That “Aha” moment in the Innovation Works Story: The Role of Business in Community Hubs

February 10

By Michelle Baldwin

How do we make the development of community hubs easier?

This is the question the Premier’s Community Hubs Advisory Group was tasked to address. Ultimately, our goal is to help ensure these properties and community hubs are adapted, used and maintained for the public good. The group began to look at building a framework for recommendations and quickly realized we needed to delve deeper into the role of business as partners and experts.

It was at a business roundtable as a member of the Premier’s Community Hubs Advisory Group back in November where I had my “aha” moment: Innovation Works, a London based community hub focused on sparking social innovation, has had enormous support from the business community and our business partners have contributed extensively to our success. The wheels started turning and I knew that we had to capture our story with the intention of helping others exploring the creation of a community hub.

We would not be where we are at with Innovation Works without the highly skilled volunteers with extensive business backgrounds. There have been many businesses that have shared their talents, advice, experiences and donations. The very intent of Innovation Works is to encourage and support cross sector collaboration by engaging nonprofit, social enterprise, business and government in our community hub. Business is crucial to this mix as it is the blend of bright and innovative minds and the intentional colliding of their ideas that will create transformational change in London.

Idea Stage

The journey in building and creating Innovation Works started with the dream by Johnny Fansher, a socially responsible investment advisor who was a member at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, the pioneers of a social innovation community hub model. Johnny brought together a blend of different people from different sectors including business in his living room as the first bold explorers of this idea for London. Johnny continues as an active member of the Tenant Cultivation Team for Innovation Works. Other bold explorers for that initial meeting included Joel Adams of Hacker Studios, Chris Curry of Retire-at-Home, Jen Kirkham of Mischievous Cat, Michael Lewkowtiz of Igniter, Trae Robinson, David Sanders, Lee Smithson, Janet Frood of Horizon Leadership, and Kadie Ward of Build Strong Cities.

Enter the Normal School in Old South on the market. After multiple iterations and many people approaching Pillar about considering this location for a social innovation shared space the ball began to roll.  At this time Lina Bowden (see bio), was working closely with Pillar on our Social Enterprise Program. Lina is a previous partner at Highstreet Asset Management and staff at London Life who after semi-retiring went back to school for a Masters in Community Economic Development. Lina got on board with the idea of a social innovation shared space and worked tirelessly as a main partner and innovator on the project.

Feasibility & Business Plan Stage

Working with Purpose Capital, we used the business model canvas and Design Jams to co-create the vision for a social innovation shared space for London. With the support of we generated 8 videos to capture the journey and process of the feasibility and business planning stage, check them out here.

We sought out the expert advice some of our leading business people to review our draft business plan including Bob Siskind from Decade Group, Chris Jones Harris from Jones Packaging, Andy Spriet from Spriet Associates, Bernie Bierbaum from BlueStone Properties, and Cecil Shewchuk from Priiva.

The development and monitoring of our financial model was led by Lina Bowden as well as Donna Gilbert, an entrepreneur with a financial management focus whose previous role was an Auditor at Deloitte. Further, the Pillar board of directors has had numerous individuals from business and the financial industry who have been highly involved with our financial model. The board support was critical.


ON Communication has provided Pillar Nonprofit Network with in kind support for over 8 years for the Pillar Community Innovation Awards and crisis communications. At the announcement of the purchase of 201 King Street, Michelle Boyer, Principal at ON Communication came over to offer to support the project. I followed up promptly and an amazing partnership to build the brand and website was born. This partnership has an economic value of $30,000 and more importantly the relationship between Pillar and ON leads to incredible marketing and communications that have catapulted this project forward.  One of the biggest learnings was around naming the building.  Extensive work was done in choosing the right name that conveyed what the shared space was about.  After a naming contest that got the juices flowing, we did a brand strategy build that landed us with the name and the logo of Innovation Works. Out of that grew our language and sound bites we are using in all our material – including our successful “I’m IN” campaign and “I’m IN” video produced by War Paint Media.

