Co-founder Ahmed Ismail standing in front of a gallery of  the first successful HXOUSE venture with Google
Co-founder Ahmed Ismail standing in front of a gallery of the first successful HXOUSE venture with Google

Weeknd-Sponsored Hxouse Incubator Now Open For Business

Hxouse, the Toronto-based incubator for creatives that in part is bankrolled by Abel (The Weeknd) Tesfaye, is now officially open for business.

The brainchild of Le Mar Taylor, The Weeknd's XO brand creative director and co-founder Ahmed Ismail, a sports and entertainment marketer, Hxouse is a fourth-floor tenant of the newly constructed Artscape Daniels Launchpad, consisting of 35,000 square feet of studios and workspaces dedicated and designed to accelerate creative communities to a higher level in their professions.

Although there is space allotted for vocations in as jewellers, photographers, fashion, graphic and digital design, Hxouse's involvement includes sponsoring the "No More Dreams" initiative for student creatives and providing state-of-the-art recording studios for practical experience.

"There are a lot of outlets that invite people to come in, but there are no tools for them to create," Taylor told FYI Music News. "We didn’t want to create just another community centre. We wanted people to come in, be able to create and leave with the product in hand."

Taylor says that when he and Tesfaye began their careers eight years ago, there was no guidance through mentorship or places they could go to develop their talents. 

"When we were conceiving the House of Balloons album cover, we had to sneak into OCAP (University) and hack into Adobe to ideate what that concept looked like," he recalls. "There’s no reason why we should have had to do that. We should have come into a facility like this and not used my university friend’s log-in to do so.”

Now with an investment he pegs at "$6M for Hxouse," Taylor is hoping to provide opportunity in Toronto for those who have few or no connections and need guidance.

"Locally, I wanted to build a home for creatives to come, network, figure out possible collaborations, grow their businesses and help others start their own or take it to the next level," Taylor explains.

"Being in the position now where it’s time to give back while we’re still hot, still in touch with the youth and everyone is still stoked on what we’re presenting to the world, it’s time to focus all our energy on this and foster the next generation of future Toronto leaders. The whole purpose of this to give creatives that are in the same position that I was eight years ago a head start."

In a separate interview, Ahmed Ismail said the No More Dreams program focuses on "the three E's: Leave with an employable skill, leave employed or leave with your own enterprise."

He described the program, with a curriculum designed by OCAP University and George Brown College that was kickstarted in September, as a three-part process he terms "a crash course in creative studies."  Moving forward,  Hxouse will call for submissions bi-annually, and judge each applicant by their portfolio. The 140 candidates that are approved and accepted into the program then experience a one-day assessment, with 70 students moving into a one-week program "where there will be more one-on-one cultivation and teaching you the little things that you need in the business plan for creative and research," says Ismail. 

In January 2019, those students will move forward for a more intense two-to-three month course that will prepare them for work in the real world.

"The corporate world wants you polished," said Ismail. "They’re not going to foster that talent. They’re not going to put in that work. How we operate is that we want to make sure you have the skills in that transition phase of adulthood that you need."

All students accepted into the program will also be treated to full scholarships.

“It was a vision of XO and La Mar and Abel where it’s a merit-based program and not an income-geared program," says Ismail. "We're looking for the best talent: if you’re good at what you do, we don’t feel like you have to be burdened with the financial restrictions of leaving school or finding a job or anything like that.”

Ismail says the program has already enjoyed some initial success, including the hiring of a No More Dreams participant by Google to shoot some photos for the software giant's new Pixel 3 phone marketing campaign.

"It's amazing that our kids are starting to get hired through the program already," says Ismail. "We've had about ten job offers."

Rising fom the ashes of the Guvernment and Kool Haus venues at the foot of Sherburne and Queen's Quay East, and across the street from CORUS headquarters, Hxouse is the only tenant in the Artscape Daniels Launchpad floor of the building, which also accommodates a couple of floors of the George Brown College of Design, OCAD, and eventually The Remix Project and Manifesto Toronto.

Artscape CEO Tim Jones says this latest project from the not-for-profit real estate organization, whose mission is "to make space for creativity and transform communities," is one of 12 spread over 42 different venues that collectively provide space for 3,000 artists. It works on a membership basis - three tiers of prices that range from $50 to $125 monthly to give artists access to the facility. 

Jones says the newest venue - Artscape Daniels Launchpad -  cost $34M - and although there have been financial donations from the Government of Canada, the Provincial government, TD Bank, the City of Toronto, Adobe and several private donors, the Launchpad is an independent, not-for-profit organization.

However, those members who are part of Hxouse's "No More Dreams" initiative will be exempt from the expense.

While La Mar Taylor says that Hxouse is a "goodwill gesture" on XO's part, he foresees a time sooner than later where the model of this hub will be going global. He mentions Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, London and Seoul as potential destinations - but says success this will be determined by the number of students that go on to do bigger and better things.

"I feel comfortable where I am. I don’t have any insecurities and I will do everything I  can to help the next generation of creatives," Taylor vows. "If that happens, I can say HXouse was successful."

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