In June of 2004, CSI opened its doors with fourteen founding members in tow to solve the “photocopier problem,” the tendency for organizations to work in silos instead of sharing resources and solutions. Enter 5,000 sq. ft. at 215 Spadina Avenue – one of the very first coworking spaces in the world!
If you know us, you know our story. But, do you know our members? Since our start, over 6000 alumni have passed through the halls (and multiple buildings) of CSI, accessing programming, building community, accelerating their ventures, and creating solutions for systems-level change. Now, as we expand from community-building to building the Next Economy (with a new methodology and increased programming to support innovations at every stage), our members continue to expand with us. Their stories tell the larger story of the life cycle of CSI.
On Friday, we held a virtual Innovator Toast for members, old and new, to toast seventeen years this June and to clink our glass to the thousands who have made CSI the cacophony of connections that it is. To celebrate seventeen years, here’s a look at seventeen of the countless innovators and innovations who’ve left a mark on us and who continue to leave their mark on the world:
Nadia Hamilton, Founder of Magnusmode
In 2011, Nadia Hamilton was named the winner of CSI’s Project Wildfire. The $25,000 grand prize helped her turn her vision of reducing barriers for people in the autism and disabled community into a full-fledged social enterprise. Inspired by her younger autistic brother, Nadia founded Magnusmode, an organization that creates assistive technology so that people with autism can lead more independent, integrated lives. Their flagship product, Magnus Cards, is a digital library of guides, much like the hand-drawn guides Nadia would make for her brother growing up. Partnering with different businesses and organizations, Magnus Cards are a step-by-step roadmap that guide users through different products, services, and everyday experiences, empowering people to participate with more agency and peace of mind.
Bryce Jones, CEO and Co-Founder of Flash Forest
Flash Forest is revolutionizing reforestation with tree-planting drones. Right now, planting trees is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to sequester carbon but as Bryce Jones and his fellow co-founders noticed, tree planting hasn’t changed much in the last century. Seeing an opportunity for innovation, they created Flash Forest, Canada’s first-to-market drone reforestation company. Using drones that fire seed pods into the ground at a rate of one per second, they’re on a mission to plant one billion trees by 2028. We met Bryce and the team through Earth Tech, our six-month Climate Ventures accelerator for startups and ventures working on climate and freshwater solutions. The team recently secured over $3.5M in funding for the next stage of their mission, including 100K from the SDTC fund for which we were proud to nominate them. We can’t wait to see what’s next!
Elsie Amoako, Founder and CEO of Mommy Monitor
As the founder of both Mommy Monitor and the Racialized Maternal Health Conference, Elsie Amoako is a rising leader in racialized maternal health. A CSI Spadina Member, she first joined CSI through our Agents of Change: Community Health program, where she worked with leading advisors and received a $10,000 grant to accelerate her enterprise. Now, Mommy Monitor is a full-service social enterprise and app that offers customized maternal health services, support and education. The vision? Provide maternal health services globally in a way that is virtual, culturally safe, promotes autonomy over the body and birth, and prevents adverse outcomes.
Maayan Ziv, Founder of Access Now
In 2016, Maayan Ziv also took part in CSI’s Agents of Change: Community Health cohort for AccessNow, a crowdsourced mobile and web platform that pinpoints accessibility information for locations worldwide. Known widely as a leading advocate for disability and inclusion, Maayan catalyzed her experiences in community (including three years at CSI) to create a grassroots movement: anyone anywhere can review locations by dropping a “pin” on AccessNow’s map, thereby improving accessibility through accountability and knowledge sharing.
Adrianna Couto, Co-Founder of Inwit
Adrianna Couto, alongside co-founder Erika Reyes, wants to make sustainability “irresistible to all Torontonians.” The two met through our DECA program and now, after participating in our WOSEN incubator, Inwit is on a mission to make the takeout industry circular and zero waste.
“Imagine ordering takeout that doesn’t compromise your love for food or the planet. Imagine returning our reusable containers while out walking your dog or heading to the grocery store.” Adrianna explains. “We are piloting Toronto’s first low waste takeout platform that will offer a glimpse into our low-carbon future.” It’s been a great joy to witness and support their success from the start. Now, the world is catching on: Inwit was recently chosen as one of the top 15 solutions out of Toronto, New York, Amsterdam, Glasgow, and Copenhagen, to move on to the second phase of the Circular Innovation City Challenge.
