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Yonge Interviews: Rachel Young, co-founder and owner of Camaraderie Coworking

Rachel Young of Camaraderie.

Camaraderie's third floor shared workspace.

Artwork by Daniele Rossi on the walls at Camaraderie.

Rachel Young loves to start things. From various clubs in elementary and high school, to Toronto's chapter of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month),  to Camaraderie Coworking, one of the first local spaces to provide a professional office setting for independent workers in this city. 
Now, she's immersed in organizing a BIA for a swath of Dundas St. West not yet represented. It's no surprise then that when she recently moved Camaraderie from Adelaide St. East to the refurbished Roncesvalles Village, she made sure to dedicate a portion of the space to startups.

Occupying the third floor at 2241 Dundas St West, Camaraderie will take over the entire building by summer. The first floor will offer an event and networking space for up to 150 guests, the third floor has a large kitchen for community meals, and the landlord's renovation plans include solar panels and a green retrofit--part of the impetus for the move. 
Innovative and community-minded Young understands the needs of a growing sector of freelance and contract workers who may not want to work at home, but also don't want to rent a pricey office. Through her involvement in Coworking Toronto and Coworking Ontario she is helping raise awareness for this world-wide trend.
Yonge Street sat down with Young to talk to her about Toronto's coworking trend and her plans for Camaraderie. 

What prompted your decision to change locations?
We spent three years on Adelaide. It was great; we were able to expand up to another floor. We were active in the neighbourhood and the BIA, and we had a park across the street. We loved it. The physical building, we did not love. 
Through the coworking community, I got to know the owner of this new building and I mentioned our plans to either relocate or start a second location in the west end.

After some thought and planning, we signed the lease and moved in. It ended up being a full move because we knew we'd have the opportunity to expand to all three floors of this building. The landlord is planning solar panels and a full green retrofit. He actively wants to update this building and make it work for us. It's probably the next best thing to owning the building myself. 
How is Camaraderie funded? How many members do you consistently need to make it profitable?
It’s funded through my pocket and membership fees.  We have different fee levels: we've got drop-ins, parttimes, fulltimes, and then the startup rooms. To average it out, I'd need about ten to fifteen members to make it worthwhile. To make it profitable the ideal is about 25. Once we expand we could probably have up to fifty desks. But one desk is not necessarily one person, because of the rotation of drop-in and part time members.  We could have a membership of 150 and still have room for everyone.
Speaking of members, what are the challenges in bringing them from the old location and attracting new members now that you're here? 

Some members came with me, but we lost some, unfortunately, because they wanted that particular location. To attract new members, I've put up flyers along Roncesvalles and I'm running an on-screen, pre-feature ad at the Revue Cinema (Roncesvalles and Howard Park) which includes a bar code that people can scan from their seat.  I've also visited the neighbouring businesses just to let them know I'm here. And I've reached out to the two BIAs; the Roncesvalles Village BIA and the Bloor by the Park BIA.

We're outside the perimeter of both, which drives me nuts because I love being active in a BIA. So, I might be crazy enough to start one for the stretch of Dundas St. W to Lansdowne Ave. I've already started researching it and asking business owners if they want to be involved. 
Coworking seems to be growing and viable way for independent workers to maintain professional offices, can you talk about the role Coworking Toronto plays in continuing the growth?

When we opened there were only two other coworking spaces in Toronto; one in Etobicoke and, of course, CSI (The Centre for Social Innovation). The idea of Coworking Toronto came when new places started cropping up and we got to know one another. There are now fifteen of us in Toronto, but as individual space owners we're kind of alone. We have issues that we don't necessarily bring to our members. We need to cowork and brainstorm. Through Coworking Toronto events and meet-ups we come up with ways to raise the profile of coworking across the city. Last year, we had the Passport Project, meant to be a tool of discovery for people who are new to coworking. They could try a space one day at each location participating in program.
Otherwise we attend events together; we've had a booth at Enterprise Toronto, a small business forum, for two years now.  We sent a representative to an annual coworking conference at SXSW in Austin. In general, it's really great therapy to meet as space owners and talk about membership management and other issues specific to being a small business owner and coworking owner. 
And coworking Ontario?

There are twenty-seven coworking spaces in Ontario. We get together annually for a professional development conference that I run. It's a mix of new spaces and well-seasoned spaces and it's just a way for us to learn from one another. 

Besides Camaraderie and the new BIA, what’s next for you?
I'm currently studying to become a private investigator in the area of identity theft. I plan to offer my own workshops and consulting to individuals and small businesses [that] have been victims of identity theft and fraud. I'd like to work in the area of prevention to help businesses put the right processes in place to avoid or lessen any such attempts, but I'll also work with victims to help repair their lives and businesses after they've been attacked.
Carla Lucchetta is an author, feature writer and television producer. She keeps a blog at carlamarialucchetta.com
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