Local VC hopes tech startups can help Montreal’s homeless problem


Tech startups and charity haven’t always been closely associated with each other. For the most part, the hyper-focused startup founder is taught to worry about their company above all else. After all, they’ve got employees to support.

Sure, there’s always non-profit or social-facing startups that do a great job, but it could also be argued that more companies in Montreal could afford to spare a few dollars for a good cause, particularly in helping the city’s growing homeless population.

“Our startups are going to build great things that are going to change the world and I think we should extend some of those qualities to helping people,” said David Nault, a principal at iNovia Capital. “There has been very little, if any, initiatives towards helping homeless people among tech startups in Montreal”

And so Nault, together with the folks at Accueil Bonneau, is promoting a new program where tech startups can effectively help the lives of homeless individuals in Montreal. It’s called Bonneau365.

“David is very aware of the homeless situation in Montreal and every year he calls me and we try to see if there’s something we can do with startups,” said Danièle Tremblay, Fondation Accueil Bonneau’s executive director. “First we did a clothing drive with Startupfest last year, but this year he wanted to do something more.”

Accueil Bonneau says it has helped the homeless since 1877, which amounts to almost 140 years. The foundation currently offers 165 furnished studios to homeless people (all of which are occupied) and serves about 800 meals to homeless people everyday.

“They come to be fed, to be clothed and without saying it or perhaps unknowingly, to be loved too,” wrote the organization’s director general Aubin Boudreau.

According to the day centre it takes about $2,000 to help an individual for a full year. That includes two meals a day.

As part of Bonneau365, Nault and company are trying to enlist healthy startups to spare $2,000. He doesn’t see this as something to pressure a pre-seed startup struggling to pay the bills, but rather something that established companies that have raised money in the past can consider.

The benefits that come from getting involved could be life-changing for a company though. A common team-building experience is to serve a breakfast to the homeless at Accueil Bonneau.

“They will come back changed. I guarantee it. When they get a tour they’ll understand that what they’re putting into this is going very, very far,” said Nault. “It helps in so many ways for the culture of the company and understanding your own employees. You might be out with them serving a breakfast and you’re going to be having conversations with employees on a very different level.”

“Life is very fragile and I think David and I share the same view on this,” added Tremblay.

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(From left) Peter Bailey, Flow Ventures, and David Nault, iNovia Capital

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“I mean, how much do you spend on a Christmas party?” asked Nault.

An impressive list of sponsors have joined the initiative, including Inovia CapitalFlow VenturesGsoftHomeBeaver,  StartupfestNational Leasing and TrackTik. He hopes to get ten additional startups to support one homeless person each. To be precise, a company’s $2,000 doesn’t go to a specific individual, but rather to Accueil Bonneau. Nault assured us that if we were to head to their spot on de la Commune Street we would “see the true meaning of bootstrapped.”

In return, Accueil Bonneau will give updates throughout the year to startups about the centre’s progress with the city’s homeless.

“People think we have to be well off financially to give but every dollar has its value. You don’t have to be a millionaire to think about giving back. That’s why we created Bonneau365,” said Tremblay.

Nault said his first experience serving breakfast at Accueil Bonneau was very impactful. One can easily see people tending to their files, their mail and other projects. Many are active individuals trying their best to improve.

“Some of them talk to you in passing and they tell you their story. Many of them had a normal life before one thing led to another. Gambling, alcohol, maybe they got divorced,” said Nault. “It can happen to anybody.”

Indeed, about 70 per cent of the homeless that Accueil Bonneau helps have mental health issues. Some people with mental health issues at times cannot be helped, but there’s many more who can be helped. They need a hand to get back on their feet, beginning with a meal, a hot shower, a haircut and a computer to help them work on their CV. Accueil Bonneau is able to offer all of these things.

One thing leads to another and they start getting a bit of regularity back in their lives.

And because of that, the VC feels that every startup company with a bit of cash should have a cause. If they can donate even a small sum to a place like Accueil Bonneau, every penny will be used up.

“There’s a whole community out there who are totally just trying to survive. I thought it would be interesting to get our younger tech ecosystem to sort of get engaged in this.”

We find it interesting, too.

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