Building our community: Innovation Works from implementation to scale

This article is a continuation of From dream to reality: The start-up of Innovation Works, start there for more context on how it all began. 

Getting the keys to 201 King Street brought us one giant step closer to realizing our dream to bring a social innovation shared space to London; but first we had to make sure the physical space would foster social innovation. We needed the space to have standard resources like desk space, meeting space, and shared office amenities, and also  comfortable open spaces that promote both focused work or an impromptu chat. After all, diversity in your perspectives or in your environment is what stimulates new ways of thinking. A dynamic space is an innovative space.

Moving on up 

On June 15, 2016, our first co-tenants moved in to the second floor, our first renovated floor of Innovation Works. During this time, GoodLife, the previous owners of the building, co-existed with us in the building as we renovated our new space and they built their new home. This was ideal for both partners and a great example of collaboration between nonprofit and business as we were able to scale up rather than owning a large empty building in our start-up phase. GoodLife also donated all their furniture and shared their vast knowledge of this beautiful historic building including its soon-to-be-known to us ‘special attributes’. The building has old lungs and strong bones, while adding to the character, the age of the building brought its own set of challenges. GoodLife’s knowledge, connection to existing contracts and availability to help problem solve was priceless. 

During the Design Jams, we heard loud and clear that neighbourhood revitalization was a core value to this project. Soon after we opened our doors, we hosted a block party where we invited our neighbours, business owners and all those involved in the journey to create Innovation Works. We had more than 500 people come to join us to celebrate the milestone of opening. Creating opportunities to bring community together is what we’re all about and this event was just the beginning.

Co-tenant cultivation committee 

In our early days, we were fortunate to have an energetic co-tenant cultivation committee that started with those who attended the design jams, donors, investors and other dedicated volunteers who were engaged in the Innovation Works journey to date. We had to re-invigorate the committee with new people, new ideas and new processes along the way to keep momentum and ensure we had solid tracking processes. We also had an ‘I’m IN’ social media campaign that profiled our new co-tenants, donors, investors and team members to create excitement and a sense of belonging. Johnny Fansher who seeded the idea of a shared space for social innovation and was our first signed co-tenant. We also had a ‘Are you IN?’ video that featured our early adopters and tenants that created buzz and showed the diversity of people and organizations signing up to be part of Innovation Works. We opened with more than 50 co-tenants and quickly continued to grow our flex desk users, permanent desks and offices. What originally began as a committee effort to actively mine co-tenants has shifted to individuals now seeking us out to join our space. 

Animating our community

While the design of a space can spark collisions and encourage collaboration bringing a social innovation shared space to life requires community animation. Community animation involves a variety of activities that encourage connections between co-tenants and to the community at large. Community animation has included our Block Party building kick off party with more than 500 people, hosting workshops, weekly salad clubs, monthly mixers, holiday parties, summer barbeques, participating in the Pride London parade, hosting International Women’s Day events, and more. Community animation creates a culture of participation. It is an offering, not a requirement, allowing co-tenants to dip in and out of the community in a way that feels comfortable and natural to them. It has quickly became the key differentiator for Innovation Works and other existing co-working spaces.

Creating our culture (club)

A culture club made up of a committee of co-tenants was started to spark community animation ideas and to live out the values of the space. This group led the co-creation of the Innovation Works values that guide us daily. 


■ Put people and planet first
■ We are innovators
■ Together we are better
■ Keep it real
■ Make social change and have fun doing it
■ Anything is possible
■ Community is our culture
■ Blow people’s minds
■ It’s up to us​

What started as a vision amongst a small group of dreamers has become the physical representation of the three pillars of our community coming together and all of the beautiful collisions that result.

This committee also facilitated an environmental audit and birthed Wellness Works, a program to diffuse stress and encourage mental well-being for co-tenants and members of the downtown community. The Wellness Works program includes complimentary yoga and meditation sessions contributing to an inclusive space that welcomes the community. Wellness Works has now hosted two annual “Wellness Day” events during Mental Health Awareness Week in May where over 100 community members join in a conference style day with yoga, meditation, art, music therapy and mental health workshops.

