Rachel Kelly tells how she brought GTA entrepreneurs together
For years, writer Rachel Kelly freelanced from home and out of co-working spaces and cafes, creating social content for companies, hoping one day to get her own business going. “When a full-time offer fell through, I was sort of stuck in limbo — a sour lemon, if you will,” she says. “I decided it was time to make lemonade out of the situation and go all-in on my dream of starting my own business.”
But what would she do? Well, she loved being in the Centre for Social Innovation co-working space in the Annex, and she’d noticed the rise in online communities for women entrepreneurs. “I found I was craving a few things,” she says. “A community of like-minded people and other women who were starting something, a co-working space to call my own, and the unique designs of cafes I had done my previous freelancing from. At the time the city didn’t really have anything I was craving — so I made it.”
Kelly opened Make Lemonade on Adelaide Street West in fall 2017, where she rented desks, meeting rooms, private offices, and phone booths. From the jungle-themed meeting room and indoor patio, perfect for event and workshop rentals, to the retro-styled kitchen with the words “Be Nice” painted on the floor to spur new connections, the space was perfect for all kinds of budding entrepreneurs. Even the bathrooms had DIY graffitied walls where people could share words of inspiration, advice and wisdom. “It was a magical place and my heart breaks knowing the magic was just getting started when the pandemic hit,” she says.
Kelly shut down the space in summer 2021. During the early days of the pandemic, she had introduced a four-week online challenge to help members who may have been feeling displaced and lonely and looking for a way to connect; it involved a mix of virtual work sprints, breakout brainstorming sessions, networking events, accountability partnering, vent sessions, and community-led workshops. It was so popular she launched a second one right away. Maybe this was the way forward for her intrepid band of entrepreneurs.
So, she launched the Get Sh*t Done Club in May 2020. It focuses on connecting entrepreneurs with like-minded folks to brainstorm, co-work, share feedback, ask for advice and learn from each other. Throughout the year, workshops and one-off events like the WFH Reset are offered free to club members, and at a fee to the public.
Make Lemonade’s bright branding and relentlessly cheerful vibe strives to make small-business ownership less of a chore (the community brunches, fun mixers, and Slack chats help, too). So far, there are more than 80 members — known as lemons — and membership is opened up a few times a year. In addition to the public workshops non-members can attend for a fee, Make Lemonade also hosts regular free workshops for the public covering such topics as taxes and branding. “Business ownership is no walk in the park,” Kelly says, “and sometimes you just need a very specific question answered without having to spend your afternoon in the depths of Google or a lot of money on a course Our workshops are led by members of the club based on their expertise. It’s a fantastic learning opportunity for all involved.”
Over the last few years running her own business, Kelly realized Make Lemonade was more than a job: it had become a family. Members have provided her with a lot of support,” she says. “And it’s beyond just me — watching the connections unfold is the most magical thing.”