By Andrew Seale

A decade and a half at the helm of Creative Niche recruiting superstars for innovative companies in the marketing, advertising and design sphere is apt to give you a good handle on the current talent trends. But Mandy Gilbert is savvier than that, with the demand side on lock-down, now she’s turning her attention towards the supply side.

“I started (recruitment firm) Creative Niche in 2002 on a $8,000 line of credit – it’s a $10 million business today,” says Gilbert. “But having been doing this for 14 years (it’s) easy to see there’s a huge talent gap.”

A conversation between the Toronto-based entrepreneur and Colin Mansell, founder of agency Drive Digital, out in Vancouver, got the pair thinking of a collaboration, an immersive design and technology school focused not on traditional skill-sets but the frontline, the tools and knowledge needed by fast-paced technology companies in the ever-evolving landscape.

Mansell told Gilbert he had the idea for Red Academy for a bit, he just needed the right partner. It was an easy sell for Gilbert.

“I love the idea of helping, of creating an environment that is very inclusive and supportive to anyone no matter what stage of life they are in or where they’re from,” says Gilbert. “(We were) aligned on a number of fronts – big on impact, big on personal development of our students, and delivering a quality education that addresses the gap that exist today.”

They launched Red Academy in Vancouver in July 2015 and expanded to Toronto less than a year later in May.

“We're already busting at the seams and we have grown our offering,” says Gilbert pointing to leading edge programs like Full Stack Marketer, User Interface and Communication Design and User Experience courses. They even offer one on the fundamentals of VR, AR And Mixed Reality. The academy boasts a 96 per cent placement.

“When you look at the future and what's already happened with technology, it’s replacing people in jobs,” says Gilbert. Which drives demand for people to constantly be learning and adapting their skills. “It's becoming more critical than ever.”

Between Creative Niche’s finger on the pulse of Toronto’s startup ecosystem and Red Academy’s role training the future, the talent required to elevate the startup ecosystem both here and across the country, Gilbert sees the pace of change daily.

Now she plays a role in keeping up.

“I think it’s amazing to be an entrepreneur in Toronto… there’s an amazing community here, there are meet-ups, support groups, free events, resources,” she says. “We want to help these people get ready and set them up for success – to be happy and savvy entrepreneurs.”