Quebec's young startups will get a chance to show off their most innovative products to the public with the launch of Neoshop in Montreal. It will be the first such store in North America.
The business will open in December as a pop-up shop that travels around Quebec and then as a retail boutique in downtown Montreal, expected to open by spring of 2017. The shop will display 50 to 60 products for customers to see, touch, test and buy. Products will be refreshed every six months to give more entrepreneurs a chance to show their wares.
The best 10 per cent of the Quebecois products will go to Neoshops in Europe in exchange for a similar ratio of European products to be displayed here, allowing startups on both sides to test the international waters.
"We want this to be a special place where it's possible to find the savoir faire – the knowhow – of the products of Quebec," says Damien Silès, executive director of the Société du Quartier de l'Innovation de Montréal (QI), the non-profit organization responsible for bringing Neoshop to Canada.
"In the beginning, what we want to do is to democratize innovation and make Montreal known as an address for innovation internationally."
The concept behind Neoshop, developed by France's Laval Mayenne Technopole, is to introduce innovative products from local startups to the public. Essentially, it's a bridge between innovation and the consumer market. Besides selling the products, Neoshop's staff are trained to gather customer feedback for the startups, who can then use it to improve their products.
As well, Neoshop provides an opportunity for young companies to connect with local distributors and manufacturers. Startups have also been able to gain wide media coverage and promotion that they might otherwise have found challenging to get.
The original Neoshop opened in 2013 in Laval, France, and includes an online store with a catalogue of the startups' products. According to its website, Neoshop has had 22,000 visitors and showcased more than 70 products. Neoshops are also in the works for Spain and Belgium.
The biggest challenge for startups when they develop a new product is to get the public's attention, Mr. Silès says. Established three years ago to create an ecosystem to foster innovation and an entrepreneurial culture in Montreal, QI works with students and startups at Université du Québec à Montréal, École de technologie supérieure and McGill and Concordia universities, as well as with private companies.
Members of QI encountered the first Neoshop in France while on a benchmarking trip around the world to research the best and the worst practices for innovation.
"When we spoke with startups and incubators here and in Europe, we got exactly the same answer," Mr. Silès says. "They needed tools to be able to showcase their products and a place to get feedback from the clients.
"In the incubators we have, students get a lot of training in management, law and accounting, but the commercialization is a bit weak. That's why Neoshop is going to be really useful."
With eight incubators and more than 500 startups, QI works with plenty of projects not just focused on technology, but on social and cultural, industrial, educational and urban innovation, too.
Some of the products Mr. Silès described include: a smoothie machine that works like a capsule espresso machine; an electric scooter made in Sherbrooke, Que., that plugs into a regular outlet to recharge; and a children's backpack with spinal support to help children avoid the back problems they can develop with heavy, overstuffed bags.
"The criteria is that the product has a nice design, offers something new and interesting, and is made here in Quebec," Mr. Silès says. "They also have to be tangible products aimed at retail sale and ready for distribution. It can be something easy and practical like the electric scooter [Mr. Silès keeps one at QI for getting around downtown Montreal] or it can be food or fashion. We have a company doing a special T-shirt with a sensor inside to check the person's heart."
QI also reached out recently on social media to encourage other incubators, startups and young entrepreneurs with innovative products to contact the organization. Given that there are an estimated 220,000 postsecondary students in Montreal, Mr. Silès believes Neoshop will be important for keeping talent in the city and as a tool for economic development, as well as a platform for commercializing innovation.
He also strongly believes that it is key for the location be in downtown Montreal to be effective.
"It's very important to the Y generation – millennials – to work and live in the same place and enjoy the quality of life we have here," he says. "We want to be a playground of innovation in downtown Montreal with students and the companies who are working and living together in the same area."
As a non-profit organization with a board, QI will not profit from the Neoshop initiative, Mr. Silès says. QI is one of about 40 business and cultural projects the organization is currently supporting. Only the startups make money from the products that they sell.
The aim, Mr. Silès says, is to be "the end of the startup and the beginning of the private company."
Listen to the real-life dramas of Canadian entrepreneurs in the new Globe and Mail podcast The Risk Takers.