Work

Toronto, Canada

Business Out of the Box

Scadding Court Community Centre

March 13, 2019

In 2009, during one of Scadding Court’s international programs in Ghana, SCCC staff witnessed innovative uses of shipping containers transformed into vending stalls and we thought – why can’t we do that?

Shipping containers have been re-purposed as low-cost living spaces, office and retail storefronts, even quickly deployed medical centres for refugees. Why not as a community economic revitalization project?

In 2011 Scadding Court Community Centre (SCCC) launched Market 707 as a means to offer economic opportunity to community members while revitalizing a fairly bleak concrete wasteland. The resulting shipping container market outside the centre has brought economic opportunity to low-income communities, including newcomers, youth and women entrepreneurs.

Inspired by a serendipitous trip to Africa, SCCC replicated what they saw to create Toronto’s first successful permanent street market.

A neighbourhood of promise and potential

It isn’t entirely surprising that a street market is successful in Toronto, a city full of local neighbourhood entrepreneurs, farmers’ markets and long-term successful street festivals. What makes SCCC’s approach unique is how it has broken down the barriers to participation for low-income community members to become part of that success.

Entrepreneurship has always been a route for low-income immigrants and women to sustain themselves. However, initial start up challenges such as access to capital and space necessary to start a business have commonly been insurmountable for many. With the success of Market 707, SCCC an opportunity to bring entrepreneurship within reach and created Business out of the Box (Bob).

BoB offers low cost retail space (rare in urban Toronto) for new and emerging businesses, along with a suite of supports and community mentorship. Market 707 currently has 11 containers and 23 vendor spaces made up of a diversity of businesses, such as specialty foods, a bike shop, a cell phone repair shop, clothing designers and more.

SCCC calls it a “low-risk, low-rent, and supportive environment. The community of entrepreneurs created facilitates learning and resource sharing between business owners. This low-risk model allows individuals to enter entrepreneurship, test an idea, supplement their incomes, explore a pathway out of social assistance, and grow an established business.” According to one entrepreneur, “What it really allows us to do is start a business very quickly and at very low cost and be able to provide a lot of different options within a very small area.”

SCCC provides an accessible, friendly, and supportive environment to learn how to run a business, removing the red tape normally associated with starting a new business. With a simple application process SCCC works with budding entrepreneurs to understand what is required. When a challenge comes up (such as needing a food handling certificate) SCCC works with them to overcome it.

And if entrepreneurship proves not to be for them, SCCC has a variety of programs and other forms of settlement and employment support.

Operationalizing innovation

SCCC is constantly evaluating and learning how to make BoB successful. When early research conducted with Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute showed SCCC that the key demographics using BoB were low income women and newcomers (75% of entrepreneurs at Market 707 were born outside of Canada, 55% are women), SCCC created supportive entrepreneurship hubs for newcomers and women. They include training courses, mentorship, and funding opportunities.

The impact on the community has not only made SCCC’s Market 707 a destination, but “enhances community engagement, improves safety, encourages healthy active living by drawing people outside and creating a pedestrian friendly atmosphere and creates awareness of local talent and innovation. BoB retail spaces will add to street life and inject vibrancy into pedestrian thoroughfares, benefiting members of the community.”

Once they are operating, entrepreneurs become more independence, generate more income and have become more socially engaged and economically more productive. Everyone in the community benefits.

A replication is being replicated

Given that SCCC’s Market 707 and Building out of the Box are both replications inspired by an African approach, it makes sense that replication is part of SCCC’s approach. Sharing how they do what they do is a core part of SCCC’s approach. The list of local community groups and spaces that have worked with SCCC to replicate some aspect of BoB is long and growing.

SCCC worked with the community and local city councillor in north Parkdale to launch McCormick Park Cafe in 2014, which is now operated by Aangen Community Centre. In Thorncliffe Park a local women’s collective launched the Park Cafe, which acts as an entry point for future female entrepreneurs. It also provides job opportunities for local youth who work there in the summer. The St Jamestown Community Co-op is interested in operating a container in their neighbourhood as part of their future Community Food Hub, to create a place where local food can be prepared, bought, sold.

SCCC has also worked with real estate developers to create local markets on vacant sites before construction takes place. Outside of Toronto, SCCC worked with community groups and a Hamilton property management company to reinvigorate a huge empty Target retail space.

Success

The BoB model also inspired other projects at SCCC itself, such as their Newcomer Entrepreneur Hub, Women’s Entrepreneurship Hub, Commercial Kitchen Rental, and an onsite greenhouse.

SCCC believes it’s a model that can work anywhere. According to Tamara Sabarini, SCCC Senior Manager, Development and Community Engagement: “Given increasing diversity and service gaps in rural communities, the BoB model is well positioned to provide local economic development opportunities at a grassroots level.”

To make it easier to replicate BoB in any community SCCC has created a social franchise model toolkit (PDF). By creating a social franchise model, SCCC can also pass along what it has learned along the way.

Building Market 707 and BoB were not without challenges, from zoning to security to sanitation and water supply, all the way to dealing with the realities of winter for a pedestrian-focused market (vendors work with local food delivery services and simply expect and plan to not be as busy in winter months). SCCC BoB’s model ensures that a collaborative and community development approach with their vendors, city representatives, and the local community can overcome any challenges.

SCCC staff say that challenges will arise for anyone implementing BoB. However, having to deal with them is far outweighed by the transformative impact BoB can have on a community. And that success is not limited to the community. Because it is a social enterprise, Market 707 and BoB generate revenue for SCCC. Market 707 and BoB have been able to help support SCCC’s core programming, at times offsetting a dependence on grants.

Of course, seeing individual businesses, and their owners, succeed is the ultimate reward. SCCC have worked with entrepreneurs who were on social assistance before they started their business who are now financially independent. Newcomers and women who didn’t see a way out of their situation are now mentoring others to become successful entrepreneurs.

Responding to local interest and opportunities, SCC is currently experimenting with offering container shared office space for other entrepreneurs that don’t fit the retail model. They continue to work with other communities, but remain focused on evolving, adapting to and meeting local community needs.

Making it Work for You:

  • Have some unused urban space, even available for only a short time? Think about what a pop-up business model could do for your residents and that space.
  • Don't reinvent the model, access the expertise of SCCC under their social franchise approach.
  • Setting clear and concise goals and objectives is essential. It will guide you through the process of designing your project, securing partners, setting realistic deliverables and communicating your project to the community as well as potential supporters.
  • Work with your community. See them as an asset and active partner in this community economic development project.
  • Download, read, and internalize the Business out of the Box toolkit and then connect with SCCC for inspiration and information!

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