‘It’s a great way to accelerate serendipity’ – UVic partners with KWENCH for downtown presence

Three women sitting at a desk in the KWENCH co-working club
Photo: Jeremy da Silva.

A unique partnership between UVic and the KWENCH co-working club is providing invaluable access to entrepreneurs and startup support for students and sparking ideas and innovations for club members.

UVic KWENCH is described in a media release as “a creative workspace where students, faculty, alumni and community partners can access programs and services in a highly visible, work-integrated environment to turn ideas into action. This innovation space aims to create dynamic synergies to support technology and knowledge-based businesses in our region.”

Synergy at work

It’s a natural fit to have UVic lease space at the club, says KWENCH founder Tessa McLoughlin, a former Douglas 10 to Watch winner. “We’ve already built a really diverse community of creatives and entrepreneurs – the network infrastructure is here and it’s pretty much turnkey. UVic students instantly get access to the amazing people here, like people who work for Google, Shopify, Fatso, Trapeze, Avalon. That’s the advantage for them, and for us, we get to be exposed to these new, innovative ideas from these students and we get to connect them with people who can accelerate their journey.”

McLoughlin points to examples of connections already happening. “Our Slack channel is amazing. We’d just onboarded a new member, and it so happened that one of the UVic students had applied to work for the company the member represented – an Irish company no less. And a Slack conversation led to an in person meeting just a few feet away. So we’re accelerating serendipity. And we appreciate how progressive a university UVic is. They are leading the way for education in terms of proving their students with unique access to a new way of working and connecting.”

A hotbed of opportunity

UVic KWENCH provides free programming to support venture exploration and early-stage startups. The first program offering focuses on support for women exploring starting ventures. Services include mentorship, workspace, access to subject matter expertise, direct connection to UVic and other networks, workshops and seminars.

The network expands the existing work of UVic’s Coast Capital Innovation Centre, which is the university’s startup incubator. Since its launch in 2016, the centre has helped more than 1,300 students from all faculties across campus and supported the launch of over 150 startup companies.

Roughly half of all program participants are from underrepresented groups, including women, visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples.

“Universities have a responsibility to support the communities in which we live and work, and the pandemic has made this more vital than ever. UVic is well-positioned to contribute leadership and expertise to innovative local initiatives that support community resilience and collaboration,” says Kevin Hall, UVic president and vice-chancellor.

“Through community-based innovation hubs like UVic KWENCH,” he adds, “our diverse UVic community will partner with innovators and entrepreneurs who are contributing to the quality of life in our region.”

Building a business community

McLoughlin says there’s just one large office available for lease at KWENCH, but there are several hot desks for rent. She points to the incredible success of their meeting spaces, with work-from-home businesses using KWENCH for in person strategy and team meetings. They also hope to return to in person events when public health protocols allow.

She’s excited about the future of co-working to build community, especially pairing learners with business owners. The club is also located in the heart of what the City of Victoria is calling the new Arts & Innovation District, part of their revitalization plan for the neighbourhood surrounding KWENCH.

In a Douglas feature on the project, part of the City’s economic development roadmap for the next two decades, Mayor Lisa Helps pointed to McLoughlin’s co-working concept as an example of the kinds of connections she wants fostered by the new District.

“Tessa [McLoughlin] is modeling what we want to do with this property,” Helps says. “One of the great things about being mayor is that you get to champion really good ideas.”