid chair, the Apex, in 2016. The product contributed to a major distribution deal and earned Motion Composites a coveted Red Dot Design Award. It also prompted a fundamental shift in how the company operates. “This new design process is now integrated into everything we do,” says Simoneau. “Instead of just seeing what's out there and trying to improve it, we start from scratch.”

APEX WHEELCHAIR

  • Total transport weight: 8.6 lbs
  • Made of high-modulus carbon T700, an ultralight composite known to dampen vibration
  • The back angle, seat width, floor height and back wheel positions are all adjustable—rare among carbon-fibre rigid wheelchairs

Knix

Toronto

In 2015, Joanna Griffiths declared that Knix, the intimate apparel company she had founded in 2013 with the launch of leak-proof underwear, was going to make a sports bra—the best one ever. “I had no business saying that at the time,” she recalls. But Knix had just launched its first line of everyday bras, so she had breasts on the brain. And macrotrends were in her favour: The steady creep of athleisure meant sports bras represented nearly half of all bras women purchased, and several athletic apparel giants—such as Lululemon, Nike and Under Armour—were pegging the garment as a top growth category.

Most sports bras are principally designed to compress the breasts—which, aside from making the bras difficult to put on and take off, doesn't accommodate for the way breasts actually move (not up and down but in more of a figure-eight pattern). The garments' shortcomings were especially pronounced for large-chested women. “It felt like a category that was in need of innovation by women for women,” says Griffiths.

Les Garçons / L’Éloi

The Knix team came up with 24 sketches, tested 15 different fabrics and went through 41 rounds of prototyping. When the U.K.'s University of Portsmouth, a global leader in breast biomechanics, tested the bra, it found it to be the most supportive of the 800-plus garments evaluated.

The Catalyst made its debut in September 2018. The first batch sold out in 10 days, and the resulting buzz spawned a wait list of nearly 5,000. The launch bolstered Knix's sales and solidified the company's mission. “We want to be the brand that's there for women through every life stage and phase, and through every activity,” says Griffiths.

CATALYST SPORTS BRA

  • Available in eight sizes that accomodate bra sizes 32A through 42G
  • Independently tested to be 40% easier to remove than competing garments
  • Cups are contained separately to reduce movement

Manitobah Mukluks

Winnipeg

The word “authentic” comes up a lot in the story of Manitobah Mukluks. In the 22 years since Sean McCormick started selling traditional mukluks and moccasins to souvenir shops and trading posts, he’s built a beloved brand worn wherever feet get cold. A business that’s Indigenous owned and operated (McCormick is Métis, and more than half the company’s employees are Indigenous) selling products inspired by millenniums-old Indigenous designs? It’s hard to get more authentic than that.

Yet Manitobah’s latest hot sellers recently have been waterproof boots lined with layers of a proprietary sealant called AuthenTEC (rather than traditional spruce gum and pine pitch), built on rubber soles and made in Vietnam. How does that square with the hard-earned brand promise?

Les Garçons / L’Éloi

Very easily, says McCormick. “I don't like placing limits on myself or our company or our people,” he says. “If we want to thrive today and in the future, we have to grow.” By introducing the waterproof technology, the company widened its appeal in cities like Toronto, New York and London, where slushy streets necessitate waterproof shoes. And by offshoring a chunk of production to a factory Manitobah owns in Vietnam, the company positioned itself to better compete on cost and time to market. Both developments in turn enabled it to create more sustainable jobs at home and invest in community work (including an initiative that teaches children about Indigenous footwear and stories).

Besides, McCormick says, there is nothing “authentic” about stasis. “My people have always innovated,” he says. “Imagine living on the Prairies 10,000 years ago, in -30- and -40-degree weather, without power or modern conveniences. If we hadn’t innovated or adapted, we wouldn’t be here.”

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SNOWY OWL MUKLUK BOOTS

  • Constructed of waterproof cowhide suede
  • Lined with a proprietary waterproof sealant called Authentec, developed collaboratively with manufacturers in Vietnam
  • Padded with sheepskin shearling to keep feet warm in temperatures as low as -32 C

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