More than ever universities are pushing for the development of entrepreneurship amongst their ranks. We met with Xavier-Henri Hervé, founder and director of District 3, a Concordia University-based innovation hub that’s been around since 2013 to understand why.
Realizing and deploying ideas
Since its inception 4 years ago, District 3 has been the breeding ground for more than 300 businesses. More and more students choose each year to add the “entrepreneurship” component to their university curriculum. Their goal? To create their own businesses of course! Xavier-Henri Hervé saw a need to take these dynamic young minds and guide them towards their dreams. Thus, District 3 was born.
“Our mission is to give them the tools, levers and facilitators for them to realize and deploy their ideas. What makes this deployment unique is innovation”, says Mr. Hervé. For him the impact of these realizations is deeply entrenched in our society, since we will all be reaping the economical benefits of these innovations. US-based statistics tell us that 50% of tomorrow’s workforce will be self-employed entrepreneurs. For Hervé, it’s primordial “that we nurture these people in a university setting.”
The Perfect Mentor
Even if building a business is no small feat, students are privileged to be in the capable hands of Hervé. A graduate of Concordia’s university engineering program himself, Hervé was amongst the students who launched, in 1987, the flight simulator company Mechtronix. “The business took 20 years to reach its full potential worldwide. It ‘s now present on all continents in more than 100 countries and employs more than 300 employees”. Mechtronix has since been brought, having been purchased in November 2013 by US company Textron. Hervé’s success story, coupled with his own doubts, sacrifices and questioning are the perfect source of inspiration for today’s students.
"I had the chance to meet young people who wanted to set up this multidisciplinary center of innovation for start-ups - which did not yet exist in an academic context and which brings together several faculties, whether it be engineering, social sciences or business. "
A unique campus incubator
"I think that what sets incubators apart are their cultures and history," explains Hervé. Located in the heart of Concordia University and renowned for its avant-garde spirit, District 3 was the first incubator to host student’s projects from other universities.
On that note, Hervé talks about building an “ecosystem”. He wants to bring together entrepreneurs, innovation leaders, researchers, students, but also the big names in Quebec’s business world, namely Vidéotron, Desjardins and Bombardier, with whom the startups are already working.
Hervé sees a bright future for District 3, one that extends beyond the confines of the university’s walls. There’s tremendous knowledge in Montreal and alliances have started forming thank to the Quartier de l’innovation de Montréal (QI). “QI is amazing because it allows us to come together under this idea of a neighbourhood, of creating innovative ecosystems in urban centers. A city like Montreal is rich on so many levels but we need spaces where we can meet and collaborate together. We have so much to gain from working together rather than being pitted against one another! There’s this saying that I really love which is “coopetition”. It’s this mix of cooperation and competition and when done in a healthy environment is creates magic. QI is perfect for that”, says Hervé.
Capitalizing on students
"We often forget, but Montreal is the second largest university city after Boston in North America. It welcomes 200,000 students. Concordia alone counts for a quarter of this figure." says Hervé.
Mentoring student projects seems inevitable in the current context. Since the creation of District 3, the number of requests for support and mentoring have grown steadily. "Students believe that the world of tomorrow is a world of innovation, so in addition to their studies, they take the time to come to us."
Among the 300 businesses that District 3 has accompanied since its inception, there are many successful examples. Revol, is one of them: two partners, Daniel Blumer and Navi Cohen, one from McGill and the other from Concordia, developed a prototype of the world's first Quick Custom-Fit Wireless Earphones. Today, they have their production plant at the HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen, China. "We put them in contact with HAX. These are young people who have gone from an idea in a research lab to "what do you do with it and how do you conquer the planet?” says Hervé.
District 3 is committed to building the next generation of innovators. Always on the move, projects abound and are renewed every three months! In six months, District 3 will be ambassadors for the San Francisco-based BM Watson AI X Prize, This competition, which takes place over the course of 2 years, brings together companies from around the world and offers winners prizes of $5 million. Thanks to District 3, the city of Montreal will have the largest number of teams present at the event! On October 11 and 12, District 3 will also organize a live event to be held in Toronto in partnership with Singularity University. The goal of this event is to make it accessible to all young people from Montreal's Cégeps and Universities. This event will welcome, among others, Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, two big names in the world of innovation.