How do you foster creativity, collaboration, or team spirit during meetings, brainstorming sessions, or happy hour events? We met with Marc-André Labelle, founder of the Montreal start-up Réunion D Sens, whose goal is to reinvent meeting spaces by adding a multisensory dimension. A concept that has been proven effective by research.
Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) – What problem does Réunion D Sens try to solve?
Marc-André Labelle (M-A.L.) – Many companies choose hotels for brainstorming sessions or meetings out of the office. Most spaces in which they gather are “white rooms”, rooms that are highly impersonal. They only stimulate one sense: vision. What is the goal of these meetings? To come up with new ideas and innovate. The question then becomes: is your meeting space conducive to this?
At Réunion D Sens, we believe that the spaces where work and meetings happen have an impact on creativity and collaboration. That’s why we personalize them by adding multisensory stimulation, a method proven to work by university research.
CCMM – Can you elaborate?
M-A.L. – We’ve created spaces that we can configure around five goals: reduce stress; foster creativity; increase collaboration; generate feelings of trust and happiness; and retain information. How? By what you see, hear, and feel. For instance, we play with the sounds and aromas. This innovative combination is unique in the world.
We worked on this concept by relying on various studies that have been carried out, including one by Lehrner (2005) published in the Physiology & Behavior journal, which shows how certain fragrances can greatly reduce the stress of patients.
CCMM – How would you briefly describe these rooms?
M-A.L. – They are soothing and familiar environments. First, you walk into a backyard in the country. You hear birds and smell freshly cut grass. In the middle of the space is a treehouse which invariably brings up memories of your childhood, when you were visiting your grandparents or friends you played with in the yard. The same goes for the second room, a library, an ideal place to help you focus and retain information.
CCMM – What experience does this provide to clients?
M-A.L. – Every time, the way people connect to each other changes. Currently, the treehouse is being rented by two recruiting firms who use it to conduct interviews. Both people, who do not know each other, have told me the exact same thing: this is where they’ve had the most genuine meetings. Because the candidate quickly feels at ease and they can have real conversations with honest answers.
In general, most of our clients are large companies with a very corporate image, such as accounting and lawyer firms and insurance companies, but also innovative companies that want to experience something new. The environment we offer is so different than their own that they immediately experience a change. Here’s an example: one of my first clients is a property owner. He recently organized a “Flip Flop” evening with various brokers in Montreal. The 50 guests all played along: they removed their shoes in the treehouse and put on sandals. They kept their accessories on during the entire event!
Out of the 30 clients who have relied on these rooms, whether for meetings or a happy hour event, one client out of two signs up for another event. That proves the formula works and we are extremely relieved.
CCMM – Do you also work with the health care sector?
M-A.L. – Yes, absolutely. For private medical clinics and dentists. Their priority is to reduce stress, especially for those in the waiting room. We decorate the room according to a theme and add fragrances. We’re able to reduce patients’ stress by up to 25%. That’s a lot.
CCMM – Réunion D Sens is located in the biology sciences department at UQAM. Why?
M-A.L. – UQAM is currently studying the effects of creative spaces on the well-being and behaviour of people. Behind our office is a research lab that’s used every Monday morning. I want to stress that this research work is completely distinct from my commercial activities. UQAM works with their own research subjects.
CCMM – Let’s talk about you as an entrepreneur. How long did it take you to see this project through?
M-A.L. – Three years. At my job at the time, I worked on it during my own time and during periods of unpaid leave. It’s been huge in terms of time and personal investment.
CCMM – What personal or professional qualities did you need?
M-A.L. – Lots of resilience. Every new or lost contract helped me improve, to become better the next time around. It’s an iterative process that becomes a positive one.
Another lesson I learned: how to quickly identify weaknesses. You have two options: either develop and increase your skills or decide to remain inept on a given topic but surround yourself with people who have the required skills.
CCMM – What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who wants to start their own company?
M-A.L. – The first is about validating the idea. The entrepreneur must be able to assess whether or not their innovative idea is a good one by consulting the right people who will be able to identify flaws or areas to improve. Only relying on the people around you (family, friends…) is a mistake: you might get too much good feedback that does not correspond to the realities of entrepreneurship.
The second concerns the business plan and sales. Entrepreneurs often only think of sales once they’re in the commercialization phase. You should think about the sales aspect when the business plan is being prepared. Why? It helps to prove the model is a good one and makes it easier to find financing. That way, the entrepreneur starts to plan for the difficult phase of selling. Because even though you might have identified your target audience, knowing how to sell your product or service to them is an artform that takes time to perfect. Sign up for training activities and surround yourself with mentors to get help for this step.
CCMM – What are your medium and long-term goals?
M-A.L. – We are in contact with several companies to work on transitory spaces such as meeting rooms, hallways, hotel lobbies, and offices. We are also in discussion with a real estate group in Toronto and a large company in New York. However, our priority is to stabilize the company’s growth before exporting. We’ve only been open for five months. Our priorities are to perfect our model and make our operations profitable. I gave myself one year to reach these objectives before expanding to international markets.
Find out more about Réunion D Sens
Multisensory room capacity: 120 people or fewer in cocktail event configuration; 60 people or fewer in conference event configuration.
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