Daniel Bida, Executive Director of ZooShare
ZooShare, a nonprofit cooperative, built a biogas plant at the Toronto Zoo’s existing compost facility that converts zoo poo and food waste into renewable energy, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. You heard that right! Using Zoo poo as a source of energy is a beloved solution in the CSI zeitgeist.
Back in 2012, the biogas cooperative and CSI member won the Toronto Community Foundation’s Green Innovation Award after participating in the ClimateSpark Social Venture Challenge, a collaboration between CSI, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Toronto Community Foundation. At the time, Executive Director of ZooShare, Daniel Bida, said “Participation in ClimateSpark really helped to hone the unique selling points of the project as a result of getting feedback from so many individuals and experts from around the city.” Since then, ZooShare has been going strong, financing its operations by issuing Community Bonds (something we know a little about) with over five hundred impact investors.
Peter Deitz, Co-Founder of Grantbook and Unwrapit
In our latest Next Economy Conversation, Peter sat down to discuss his organization’s journey to employee ownership through an Employee Shared Ownership Plan (ESOP). Reflecting on his career as a serial social entrepreneur, he credited CSI as a “core influence” in his life. Having been a part of the CSI community for over fifteen years, Peter has incubated, launched and scaled multiple social enterprises out of our spaces. His latest venture, Unwrapit, is a social purpose business that provides companies with digital alternatives to traditional corporate and event gifting practices in order to reduce waste destined for landfill and create meaningful, personalized connections.
Myra Arshad, Co-Founder of ALT TEX
ALT TEX is creating sustainable textiles out of fermented food waste. Best friends and co-founders Myra Arshad and Avneet Ghotra developed a polyester alternative with an eye to disrupt the near $104 billion (USD) polyester industry by creating a circular, biodegradable, and carbon neutral product that addresses two major consumption problems: plastic and food waste. They recently closed their pre-seed round of funding at $1.5 M, proving there is a major appetite for solving fashion’s microplastic problem and upending the fast fashion market.
When we asked our 2021 Earth Tech venture what this support means to them, Co-Founder Myra Arshad said: “Having support from organizations that offer a platform, mentorship and funds is the reason ALT TEX has been able to get this far – it’s incredible how this ecosystem comes together to support entrepreneurs.”
Amoye Henry, Co-Founder of Pitch Better
Amoye Henry describes herself as “a rockstar millennial entrepreneur.” The description fits: in 2018, Amoye was named one of Canada’s top 100 Accomplished Black Women. She is on a mission to help scale growth-based businesses led by unique founders. “Basically, I want to see the underdog win,” she says.
Co-founding Pitch Better with Adeela Carter-Charles, Amoye is bridging the gap between women-led start-ups and their means of acquiring capital through grants and investments. With a mandate to “create more women millionaires,” Pitch Better connects innovative Black women entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals via workshops, talks and coaching sessions. Amoye expands on this mission as one of our WOSEN coaches.
Taking their work to the systems-level, Pitch Better is currently completing the first national market analysis of Black women founders in Canada. The FoundHers campaign aims to address gaps in the social economy by resolving gaps in data collection.
Ilana Ben-Ari, Founder of Twenty One Toys
One of CSI’s Youth Agent of Change award winners, Ilana Ben-Ari began Twenty One Toys with the belief that toys could be the new textbooks by, in part, teaching us collaboration, creativity and empathy. She first created the Empathy toy as a way to bridge gaps between visually impaired and sighted communities through play. It turns out, the toy bridged gaps and evoked empathy in anyone who played – from students to teachers to business executives and beyond. Since then, Ilana has been “mass-producing empathy,” as the toys show up all over the world in professional development workshops, leadership programs and even in job interviews! What’s next? A true innovator in heart and spirit, she’s currently launching new toy to reframe how people understand failure, aptly named the Failure toy.
Social Innovation Canada
Catalyzed by CSI, Social Innovation Canada is working to provide the collaborative infrastructure to strengthen Canada’s social innovation ecosystem, empowering people, organizations and systems with the tools, knowledge, skills and connections that they need to solve real and complex problems.
