In May 2018, the Roundhouse opened in MacEwan University’s Allard Hall to give community-minded individuals a workplace to expand their ideas for social change and environmental sustainability. The concept of the space is to create a hub that is accommodating to a variety of innovators.
Entering the Roundhouse, it’s impossible to not feel the energy running through the entire place. It’s bright, spacious and inviting. “The space is the collaboration and co-working aspects, but to get people to collaborate, you need to have a great environment where people feel open-mindedand relaxed and welcomed,” says Leo Wong, the founding director of the Roundhouse.
The layout was constructed with the idea of giving members chances to connect and collaborate with others in ways they wouldn’t find in a typical office setting. Though multiple boardrooms are available, there are also beanbag chairs for a more laid-back vibe, and stationary bikes that will charge electronics in exchange for a workout.
Within the Roundhouse is the Social Innovation Institute, which works to support members by connecting them with like-minded people and organizations in the community who can help take their ideas to the next levels. “Introducing the word ‘social’ in front of ‘innovation’ means whatever ideas we come up with, we should be thinking about how this improves community, lives, the environment, all that kind of stuff,” Wong explains. “This space is a convening space for that to happen.”
One perk of joining the Roundhouse is the different programs it offers. There are opportunities to connect with knowledgeable consultants about a range of skills that are beneficial to starting and marketing a business, and opportunities to learn from industry professionals.
“I think a lot of people have an idea and have ideas all the time on how to make their community better,” Wong says. “It’s just a matter of supporting you when you have ideas, so that you don’t let it just dissolve into thin air.” Which is exactly how the initial spark for the concept of the Roundhouse was first set. “It all started with a conversation, with an idea.”
Just over two years ago, Wong and the Executive Director of Campus Services, Kris Bruckmann, were brainstorming potential retail businesses that could occupy a 10,000 square foot space in Allard Hall. The possibility of installing an art supplies store or a Lululemon was soon left behind when Wong proposed using it as a collaborative workplace. They soon formed a business plan of what the space could look like and offer to the community. Over the following few months, Wong shared the idea with 60 to 70 MacEwan faculty members and eventually gained support to have the concept approved.
“We want to make the world a better place and this is totally the place to do it. They encourage that hands-down,” says Roundhouse member Gina Bennett.
Bennett had heard about the Roundhouse from other students around campus. Once she visited, she knew it was going to be an asset in expanding Blaze-In the Trails, a media company she created to make academic journals about culture, people and the world easier to understand.
The space has given Bennett not only a desk as a base to work from, but also a creativity-driven environment. “You have people around you (who) have extensive knowledge about things you might not, such as growing your brand, networking, that sort of thing,” Bennett says. “At the same time, it’s a fairly fun atmosphere.
“They have access to resources that I personally wouldn’t have had otherwise. It allows me to kind of reach out and explore different options,” Bennett says. She has been able to start a podcast and explore her photography and videography skills because of the technology resources at the Roundhouse. “It allows you to be free and work on things the way that you work best. There are no limitations as to what you can do.”