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Gamers and Alley cats: Coworking the Toronto Way

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Toronto is the metropolis of Canada. A city with 6 million people, pigeons and condos, which seem to constantly multiply when your back is turned. Facing onto Lake Ontario, just a five-hour drive from Detroit, and a 1 hour flight to New York City, be sure to check out the Toronto Island Airport and, of course, the eclectic coworking scene.

Best known as 'the city of neighborhoods,' Toronto has an overwhelming amount of unique districts, 240 to be exact. This is great for foodies – Little Italy, Little India and Chinatown bring the grub. From Cabbagetown in the East end to the Northern uphill Casa Loma castle. There is a bustling Annex along Bloor Street crowned by the local ‘church’ where locals gather… the Bloor Cinema. If you’re into skinny jeans, sink into the boho-meets-condo Queen West district with a strip of nightclubs and vintage 1950s bars covered in leopard print. No wonder the city’s motto is ‘Diversity Our Strength.’

For the Toronto spirit, visit the parties under the namesake nickname, Toronto the Good. The citizens are proud, provincial and are obsessed with map blogs, indie pins with subway stops, psychogeography and city hero, Jane Jacobs.

But what about coworking? It’s blooming. There are currently 15 coworking spaces and growing in the Coworking Toronto collective, a group that works together under one umbrella. Best known for starting the Coworking Toronto Passport Program, which ran last year and allowed coworkers to drop-in at selected spaces for a flat rate. Redeemable at Camaraderie Coworking Inc, Coworkative, Locus Quo and more, the project was inspired by the indie coffee passport and the coworking visa program.

The Passport Program was designed to allow coworkers to move around, delve into different communities, share experiences, and really explore coworking in Toronto. No final word yet, but the program may return for international coworking day on August 9.

In the downtown area, Bathurst Street has become the new ‘coworking alley,’ as one can walk to spaces like CSI, Workplace One, Project: RHINO, Bento Miso and Acme from one hotspot called the Foundery.

The folks at Coworking Toronto have been meeting with city councilors and trying to educate people at local organizations like Enterprise Toronto and the Toronto Business Development Centre about the benefits of coworking. Here is a selection of spaces you cannot miss when you hit Hogtown.

The Foundery

The Foundery, launched in January 2011 on Bathurst Street, is set in a blocky charcoal grey building with a coffee shop at its foot. Ashley Proctor, manager of the Foundery and also co-founder of the CoworkingToronto Collective, says that the space can accommodate over 60 members, between the coworking area and private offices. Additionally, there is an event space and the CB Gallery, as Proctor is the founder of Creative Blueprint. Since the art gallery partnership with Creative Blueprint, the worlds of art and entrepreneurs collide and that accelerates serendipity in the space.  It's definitely a place for starting things.

Events are diverse, from Hackernest Tech Socials, birthday parties, holiday art markets to a feminist art conference. The most memorable event in Proctor’s eyes was a New Year’s networking fiesta where guests wrote a postcard to the New Year. “I enjoy helping people set and reach their goals,” said Proctor. “The results just keep coming.”

Camaraderie Coworking

Armed with a “work independently, not alone” philosophy, Camaraderie Coworking just celebrated a re-launch party this week in the west end neighborhood of Roncesvalles. A shared space for freelancers and entrepreneurs, they urge freelancers to stop using their home address for business, and encourage them to turn to their secure mailbox to keep your business mail safe. This dog-friendly space also has a member library on the third floor, offers a discount on a car rental company and a constantly growing members list on their website.

Centre for Social Innovation

CSI has a strong presence with three locations in Toronto and one new location in New York which opened in May. CSI Toronto first opened in 2004 and has since been a staple in the city’s coworking scene. A coworking space, community centre and incubator, CSI recently launched a $600K Ontario Catapult Microloan Fund to provide low interest loans to early-stage social enterprise members. They also run the Agents of Change Youth competition, offering free space, training and support to 10 promising community-orientated social ventures. Home to nonprofits, entrepreneurs, artists and activists, they have over 800 members who are striving to make the world a better place. Cash in on the mentor support, peer-to-peer feedback, their events and training. If you happen to be in their Chinatown location, be sure to get a latte at the Dark Horse Espresso Bar on the bottom floor.

Bento Miso

You know a coworking space is cool if they have collaborated with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. They also do a ton of game salons. That’s right, Bento Box Projects, Inc. even hosted a Bit Bazaar and they’ve brought thousands of people through their space for pop-up Mexican cantinas, a scotch tasting club, handmade crafts and all around, an indie DIY flavour.

Since Bento Box first opened January 2012, they have recently opened up an additional 3,500 square-foot space on the main floor. In a space accommodating 60 coworkers with 120 active members, in the past year Bento Box has had over 250 events including the game night with member prototypes and local industry mavericks offering up beta test projects. Oh, and the coworking, you ask? They support sustainability, community, web nerds and game developers. They also support food startups and socially-conscious designers. All members can drop in for business chats.

“Business sustainability is very important to us, and I offer open office hours to help with business, marketing and product development questions,” said Henry Faber, the business development director. “There's a lot of choices for people in Toronto interested in coworking. We think by assisting the communities that are most active in our space, we'll develop a richer community.”

Workplace One

Workplace One is up on the flexibility for their coworking space with customizable offices and services for small businesses on the upturn. They have two locations – one in the central easy-access, subway and streetcar-friendly Queen and Bathurst area (just a stone's throw from the MuchMusic empire), their second location is in the picturesque east end of King and Parliament.

Far more blockbuster than the other Toronto coworking counterparts, if you’re into elegant touches, let it be known that the reception here handles your mail, coordinates your meetings and greets your clients. Big up to the common lounge on the main floor, which is traditionally Toronto, with sleek minimal furniture and an open space, there are also two boardrooms for meetings. This is truly the space to get down to business, with or without a tie.

Project: RHINO 

Since 2011, Project: RHINO has been bringing coworking space for 56 dedicated members in the King West neighborhood of Toronto. While they already have 3,000 sq. ft. of flexible office space, they are looking to expand the space by 2,000 sq. ft. by September. They claim to offer the cheapest dedicated desk space in Toronto, and offer 24/7 access, beer on tap and foosball. They are also the closest coworking space to the Toronto Island Airport, for those on short-haul travels from nearby cities like New York.

“Toronto is on the cusp of becoming the next hotbed for tech startups and innovative entrepreneurs, and we are glad that there are coworking options like ours to support those future leaders,” said Amit Kalra, an operations manager. 

Acme Works

Acme Works is currently the youngest coworking space in Toronto, having opened on May 6. In their newly renovated space in the King and Bathurst neighborhood, the space can accommodate roughly 60 coworkers plus six private offices. Their current members include marketing directors, a digital media company, a team of data analytics and communications consultants, like Christine Andrews, and the Acme Works founder.

“I’m very excited to be part of the coworking scene in Toronto; it is vibrant, growing and collaborative,” said Andrews on the day after the grand opening party. “We are a diverse group of many business models and structures, but we work well together and share the same passion.”

Acme offers members access to an established network of business experts, from lawyers, business execs, PR professionals, accountants, funding specialists and more. “We offer our members access to these individuals on an a la carte hourly basis, when and if they need them."

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