Two years ago, I did one of the riskiest and likely scariest things I’ve ever done in my life, I signed the lease on this corner building in the heart of Parkdale. It was two winters ago, and since then life as I know it has been forever different. There has been tons of laughter, tears, and joy.
There are so many moments where I wanted to give up. So many moments of sacrifice, and hardships, and most of all worry that I won’t be able to make it. What keeps me going constantly is remembering why I started this to begin with. Things are starting to look up at the centre, and I’m starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
I’d like to share some highlights from this year at Parkdale Centre. Join me, in looking back at the year’s successes, accomplishments, and funny moments:
In January 2019, we launched the first inaugural cohort of Women in Leadership, with the support of Alterna Savings’ community grant. With the grant, we were able to subsidize spots for 37 women to enrol in the program, and start a business by April!
Following the first cohort, we had a demand for a Spring Cohort for Women in Leadership, where 17 people signed up for the program to start a business in media, equity, social enterprises, security and even construction.
As a result, we were also very lucky to have Minister Mary Ng and our very own MP Arif Virani visit the centre to celebrate the Women in Leadership program, and discuss gender equality and inclusivity in entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, we also launched the first cohort of the Media Arts and Journalism. This program focuses on supporting creators, and podcasters to start a project, create an action plan and launch it. We had amazing industry leaders get involved, including George Stroumboulopoulos! I was such a fan of him when I was a teenager, so it was great to hear his story, and perspective on Branding, Stories & Identities in Media.
One of the main things I learned throughout this journey is to also listen to the needs of the people. Parkdale Centre as an organization has been very grassroots from the beginning. It helped us to listen to what people are looking for and what they would need in an incubator. Though I do have to say, it isn’t always easy. It requires time, intentionality, and a lot of effort.
We had a Media Night to celebrate the projects that were incubated at Parkdale Centre that summer. Media Night was a fun way to hear about the participants’ projects, podcasts, and the reasoning why they started them.
Speaking of which, that summer, we also won an award for being one of the 50 most innovative workplaces.
As a result, we decided to launch the Media Lab Workshop series for the fall! It was an exciting way to get the word out about the program, but also to connect with people from the industry and get them to be involved.
The Media Lab Workshop Series
Granting 101 with Gloria Blizzard, who was also a Women in Leadership participant in the Spring.
The second Media Lab Workshop was focused on Audience Growth the NY Times expert, Shannon Busta, and Globe and Mail expert Katrina Bolak. This was a popular workshop, and my aim is always to increase the number of people of colour in media work. We’re very deliberate about who currently takes up space, and whose voices need to be heard. Without intentionality, and making that known publicly, the wrong people could take up space we don’t have.
We’re very deliberate about who currently takes up space, and whose voices need to be heard.
The 3rd Media Lab Workshop Series
Sarah Efron and Saira Peesker on crafting the art of pitching for journalists. As entrepreneurs, we’re always pitching. Whether you’re pitching your business, or an idea to write about, or your business to cover, you need to know how to pitch, so that your story stands out from all the others.
The 4th Media Lab Workshop Series
Ginella Massa discussed broadcasting and sharpening your interview skills on and off Live TV.
The 5th Media Lab Workshop Series
Kalli Anderson, journalism professor and producer conducted a workshop on tools to use for podcasting and sharing your audio project.
Throughout this time, we also started up Parkdale Radio, a shared platform for creators participating in our programs. The Elections Watch podcast was started a series produced during the federal election, where hosts covered local debates, recorded voters ideas and interviewed candidates, including the Green Party candidate, and our own MP Arif Virani.
After the end of our programs, we usually wrap up by having a demo day, and those are often a lot of fun to look forward to for our members, and the community. It gives an opportunity for the participants to pitch their businesses, and present the decks they’ve been working on throughout the program? Do you know how to pitch to an investor or a key stakeholder? what would you say? How long would you presentation be? Our programs prepare you for those conversations.
As an early stage entrepreneur, you incubate your project/business at Parkdale Centre for 12 weeks. The programs are once a week for 2 hours, and you work on crafting your pitch, lining up your partners/key stakeholders, working on your deck, and making sure that you have the right metrics to measure your quarterly success by. It can be a lot to do on your own, and having a supportive network helps.
- Women in Leadership: 4 Cohorts
- Early Stage Entrepreneurship: 6 Cohorts
- Media Arts & Journalism: 2 Cohorts
- 75 diverse creators and entrepreneurs
- 1 year
Creating Diverse Pathways to Hiring
Along with working on ensuring our incubator programs are running smoothly and are a success to participants, Parkdale Centre launched several initiatives to support people of colour, and newcomers to find career opportunities in the digital economy. We worked closely with the HR and digital teams at Accenture and KPMG on piloting events and programs that make sense for professionals. Mentorship was a key component to this project.
