Born in Haiti, arrived in Montreal at the age of 8, raised by a single mother who earned a hard living as a seamstress: few people would have bet on her chances of success.
And yet. The engineer is now a scientist of international reputation and a wealthy entrepreneur. Last October, he also became, at age 48, the youngest chancellor of the University of Montreal and the first black person to hold this position in Quebec, the second in Canada.
When he arrived in Montreal, in the Saint-Michel district, the young Frantz, who spoke only Creole, had a lot of difficulties at school, to the point of being demoted to the reception class.
Then a teacher noticed him in the schoolyard, where the
dunce mobilized comrades to play soccer, one of his passions.
This teacher, Gérard Jeune, believed in me, he took me to his regular class. I quickly learned French and Englishhe confides.
Growing up in a large family also pushed him to want to succeed. He has five siblings, seven half-brothers and half-sisters.
In a big family, you have to negotiate, you can’t have everything, so it helped me to make choices quickly, to know how to negotiate, to hold my own.
From Boston to Montreal via Dresden
After CEGEP, her academic performance enabled her to obtain scholarships which opened the doors to American universities. He first studied electronics and computer engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, then did a doctorate at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
During his very first year in Boston, he was recruited by the boss of Analog Devices, a giant in the semiconductor industry. His passion for microchips is pushing him up the ranks at lightning speed.
At Analog, he established a new branch that developed studio-quality audiovisual systems for automobiles. After only five years, the turnover of this division reached 380 million.
A meeting at his brother’s wedding causes him to branch off. He returns to Montreal to start a family with the woman of his life, Vickie Joseph, a fashion designer who will also become a business partner.
In the metropolis, he quickly became, at the age of 28, chief technology officer and first vice-president of engineering at Future Electronics, where he contributed to multiplying the turnover in a spectacular way.
Then he became an entrepreneur himself in Dresden, Germany, where he ran ZMDI, a semiconductor firm. After four years of growing revenue, he is forced to sell by partners who want to pocket their profits.
In 2012, the engineer decided to invest his new fortune in the transformation of an abandoned textile factory at 3737 Crémazie Boulevard in the Saint-Michel district of Montreal. With his wife, he founded Groupe 3737, a business incubator that helps immigrants become entrepreneurs.
” In the technology sector, there are so many people who make a lot of money, they buy yachts, big cars, big houses. But beyond the big villa and the big boat, what is going on? I wanted to use my money wisely, to invest in infrastructures that will be springboards for others. »
The couple’s goal is also to improve the image of their host neighborhood and give back.
In the news, said the Chancellor, we still see it today, when there is something related to violence in neighborhoods like Saint-Michel and Montreal North, it takes on excess. So – and not to trivialize youth violence – but we wanted to change the rhetoric from the idea of street gangs to an economic development group.
Vickie Joseph, who chairs V Kosmetik International, explains how her father, who was a taxi driver, gave even what he didn’t have.
He always gave back to his neighbor with zero, with nothing. It’s the same principle with Groupe 3737, I would like to be able to bequeath that, to share my experience. Enriching others, helping others, is an inexplicable well-being, it is priceless.
It gives us hope
In 2017, Frantz Saintellemy leaves behind a big job in Silicon Valley to take the reins of LeddarTech, a start-up company spun off from the National Optical Institute of Quebec. The company develops microchips and sensors aimed at making automobiles autonomous to reduce fatal accidents, almost always caused by human error.
Over the past four years, the number of LeddarTech employees has grown from 30 to 215 people, mostly engineers. And revenue jumped from $100 million to nearly $1 billion.
When he talks about his microchips and his autonomous cars, Frantz Saintellemy comes alive, his eyes twinkle. He is a passionate researcher, who knew how to put his science to the benefit of the greatest number. But what he is most proud of is having succeeded in helping nearly 1,000 immigrants to start a business with Groupe 3737. He is also delighted with the impact that his successes can have on the young people of Saint-Michel and Montréal-Nord, who call on him to thank him.
” A young man said to me: “You know, when we come from Montreal-North, we have the stigmata of our postal code. We are afraid to say that we come from Montreal-North. But you, you don’t have afraid to say that you lived in Montreal North, in Saint-Michel, in Rivière-des-Prairies. That gives us hope.” For me, it’s the best gift I can receive. »
Groupe 3737 now has subsidiaries in Laval, Quebec, Gatineau, Halifax, Calgary, and two in Ontario.
Frantz Saintellemy now lives in a beautiful big house, in Laval-sur-le-Lac, where he comes to rest between his many trips. His three children are used to seeing their father between two suitcases, between two videoconferences.
After a game of dominoes, Viktor, 9 years old, tells us:
We had to do a homework at school on the person you admire. I did it on my dad, he’s chancellor, I’m proud of him.