Innovation Works team

Innovation Works was born in a living room amid a small gathering of great minds. Together they imagined London’s very own co-working space, where change-makers and innovators could intersect and cross-pollinate – a space dedicated to social innovation.

London had been experiencing significant growth and change and was facing complex economic, environmental, social and cultural challenges that couldn’t be solved by government alone. The idea for the space was born out of a yearning for a place designed to help explore solutions to these issues through cross-sector collaboration, and to support the emerging social enterprise and social innovation communities in our city.

Margret Mead once famously said, “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”. This has proven true in our community, as what started as a living room gathering catalyzed the creation of a co-working space that has since ignited countless partnerships and ideas that are making our city a better place to live. Come along as we look back over the milestones that shaped Innovation Works.

2010 – Team assembles

In the early days of the project, Pillar Nonprofit Network partnered with Downtown London, Emerging Leaders, London Arts Council, London Heritage Council and other community groups to explore the possibilities for a shared space in our community. We also engaged the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) in Toronto to learn from their models and best practices. Our partnership with CSI continues today and has been an invaluable resource that has helped to shape our community in many ways, from our values to our volunteer program. At this stage, we also began to look for possible buildings and seek funding opportunities. While the timing did not work out, we learned a lot about how to better prepare going forward and started the process to develop a business plan and put project leadership in place.

2012 – Collaborating for Community Impact program begins

While the idea for a social innovation shared space had been gaining traction since it was conceived, the Collaborating for Community Impact (CCI) program re-energized the community’s interest to move the project forward. The CCI program was a three-year initiative led by Pillar with an overarching goal to contribute towards a healthier, more vibrant community, by increasing the impact of nonprofit organizations through cross-sector collaboration. In each year of the program, Pillar hosted community members from all sectors at collaboration forums to gauge the important issues in our city. Drawing on this community input, we developed three key initiatives for the program, including developing a social innovation shared space.

2013 – Get on the Bus tour

Pillar and Emerging Leaders hosted a diverse group of 40 attendees on a bus tour to visit the Centre for Social Innovation Annex & Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto. Attendees of the tour had the opportunity to see first hand how these innovative spaces work and to ask questions. This trip allowed people to see the possibilities that a social innovation shared space could bring to London and encouraged prospective co-tenants and donors to come forward.

2013 – Community design jams

A social innovation shared space is nothing without its community, which is why gathering input from Londoners on what the space should look like was so important to the development of Innovation Works. Over the course of several months, Pillar hosted three design jams to gather input from over 130 people from various sectors and backgrounds. At the design jams, we engaged attendees in creative brainstorming sessions to generate a range of ideas and solutions. From these sessions, we gathered valuable opinions about why the space was needed, the requirements for the space and the function and value it would provide to the community.

2013 – Feasibility and business plan

In 2013, Pillar and Emerging Leaders conducted a detailed feasibility study and created a business plan thanks to a grant from the London Community Foundation. The grant also allowed London to bring in social innovation experts, Purpose Capital and CSI Toronto, to share significant real life experience that helped to hone our financial plans and operating model. With the results of this plan and the positive feedback and excitement from design jam participants, there was an encouraging case for a calculated investment into the development of a co-working space for social innovation in London.

2013 – Pillar accepts role of backbone

The feasibility and business plan and community engagement opportunities helped the project gain considerable momentum, but it was clear that a leader was needed to move the project forward. According to the collective impact theory of achieving social change, there must be a backbone organization that is dedicated to organizing the work of the group. When asked to step up as the backbone, Pillar was well positioned to take on this role and bring our work in community impact and cross-sector collaboration to the next level.

2014 – Investors rally

As the project continued to take shape, we were fortunate to receive many investments from our community that helped raise the capital required to allow us to purchase a home for Innovation Works. It truly takes a village to succeed at an initiative of this size and we are forever grateful for the partnership and financial support we received from our founding members and supporters.

Margret Mead once famously said, "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world". This has proven true in our community, as what started as a living room gathering catalyzed the creation of a co-working space that has since ignited countless partnerships and ideas that are making our city a better place to live.

2014 – Pillar purchases the Garvey Building

After an extensive search, Pillar announced the purchase the Garvey Building at 201 King Street in downtown London. Innovation Works finally had a home. Located in London’s core, the building was a perfect fit both in terms of amenities and being part of the downtown revitalization initiative. Before you could say “innovation”, committees were formed and a project team was put in place. Establishing the right structures and processes were critical at this time. We had committees for everything from tenant cultivation to communications and were very fortunate to have over 60 volunteers that helped to make our vision a reality.

2015 – Community Bond launches

Pillar started London’s first community bond in 2015 to help us raise the remaining $1 million dollars required for the opening of Innovation Works. A community bond is an interest-bearing loan that can only issued by nonprofits or charities that generates revenue, and allows contributors to align their investments to their values. The 47 investors in the community bond provided debt financing for renovations and needed capital for Innovation Works, and in turn, earned three percent interest per year for five years. This innovative investment approach spoke to who we are as an organization and provided a unique forum to engage investors that had never been seen in London before.

2016 – Crowdfunding campaign launches

Pillar launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2016 to help raise the remaining capital for the Innovation Works building. This campaign provided a community engagement opportunity for people, organizations and foundations to donate as little as 10 dollars to support Innovation Works. We had a total of 47 investors invest from $1000 to $500,0000.

2016 – Innovation Works opens

June 15, 2016 marked the inaugural day of Innovation Works. When we opened our doors, there was a palpable excitement in the air. Conversations were happening, ideas were being shared and relationships were beginning to form. Over time, this excitement has sparked innumerable partnerships between nonprofits, for profits with a social purpose, academic partners and social entrepreneurs with the goal to solve challenges in our community.

2017– Desk Exchange Community Animator (DECA) program launches

Our Desk Exchange Community Animator (DECA) program, now called the Welcome Desk Volunteer Team, launched at the beginning of 2017. The program provides volunteers with access to our co-working space in exchange for greeting guests at our front desk. Our Welcome Desk Volunteers are the first face people see when they arrive at our space. They excel in customer service, organization, communication and problem solving. Our Welcome Desk Team have contributed over 3000 hours of volunteer time to the Innovation Works community and they continue to use their diverse experiences, skill sets and personalities to animate the space every single day.

Future directions

Today, over 200 co-tenants and approximately 400 individuals call Innovation Works home. Meeting the needs of our co-tenants and supporting their growth will always be our number one priority. Community animation will continue to be at the heart of what we do as we look for new ways to spark collaborations that will lead to positive impact in our community. 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. Above all else, we’ll strive to make our co-tenants feel like Innovation Works is more like a family than a place to work.