The power of community and avoiding distractions | Nancy Fornasiero, ACE Coworking

The value of community

Thank you for watching Business Spotlight Halton where we connect with successful business owners and entrepreneurs about their journey so far, their future aspirations and their challenges and how they overcame them today, I'm here with Nancy Fornasiero the owner of Ace Coworking, a co-working space that is extremely popular in the Oakville downtown area.

I'll share along with this video all of their contact information so that you can stay in touch with them. So, Nancy, thank you so much for your time. I'm looking forward to learning more about you and your business.

Nancy: -Thank you for inviting me, Hugo. I always enjoy our conversation so now everyone can listen in on one of our conversations.

Hugo: - Yeah, thank you for that. So let's start at the beginning. How did you start the business and how long ago was that?

Nancy: - Well, we opened our doors in january of 2018 and the business was sort of in startup mode in 2017, getting off the ground and I never really set out to be an entrepreneur or own my own business. That wasn't a goal of mine in my life necessarily. But our story is one of necessity caused this to come to life this coworking space. I was a freelancer and a consultant, I worked in the publishing industry from home for many, many years. And work from home, worked for me for a while until it didn't all the pain points.

So many people are feeling, especially after COVID now, you know, feelings of isolation, not able to meet collaborators to work on projects with. Just not feeling the energy of being around other people working and just not really enjoying my work that much anymore. Honestly, because I was so isolated. As it happened, I got hired. I was a writer, I still am, but I don't write much anymore. I was hired to write a story about coworking. In doing so, I learned a lot about the industry and I was fascinated with it.

I thought this this is exactly the solution to my problem because I loved working for myself and having all that freedom, but I didn't really necessarily want to be by myself all the time. And I went about looking for a co-working space in the oakville area and discovered there was not one at the time that we opened. There were no others.

And from there, I realized there was this opportunity and my husband, went over with him, he was very encouraging. He's more entrepreneurial spirited than me and he said, "Nancy, you should do this. " so, I gave it a shot and here we are, five years later and and we were the first in town and we're now on our second location.

Hugo: - It obviously was an idea that was right for the time. And I know it pulled you into a full time business ownership and the freelancing is still on the side, right? I love the story, thanks for sharing. Now, who would you say are your ideal clients? I know that you have all kinds of clients at the coworking space. Who really get the most out of the space?

Nancy: - When we first opened, it was interesting because as I mentioned, I was not a seasoned entrepreneur and I did interview various people in the ecosystem to get their opinions and advice about what we should do. And so many people said to me that I should try to target a niche. A lot of coworking spaces do that, whether it's tech professionals, creatives, all women, all certain age groups. That didn't sit well with me because I set out to build the type of place that I would want to work in. That was always my framework and I enjoy meeting all types of people and I do believe more exciting collaborations happen when you meet different kinds of people.

The unexpected things arise, we learn more from one another. So I decided very deliberately not to open a niche space. We have professionals from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds. Mostly Oakville and Burlington-based, but we have people who join us from as far away as Toronto and Niagara region.

So, what do all these people have in common? I would say that the one thing that binds them is people tend to gravitate to our space if they really value community and connections, human-to-human connections. It might seem like a loose thread, but it is something that everyone has in common, whether they are service professionals like lawyers, accountants, mortgage brokers or we have some quite a few small business owners, digital marketing agencies, insurance companies...

Then we have the freelancers: freelance writers, freelance illustrator, freelance videographer. And then we have a whole sector of our population that, especially now post-covid, I would say it's about half of our membership. This is a big change that happened after the pandemic.

I would say about half of our membership, are remote workers who work for corporate offices or larger companies and have just decided to make a change from working from home now that their remote. They're not all business owners here. Yeah, very diverse.

Hugo: - I see from the events and the times I've been there definitely that energy and sense of community is there. That's the common thread, right? I think so. Also people who love the downtown Oakville vibe.

Nancy:- Absolutely. Yeah.

Hugo:- Taking a step back... Based on your experience, what do you think makes a business successful?

Nancy: - Well, again... Being very intentional. I kind of referenced that in my earlier answers, just knowing what you set out to do and don't get too distracted by side opportunities here and there.

If you have a focus of what you're setting out to do... For me, it was, opening a space that functioned well and was professional. But always with that piece, my goal was to alleviate the isolation that I knew people felt when they are small business owners or freelancers or a remote worker, anyone who was kind of forced into a work from home situation.

