The Grandmothers’ Choice Award

At first blush, a panel of grandmother judges at a startup competition may inspire a notion of: “Well if a grandmother can understand it, anyone can.”

But that would be a wrongful assumption. Our esteemed panel of Grandmother Judges are a Startupfest favourite with an unbeatable track record—and they don’t suffer fools.

You may remember them as the judges who picked Onavo—the company that went on to be acquired by Facebook for over US $150M—as the clear winner of the grandmother prize in 2013. And they continue to spot amazing startups: In 2019, they saw over a hundred pitches in just 36 hours!

As one of the most popular pitch contests at Startupfest, countless entrepreneurs line up each summer to make their cases to the grandmothers—and for good reason. These ladies can see a good idea (or a bad one) from a mile away, and they certainly have no qualms about calling it as they see it.

The winner of the (non-cash) grandmother prize may not walk away with newfound riches; they will, however, leave with a treasure-trove of good advice. So, come and test you and your startup’s mettle by pitching on the main stage to the Grandmother Judges.


Eligibility Criteria

This award is open to all startups registered and attending the event. There is no application process, no form to fill out and no video to submit. All you need to do is register and attend Startupfest, and prepare a pitch to present to our illustrious grandmother judges.


The Process

You have until 3pm on the last day of the Fest to pitch to our panel of Grandmothers. They will be located exclusively in the Tent Village, during Village hours. Startups can pitch in the language of their choice, however given that Startupfest attracts people from across the country and beyond, some of our judges are more comfortable in English.

Meet this year’s Grandmother Judges!

Doreen Croll

Doreen Croll

Doreen Rouse Croll was born in England. She has an Honours Degree in Zoology with a Special Honours in Parasitology from Imperial College, London University and a Diploma in Education from McGill. Before retirement, Doreen taught in England, California and Montreal.

Her two greatest achievements are here at Startupfest!



Sonia Hazan

Sonia Hazan

Born in Cairo, Egypt, Sonia obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Concordia University and a Masters in Industrial Relations from the Université de Montréal. For years she’s owned and operated a special events company in Montreal.

In her spare time, Sonia enjoys playing bridge, completing crossword puzzles and swimming. Sonia is a proud grandmother of 5!

Merle Finkelstein

Merle Finkelstein

With over 30 years of teaching experience, Merle has her degree in Special Education from McGill and her PhD in being a Bubby (a Jewish term meaning grandmother).

Merle is a mother of three remarkable children and grandmother to two granddaughters. Raising a young and very ambitious entrepreneur like Harley (COO @ Shopify) meant she was required to be an administrative assistant, business manager, and a coach. Merle now enjoys travelling and spending time with her family.

After beating breast cancer twice, her motto is: “Life is short, laughter is sweeter.”

Louise Hébert Lalonde

Louise Hebert

Louise’s business career spanned more than 25 years in the retail automobile sector. She is a graduate of HEC Montréal with an MBA in Finance.

Louise is currently active in philanthropy, and is a member of GROW, a Women’s Giving Circle. GROW is a pan-Canadian community of women combining individual donations to help women and girls become socially and economically self-sufficient.

She Chairs the Board of Directors of the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation in Montreal, and is the very proud grandmother of seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.


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