Skip Navigation
Back to Navigation

Toolkit

Toolkit

Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs Toolkit

    ULC in collaboration with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is working to strengthen the role libraries play in nurturing and promoting entrepreneurship in the communities they serve. This toolkit provides library leaders with strategies and models to enhance their entrepreneurial services.

    Starting Up

    Public libraries are uniquely equipped to connect aspiring entrepreneurs to knowledge, tools, partners and ideas. Even for libraries that already provide some level of entrepreneurial services, there is always potential to strengthen that work and enhance the library’s ability to serve emerging entrepreneurs — particularly women, people of color, immigrants, veterans and individuals reentering civic life from the justice system.

    Strategies:

    • Become familiar with local economic development priorities. Review elected and appointed leaders’ strategic plans and speeches to learn what the priorities are.5, 6
    • Map entrepreneurial resources in the community.3, 4
    • Catalog existing entrepreneurial assets, support and services within the library.1, 2
    • Identify the target audience for outreach by reviewing local demographic and business data. The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated demographic data and your city or county government site may also have this information.
    • Review existing data on entrepreneurial trends.7, 8

    Resources:

    1. ULC Leadership Brief: Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs
    2. ULC Strengthening Libraries as Hubs for Entrepreneurship: Summary of National Scan
    3. Kauffman FastTrac
    4. Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook 3.0
    5. SCORE Business Advice for Entrepreneurs
    6. Sourcelink for Entrepreneurs
    7. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index
    8. Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship
    Building Organizational Capacity

    Staff and space are strong existing assets that libraries can leverage to enhance their capacity to support and nurture emerging entrepreneurs and raise the library’s profile in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Although library staff have many strong skills, they may be hesitant to take on a new project area due to the demands of existing obligations. It is critical to actively help staff recognize how they can apply their existing capacity and skills to support the library’s entrepreneurship work. Additionally, libraries should consider if modifications to their staffing models could boost the entire team’s capacity to support entrepreneurial services.

    Strategies:

    • Ensure strong executive leadership by setting the context for the work as both a library and community priority, finding internal champions to ensure progress and giving staff the freedom to thrive.2
    • Engage staff in the work early and often to gain buy-in and build knowledge.
    • Train desk staff to serve as ambassadors for the library’s entrepreneurship services.
    • Define clearly the necessary skills for staff to provide entrepreneurial services. Not all of these skills require business expertise. Many will include the library staff’s existing skills such as giving presentations, building interpersonal relationships and networking.4
    • Adopt a “just in time” vs. “just in case” model for customer service. The former is a model where library staff are able to direct patrons to information in a timely manner whereas the latter involves ensuring library staff themselves can provide information for every possible inquiry.
    • Incorporate entrepreneurial service expectations into annual staff goals.

    In addition to staff, libraries have valuable physical assets that support entrepreneurs, including meeting spaces, learning tools and high-tech devices. Identifying the most valuable ways to leverage these resources can help the library demonstrate its unique capacity as an entrepreneurial hub.

    Strategies:

    • Position the library’s makerspaces as areas for entrepreneurs to connect and create.1, 6
    • Establish co-working spaces where individuals can connect with other entrepreneurs, use vital technology resources, conduct research and meetings and carry out business as permitted by library policies.5
    • Review library policies to identify potential obstacles to desired entrepreneurial activity within the library and update policies as needed.

    Resources:

    1. ULC MakerSpaces in Libraries
    2. ULC Role of the Library CEO
    3. Library Assets as Entrepreneurial Hubs
    4. Entrepreneurial Services Position Description Examples
    5. St. Louis County Public Library Research on Library Co-Working Spaces
    6. Broward County Creation Station Business and Creation Station Lab
    7. Free Library of Philadelphia Business Resource and Innovation Center
    8. Kansas City Public Library: "Reaching Small Businesses Just in Time"
    9. Kauffman Foundation: Libraries are Staking Their Claim as the Original Coworking Space
    10. ULC Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs: Building a Library System Partnership to Serve webinar (November 2018)
    11. Enoch Pratt Free Library and Baltimore County Public Library: Discovering the Key to Collaboration
    Engaging the Entrepreneur

    Most aspiring entrepreneurs will not independently visit the library looking for support. Many of these entrepreneurs, particularly those who are underserved, are unaware or unsure of what path to take to build their business, enhance their skills and connect to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Entrepreneurs also have a multitude of needs that extend beyond the creation and maintenance of a business. Libraries are uniquely positioned to provide these entrepreneurs with access to knowledge and a social support network that will empower them to make their business dreams a reality. Libraries can build connections with underrepresented entrepreneurs by developing an active engagement strategy that includes meeting people where they are, listening to the unique challenges underrepresented entrepreneurs face and providing targeted support.

