The hosts of the McGill Defi Ecotech Challenge commemorated International Women’s Day on March 8 with a Women in Cleantech panel. Clean technology, coined “cleantech,” reduces environmental impact via innovation in any product, process, or service through increased efficiency and sustainability. The panelists, Myriam Bélisle, Solenne Brouard, Diane Leboeuf, and Victoria Smaniotto, are entrepreneurs and leaders in the cleantech industry. Their insight into the expanding sector of cleantech and success in a predominantly male industry was not only informative, but empowering for the audience.
Brouard is the CEO of Polystyvert, a leading company in the waste management industry. Polystyvert uses innovative technology to recycle polystyrene—the main component in styrofoam—more efficiently, thereby increasing profit and decreasing waste. While working in the industrial business sector, Brouard became aware of excessive polystyrene waste due to high transportation costs impeding the recycling process. The high cost rendered the current recycling system unprofitable. Brouard saw an opportunity and took it, building Polystyvert into the successful company it is today, but not without first overcoming some challenges.
“It is difficult to explain to investors that they need to invest in something that won’t make money right now,” Brouard explained.
Ultimately, investing in future efficiency pays off. In fact, Polystyvert’s polystyrene is even more marketable than virgin polystyrene because of its low cost, a result of process efficiency.
“Only two per cent of my clients buy the product because it is green,” Brouard said. “This means that 98 per cent of the clients buy my product because it is cheaper.”
Bélisle is Cleantech director at Sherbrooke Innopole, a corporation dedicated to the economic development of the city. She spearheads Sherbrooke’s development with respect to cleantech and its green economy. With an academic background in biology and forestry, Bélisle was able to observe the resilience and importance of the cleantech sector first-hand, deciding to support cleantech companies in her current position.
“[During] the 2008 economic crisis, what saved my small consulting company was its use of cleantech because […] clean technologies are the way of the future,” Bélisle said. “Where you have scarcity, you have innovation.”
Leboeuf serves as the president at Soaz Inc., a consulting firm. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a large role in her work. She currently develops business strategies and creative commercialization tools for Ecofixe Solutions, a cleantech SME in the water sector. As a woman who has worked in the cleantech industry for some time, Leboeuf understands the dynamics of operating in the sector.
“What’s great about cleantech is you can bring in your own background,” Leboeuf explained.
While Smaniotto’s classmates at HEC Montreal were entering the workforce and selling products for brand-name companies, Smaniotto felt it was more important to commercialize a sustainable product.
“I had trouble thinking of myself as a leader of international business and marketing, while helping to sell more shampoo, for example,” Smaniotto said.
Smaniotto’s initial work in the cleantech sector was as a business and development analyst and marketing coordinator at Carnot Refrigeration, a Quebec SME that develops refrigeration systems free of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). She now coordinates partnerships with the Canada Cleantech Alliance, a newly created alliance of regional cleantech hubs with the goal of providing improved access to market and capital to cleantech companies.
Cleantech is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the green economy industry today. The panelists agreed that a mental shift towards reuse and reduction of product, accompanied by cleantech, is the inevitable future–and these women are at the forefront.