In the fall of 2016, Rachel Kelly was excited to begin a full-time job in social media content creation. But one day before her contracted start date the company cancelled the arrangement and Kelly was left without work, having turned down other commitments in her freelance roster to clear her schedule. While she considered fighting back on the contracted employment agreement, she instead took the opportunity for reevaluation.
“I said ‘life has handed you a lemon. You have to make lemonade out of the situation’.”
Kelly did just that by launching her own co-working space in Toronto called Make Lemonade in October 2017. “I’d always known I wanted to create something for myself and I’d always had an idea for a coworking space.”
Recognizing that she had plenty of co-working competition in the city, Kelly decided to distinguish herself by creating a space where those who identify as women can feel welcome. Instead of being women-only, men can still visit or become members of Make Lemonade, furthering an environment of inclusivity.
Stepping into the bright, open and beautifully-designed space on the fifth floor of a building at Peter and Adelaide, you’re greeted by a friendly front desk staff member, who might be working in exchange for a membership, and directed to a drop-in desk space or a full-time dedicated desk, depending on the type of membership you’ve chosen.
For the latter, members like Pamela Glatt are encouraged to make the space their own. Potted plants the periphery of her workspace next to inspirational messages that keep her motivated. For Glatt, a criminology instructor soon to launch her own wellness coaching, consulting and legal services business, Make Lemonade co-members have been a wealth of information and support for this important stage in her new career.
“It is so inspiring,” explains Glatt. “It’s like networking, but not networking that you have to try to do. It just comes naturally. Everyone wants to help each other and is so supportive. I’ve never been in such a supportive environment in my life.”
The members of Make Lemonade cover an incredibly wide spectrum of work, from interior design to YouTube content creators, accountants and public relations professionals. The environment that Kelly has designed is particularly conducive to making connections, whether it’s on the Astroturf-floored “patio”, complete with outdoor furniture and fairy lights hanging overhead, or while you’re pouring yourself some lemonade in the kitchen (cups of which are, of course, included in the membership fee). A colourful bulletin board at the entrance to the space is filled with business cards, workshop flyers and leaflets where members can promote their work or find someone to hire. At monthly Lemon Mixers, members meet and chat informally “outside” of the office, while a private Facebook group serves as an open forum for anything, from seeking advice about client relations to finding a friend to see a movie with or celebrating a business milestone with a bottle of champagne.
Close to a year in operation, Kelly recognizes that Make Lemonade has grown into more than just a physical space. “I’m trying to build an authentic community of people that can speak unfiltered and feel safe and comfortable with whatever they’re talking about, whether it’s something in their personal life or something that’s happening in their business,” Kelly says. “The space and this community will support you whichever way you want to express yourself.”
Back in 2017, I was one of Make Lemonade’s first members for a period of two months and can attest to the warm and inviting environment that Kelly has developed. I’d previously been working from home, cafés and public libraries and share Kelly’s grievances of contending with “really dodgy wifi, looking for a seat and hoping there would be a plug that would power my laptop.”
Working from home was isolating since I also live alone. But at Make Lemonade, I might strike up a conversation with a fellow member over my lunch break on the patio or chat about my weekend plans before stepping out of the office on a Friday afternoon. Some mornings I arrived to slices of fresh-baked banana bread in the kitchen (just because a member had old bananas to use up) or had a make-your-own-taco lunch to celebrate another member’s birthday. While I didn’t take advantage of them as much as I could have, ticketed workshops, networking breakfasts and masterclasses before and after-hours cover topics like inclusivity in business, growing your audience and launching a podcast as a mode of personal and professional development.
For Kelly, the next step in fostering and growing the Make Lemonade community is a new accelerator and mentorship program where ten applicants receive a fixed desk membership, sessions with a business coach and accountant, and weekly accountability groups for six months — all free of charge for women-identified business owners that are ready to grow their operations. It’s not only a way for Kelly to give back but to also build an inspiring community and create an impact.
“We’re more than just a physical space,” Kelly says. “We’re an online resource and a space for people to connect, create, dream and get shit done.”