    Strategies:

    • Identify what populations (e.g., women, people of color, immigrants) your library will target with its outreach efforts.
    • Identify places (e.g., community organization meetings, neighborhood events, etc.) where potential entrepreneurs or target populations live, work and connect.1
    • Understand where the entrepreneur is in their business development journey (i.e., conceptualizing a business, exploring funding opportunities, etc.).2, 3, 4
    • Listen to the needs of individuals and strategize with them to create the assistance needed.
    • Use language with aspiring entrepreneurs that is not prescriptive but applicable to, and easily understood by, a diverse audience.
    • Build from the one-on-one connections and connect entrepreneurs to library services/resources that they are unfamiliar with (e.g. co-working spaces, classes, etc.) that address their specific needs.5, 6

    Resources:

    1. 1 Million Cups
    2. Mid-Continent Public Library Square One Business Services
    3. Gale Small Business Roadmap
    4. Greater Kansas City Hispanic Needs Assessment
    5. Toledo Lucas County Public Library Resources for Small Businesses
    6. King County Library System: Equitable Access to Entrepreneurship for Immigrants and Refugees
    Charting Your Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

    Entrepreneurship is a community support. Entrepreneurs need people and organizations to support their businesses in order to thrive. Although no one organization has the capacity to serve the many needs of entrepreneurs, when organizations work together they can enable entrepreneurs to become successful. Many communities have an entrepreneurial ecosystem that the library can connect with and become part of. Libraries possess many of the elemental features of an ecosystem: inclusivity, access to knowledge and resources and the ability to facilitate connections between people, ideas and resources.1 Leveraging those assets appropriately for maximum effect is critical to supporting the larger local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Libraries can tap into their deep community connections and significant experience in cultivating strong partnerships that will not only benefit entrepreneurs but will build credibility and visibility of libraries to a wider audience.

    Strategies:

    • Participate in local government, business and entrepreneurship activities to build relationships and identify potential partners.1
    • Get connected to your community or region’s maker economy.2
    • Review potential partners’ mission statements to see how they align with the library’s goals and compliment the library’s services.
    • Determine how potential partners can supplement library activity and where the key “hand-off” to a partner should occur.
    • Connect with multiple individuals within the partner organizations to ensure the relationship’s long-term sustainability.
    • Demonstrate how the library can help the partner achieve its mission and enhance its impact.
    • Engage partners in spreading the word about how the library supports entrepreneurs in the field.
    • Identify existing gaps and demonstrate, where applicable, the library’s ability to fill the gap.

    Resources:

    1. Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook 3.0
    2. Austin Public Library: "Finding the Right Partner Leads to Magic"
    3. Austin Public Library Fast Start Partnership
    4. ULC Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs: Building a Library System Partnership to Serve Webinar (November 2018)
    5. Durham County Library: Connecting the Library World and the Business World
    Developing Programs and Services

    Becoming a hub for entrepreneurship requires thinking like an entrepreneur. It is a process of continuous discovery and nuanced change to better meet the needs of potential library customers and the community. Library systems in the ULC Entrepreneurship Peer Learning Cohort found that their initial ideas for programs and services evolved as they deepened their connections with the intended service populations.

    Strategies:

    • Assess the needs of populations being served through interviews, one-on-one coaching sessions, surveys and informal conversations.7
    • Establish S.M.A.R.T. goals at the outset to help track and measure progress.2, 6
    • Take a “whole-person” approach to helping first-time entrepreneurs, focusing on each individual’s unique strengths, challenges and vision for success.
    • Develop programs to help potential entrepreneurs improve their financial literacy, create a business plan, meet legal requirements, develop business operations and market their goods and services.1,3, 4, 5

    Resources:

    1. ULC Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs: Initiative Snapshot
    2. ULC Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs: Lessons Learned
    3. ULC Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs Webinar (August 2018)
    4. Toledo Lucas County Public Library Resources for Small Business Brochure
    5. Toronto Public Library: Welcoming and Supporting Entrepreneurial Newcomers
    6. Toronto Public Library Newcomer Entrepreneur in Residence Logic Model
    7. Enoch Pratt Free Library and Baltimore County Public Library Entrepreneur Academy
    Championing the Library as an Entrepreneurial Hub

    Libraries have not been traditionally viewed as a player in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In order to change that mindset, libraries must take a more proactive and consistent role in promoting services and successes to a diverse audience. By publicly highlighting their work, libraries can position themselves as key players in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

    Strategies:

    • Create a short, compelling message about the library’s role in entrepreneurship.
    • Develop messaging materials.1,2
    • Share information regularly with local leaders about how the library supports the local economy.
    • Use social media to reach potential entrepreneurs.
    • Track media coverage of the library’s entrepreneurial work.
    • Share information about the library’s entrepreneurship services with as many people, partners and media outlets as possible at every opportunity.
    • Celebrate and publicize success.3,4, 5
    • Talk about the library as much as possible to as many people, partners and media outlets as possible.
    • Identify the unique value of the library and develop a brand around it.

    Resources:

    1. Toronto Public Library Small Business Newsletter
    2. Toledo Lucas County Public Library Resources for Small Business Brochure
    3. DC Public Library: I Didn’t Know the Library Did That!
    4. East Baton Rouge Parish Library: Building a Trusted and Credible Library Presence in the Business Community
    5. St. Louis County Public Library: Perfecting the Library’s Elevator Pitch

    Information provided in the toolkit was informed by ULC’s national scan on entrepreneurship, research and the work of a peer learning cohort. This is a living toolkit which ULC will update periodically as we continue our work on libraries and entrepreneurship.