« Back to Economic & Workforce Development

Small Business Lecture Series

Cleveland Public Library

Innovation Leader: Maureen Mullin, Manager, Business, Economics & Labor, Maureen.Mullin@cpl.org

Problem Statement

Many business reference requests center on a belief that there is easily obtainable “grant money” for anyone looking to start a business. After learning that this belief is not firmly based in reality many of our patrons became discouraged from pursuing small-business ownership.

In the past there were two types of small business programs at Cleveland Public Library (CPL). There were those that utilized the services of government and nonprofit agencies; and others that centered on business information bibliographic instruction.

Government and nonprofit agencies based their presentations on dollar amounts and industries that our patrons could not relate to. CPL patrons were interested in service industry businesses that required only a modest initial investment. Our second problem was that the library resources we suggested rarely related to the specific “condition” of our local economy. In short, by sticking with tradition we were failing to offer our patrons real world solutions to the problem of opening a business in the city of Cleveland.

Innovation

CPL initiated an ongoing lecture series entitled Small Business Lecture Series that exclusively featured local businesses. These businesses had to be based in the city of Cleveland, with fewer than ten employees, and been in operation for over 5 years. Although we provided program participants with a list of suggested topics, the format was left open in efforts of promoting a free exchange of information between the audience and panelists. Most importantly we did not inquire with any of the participants as to the source of their start-up capital; our expectation was that with businesses this size the message would consistently counter the “free money” myth.

Progress

Our participants shared relatable stories of how their businesses came to be. Not one had benefited from, or met anyone who had received “grant money” as a primary source of start-up capital. All participants agreed that their most successful enterprises were those started with personal savings and income from second jobs. CPL staff measured the success of these events by surveying attendees and tracking their return rate; the Small Business Lecture Series was held exclusively in neighborhood branches with the intention of promoting the services and resources of our main research library. Roughly 20-30% of program attendees either contacted or visited the Main Library Business Department for their first time following the event. None of the people who attended our the Small Business Lecture Series ever returned asking for sources of “free money”; the average return request had moved beyond this point and focused on market research and barriers to entry such as licensing, insurance and governmental regulation.