People ProfilesMay 21, 2024

Meet the woman spearheading entrepreneurship in high-tech

Valerie Henaire has been an entrepreneur for decades and is now empowering others to do the same.
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Taking a chance has never been a problem for Valérie Hénaire. Her first entrepreneurial experience came early in her career when she and her now-husband decided to buy a jazz and blues bar where she was working as a bartender.

“I really loved the place and bought it to get better shifts,” Hénaire remembers fondly. “But it was so fun, and it turned into something bigger than us.”

In the corporate world, Hénaire worked her way up in the advertising industry and spearheaded video game production for some of the world’s largest brands before entering the startup scene and finding her way to the helm of a high-tech incubator.

Every stop along Hénaire’s unusual path has taught her valuable lessons that have shaped her career: the importance of collaboration, how to think creatively and, of course, the value of leadership.

Actually, that last one she also attributes to her “hippie” parents.

“I learned so many things from them growing up that have shaped me into the person and the professional I am today,” Hénaire said. “The free spirit, openness, and passion that often embody hippies are also values that entrepreneurs need. My parents instilled in me at a young age to be open, but also to be a leader.”

Today, as co-founder and director of the National Optics Institute’s Quantino incubator, Hénaire helps other entrepreneurs follow their passions to change the world.

Building the future at Quantino

Quantino is helping solidify Canada’s position as a leader in the fast‑growing field of quantum computing. Specializing in high-tech businesses in the optics, photonics, hardware, medical and quantum technology space, Quantino allows its incubatees access to first-rate facilities, state-of-the-art technology and world-renowned experts.

As director of Quantino, Hénaire promotes and fosters the development of new high-tech companies by helping to build an innovative, visionary and competitive economy—revolutionizing today’s industries and creating tomorrow’s technologies.

Three weeks after Hénaire started the position, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing Quantino to completely rethink its launch strategy. Hénaire took it in stride. Tapping into her strong sense of collaboration and creative spirit, the pandemic became a soft opening of sorts for Quantino, adjusting the number of businesses working out of its labs and reallocating funds.

 “I don’t remember COVID as a pain; I saw it as a challenge and an opportunity because I’m a solution-driven woman,” Hénaire said.

Now, four years later, Hénaire and Quantino are helping even more technologists and engineers build the solutions necessary to accelerate innovation.

Professional journey and contributions

By the end of 2024, Henaire will have seen the successful incubation of nine startups at Quantino. Being a part of their journeys is one of her favorite parts of the job, and Hénaire takes immense pride in each company that passes through her incubator.

“Humans are the center of what we do,” Hénaire said. “I am every bit as invested in these companies personally as I am the director of Quantino. If these companies don’t succeed, then neither do I.”

With companies like Femtum, a unique provider of mid-infrared lasers for scientific, medical and industrial use, or Zilia, the creator of the very first retinal camera to measure the oxygen saturation in the tissue of the eye, Hénaire ensures Quantino’s incubatees get the help they need for their high-tech businesses.

From aeronautics to agriculture and everything in between, each business that passes through the Quantino incubator program receives access to significant resources like lab space and equipment, and expert advice from a vast network of coaches and partners. Hénaire estimates that the technologies, lab space, mentorship and other resources they receive are valued at over $200,000—a price that these early companies could not afford on their own.

As a Canadian accelerator partner with the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, startups at Quantino leverage the same transformative tools used by some of the largest product design and manufacturing companies in the world, along with opportunities for global market expansion through Dassault Systèmes’ extensive ecosystem.

Although the ideas created by Quantino’s incubatees have a global impact, it is through partnerships with organizations like Dassault Systèmes that Hénaire hopes Quantino will be known worldwide.

Values and vision for the future

One of Quantino’s goals is to help create a stronger, more sustainable economy. It’s also one of Hénaire’s.

“I make sure that we select organizations that will create a positive economic and social impact,” Hénaire said. “At this point on Earth, we’re not only borrowing materials but also borrowing time. How can we leave this planet better than the way we found it? That is a question Quantino strives to answer.”

To do this, Hénaire leans on the ethical values adopted by Quantino, striving to make their selection processes as fair and ethical as the world they hope to help build.

“We invest in companies regardless of their status,” she explained. “Many of our companies are looking to solve problems, but we must ensure we’re not creating another one due to their technology or solution. We can give them time, technology and money, but they must be ethical in problem-solving.”

Success for Hénaire is nothing shy of that same goal.

A desire to contribute to the same societal advancement that Quantino incubatees do through their work continues to motivate her in her own life. Hénaire hopes that, by launching a few startup unicorns, Quantino can help change the world.

“I’d like for us to become an essential incubator—a key incubator—that’s known around the world,” she said. “I want Quantino to be the incubator companies specializing in deep tech, photonics and quantum want to be a part of for their success.”

Hénaire’s journey as an entrepreneur reflects the wise advice she received from her parents, which has guided her with strong morals and a dedication to making a difference. She never gives up and takes on the roles of a creator, supporter and leader, blending cleverness with understanding. She aims to show the way to a better and fairer future.

“Although I have a lot of mixed feelings about our Earth’s future, I know I am doing something right helping these companies at Quantino,” Hénaire said. “That brings me joy.”

Valérie Hénaire isn’t the only one impacting the future of entrepreneurship. Check out some of the other Humans Driving Progress. 

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