How it works: SI Canada consists of a small ‘secretariat’ team at the national and operations level, working in partnership with regional ‘nodes‘ or host partners in various parts of Canada. Each node has a ‘weaver’. These ‘weavers’ are natural networks who are responsible for convening regional gatherings and learning events to revel, share, unlock, and enable people, organization and systems to thrive. They meet regularly and work together to reflect the vibrancy, diversity and knowledge that is emerging from coast to coast to coast. CSI is proud to be Ontario’s node and the backbone, operational support for SI Canada as we work to connect Canada’s social innovation ecosystem.
Ontario Nonprofit Network
The Ontario Nonprofit Network breaks down silos by developing working groups, provincial strategies and building regional nonprofit networks to actualize the potential of the Ontario nonprofit sector. Back in 2007, when the ONN was a fledgling initiative with a vision to build a network of nonprofits, CSI incubated ONN. We acted as a trustee, providing insurance, bookkeeping, leadership, accounting, management, and a board of directors. In fact, our CEO, Tonya Surman, was the founding co-chair for ONN’s steering committee. This allowed the ONN leadership to figure out what worked (and what didn’t), build a strong foundation, and grow their network. In 2015, after spending seven years at CSI, they incorporated into a stand-alone organization. We’ve watched with complete admiration and inspiration at the incredible impact ONN continues to achieve.
Tapestry Community Capital
CSI Member Tapestry Community Capital is a non-profit co-op that supports other co-ops and nonprofits in raising and managing community investment. With the help of Tapestry (and 120 incredible community investors), CSI was able to raise 1.9M in under two months in our most recent bond project. Tapestry has been a key player in our Community Bond initiatives – an innovation CSI invented that allows nonprofits to leverage nonprofit social capital into financial capital. To date, Tapestry has helped organizations across sectors raise and manage over $70 million from 3,900 investors. Building community by building resiliency, they are not only vital to CSI but to our social innovation sector.
Toronto Tool Library
Much like CSI’s founding mission to resolve the “photocopier problem” by sharing resources and space, Toronto Tool Library is on a mission to maximize the benefits of the sharing economy. A part of the broader tool sharing movement as one of over forty tool libraries across North America, this CSI Spadina member provides tools, skill-sharing, and community assistance initiatives that enable individuals, nonprofit organizations, and communities to connect through cooperative sharing. It’s been such a privilege to provide space to TTL over the years as they give so much to our CSI community.
Long-time CSI member Cycle Toronto has been with us through every key stage of their journey, from starting small, moving from office to office at CSI Annex as they grew, and then eventually landing at CSI Spadina where they’ve expanded their team and their vision. Now a registered charity, Cycle Toronto is a vital part of Toronto, shaping policy, infrastructure and community to transform the city’s cycling culture to make cycling a viable option for Torontonians.
Fresh City Farms
Fresh City Farms delivers organic produce, groceries, meal kits and a variety of prepared meals right to your door. Recipients of a CSI Catapult Loan in 2015, and part of our 2016 Agents of Change cohort, their growth has been nothing short of phenomenal since then. In April of 2019, they acquired Mabel’s Bakery & Specialty Foods. A month later, they announced the acquisition of The Healthy Butcher, a pioneer in organic and 100% grass-fed meat and sustainable seafood. Last year, during the pandemic, they waived delivery fees for a while, providing food access and stability to many of our community members.
Canopy works with “the forest industry’s biggest customers and their suppliers to develop business solutions that protect these last frontier forests.” Taking a truly systems-level approach, the organization transforms unsustainable product supply chains by engaging business executives on the importance of forest conservation and the power of greening their practices.
When the Vancouver-based organization looked to branch out to Toronto, they chose to call CSI home. A decade into seeing their work up close, we were thrilled when Ashoka Fellow and Founder of Canopy, Nicole Rycroft, recently won the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award. Last week, she sat down with Barnabe Geis, our Executive Director of Climate Ventures, for a Climate Ventures Conversation to discuss where their work will take them next.
Breaking silos is at the heart of what we do. When an organization expands their impact by branching out into our spaces, their vision invariably influences ours. We are so grateful to those who’ve chosen to be a part of the community! Honourable mentions include: the David Suzuki Foundation, Vancity Community Investment Bank, Jack.Org, and the Greenbelt Foundation.