So, every time there was an opportunity, I said, is this addressing that intentional goal? To alleviate isolation and build community? Then I would say, "yeah, that's a nice thing to add into the business. " if it was like a nice bell or whistle and it didn't...

I'll give you an example, some coworking spaces offer free beer on keg, like on tap, kind of cool. But is that going to make people feel... Is that going to address my goal of bringing people together and giving them a home away from home? Somewhere where everyone knows your name when you come to work? Not necessarily.

I mean, it's nice to have, but no. And also, people will say maybe you should franchise. It's something I've given a thought to. But I do worry about scaling too fast and losing that community feeling. That's also an example of, your question was how to be successful.

Just stay focused on what you set out to do. Even though other ideas might be viable and possible. It doesn't necessarily mean you should do them. That resonates and that shiny object syndrome that distracts entrepreneurs is definitely there. Yeah, I call it that "you should" factor.

I have so many well-intentioned people come to me and say, "you should do this", "you should do that" and for a moment I'm like, yeah, I should do that. But then when you really let it steep and think about, does that fit with our culture with our goals?

Just because you can do it, it doesn't mean you need to do it. Yeah. I know this is a difficult topic, but very relevant in the industry that you're in, what was the impact of covid on your business and what were some of the actions that you took?

It's hard to put that in a nutshell to be honest because it was... It's been a rollercoaster from, 2020 to the present day: ups and downs, closures, semi closures, changes to our protocols. At times our members found that we were too strict. At times, our members felt that we were too lenient.

Certain segments of our membership, I would say. So it was certainly a time where... I aim to try to please everyone, and it's always hard with a large community, we have over 100 members. People don't necessarily want the same thing. During the pandemic people really did not want the same thing necessarily.

On a personal level, it was very challenging for me that way, to try to accommodate the needs of our membership in a way that made sense for them because people were all over the place, depending on whether they were vulnerable, whether they had family members, whether they're they were remote workers and their companies shut down.

Some of our members went out of business completely, had to lay off all their staff and they don't even operate anymore. Others took off like a rocket and had to hire. Especially if they were in the digital space. We tried to support everybody as best we could.

Sometimes it meant a friendly parting of ways. Sometimes it meant helping them grow. Mostly it meant being flexible and empathetic. So I think that's what got us through it for the most part. I don't know if that answers your question.

Hugo: - We're you just asking about the impacts in general?

Nancy: - Absolutely. We made it through, so much better than I ever thought we would have at the beginning, in march... Well, maybe not march. Once it really settled in with all of us. Around june, when we realized this pandemic is going to go, it's not gonna be short...

My whole business is based on the idea that working from home sucks for lack of a better word and that you should just come work with us instead. So the whole world was being told to work from home. I thought, this doesn't stand a chance of making it through, and yet we did. We kept pretty steady throughout the pandemic.

There were people that had a need to be outside of the home that were essential businesses that were already with us. And now that we're coming out of it because we navigated it with that empathy and care, people knew that we were trying to keep them as safe as possible. And here we are in a position where we have expanded to two locations.

I never would have dreamt that was going to be the result, in 2020 if you had asked me, where are we going to be in 2022 at this time?

Hugo: - And speaking of 2022, what are some of your major goals this year? And I know that, it's very exciting that you just opened a second location. Can you tell us a little bit what this year looks like?

Nancy: - Well, it's very simple. We have one goal which is to build a second... I wouldn't say it's a second community, actually. We've opened a second location, it's just up the street. So it's very much a sister location to our original one and an enhancement to the original one.

Our goal is to fill it with great people. Again, like-minded people who value community who are professional and collaborative and believe in human-to-human connection. We're looking for for those types of people to join us here. We're about halfway full already! But the place won't be fully animated until it's 100% full.

So that's my goal. And then to create special events, special cultural touch points. I don't know how to put it. I want this place to have its own personality as well. And even with our other place, I had some ideas, but it's not until people come that you know what it needs to be, because they direct that.

So my goal is to meet great people, bring them into the fold, see what they need in order to be supported and happy at work and and create a home away from home for them.

Hugo: - Going back to where we started, I wanted to ask, as you said, these new goals, how do you see them...?

