Economy and entrepreneurship

Transforming social innovation into social enterprises: Cooperathon 2021

October 5, 2021

Launching on September 28th, the sixth edition of CooperathonExternal link. This link will open in a new window. is bringing Canadians together in one of the largest open innovation challenges in the world. Its drive to inspire social impact encourages participants to find solutions for a socially responsible future. The competition consists of six weeks of workshops and awards up to $100,000 in prizes across a variety of categories from diversity and inclusion to audience impact, including a grand prize of $25,000 for Beta teams in the startup development phase and $15,000 for Alpha teams who are looking to begin their journey.

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Not sure if it's a fit for you? Here are two alumni stories that showcase the possibilities of the competition.

Spectrum

Eugenia Ochoa started her career working in international development. Moving to Canada from El Salvador nine years ago, she was working in the non-profit and had never considered running her own business. Not until her and her friend, Antu Hossain, wanted to understand how to leverage technology for social impact and heard about Cooperathon from a past alumni.

While initially joining the competition to learn something new, it evolved quickly into the two creating their own startup, SpectrumExternal link. This link will open in a new window.. "We had recently taken a course in product management and thought Cooperathon would be a great way to put into action everything that we learned in theory around building a product from scratch to market," says Ochoa. "In our attempt in being more involved in the social impact space we found that entrepreneurship was a really great way to make change."

Ochoa had always been curious about the needs and challenges that Canadian newcomers have; she began to notice a common gap through her involvement and community-based research with immigrant women in Toronto. She discovered through conversations with Antu and other friends and family members that its hard to talk about sexual health and wellness. As an immigrant herself she understands the difficulty of navigating the health care system in Canada, specifically trying to find a health care practitioner that can give her the care she needs. She understood it wasn't just the challenge of finding a provider but also one that can provide equitable care.

Spectrum is an inclusive digital health platform with three main goals. To provide education that is accessible to all, to connect people with sexual health providers and to create content and a research base of topics around sexual health and wellness. This approach to digital health led Eugenia and Antu to win the Social Innovation and Public Choice award from last year's Cooperathon.

"We were all about social impact, but we weren't business people. We didn't have perspective on how to build a market research plan or how to get investments, that was important for us to learn going into Cooperathon," says Ochoa. The mentors she met along the way were key to building this knowledge, "we had access to a network of experts we didn't even have on our radar that became important mentors in our journey. They helped us immensely and we're still in contact with them."

Cooperathon was just the beginning for Spectrum. While they are still in the development stage, it has already received interest globally and Eugenia and Antu have been working hard to build their team.

Aquantix

Toby Messier's journey into Cooperathon was similar to Eugenia's, he saw it as a fun opportunity to learn something new and wanted to be involved in future innovation. What started off as an idea quickly transformed into a business once the competition began.

While starting his career as a resident doctor in Montreal, Toby switched over to asset management where he was tasked with reducing his firm's environmental footprint. However, Toby quickly realized that there was a lack of quantitative data to prove future resiliency or sustainable businesses. This was something he wanted to change.

When he entered Cooperathon with friend, Steven Fortier, one challenge in particular stood out to him: how can we measure the impact of water on investors? This brought about a larger question on how climate change may impact investors.

"The first and most important thing I learned through Cooperathon was the concept of pitching, that was really new to me. The competition really helped me understand how to properly communicate a business plan and present it quickly and efficiently to potential investors," says Messier. The network of expertise was a big leverage for Aquantix, "finding even just one person who believes in what you're doing makes a huge difference."

His startup AquantixExternal link. This link will open in a new window. works with organizations in the real estate industry such as financial institutions, mortgage brokers and lenders to not only help them understand the return on investment but also identify property level climate risks. Toby and Steven created a solution that shows potential threats to investments which could include anything from flooding to ground erosion.

Aquantix's journey has been quite an inspiring one. Since winning Cooperathon's Open Innovation Challenge and the Public Award prize back in 2017 it has grown immensely over the past four years. Just this year, it won first place for Startup in Residence'sExternal link. This link will open in a new window. FinTech & Climate challenge and received a $25,000 grant. This award could provide Aquantix a potential investment of up to $250,000 from Desjardins as well as mentorship and resource support as they continue to expand in North America.

"Before Cooperathon started I thought it would be a fun event, but I wasn't thinking about starting a business at that point. It turned out that I came across something Steven and I knew about and found interesting, so we thought 'why don't we explore this a bit?'" said Messier. "It really is for anyone that wants to discover new ideas. And if something comes from it, even better. As long as you're doing something you're interested in, you'll be proud of what you accomplish."

Applications for Cooperathon are open until October 15th, register nowExternal link. This link will open in a new window. to begin your journey.