The Grandmothers’ Choice Award

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. In 2013, The Grandmother Judges selected Onavo with their esteemed award—the company went on to be acquired by Facebook for over US $150M.
The winner of the (non-cash) Grandmothers’ Choice Award may not walk away with newfound riches, however, they will leave with a treasure trove of good advice and a ton of bragging rights.


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 Startupfest 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 our Grandmother Judges!

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

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

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.”

Louise Hébert Lalonde

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.

Isabelle Hudon

A mobilizing leader with a keen sense of strategy, Ms. Hudon brings a consistently ambitious and action-oriented vision to the organizations she leads. She joined BDC in August 2021 as President and Chief Executive Officer of BDC, after serving as Canada's Ambassador to France and Monaco from 2017 to 2021 and holding the positions of President and Chief Executive Officer (Quebec), and Senior Vice-President for Sun Life Financial Canada.
Since taking up her new position, Ms. Hudon has dedicated herself to putting the BDC's 'D' at the forefront of the activities and priorities of her 2,900 colleagues. Driven by a strong desire to increase the organization's contribution to the country's development through its entrepreneurs, she is overseeing the accelerated deployment of multiple initiatives throughout 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 acted as the Prime Minister of Canada's representative for the French-speaking world since 2017, in addition to co-founding L'effet A, and co-chairing the Advisory Board of the Ordre de Montréal. Previously, she also sat on the boards of Hydro-Québec, Groupe Marcelle, Holt Renfrew and the Canada Council for the Arts.
In 2021, Ms. Hudon received the insignia of Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur from the French government. She was awarded a medal from the Québec National Assembly in recognition of her commitment to the cause of female ambition, and received the insignia of the Ordre de la Pléiade from the Assemblée des parlementaires Francophonie for her contribution to the vitality of the French-speaking world. She is also the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contribution to culture in Canada, and a Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Concordia University.
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