Public Libraries in Smart Cities and Communities Toolbox
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Business and Innovation Centers
Smart cities and communities aim, among other goals, to improve the local economy. Your public library can play an important role in this respect by opening business and innovation centers. A business and innovation center provides a variety of services and resources as well as a pitch corner, workshops, and programs to help start-ups as well as existing businesses find the resources that they need to be successful. Business and innovation centers offer support and guidance to current and prospective business owners in the local community as well as to a broader audience that includes media creators, innovators, job seekers, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and investors.
Cities and communities that want to become smart(er) could greatly benefit from a business and innovation center since it acts as a resource hub to help promote entrepreneurship and entrepreneur activities that potentially contribute to economic development. While a makerspace allows your patrons to explore and create ideas or designs for innovative products, a business and innovation center could offer them important assistance with starting a business around innovation and gaining competitive edge in the market.
A business and innovation center does not have to be physical. You may consider offering online and digital resources that are critical for starting or growing businesses. Such online and digital resources may include databases for market and business research, toolkits for business planning, intellectual property landscapes, loan and financial information, and community development plans for businesses.
Public libraries are uniquely positioned to be able to provide resources that are beneficial for doing business, such as databases subscriptions that small businesses and entrepreneurs cannot afford on their own. By using those resources, patrons can save time and money to find business opportunities, to identify potential customers, and to plan all stages of business growth.
Considering the current resources that your library has, you can start a business and innovation center by aggregating the resources that you already own and that are relevant to businesses. These may include books, magazines, newspapers, and/or video materials about running a business and you can provide them in a digital version (if available) through an online portal for your patrons to find them more easily.
With more resources available, you may consider purchasing other marketing and business databases to offer more up-to-date knowledge and trends. You may consider one of the following databases or toolsets like Business Insights Essentials, D&B Global Business Browser, Gale Small Business Builder, and Mergent Intellect. You may not have the resources to purchase all those databases, but you can start with one that you can afford and that you find to be more useful to the business owners in your community.
In addition to online and digital resources, you may also consider offering classes, workshops, and programs about essential elements or topics for business or innovation management that patrons may need for their own companies. You may want to host business planning workshops, which are very important for entrepreneurs who have creative ideas but have limited knowledge about how to turn those ideas into actual businesses.
These workshops may also cover other topics, such as marketing, accounting/bookkeeping management, advertising, and website building. You may consider inviting companies or organizations for business services (e.g., local SCORE branches, US Small Business Administration) to your workshops to help your patrons address problems they may be having about starting and expanding their business.
In addition, one-on-one business counselling may also be helpful and could provide personalized business assistance to your patrons. You may consider finding professionals in your community who have work experience in consultancy, legal, and/or financial companies, and are willing to become volunteer mentors for local businesses. They can teach classes and offer answers to specific questions concerning patrons’ businesses and venture.
Different communities have different industries that are prominent to their area. Remember to offer workshops and programs that may be particularly useful for the businesses that are already located in your community so that you may provide more value to your patrons.
General resources on business & innovation centers in the public library:
Five Ways Local Libraries Can Help Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs: https://medium.com/everylibrary/five-ways-local-libraries-can-help-small-businesses-and-entrepreneurs-bd8b7a208819
Library’s Business Center Leads to Success with Community, Government, and Business: http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2018/09/librarys-business-center-leads-to-success-with-community-government-and-business/
AL—Libraries Build Business: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/workforce/grant
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