HUB Ottawa may be helping ambitious entrepreneurs solve challenging social problems, but organizers showed a conservative side when it came to their own grand opening.
© Peter Kovessy
A glimpse inside HUB Ottawa's Bank Street offices.
The social enterprise incubator officially opened in March, but held off for 10 months before inviting dozens of local politicians, economic development officials and members to its sixth-floor office near Bank and Queen streets for a ceremonial ribbon cutting.
“We wanted to make sure we were in a good place before inviting the public in,” joked Tracey Clark, chair of HUB Ottawa’s board of directors and managing director of Bridgehead Coffee, during Wednesday morning’s gathering.
Members pay a time-based membership fee to use the co-working space, where they can attend networking events, collaborate with their peers and gain introductions to experts in areas such as intellectual property and public relations.
Blackboards cover two sides of a support pillar near the middle of the concrete-floored open concept office. On one side is a list of upcoming events; the other blackboard is titled “Hubbers Connect” and is divided into two columns for members to list what they need - on Wednesday, the list included graphic designers and social media experts - and what other members can offer.
Organizers say the local HUB has attracted more than 140 members, many of whom also have home-based offices or other workspaces. Some of the member companies include Living Tapestries, which helps organize, facilitate and graphically record meetings, Hidden Harvest, which picks and shares fruits and nuts that would otherwise go to waste, and Bibz, an educational video game company that donates its profits to an Ethiopian charitable organization assisting orphans.
The Ottawa location is one of more than a half-dozen other HUBS around the world incubating social enterprises, a term local organizers concede can be difficult to define. However, they say it generally refers to initiatives that “create the conditions for inclusion” in the areas of health, finance and education, among others.
Others informally describe it as any project that has a social or environmental mandate, and say it encompasses non-profits that take a business approach to their activities as well as companies with a corporate social responsibility mandate.
No matter how one defines it, organizers say the model is growing in popularity.
“There is a rapidly growing demographic in this city that believes the largest problems can be solved with social enterprise,” said HUB Ottawa executive director Vinod Rajasekaran.