Coopérathon is trying to rethink the perception of social entrepreneurship


The mission of Coopérathon is the encouragement of social entrepreneurship. But in order to create lasting innovation for tomorrow, the event is trying to redefine the perception of social entrepreneurship today.

“I think even the phrase ‘social entrepreneurship’ is perceived as a leftist thing to do, that it’s people who really care about society and don’t care at all about money. And on the other hand, you hear that startups are people who want big changes and to make a lot of money. So we’re trying to bring those two concepts together and show that they’re not antagonistic,” Ilias Benjelloun, Interpreneurship Catalyst at Desjardins Lab told MTLinTECH.

“The reality is, even today, a lot of companies wait until they’re successful to think about changing the world. We try to reverse this aspect and say ‘Is there a way to build companies that have a social component at the core of their business model?’ And that can be social entrepreneurship. The reality is that social entrepreneurship should just be called entrepreneurship. We should all launch companies where the social component and the social impact is at the core of the company and it’s part of their business model. And if we’re able to make this sustainable, we’ll have a much bigger impact. ”

Coopérathon, Canada’s largest innovation competition, is happening again in Montreal, Quebec City, and Lyon, France from October 12th to November 9th. This “marathon of cooperation” aims to build innovative solutions to actual issues faced by our society.

Over the course of three weeks, participants will organize into teams and work to develop solutions leveraging digital intelligence (the 2017 theme, a contraction of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Transformation) in four society sectors facing major issues. The Fintech, Health, and Smart City sectors are back after a successful run in 2016, with a fourth sector newly added this year.

“We’re adding a new track, which is education,” Federico Puebla, Director of Innovation at Desjardins and Head of Desjardins Lab. “Since we have Fondation Desjardins that gives scholarships every year to hundreds of students, for us education is at the heart of what we do.”

The Coopérathon concept was imagined and developed by Desjardins Lab within Desjardins Group and in collaboration with the NPO Hacking Health. CIC has also joined the 2017 edition taking place in Lyon, France.

“We’re also expanding the model, we’re open-sourcing the model. We have a partnership with CIC, a financial institution in Lyon, France. They’ve basically created a chapter of Coopérathon over there. And they’re doing their own thing on almost the same topics as we’re covering here. They’re doing health and fintech, while here we’re doing health, fintech, education, and smart cities. Basically this year it’s about expanding, and also adding new tracks like education.”

On October 12th, registered participants will have the opportunity to mingle at New City Gas as an opportunity to connect with other participants to form or join a team. On this date, prototypes must still be in the ideation phase (pre-prototyping). Each team will have a coach and can consult with a mentor during the competition.

From October 12th-29th, teams must develop their prototypes with the help of optional workshops offered throughout the course of Coopérathon. Prototypes must be submitted on the 29th, and from October 30th to November 3rd the jury will select three teams per category to advance to the semi-finals. On November 4th, the date of the semi-finals, the teams will present a five minute presentation of their prototype. On November 9th, the day of the finals at Complexe Desjardins, each team will present their five minute presentation to the judges for the chance to win prizes.

“Coopérathon started out of a hackathon. Organizing a hackathon is very exciting, and it’s a great way to meet new people and try new things, to actually get in the vibe to innovate. But the second part is, if you want a social impact and a sustainable impact, you need to organize around it, how to make the teams actually sustainable. And to make them sustainable, we do it through coaching and the length of the event itself, it happens over three weeks.”

In 2016 a boot camp component for after the competition was developed, where participants had around twelve sessions organized to keep the momentum going.

“It’s good for them to learn the business models and how to validate and so forth, but also it keeps the momentum going. You want them to come over every two weeks or every week so that you can actually keep these relationships building. What we realized throughout Desjardins Lab is, if you want sustainable products or sustainable impact, you need someone, a big organization of a company. For example, we just signed a partnership with Raymond Chabot, who not only wanted to have an impact and contribute to this education around innovation and developing startups who have a social component at their core, but also wanted to solve some of their challenges. And especially in the fintech part, it’s very interesting because the big companiesvrealize that working with potential teams can help solve their challenges. They’re ready to move forward. We don’t do a promise regarding payment, but we bring the teams together around the challenges of this big organization, we make the team work on it, if they win we give them a prize.”

But beyond the prize, what they can potentially win is to work with the big organization or the big company, to continue working on their project. And I think that’s one of the things that’s original about our model. By bringing organizations and teams or startups around those big challenges, we can make them sustainable because they potentially have a client already lined up. We set it up so that the right people are in the room. The question is, will you seize the opportunity?

Interested? Register here up until October 12th. The early-bird registration rate ends August 31st. There’s also one more information session taking place in Montreal on August 31st at District 3 Innovation Centre (1250 Rue Guy, 6th floor), you can sign up here.


Photos of 2016 Coopérathon, Coopérathon website

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