SME Innovation Track

For three years, the City of Montréal’s Parcours Innovation PME (SME Innovation Track) has enabled entrepreneurs of small- and medium-sized enterprises to find practical solutions to their business problems through training, support and three major conferences, including C2 Montréal. Each year, 30 to 40 entrepreneurs embark on a nine-month path, which for many is transformative.

As the 40 entrepreneurs in the 2017 edition prepare to participate in C2 Montréal as part of the Innovation Track, here’s the story of how three entrepreneurs made their experience a success, thereby transforming their companies: Vincent Mahé of Gastronomia, Vincent Godcharles of Logient and Jean-Sébastien Lemire of Thermetco.

Creating a community to lead: Vincent Mahé, Gastronomia

Gastronomia, located in the southwest of Montréal, offers culinary solutions with refined taste and presentation, from appetizers to desserts, to complement chefs’ menus. “For example, a chef can have a full kitchen but lack large enough pastry resources. He can therefore integrate one of our products into his menu,” Vincent explains.

Their problem? Because they interact with distributors who are dealing exclusively with the already complex logistics of delivering the products, they are not in contact with the end customer. So there’s the possibility they might misunderstand the needs of their target and offer products that don’t exactly match what the chefs want to serve. And because of their business model, they can’t simply fall back on the classics. “We sell innovation,” says Vincent. “If we stop offering new products, customers lose interest in us. We must constantly innovate to help our clients – middle and high-end chefs – to ensure their own innovation.”

Credit: Gastronomia

To continue developing products while limiting losses and wasted effort, it was necessary to find a cost-effective, flexible and fast way to get in touch with typical customers in kitchens across Canada. “In talking to a consultant at C2,” Vincent says, “we thought of using an existing application – we picked Yammer, but there are several – to create a community of users with different profiles. The goal is not to have 500. Ten chefs have been selected for their creativity, because they are opinion leaders.”

The chefs are extremely busy in their kitchens. That’s why the process has to be quick. The application is on their phone, and they give their opinion on the price, taste and pertinence of their products in developing a menu, much like an ongoing focus group.

Sales of Gastronomia are already taking off quickly with a 10% increase in 2016, and an increase of 25 per cent projected for 2017, the year in which the solution was implemented.

Taking time for talent: Vincent Godcharles, Logient

Logient is a software engineering company that develops innovative solutions designed to optimize their clients’ businesses. All the players in the field are confronted with the same problem: How to attract, motivate and retain the best talent?

“We have set ourselves a simple goal of being able to answer the question, ‘Why come to work at Logient?’ in a consistent way, but above all so that they believe our answer,” Vincent explains. In short, the answer is “because Logient develops unique projects that make us stand out and that attract people who reflect that.”

Credit: Logient

But all talent management professionals know that the problem is not so much the answer as the authenticity of the corporate culture. And Vincent is well aware of this. “We took money and time and we believe in the important role a distinctive corporate culture plays in having a strong presence. So we made several changes:

  • A team of cultural ambassadors was created. They take the pulse of employee morale and serve as a gauge of the distance between the ideal and the reality.
  • A strategic corporate culture group was formed, where human resources and the communications departments mesh. Our products communicate with the customer, but for them to be perfect, we must communicate the employer brand to our best talent.
  • We doubled the size of our offices, and now have more space for collaboration. We also have a full kitchen and breakfasts from the Oatbox, which allows employees to feel at home in the office.
  • We host startups. Since we’re on the cutting edge of technology, our employees benefit by being in touch with innovative minds like their own. The more brains under one roof, the more value one creates.”

When a business is booming, it’s always hard to pinpoint exactly what has worked. But to help illustrate the point, here’s a little chronology of Logient’s actions and results:

2014: Services refocused to withdraw from service to consumers (B2C) and focus on service to business (B2B).

2015: 35 employees. Buyout of small businesses.

2016: About 70 employees. Design of new premises. Reorganization of the corporate culture.

2017: Goal is 100-plus employees. Happiness.

When a business is running full steam and it’s easy to be “too busy” to think about the corporate culture, Vincent believes just the opposite – that it’s essential to take a break to keep services relevant. That’s what he says he learned from the Innovation Track and his participation in C2.

Le Parcours Innovation PME en séance de travail

New thinking leads to diversification: Jean-Sébastien Lemire, Thermetco

The metallurgical service company Thermetco is a literal eyewitness to the effervescence around C2, since it’s located directly across the street from the C2 site, Arsenal, in a district where industry, art and entertainment come together. But he could not have imagined that just a few steps away from his workplace, surrounded by creative and hi-tech entrepreneurs, is where he would find a new method of ideation that would allow him to innovate in an industrial field.

“The braindating, the labs, is not really what attracted me to C2,” Jean-Sébastien says bluntly. “I was going because it was part of the Track and I trusted it. And I was right: I was particularly impressed by the Deloitte workshop on the 10 different types of innovation. I found a tool that I brought back to the office on Monday morning and used it to find an innovative product that will help us secure our future.

“With my team, we integrated our processes with the Deloitte tool, and it enabled us to identify an opportunity with one of our clients. I don’t want to say too much, but we realized that the heat treatment we use on motor vehicle transmission parts – a declining market – also applies to a part found in electric vehicles. It opened up a whole market for us.”

The part in question is used in the electric vehicles of a large automobile manufacturer, from which they won a contract worth nearly half a million dollars. “Needless to say,” says Jean-Sebastien, “the method has permeated our approach to the market. In fact, it frames how we see our niches.”

Preparing for C2: Plan… but not too much

While the 40 entrepreneurs in the 2017 Parcours Innovation PME are getting ready for C2, we asked our three entrepreneurs how to prepare for it. For Jean-Sébastien of Thermetco, you have to approach C2 with an open mind, and even be prepared to step outside your comfort zone.

For Logient’s Vincent, it’s better to take a little time to prepare: “You must know the tools, have a goal, target speakers, workshops, braindates that interest you, and most importantly, turn off your phone and arrive available.”

Gastronomia’s Vincent says it’s necessary to hone in on your problem and repeat it to anyone who’ll listen. “You need to talk about your problem to as many creative people as possible, because you never know who will ignite the spark that reveals the answer. This is the best way to avoid getting lost – it’s a very impressive place and there’s tons of content – so that you come back with practical solutions.”

When you arrive at the C2 site, keep an eye out for the 2017 Parcours Innovation PME contingent. They’re there to exchange, and something tells us that you are too.

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