Locals launch effort to create library-based entrepreneur centers

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Local entrepreneurs David Britton, Jim B. Abendschan and Cabrillo College librarian Topsy Smalley are promoting a library revolution, “a grassroots business model to create millions of sustainable jobs” by transforming libraries into hubs of civic change and environmentally-minded entrepreneurship.

“We want to have the infrastructure in place to implant entrepreneurialism,” said Britton, who has started and run four high-tech companies and is currently also involved in organizing the local Santa Cruz Tech MeetUp programs. He hopes the Library Hub project will help the cash-strapped libraries as well as build a stronger economy.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama earlier this year, which is posted on the group website, they proposed a Library Progress Administration similar to the Works Progress Administration of the 30s.

“The overarching idea,” they told the president, “is to integrate libraries as the centerpiece of efforts to generate large numbers of low cost and small-scale entrepreneur businesses.” Existing infrastructure of public libraries could support mentoring startup entrepreneurs and existing businesses, they said.

Public libraries could provide open spaces, computers, wireless environments, print and electronic materials, access to the Internet, public hours, photocopiers, printers and places to sit and read and meet with others, they said. “Best of all, librarians are trained professionals who can connect people with the information they need to become entrepreneurs.”

The LPA effort would be supported by existing organizations specifically the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE a small business mentoring and training program and the Small Business Development Center.

Teresa Thomae, director of the Small Business Development Center of the Central Coast, has yet to talk directly with Britton but says she hopes to see any new efforts leveraging existing programs and work cooperatively to avoid duplication of efforts.

In another letter to the Library Joint Powers Board of Santa Cruz County, Britton said the goal is to model the business plan in a public library that is being built or refurbished.

Bring on the collaboration, said Janis O’Driscoll, programs and partnerships manager, at the Santa Cruz main library.

Already Santa Cruz area libraries provide small business development services. In partnership with the Small Business Development Center and SCORE, libraries have hosted numerous training workshops and brown bag seminars on topics such as business accounting software, viral marketing and selling on eBay. The library websites instantly connect users to local business data, resources and ongoing educational events. The Santa Cruz library site recently added a “Career Transitions Database” that includes job listings and resume posting services and has long linked to new business services.

“The library sees this as putting people together in as many ways as it can,” O’Driscoll said. “You can’t do any of this without working with partners. I bet anything we could find a way to collaborate.”

The plan put forth by Britton and Smalley is “something more intense; more focused” than providing seminars and links. They envision specified open hours and a designated place to congregate, mentor and be mentored, “a community hub . . . to mobilize entrepreneur job growth.”

Abendschan, who retired last year from his position as president and chief executive of Spectra-Mat in Watsonville, describes the library hub idea as a place to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship.

“We’re looking more than at Business 101,” he said. We’re trying to create a place they might go and learn the philosophy of being an entrepreneur, a forum where they can participate and bounce ideas off, and be encouraged to take their ideas one step further. As soon as they’ve got something, they can go to SCORE and the SBDC. It is almost a chain reaction.”

Still in the early networking stages, the library hub advocates are still trying to generated support for their plans.

As with any entrepreneurial venture, you often start without lot of support,” Britton said, indicating it may be awhile before funding and collaboration come together. “We’re only in the first year of doing this.”

For information on the Library Hub project, visit http://www.libraryhub.org.

This article was first published here.

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