After the mentorship events, we work closely with the teams to identify potential hiring candidates for open positions in the organization. People of colour and newcomers often have a hard time finding a career in tech/digital. Creating this hiring pathway came out of a need we heard from members. We learned that many professionals were going into entrepreneurship as a means to sustain themselves, when they couldn’t land a job in the industry. We worked on creating those pathways, because we believe that inclusion in the digital sphere is the only way an organization is able to transform and move forward. You’re missing out on great talent otherwise.
Did you know that Parkdale Centre serves people from all over the GTA from other underrepresented areas and communities? Parkdale Centre is one of the first innovation centres to focus entirely on inclusion and equity.
Fun Things at Parkdale Centre
The more and more we grow, the more I learn about how lucky and privileged I am to be able to work with and provide opportunities for such amazing people all over the GTA.
People and Community
One constant lesson I keep learning is the importance of building great connections, and relationships with people. This work, entrepreneurship, can be a very isolating industry, and if you don’t have a strong network and people around you who support your mission, it can be very daunting to accomplish milestones, let alone succeed. We can’t do this alone. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of my family, team, our members, and the our strong partner network who push us into the direction of great opportunities to further our mission.
Maya Burns, Parkdale Centre’s event coordinator, set out to launch the holiday marketplace this December. And the results were amazing! We had over 15 vendors, who are small business owners from all over the GTA, along with Parkdale Centre entrepreneurs. It was the perfect time to not only showcase the products of local businesses, but also encourage people from the community to come out and do their holiday shopping locally.
I’m so excited for all our partners coming on this year and 2020 to support the growth of this amazing and very special incubator in Parkdale.
City of Toronto
The City of Toronto’s support this year and since we opened has been instrumental in allowing us to provide subsidized spots for disadvantaged entrepreneurs to enrol in Parkdale Centre’s programs. More importantly, their interest in highlighting and spreading the message not only about Parkdale Centre’s programs, but entrepreneurs and startups, has been in true essence what a good partnership is all about. As a new organization, we’re always keen and excited to share about what’s going on at the centre and spread our mission and message to a wider audience for greater impact.
The first story of January was by StartupHereTO, highlighting some of the entrepreneurs we supported when we first launched the centre. I look forward to sharing more of Parkdale Centre entrepreneur and startup stories with them in 2020.
Google has been involved with Parkdale Centre since the first quarter we launched, thank you to our board member Mladen for his advocacy of our mission. In 2020, I’m excited to announce that Google will be supporting the Early Stage Entrepreneurship program to support entrepreneurs to start their business, thus creating economic opportunities for Parkdale and beyond. Psst, you should apply today as space is limited.
And last but not least, I’d like to share one of my favourite partners that I got to work with very closely throughout 2019, the team at eBay/Kijiji. From the start, they believed in Parkdale Centre’s mission, and they had a focus to support community driven organizations that create economic opportunities for disadvantaged women. We were the recipients of the Global Give Grant, for Women in Leadership Cohort #4.
The team has been involved in facilitating some of the sessions, sharing their expertise, mentorship, and providing workshops on financial budgeting, marketing, communications, e-commerce, and project management/working with teams. How amazing is that? I love working closely with partners to figure out the best way to support the participants. Since most of the entrepreneurs are at an early stage in their business, it’s important to figure out their needs and best way to support them.
There are so many more partners that jumped on board this year, and when I think about it, I can be brought to tears. It isn’t easy at all getting the support of great organizations, but it confirmed that when someone believed in the mission, they become your greatest advocate. In 2020, aim to find and hang onto your advocates. They’re hard to find.
What this year taught me is that if you follow your passion, with a lot of drive, you will see the results. It’ll be in the smiling faces of people you support.
Or in the smiles and laughter of those around you.
You will see it in the kindness and support of others.
When I tell people Parkdale Centre has been relying on the goodness of those around us, I’m not sure if anyone believes me, but honestly, we wouldn’t have achieved what we did without people truly believing in our mission because they see the need for the centre to exist. We need to have a space where every entrepreneur feels supported, we also need a space to come to when we feel lost, alone, unheard, or not taken seriously. Parkdale Centre is home to some of the most talented, and driven startups and entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. Join us in 2020 to leave a small but might footprint for change.
Thank you to everyone that participated, who supported us by telling friends, coming out to events, sponsored programs, connected people together, we couldn’t have done it without your help.
Special Thanks to:
And anyone else that I might be leaving out right now. The list is endless.
And my board: Mladen, Neel, and Gilary,
Happy New Year everyone,
In the spirit of love, solidarity and justice,