Five years into its business, Montreal startup E-180 is rebranding. It means that while the company will once again be offering C2 Montreal attendees the chance to “brain date” their fellow conference goers, this year its goal will be to promote intellectual promiscuity by encouraging users to take peer learning into their daily lives.
When former teacher Christine Renaud cofounded E-180 with business partner Alexandre Spaeth, she saw herself more as an entrepreneurial educator than a matchmaker. But now, she’s connected thousands of developers, designers, artists, athletes and other technological and social innovators through what she calls brain dates.
“The initial impulse was to help people learn from other human beings around them,” Renaud told MTLinTech. “They could go for coffee or take a lunch with someone they don’t know to share their knowledge.”
This will be the fourth year that E-180 will collaborate with C2. Attendees fill out profiles and either browse the E-180 platform for people they’d like to meet or allow E-180’s matchmakers (and the company’s algorithm) to pair them. They schedule a time, meet at the brain dating lounge, and then they’re free to experience the event with their fellow braindater – a coffee in the E-180 tent, a spin on an elliptical bike or a panoramic ride on C2’s Ferris wheel.
“The brain dating lounge becomes a connection hub onsite where users meet to make their brain dates happen,” said E-180 employee Marie-Gil Vachon. “We also have our matchmakers onsite who really know the platform – the offers and requests – and do recommendations onsite since sometimes people don’t get to create their profiles in advance.”
Last year, C2 Montreal facilitated around 1500 brain dates, said Renaud. “People at C2 build their own agendas, they choose their workshops. With us, you curate your own learning experience. You can book the brains of other people in the audience.”
E-180 has built a strong business and revenue model around collaborating with conferences including C2, when attendees are already stepping out of their normal routines. The company has already booked about 60 events this year, with past engagements including Falling Walls in Berlin, DOHA Goals, and GES Marrakech. The E-180 lab, however, also partners with corporations looking to inspire their employees.
Part of the company’s success has been its ability to adapt to the client, said Vachon. “Sometimes the client for the event space is more creative, sometimes it’s more corporate. We make the best out of the space.”
Included in its rebranding is an update of its conference product. “There are a lot of little tweaks we want to add,” Renaud said. “Right now we’re studying people’s behaviour and habits. The peer learning and offer and request parts of the product will stay at the core, but we’re investing in it.”
E-180 also recently launched a magazine and Renaud is busy writing a book about collaborative learning.
Moreover, E-180 encourages employees to go on brain dates regularly themselves. “I am on the public platform,” said Vachon. “I think the best brain date is to meet with someone, and while you’re having a discussion you hear someone else having a brain date and you want to make a brain date with that person. Those rebound brain dates are the best.”
While the product is very popular at conferences, Renaud says her company’s biggest challenge has been getting people to go on brain dates in their day-to-day lives.
“People take three days off to go to a new country and they’re pretty captive. They’re dedicated to the conference. At home, they’re so busy it’s hard to take an hour to share knowledge.”
That’s why her team launched a new app called Braindater.
“It’s kind of a Tinder for Brain Dates,” said Renaud. “At conferences, you book brain dates in advance, but this is about booking spontaneous brain dates. We’ve been working with the Marriott Hotels to implement the product in their headquarters and we’re looking for an airport. We’ve had good conversations with two or three and we’ll see which one works out.” Other areas of opportunity include campuses, libraries, museums and co-working spaces.
Renaud admits that from a pedagogical and business standpoint, she still has her work cut out for her.
“How can we show people that the peer-learning model is as important as spending time with your family or finishing that project? It should be something that adds value to our users when people have a million other things to do.”
If you have the answer, Renaud will be available for a brain date at C2, or any day of the week.