Montreal startups lend helping hand to Syrian Refugees


Montreal-based tech startups are doing whatever they can to help new foreign refugees seeking assistance.

The Canadian government wants 25,000 Syrian refugees housed in Canada by March 2016. While army bases around the country are getting ready to house most of the influx, there exists much opportunity on the part of ordinary citizens to lend a helping hand.

Phillip Cutler, CEO of FounderFuel graduate GradeSlam, an online tutoring service, is starting a $50,000 fund to help Syrian refugees. It’s actually on behalf of his other business, the Laurus Summer Camp for children.

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The fund will pay for 20 refugee children to attend the camp, which offers activities like cooking, tech, science, sports, dance and the arts.

“This is the absolute least that we can do to help these families,” Cutler and Laurus cofounder Gabriel D’Amico-Mazza told the Montreal Gazette’s Catherine Solyom. “I can’t even begin to imagine what each one of the families has been through, but I can tell you that they have found a welcome home here in Canada.”

That was a big initiative with my cofounder Gabe. We said ‘Look, these families are coming here with basically nothing. They’re getting on a plane and leaving their lives. We want to welcome these people as Canadian citizens.’ These are Canadians who will be here for the rest of their lives, so they deserve to have the same experience as everybody else does. The least we could do was offer them the opportunity to come to our camp. -Phillip Cutler, CEO, GradeSlam

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 100,000 refugees in Thailand, 660,000 in Kenya and almost 3.8 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jordan has an estimated 1 million refugees, Lebanon a reported 1.8 million and Turkey almost 1.9 million. Canada’s efforts fall short from those of Germany, with one million refugees arriving in 2015, and smaller Sweden with 160,000.

Still, Canadian entrepreneurs in Montreal are trying their best to help out.

PPLCONNECT cofounder Jenviev Azzolin has founded a new initiative aimed at housing new refugees, called WeHost.

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As Concordia News’ Leslie Schachter reported, WeHost is an Airbnb-inspired website aiming to match people with a room to spare and refugees in need of temporary lodging. Hosts are expected to help new guests for up to two months.

“As an entrepreneur, I don’t have lots of money to donate and I figured that my time and effort could be better spent actually doing something that could enable others to help, too,” Azzolin told Concordia News.

According to Concordia News, WeHost went live November 23 and already has more than 500 registered users ready to host one or more refugees. Upwards of 1,500 temporary spaces for government and privately sponsored refugees are available.

Moreover, Azzolin “pitched the idea directly to Quebec International Relations Minister Christine St-Pierre and Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who both loved the idea. She’s also been working with refugee resettlement groups here in Canada and abroad to help connect local hosts with refugees arriving to Canada.”

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