By Paul Mayne, Western News
At any given time, conversations can range from the next big entrepreneur, a collaboration on an arts project, a potential business startup or even a community initiative around mental health. And that’s exactly what former Western student Harpreet Zingh, and Harman Grewal, BA’14 (Visual Arts & Psychology), had in mind when they created LAB*B.
LAB*B brings the freelance and entrepreneurial communities together, in a coffee shop-type setting, to bounce around ideas and concepts. And it was the pair’s time at Western that got them thinking about taking on such an adventure.
Zingh and Grewal met through the then Biz Inc. program (now Propel), plus each had taken part in Western’s Pre-Law Society’s mock trials. They had the same ideas and goals, and were from the same hometown – the Brampton bond began.
“So much of this has been influenced by Western,” said the 24-year-old Zingh. “Just being in a very social environment, a very entrepreneurial environment, it was very different from growing up in Brampton. Nobody truly wants to leave Western, and when we were realizing our time was kind of coming up here, there was the anxiety and contemplation of what happens next.
“There were a lot of things we could have done and stayed in London, but going back to our hometown we realized if we were able to build something along the lines of LAB*B, it creates a lot of networking opportunities and creates community back in our hometown. It’s an environment we want to see succeed, as well. We’re basically importing stuff from what we learned in London into Brampton. How do we recreate the Western atmosphere in our own little world here?”
The two began LAB*B in the summer of 2013. Grewal, 26, had just graduated and Zingh was beginning his final year at university. It began as an initiative to bring the innovative and pioneering community together with the goal of having a beautiful space to work out of. But the membership fee, at that time $200, wasn’t blossoming into what the pair had hoped for.
“What we began to realize was our friends our age were being excluded because they didn’t have the finances for it,” Zingh said. “So we got rid of that because we don’t want the young, 16-year-old, amazing graphic designer to miss out on this because he doesn’t have the resources.”
By day, LAB*B is a free workspace tucked inside a downtown heritage building, complete with desks and chairs, Wi-Fi and kitchen space – and during the evenings, through renting the space, it transforms into a platform to showcase talented individuals, be it an art exhibition or a coding workshop.
“A lot of people have an idea phase,” Grewal said. “When anyone has an idea all they need is a lot of encouragement and a lot of like-minded people around them inspiring them on a daily basis and to give them some direction and navigation.”
Zingh agreed, adding the basic idea behind LAB*B is helping young people move from idea to action.
“People come to us with their ideas and skill sets and we are sort of the back-end support team for them,” he said. “You are going where there are other people and these people want to help each other. We can help them connect to a lawyer, an accountant, someone in manufacturing. We are that bridge between the older and experienced and the younger with the ideas. The end goal is economic and social development and building the future of Brampton.”
LAB*B recently received a $300,000 grant from the Youth Opportunities Fund, part of the Ontario Trillium Fund to help sustain the business, which had previously been funded through a private entrepreneur.
“The people who come here are chasing something in the world of personal development,” Zingh said. “We always tell people their ideas are whatever they want them to be. You can pitch us anything and we can help you map it out. It’s about encouraging them to swing at the ball, and if you don’t hit this one you’ll hit the next one. As long as you enter with that initiative.”