Written by David Silverberg

At the corner of Queen and Lansdowne streets in downtown Toronto, you'll find a hulking building that used to be a Scotiabank branch. In fact, a vault still remains in the space. Inside, though, you'll find a different kind of office building, one filled with work-sharing desks and conference rooms and exposed brick walls. As well as a bustling community of Torontonians seeking to impact their corner of the world.

The Parkdale Centre for Innovation wants to harness the co-working trend among many entrepreneurs and run events to help those hungry executives level up their business and marketing skills.

“Our focus is inclusion and diversity,” says  Rusul Alrubail, the Centre's executive director. “Parkdale as a community is all about equity and inclusivity so we love sharing those values too.”

But those who use the space don't need to be from Parkdale. Alrubail says many members join from under-represented communities such as Scarborough and Mississauga. In this building, they found a home away from home.

Akua Mensah, founder and CEO of Mensah Management Consulting, says, “The Parkdale Centre is an important element in the Toronto ecosystem because it provides opportunities for professional entrepreneurs and students to learn essential business fundamentals in ways that create new perspectives.”

Nicole DiNardo, who runs a health-coaching business, applauds how the Centre has been “such amazing cheerleaders” for all the startups that have walked through their doors. Plus, she adds, “They teach you the brass tacks of how to run a business right.”

The Centre's curriculums include in-house programs that provide foundational skills, bridge-opportunities, and the acceleration of advanced professional development. 

For example, its Ready Program focuses on providing the foundations for business and career growth via educational classes on everything from identifying your business's KPIs to how to market effectively. “We'll do some hand-holding in the beginning and that can help them a lot in achieving their goals,” Alrubail says of the Ready Program participants.

A one-to-one mentorship section of that program also assists entrepreneurs who may have specific questions they want an experienced professional to address.

Anne Flamant, founder and CEO of Dare & Defy Strategic Consulting, first went through the Ready Program and then became an instructor herself at the Centre. She is leading a marketing class that members can take to better learn how to promote their firms online and offline.

“I get inspired by diversity and being around people who want to change the world,” she says, “and that's the kind of energy I see at the Centre. 

In the coming years, Alrubail would love to see the Centre fine-tune their current offerings and expand beyond downtown. “There's a huge opportunity for this innovative model we have, where something similar could open in communities that need a space like ours, such as the Jane-and-Finch area. It's important to us to help those who have felt marginalized in the startup world in Toronto, such as people of colour and women.”

Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real