Valuing co-tenant input

Annually, we do a survey to check in with co-tenants about how well we are meeting their needs. We ask questions about the physical space, shared amenities, responsiveness, interactions with the staff team, connections between the co-tenants, the quality of service from volunteers, our communications, and the best thing about Innovation Works. The results are shared out along with how we plan to improve going forward.

We also host a town hall annually to get in-person feedback from co-tenants and do some collective planning together for the future. Providing the best customer service to our community is our primary focus, and we can tell that our efforts are appreciated in the response rate of both the survey and the attendance of the town hall.

Growth and scale

Over time our co-tenancy has grown substantially and today we have more than 200 co-tenants and 400 people at Innovation Works. With our new membership re-design where and all co-tenants being members of Pillar, we are working to create connections across our network both inside and outside Innovation Works. The growth we have experienced and the volume of people through the space has brought us to a point where it is time to have a dedicated staff for the building and customer service. 

As we have grown, we have also had to assess some of the programs of our cafe partners, Edgar & Joe’s of Goodwill Industries. The café was offering “Community Coffee”, inviting those less fortunate to have a free coffee when others top up their own orders. Recently, we have had to evaluate how we can continue to offer support to this population and be inclusive while balancing the safety of our co-tenants, and we’re continuing to explore solutions. 

Today, we are well on-track to achieve sustainability through our social enterprise model and are now consulted by other communities as they venture into the co-working movement. The integral connection of Innovation Works and Pillar Nonprofit Network continues to evolve as we leverage and weave programming, space, members in a shared network. What started as a vision amongst a small group of dreamers has become the physical representation of the three pillars of our community coming together and all of the beautiful collisions that result. 

Lessons learned from the implementation of Innovation Works 
  1. Engage your community – By engaging the right partners and community members at every stage in our development process, we were able to raise awareness about social innovation and build connections between individuals and community organizations. 
  2. Adapt space continuously  – We are always looking for ways to update our space to better meet the needs of our co-tenants and the community. Changes we have made include a yoga studio, new meeting rooms, flexible workstations, and a new elevator.
  3. Balance community animation and building needs – We have learned that the needs of the building trump all other day to day tasks. When a contractor shows up or a toilet needs fixing these immediate needs must be addressed. While we always try to keep a balance between building needs and community animation, sometimes maintenance requirements can take away from activities fostering intentional connecting between our co-tenants, and the comfort of our co-tenants is the priority.
  4. Co-create values – One of our co-tenants led the process to co-create our shared values at Innovation Works along with input from others. Today we are looking at how we keep these alive with check ins and tweaks to make sure they are more than just words.
  5. Pace your scale up – Having a business model that allows you to scale up into a space over time eases the pressure on the financial model and allows the organization to adapt to as growth happens. We had a good pace when we opened up and more recently the growth outpaced our resources and capacity and we are adding more staff to recalibrate.
  6. Act on feedback – When conducting any surveys or gathering feedback from co-tenants, we have learned that we need to share what actions we will be taking to address the feedback when sharing the results. 
  7. Build your network beyond the walls – Having our networks both inside the walls and outside the walls interact and create connections is our next focus. We want to ensure that there is not an exclusivity that comes from being part of the space and want to have a hub and spoke model of connecting in and outside the space to spark impact.
  8. Evolve operations over time – Be prepared to stop boot-strapping as a start-up and evolve into a full fledged business. There will be a tipping point, likely around the three year mark, where the excitement of newness wears off and operations need to be sound.
  9. Mind the bottom line – The Innovation Works budget was broken out on a line by line item basis and monitored carefully with attention to space revenue, meeting room and event revenue, and the costs associated with running a heritage building as a co-working space.