Real Estate Assessment Stage

Once we were ready to look at buildings Sister Margo Ritchie from Sisters of St. Joseph introduced us to Paul Cocker CEO and owner of McKay Cocker who then went on to retire and lucky us he had more time to share his incredible talents with us.

Jeff House was a invaluable partner in understanding the markets in Downtown, Soho and Old East. We knew that one of our core values for the search was downtown revitalization and that the building had to have soul which most likely meant acquiring an older building.

Sister Margo also made her famous breakfast IMG_0002meetings with Peter Whatmore from CBRE who gave us early advice about our hunt for the perfect building.

Greg Playford is from Devonshire Financial and along with Paul Cocker toured numerous buildings including our first offer, the famous Kingsmills and our second offer Gardner Galleries on York Street.  Many other tours of buildings did not make the shortlist. Greg provided a valuation for the buildings that we were seriously considering and it was critical to our decision-making on the financial viability of the space.IMG_0974

And the business experts kept coming. During our search we had Hastings & Aziz, Tillman Ruth Robinson, Pro Electric, and Strick Baldinelli all shared their time and know-how by doing a walk thru of a few buildings to assess the structural and infrastructure in the building and the estimated costs to meet our needs.

Once we landed on 201 King Street we had 3M provide in kind support for an Environmental Engineer to provide an Environmental Report with recommendations to consider the environmental sustainability of the project.


Finance & Capitilization Strategy

After a search for a lending partner for our new home at 201 King Street, Libro Financial Group took the leap with the first mortgage. We have had so many companies step up and donate to our campaign.

Sponsorship/Donation Stage

The deep understanding of social innovation and the theory of change we are striving for with Innovation Works was supported early on by leading businesses in our community including:

Libro Financial Group     Social Enterprise Program        $105,000

London Life                        Solutions Lab Program              $150,000

McCormick Canada          McCormick Kitchen                   $50,000

TD Financial Group          Enviro Enhancements                $50,000

Jones Packaging               Capital Enhancements                $16,000    CommunityBondThermometer_SOLD

Community Bond Stage

In the development stage of our community bond we required a Trustee and BDO came on board as a partner with the execution of London’s first-ever community bond.

IT Committee

Based on our research of other shared spaces it became apparent early on that IT needed to be a top priority and focus. This was an area where we lacked expertise in our staff and volunteer team. Fortunately, our past Board Chair David Billson and his team at Ellipsis Digital jumped in.

During our building search we looked at Kingsmills’ a high profile historic building and department store in the heart of downtown that in the end we decided was not the right building and Fanshawe College purchased it for a downtown campus. Laurie Kingsmill was inspired by the social innovation shared space project and she came on board as our IT chair based on her experience at London Life as a project manager.

Nerds on Site provided was extremely helpful in giving us after many some general sense of our technology needs. They gave us this support in-kind.

A mighty team of experts proceeded with an RFP for internet, phones and IT infrastructure with a strong focus on the community contribution and social responsibility of the vendors.

Interior Design

I'm IN Anne Bergeron-2Anne Bergeron an independent interior designer took on the Chair role and has worked closely with Cathy Jurjevich from in2space and Michele Davies interior design to create a modern industrial design that will blend wood and metal for a homey and funky feel.

Not long after purchasing the building GoodLife kindly made a donation of all the furniture in their current space that outfits over 300 staff. This generous donation was significant to our budget and design.

Tenant Cultivation

Our tenant committee is made up of talented business advisors including Johnny Fansher of Johnny Fansher Financial, Janet Frood from Horizon Leadership, Chris Moss of Moss Leadership, and Justin Carter of NationWorks.


We have been working to build the awareness and understanding of how social innovation can transform communities and how a community hub will build the connections to move from ideas to execution.Local businesses and entrepreneurs are key stakeholders in shifting a system.  We recognized very early that  nonprofits and enterprises must come together to make London a better place for all. The long list of business advisors, volunteers, experts and sponsors has catapulted this project forward and their role will continue to be essential as we occupy and animate the space.

Over $1 million of in kind and financial support has come from the business community and we are truly grateful and humbled by the openness to share, to dream and make Innovation Works a reality for our community.

To learn more about Community Hubs visit