Because we've talked a lot about the business, but how do you see them relating to your personal goals?

Nancy: - My personal goals. That's a good question. I haven't thought about my personal goals as separate from my business goals. You must talk to small business owners all the time.

Is there a boundary? I guess there should be. There's a connection, right? And you started from a personal/ business goal turning into a business. So there may be a strong connection there. I think it goes back to that intention that we started with even before ace coworking existed. I've always been a person who has been a community builder, I've been involved in, not for profit groups.

And in my life I've moved around a lot and I was always the person that created that hub for the expats. I've always believed in bringing people together. I think it's what's missing a little bit nowadays in the world with... I love technology, I love what we're doing right now.

I love that it allows us to do more, but I don't want it to be "instead of". That person-to-person connecting is part of my personal life as well. I am looking forward to having more of that happening on the personal side. It does sound like you're you're working on a passion of yourself, definitely!

I used to love to travel, I haven't done that since I opened our business, not very much at all. I'd love to do that and connect with my friends around the world. I mentioned I lived in different places and I've only been seeing them virtually. And of course my family is very, very important to me, and my kids are starting to live in different parts of the world too.

We need to be able to see them other than on my ACE time.

Hugo: - This has been great and just like you said, I always enjoy our conversations and learn a lot. One final question that could really help our community is... What inspires you the most today?

Nancy: - That's so easy and I hope that you won't think it's a corny answer... I feel so grateful that I get to work where I work because the people that I watch are for the most part smarter and more interesting and more creative than me. I have some of those things, but I'm really, really inspired by our members and by their resilience, during the pandemic in particular.

It was amazing when I saw people, creative solutions they came up with, the way they supported one another. I literally sometimes shout out if I'm stuck with something, in the room, "can anyone tell me what I should do about x? " and I'll get three good ideas coming back at me.

Our members inspire me a lot. My world has become a little bit small since I've opened this business because I'm very much watching everyone in our space. And when I say small, I used to read a lot more. I used to watch documentaries and ted talks a lot more prior.

So people out there used to inspire me, you know what I mean? Now, I'm really inspired by normal, regular people in our community who are doing extraordinary things. And I wouldn't say it's made my world smaller. Maybe that was the wrong adjective to use.

Hugo: - It's just as broad and extraordinary. It's like you realize what's under your own, right on your own doorstep. It sounds like that inspiration just got closer.

Nancy: - Yes! And I would say, probably you're looking at a mirror. As you see those inspiring people in your community, you're inspiring them as well.

Hugo: - Thank you. I hope so because we're supposed to be there for one another. Nancy, thanks again for your time and sharing your experiences.

This has been a great as always, we're excited very much for you and the second location. I wanted to ask, is there any particular message you want to share or any kind of promotion that you have, that our viewers should know?

Nancy: - Tell your viewers that a lot of our events and happenings are for our members, but we do invite the public into many of them as well.

If you follow us on social media, you'll be informed of anything that's open to the public. For example, we have wellness programs, we have a yoga class that's starting up next week which everyone is invited to at a very subsidized cost.

We have meditation classes, we have lunch and learns which if we have space we offer to the general public. So watch our linkedin, our instagram and our twitter feed, sometimes also on facebook, but not as frequently posted there, but the other three...

You'll always see events that we're really excited to bring others into and join us because our community-building goes beyond our walls, for sure. Right now, I know a lot of your listeners come from the local chamber and I want to remind those in the Oakville chamber that we do have our member-to-member promotion where you pay half price for your first month of membership if you decide to join us. And we have great discounted rates on our boardrooms, of which we have more now that we have our second location.

So if you think you've been to Ace before and you know everything, we have more now! It's worth coming in for another visit or a tour.

Hugo: - Great, awesome to hear that! I know from the events I have attended... The book club was an amazing experience.

Thanks again, Nancy. This has been great. And I'll make sure that we share all of your information so that listeners can stay in touch.

Nancy: - Thanks, Hugo.

Hugo: - Thank you so much. Take care. Have a great may. You too.


You can learn more about ACE Coworking and their events on their social channels and


Instagram: @acecowork

Twitter: @acecoworking


If you're part of the Oakville Chamber of Commerce or mention this Business Spotlight, you get 50% off your first month at ACE when you sign up for any membership.

If you would like to book some time for us to connect or do a Business Spotlight, please reach out!