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!

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.

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!

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!



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 (CEO @ 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.”

Isabelle Hudon

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Recognized as a mobilizing leader and gifted with a keen sense of strategy, Isabelle Hudon has systematically brought an ambitious and resolutely action-oriented vision to all of the organizations she has led. She was appointed President and CEO of BDC in August 2021, after serving as Ambassador of Canada to France and Monaco for four years and holding  he positions of President and CEO (Quebec) and Senior Vice President (Canada) of Sun Life Financial.

Since joining BDC, Ms. Hudon has dedicated herself to putting the ‘D’ in BDC at the forefront of the activities and priorities of her 2,500 fellow colleagues. Driven by a strong desire to increase the organization’s contribution to the country’s development through its entrepreneurs, she is accelerating the deployment of multiple initiatives across BDC that will enable the organization to increase its impact and contribute to fair, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

In addition to her duties at BDC, Ms. Hudon has served as the Personal Representative of the Prime Minister of Canada for La Francophonie since 2017 and is the co-founder of The A Effect and co-chair of the Ordre de Montréal’s Council. She previously sat on the boards of directors of Hydro-Quebec, Groupe Marcelle, Holt Renfrew and the Canada Council for the Arts.

In 2021, Ms. Hudon received the insignia of the Commander of the Legion of Honour from the French government. She has also been honoured with the Medal of the National Assembly of Quebec for her commitment to the cause of women’s ambition and received the insignia of the Ordre de la Pléiade from the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie for her contribution to the vitality of the Francophonie. Ms. Hudon was also the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contribution to culture in Canada and was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Law by Concordia University.

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