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How BrainStation Transformed An Old Hostel Into A Toronto Tech Hub

Without a space to meet its growth, digital learning company BrainStation made its own, one big enough to contain all its ambitions.

For 20 years, Global Village Backpackers — a colourful, dilapidated hostel — dominated the corner of King and Spadina in Toronto, one of the country’s busiest intersections. That changed in 2014 when BrainStation, the digital learning company, turned the 140-year-old building into a modern, 20,000-square-foot training facility, complete with its own coffeehouse, Quantum Coffee.

Founded in Toronto just two years earlier by Jason Field, BrainStation had quickly expanded and needed a campus to meet demand. 

“In 2012, the economy was becoming more knowledge-based, and digital was permeating every industry. There was no institution prepared to keep up with the quickly evolving landscape and this was leading to a massive skills gap,” Field said. 

To fill the void, BrainStation recruited industry experts and started offering hands-on, project-based workshops in community spaces across downtown Toronto.

“The interest in our workshops was overwhelming. We had a community of ambitious professionals looking to break into digital and they became an integral part of how we designed and delivered our learning experiences,” Field said. 

“We put the learner at the core and treated the creation of our learning options the way software engineers build digital products. We called it Agile Learning, and this framework empowered us to challenge the status quo, run experiments, and enhance our outcomes.”

BrainStation’s reputation grew and its roster of subject matter experts expanded to include leaders from the world’s most innovative companies, including Amazon, Spotify, Microsoft, and Shopify, among others. BrainStation worked alongside hundreds of these experts to create award-winning certificate courses and diploma programs, ensuring that content was up-to-date and hyper-relevant.

With early success and surging demand, the company established its flagship campus at King and Spadina in Toronto’s innovation corridor.

“Our goal was to create a space for collaboration and connectivity, which would fuel the growth of our vibrant city. Combining the building’s historic brick and beam elements with an airy, minimalist design embodied the working environment of the ‘born digital’ brands that our learners wanted access to. It was perfect,” Field said. 

“Our Toronto campus has now helped prepare over 50,000 Torontonians for the future of work through a variety of experiences such as panels, industry events, workshops, corporate training, career fairs, and demo days,” continued Field. 

BrainStation has replicated this model across North America, transforming neglected spaces in cities like New York and Vancouver into bustling campuses that have become access points to each city’s tech scene.

“Our mission is to empower the workforce with the skills needed to thrive in the economy of the future. By doing this, BrainStation has become a catalyst for the economic growth of the markets we operate in,” Field said. 

Field’s ambitions go beyond BrainStation’s physical expansion. To increase accessibility to digital skills training, the company launched Online Live in 2019, empowering professionals to take live, instructor-led online courses from anywhere in the world. Delivered out of broadcasting studios dubbed ‘Cloud Classrooms’ and powered by BrainStation’s proprietary learning management system, Online Live has delivered more than 100,000 hours of live learning, with learners across 50 cities and 27 states, provinces, and territories.

“The cutting-edge skills that we teach are no longer resume boosters – they are required to be an active contributor across any industry,” Field said, adding that this forces the company to innovate and find new ways to reach global learners.  

“We’ve invested millions into BrainStation Studios, our very own production studio, and it will be the driving force behind some big developments in 2020. Despite everything our team has accomplished, we’re really just getting started.”