We first wrote about Switch Video way back in February, 2019 when the only face masks in Collingwood were worn by skiers on cold days. Since then, the video marketing company has gone 100% virtual (at least temporarily) and its founder, Brandon Houston, has launched Collingwood Foundry, a coworking community and hub for entrepreneurs.
Switching was easy
How do you go from a team that’s 100% in-office to 100% virtual? Quickly and simply, according to Houston. “We were already using all the collaboration tools we needed to be virtual,” comments Houston. He goes on to say that productivity has actually increased and that once workplace restrictions are lifted, employees will have the option to stay remote, come in full-time, or come in one or two days a week. “Why does it matter?” asks Houston. “The challenge hasn’t been getting quality work done; it’s been keeping our culture, because we’re missing those casual in-person interactions.” With the warmer weather, Houston is planning some socially distanced extra-curricular events.
Switch Video, which crafts explainer, sales and HR videos for blue-chip companies all over North America, saw an increase in work over the last year. Houston attributes this to a corporate switch from live action videos to animation, for obvious reasons. Add the fact that budgets earmarked for events have switched over to marketing, as well as the severe limitations around customer/vendor interaction, and you have a recipe for a whole slew of animated videos.
The other shift for Switch—one that makes sense in light of the coronavirus pandemic—is the type of video that they are making. Quick explainer videos were always Switch’s mainstay, but with the pandemic that has shifted heavily to human resources work, especially long-form training videos.
A solid foundation for coworking
Located in the same space as Switch Video, Collingwood Foundry is the ultimate manifestation of something that’s been building at 60 Hurontario Street for the past six years. What started as a handful of entrepreneurs renting desks is now a vital pied à terre for a host of entrepreneurs and small businesses alike.
With two conference rooms, two ultra-quiet meeting pods, groupings of couches and chairs and amenities like a full kitchen, library/meditation room and complimentary, locally-sourced espresso, candy and draft beer, the Foundry has the look and feel of a cash-rich tech startup. Soaring ceilings, sand-blasted wooden beams and exposed brick add to this impression, giving it the loft appeal of a repurposed factory in Toronto’s trendy downtown west side.
But Collingwood Foundry is more than a comfortable place to work. “The big idea here is community,” explains Houston. “We’ve added an online member network in addition to our many curated events and meet-ups, as well as getting preferred rates for members at restaurants and shops around town.” What Houston doesn’t have to explain is that the Foundry has gained critical mass. It has dozens of members, many of whom work together, using each other’s services. From architectural designers to programmers, auto-sector marketers and a company that runs an AI-enabled digital ad platform, the Foundry attracts some of the most interesting businesses growing in Collingwood today.
No pandemic pandemonium
While the pandemic has not exactly been good for business, Collingwood Foundry has remained open, as it offers essential services (mail delivery and Internet) to entrepreneurs. During COVID-19 it has averaged eight to ten people per day out of a limit of 29. That’s been important for entrepreneurs like Bernard Verkaaik, principal at The Greater Goods, a food industry consultancy that, among other things, manages the essential day-to-day supply chain of several food business clients. “This is our office,” says Verkaaik. “If we couldn’t come to work at Collingwood Foundry every day, things would be very difficult for us and for our clients.”
The pandemic pause has in fact proven a good cover for growth. Houston joined forces with partner Jennifer Walker and in January 2020 began an expansion of the Collingwood Foundry, adding a former clothing store with street-level access for a bright, art-forward space complete with soundproof glass booths, a meditation room/library and an iconic moss-covered wall brought all the way from Norway. “When we took over the space downstairs we began renovating slowly,” explains Walker. “I think Brandon and I did a good job, maybe too good a job—it’s hard not to go overboard.”
The street-level space is an investment in the future of the Foundry, intended more for hotdesk (occasional) use and to double as an event/workshop space. It’s where the Foundry’s hugely popular The Common Ground Wednesday morning meet-up (35+ members) will convene once again as soon as COVID restrictions ease.
Houston is upbeat about the Foundry’s prospects. “Over the last year, there’s been a spike in people moving to this area,” he says. “Just last month, four more people signed up with us. And the interest isn’t limited to entrepreneurs; there are local organizations that want access to the space for regular meetings and workshops. When restrictions ease, we’re going to have huge uptake.”
Centered on Community
In his book Field of Dreams, W.P. Kinsella wrote “build it and they will come,” which in Collingwood Foundry’s case is exactly what’s happening. But it’s no accident: this is Houston’s second co-working venture (the first was in his native Chatham) and he has learned that for co-working, ‘community’ is the cornerstone of success.
“Community was always an important aspect of the Foundry,” notes Houston, “and we’ve gotten to the point where members themselves collaborate on projects. We want to amplify that and make it a bigger aspect of what we do.” Enter Jenn Walker, Collingwood Foundry’s Community Coordinator. Now, community amplification includes not only the Common Grounds meet-up, but also a monthly newsletter, an online member directory, virtual rooms and a roster of events, both physical and virtual.
One example is an upcoming podcast that will spotlight individual members, specifically the person behind the business rather than the business itself. Another is more workshops, including by outside experts like Sarah Potter, who recently sold her online training platform. Still another is a nascent mentorship program, hopefully a precursor to the long-anticipated Collingwood Business Accelerator.
“I definitely think there’s something unique about Collingwood,” says Houston. “Many people move here for the lifestyle. This whole last year has shown us that you don’t need to live in the city to run a business or work for one. It’s an ideal live/work scenario and the Foundry wouldn’t be the same if it was in another community.”
That said, Houston is nevertheless considering expanding the brand beyond Collingwood…to similar communities. “Ten Foundries all across Ontario would give all members better access to a bigger community of entrepreneurs. It’s really about values. That’s why we’ve started a monthly newsletter and why we’re building out our online community profiles and services. I just love that interconnection.” Visit their website for more info. Collingwood Foundry
Photo Credits: Dave West Photography