Toronto’s Project RHINO is bursting at the seams, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The co-working space created by Neil Martin, Jeff Howard, and Rares Crisan opened its doors in August 2011 with no one else but the pair working out of 73 Bathurst Street.
Now 22 companies call the space home and Project RHINO has plans to expand to 5000 square feet to cover the building’s entire fourth floor.
In 2011 Martin and Howard had just moved to Toronto from Queen’s University, working out of their living room while building up their first startup. A faded sign in the window of an old building across the street caught the pair’s eye and in no time they were the building’s fourth floor tenants.
They never had plans to develop a co-working space. Rather, “As long as we could bring in enough money to pay the rent we were happy,” Martin told Techvibes.
Today the space is abuzz with tech startups and freelancers working on a variety of projects. There’s craft beer on tap, foosball and other amenities that make it an attractive option for companies.
The folks at Project RHINO believe that their space is the best in the city. According to Martin it’s the cheapest “dedicated desk space” in the city too, costing $250 per person per month. That includes 24/7 access to personal desks and no contractual commitment.
“When we were crafting this idea we said ‘lets create the kind of space that we would have wanted,’ and that’s what led to our founder-friendly approach,” said Martin. “There’s also the culture aspect. You work hard, you have fun, it’s affordable and it opens the doors to a wider array of people.”
Cheaper co-working spaces exist in Toronto, such as ING’s Network Orange that charges $100 per month. These are “hot desks”, or first-come first-served desks generally available for only 40 hours a week.
One of the first tenants at Project RHINO was Asterisk Media, a video production company founded by Evan Bellam and PJ Lee. Over the past year they’ve jumped up to four employees. Bellam said he doesn’t know where the company would be had they never have moved in two years ago at Martin’s urging.
“When we moved in it gave us the foundation to grow our company. It was a great address for us and it was a place where we could be creative,” said Lee. (While previous reports suggested Martin was the office foosball champion, it was evident this week that Lee has taken that title)
The other reason why the space has grown exponentially in popularity is an event called “Drinks + Demos” on the second Wednesday of every month. Here the premise is to bring people together, provide free Conductor’s Craft Ale and facilitate expert panel discussions on various topics in technology.
Today’s turnouts to Drinks + Demos reflects the growing popularity of Project Rhino, and like the space, the event grew from humble roots. “Back then we were cramming 30-40 people into this little space with a projector,” said Martin.
Eventually Martin started “ramping things up,” gaining beer sponsors first with Steamwhistle and then with Conductor’s, filming each event with Asterisk Media and writing up reviews in Techvibes. In the process there’s been tense moments when beer-fuelled audience members enter into heated debates with panelists, such as what happened during the November 2012 edition called “Accelerator Experience.”
“The events are getting bigger and when you get more and more people in the room drinking, it gets more interesting,” said Martin.
Project RHINO’s success thus far hasn’t arrived in a seamless fashion. Just six months ago several teams left at once and Martin and Howard could barely make the rent. Things picked up again and now the pair is more than covering the rent. This, Martin assures, is all being reinvested in tables, walls, electrical work and network upgrades. It’s all part of the growing pains that the co-working space is going through.
“You have to take risks,” he said. “We decided if we’re going to do this, lets do it well. I had this eureka moment where I thought if we’re going to run a co-working space it’s not going to be this side project. It’s going to be the best god damned working space in Toronto.”