Erynn Lyster and Zach Lyster

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Erin Brooke Burns. Photographed at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary.

Ages: 38 (Erynn), 36 (Zach)

Job titles: Co-Founder and Creative Director, The Commons Calgary (Erynn), Co-Founder and Director of Operations, The Commons Calgary (Zach)

Why they’re 2016 Top 40s:

This sister-and-brother team are enhancing the local business community through The Commons, a community-minded co-working, meeting and event space for independent contractors and freelance professionals.

In 2007, Erynn Lyster was a young freelancer with her own burgeoning graphic-design business. But, as she worked from home (alone and often in her pyjamas), she knew there had to be more to the entrepreneurial experience.

“It was awful,” Erynn recalls. “You’re just really isolated and lonely.”

That changed in 2010 when Erynn joined Cowork YYC, the city’s first co-working space. She believed in the concept so much that she bought the business in 2013. Soon after, she asked her younger brother, Zach, who was also familiar with working from home and “the coffee-shop shuffle,” to come on board.

Together, the siblings run The Commons Calgary, a co-working, meeting and event space that offers independent contractors a comfortable, stylish workplace with the benefits of being part of an office-style community. “It came from a place of truly understanding what an entrepreneur goes through,” Zach says.

And Calgary entrepreneurs seem to agree – since opening in 2013, The Commons has grown from eight to more than 100 members. While some member businesses settle into the permanent, private offices, others have used the space as a launch pad and gone on to open their own spaces.

Whichever path its members decide to take, The Commons has turned the concept of the pyjama-wearing, coffee-shop entrepreneur on its head by providing a literal ground level for local businesses to make their mark and collaborate with others.

“Seeing other businesses succeed at The Commons is really inspiring for me,” Zach says. “If they’re succeeding, it means we’re succeeding at the same time.”

Over the years, The Commons has also done some growing of its own. The physical space, outfitted with offices, desks, velvet couches, meeting rooms, a bar and a kitchen, has grown from 2,500 square feet to more than 13,000, and now includes a newly expanded professional and social event space.

It is also very important to Erynn and Zach to connect with the wider Calgary community. Last year, they launched the Common Good program, an initiative that supports each staff member’s charity of choice. They also offer up The Commons’ event space to a few non-profit organizations and community events for free every month.

“I think [The Commons is] just showing that there’s another way to do business that’s successful,” Erynn says. “It’s possible that you can really live your dream … and you can be really happy and excited about what you’re doing on a daily basis.” – Alana Willerton

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