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18 CSI Milestones

It’s Our Birthday!

Today, CSI celebrates the 18th anniversary of opening our doors as Canada’s (and maybe the world’s!) first coworking space. Of course, we’ve evolved over the years to become so much more than just that – we are a curated, tight-knit community who cares deeply about making the world better for all. To celebrate the past 18 years of partnership and social innovation, we picked just 18 milestones (from the thousands of star moments) to share.

On this momentous day in 2004, we opened our doors at 215 Spadina Avenue to our 14 founding members, and as they say, the rest is history. We are now home to almost 1,000 members, part of the 5000+ organizations that have come through our doors, grown, and made the world a little better at CSI over the past 18 years!

In 2008, we hosted the first Social Enterprise Summit, bringing together 160 leaders to showcase Canadian social entrepreneurship. In 2011, we organized the ultimate networking event for CSI members, aptly named the First Members Summit!

TechSoup, a global nonprofit network that provides affordable technical support and tools, wasn’t easily accessible to Canadian charities in 2008. One year later, TechSoup Canada found its home at CSI, where they have helped tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations improve their operations and gain access to more than $422 million worth of technology.

How does a young nonprofit purchase two buildings in downtown Toronto? Community bonds, of course! A Community Bond allows a nonprofit or charity to leverage its community of supporters to pursue its mission, build its resiliency, and create more vibrant communities. These were developed from a simple question: How can social capital be turned into financial capital? We created them to help raise $2 million to buy our first building…

Renters no longer! In 2010, we purchased our first building at 720 Bathurst St., in part thanks to the Community Bond. Our Annex location now houses 36,000 sq. ft. of social enterprise potential, including many innovative members and lush plants.

What’s a DECA, you ask? DECA stands for our Desk Exchange Community Animator program, launched in 2010. DECAs are the glue that keeps the CSI community together. This program is perfect for anyone wanting to learn about social innovation by immersing themselves in it.

We opened our third location in Toronto, CSI Regent Park, in 2012 in the Daniel’s Spectrum Building at 585 Dundas St. E. During the pandemic, the space transitioned to the Community Living Room – an ever-evolving experiment that prioritizes equity-deserving entrepreneurship development. Learn more about it here.

In 2013, we expanded south of the border and opened CSI New York at the historic Starrett-Lehigh building in Chelsea. We had a fantastic time helping to bring together entrepreneurs and innovators in the space, but all good things sometimes come to an end. This location closed its doors for good in 2020 due to the immense impacts of COVID-19.

Nothing brings us more joy than seeing CSI members, programs, and movements grow, improve, and carry on with their important work. A great example of CSI alumni includes the Ontario Nonprofit Network; created as an incubation project in 2014, they graduated from our membership in 2015 and continue to carry on their great work.

In 2016, we launched our How to be an Ally series, with co-creators El Mugammar and Bear Standing Tall. We hosted many different events led by artists, activists, entrepreneurs, academics, writers, and educators on topics such as anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, healing, and more. Check out the How to be an Ally: Islamophobia at the intersections event recording here.

In September 2018, Climate Ventures began at CSI Spadina as an incubator for the entrepreneurs, innovators, and advocates working on climate solutions and climate justice. Since then, it’s been busy creating novel answers to some of the many questions raised by the climate crisis, even joining forces with national cleantech titan Foresight Canada. Learn more about Climate Ventures here.

The past 18 years of innovation and community wouldn’t have been possible without many different moving parts, one of which is our Common Platform! We created this solution to help connect our members across Canada and amplify their impact by broadcasting events, opportunities, and news with others across the sector.

Following an amazing ten years in the Robertson building at 215 Spadina Avenue (our original location), we packed up all of our members and moved across the street (all in one weekend) to the Murray Building at 192 Spadina in September 2019. Why the move, you may ask? Well…

We bought our second building! We utilized another Community Bond to purchase our current home at 192 Spadina. Here, we’re packing 64,000 sq. ft. with community, innovation, laughter, and world-changing ideas.

How did a coworking space survive the abrupt changes that came with COVID-19? We did what we always do — prioritized the safety and wellbeing of our members and came together in community in a new way. As Tonya so aptly noted, “a good community doesn’t leave anyone behind.” So, we created a Community Rent Pool – effectively a pay-what-you-can rent model – in an effort to provide maximum flexibility for our members. And now, we have returned to welcoming members back into our spaces, with additional safety measures in place to keep everyone healthy.

In 2020, we launched a new initiative, Social Innovation Canada, to connect social innovation practitioners, build the capacity of the sector, and to elevate this work in Canada and beyond. Learn more about Canada’s social innovation ecosystem here.

Did you know that CSI operates an island in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country? Wasan Island, owned by the Breuninger Foundation, is a restful and restorative place for non-for profit and charitable activities, for strengthening diverse collaborations motivated by social purpose, for local and global initiatives and for creating a space for healing and rejuvenation. Check it out here.

Our list of milestones wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the many programs that we’ve created over the years: Agents of Change, an accelerator program for early-stage social enterprises; League of Social Entrepreneurs, combining entrepreneurial energy with social innovation labs and the firepower of acceleration and incubation to create enterprising solutions that build back better; and Social Entrepreneurship 101, an 8-week, part-time online program that covers the foundations of social entrepreneurship and now lives on as Impact Entrepreneurship 101.

Thanks for 18 years, and here’s to many more!

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