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How Christine Renaud Is Shaping the Future of Education With Every Conversation

An Interview With Brooke Bohinc

Christine Renaud's headshot

Meet Christine Renaud, the Co-Founder and CEO of Braindate, a company transforming the world’s gatherings into hubs of knowledge sharing.

Christina’s journey from a high school teacher disappointed with traditional learning to an innovative entrepreneur illustrates her resilience and creativity. After observing the constraints of conventional education, she set out to redefine meaningful learning. In 2011, this vision led to Braindate, a platform designed to foster knowledge exchange through one-on-one conversations. Her purpose was clear: to create a space where everyone could be both a teacher and a learner. Despite the challenges along the way, Christine has remained dedicated to facilitating inclusive, knowledge sharing environments. 

We asked Christine about the story behind Braindate’s founding, if she always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, and what’s next for her and her company.

Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Braindate?

Trained as a high school teacher, I learned from my short stint in the classroom that traditional schools weren’t keeping up with the pace of innovation in the real world. This got me thinking: what is meaningful learning, and where does it take place? And how could we possibly support the different learning needs of the world’s seven billion humans?

Over the next five years, I embarked on a quest to answer these questions. What I discovered from observing people solving learning problems gave me a simple, yet powerful insight into how we learn.

We all know the feeling of facing a project that is too overwhelming to tackle alone, either because of our own lack of knowledge, experience, or both. It’s easy to feel stuck and lose confidence. So what do we do? Pursue a bachelor’s degree each time we need to learn something new? Definitely not. We often turn to someone we know who has what we lack. We pick someone’s brain. We talk to someone who has been there before. What if, instead of the traditional teacher/student model, we could become each other’s teachers and propel one another forward by sharing our experiences, successes, failures, and what we’ve learned along the way? What if we were to legitimize conversations with other humans as the valuable source of learning that it is?

I began to envision a project that went beyond the walls of a traditional school and spilled out into the larger world. My company, e180, released Braindate in 2011 as the first social network dedicated to helping humans connect one-on-one with the purpose of sharing knowledge and learning from each other. Braindate used an online platform to match those who offered knowledge with those in search of it. 

It was amazing to see all the braindate topics pouring in from Montreal, New York City, Paris, and Boston. People were meeting in coffee shops to have great conversations such as, “what I learned from a year of sailing around the world with my family,” or “the untold story of the power of mindfulness on your athletic performance.”

That’s when folks from the event industry started to take notice. In 2013, we got a call from a new Cirque du Soleil-powered event, C2 Montréal, asking us if we could build their B2B platform. During our first activation, we generated more than 2,000 braindates over the course of the three-day event, which was more than we had in two years in coffee shops. We all knew by then that we were onto something. Since this resounding success, we’ve been turning the world’s conferences and gatherings into knowledge-sharing feasts.

I learned from a young age you will always regret not listening to your heart. You will never regret, though, to have followed your heart against what other folks might say.

Diverse group of people connecting at tables in a restaurant.

What problem does Braindate solve?

Humans attend events for various reasons. But if you decide to travel hundreds of kilometers, it better be worth it. Most of us embark on such a journey with two main objectives: to refresh our industry knowledge and to grow our network. However, when participants at a conference mention learning and networking as their main motivation to attend a conference, they clearly don’t mean “being talked-at in a dark filled with 3,000 people for three days” or “more awkward small talk with strangers in a sterile room.” 

They want a personalized learning experience, one that is truly curated to address their specific, unique challenges. They also want to find and engage deeply with other meaningful strangers. Braindate helps event participants to accomplish both: to curate their own learning agenda by assembling and developing meaningful relationships with their event braintrust. Meanwhile, our clients gather invaluable insights on what their people are interested in learning about, all the while generating more revenues thanks to the sense of belonging created by braindates, which leads to a higher year-over-year retention of their participants.

What makes Braindate different from other companies in the industry?

Many events base their educational model on the traditional one-to-many formula and their networking on a transactional format. 

Even though we are often in the “networking app” line item of our clients’ budget, we shy away from transactional networking by fostering the creation of a safe space where brave, meaningful conversations are embraced—even in a business context. We’ve noticed how much event participants crave deep connections, even in their choice of partners, vendors, or clients. Authenticity and business are not antithetical; they’re complimentary, especially for Gen Z.

Our impact goes further than networking. We also contribute to the creation of valuable, relevant content and to the curation of event participants’ unique, individualized learning experience powered by their peers.

Have you ever felt like you’re “different”? If yes, in what ways has this contributed to your journey as an entrepreneur?

This is such a fabulous question. Yes. Definitely. I was bullied in school when I was young, and it definitely shaped me as a person and as an entrepreneur. My desire to create spaces where humans thrive, belong, are safe, and feel brave is directly rooted in that trauma. This experience also brought me the strength to be unapologetic about my way of doing business. I learned from a young age that people’s appreciation might come and go, and you will always regret not listening to your heart to go the way of others. You will never regret, though, to have followed your heart against what other folks might say.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Yes. I didn’t know it was called that, but I’ve been building projects to tackle my community’s challenges since I was seven years old. My first endeavor was creating buttons we sold as a classroom to raise awareness of environmental issues in our community. 

We dare you to brag. What achievements are you most proud of?

I’m so proud we have built a business that has the ovaries to propose to Fortune 500 enterprises to embrace values such as love, contribution, care, collaboration, community, and empathy as the 21st century way of doing business. I’m proud that we are proving day after day that a business doesn’t have to choose between impact and revenues; that one bottom line can totally contribute to the other.

How would you describe the journey you’ve had in a few sentences? Would you do it all over again?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved surrounding myself with extraordinary people to create solutions. After studying education, I realized I didn't like teaching silent children in rows. So I packed my bags and went to Harvard, asked myself a lot of questions, and then started creating spaces, books, and technologies that help people all over the world, young and old, to learn differently. And would I do it all over again? Hell yes. I wouldn’t change a thing.

A group of people split into pairs, connecting

What’s next for you and Braindate?

We are dedicating 2024 to creating the features that will cement our strategic positioning as a pioneer in event networking. We will focus on ways to increase the possibilities for our users to learn from each other before, during, and after the events they attend.

We are also starting our journey toward a return to our roots by developing a SaaS product that will allow members of a community/company to learn from each other yearlong. By 2027, we want any community to be able to implement braindate gatherings for their members at a cost that’s affordable to them.

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