Start Your Own Business @ your library

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By Steve Zalusky

One of the best places to start a new business could be the public library.

An outstanding example of how libraries are fertile ground for growing businesses is the New York Public Library's Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL).

For the second year, SIBL, in conjunction with its sponsor, Citi Foundation, is inviting budding entrepreneurs in the New York Public Library's boroughs to submit their ideas to its New York StartUP! Business Plan Competition. Citi Foundation also supports competitions through the Brooklyn and Queens public library systems. The first-place winner receives $15,000 to start his or her own business.

But as Kristin McDonough, SIBL's director, underscores, the real prize is the array of services the library offers, from its premium databases to one-on-one advisory services and hands-on training in e-resource searching.

Just ask Shagun Malhotra, who won $5,000 as the runner-up in the 2010 competition. Four months ago, she launched SkyStem LLC, a business that will provide account reconciliation software (ART) that enables businesses to streamline the process of reconciling their accounts and is on the verge of catching her first client.

A CPA and CIA, she started her career in public accounting and also worked for Fortune 500 companies in an auditing capacity but then moved to New York to pursue consulting opportunities. She had been working at a bank on a project that helped inspire her to create her financial application. But the project ended abruptly when the bank was acquired. This, she said, gave her the opportunity she needed "to cultivate the inspiration to reality."

She became aware of the competition in 2009 through a flier she found when visiting SIBL, but was initially reluctant to enter. "I'm not a competition person. However, I love challenges," she said.

McDonough said this year's competition attracted nearly 400 entrants, which include those who entered as teams. Those who enter must participate in three of four possible technical workshops given between January and April. They also have to visit a business consultant and document that visit. They then submit a business plan electronically.

The result of all this face-to-face activity is that libraries create a genuine entrepreneurial community, in SIBL's case virtual (smallbiz.nypl.org) as well as on-site.

As part of the competition, the library offers training workshops that address such topics as Developing a Business Plan, Business Research, Developing Your Marketing Plan, Developing Financial Statements and Presenting Your Plan. 

Finalists are chosen in July, after which they give a presentation before a panel of judges in August. Winners are announce in September.

Local businesses help the library out in the effort, some by donating legal services.  On the website, there are now 250 small business providers listed. These business support groups bring their clients to the library, where they learn such skills as conducting market research or creating e-mail lists.

“The project allows us to foster new businesses and introduce users to a wide range of resources and services at the Library that support them as they pursue their goals," McDonough said. "Helping the city’s future small business owners take their first step toward success is one of the missions of the Science, Industry and Business Library.”

For Malhotra, the library became a kind of home away from home - or home office - during the nine months of the competition."I went in there and I was just amazed at the electronic resources," she said.

She said she sees a need for her product in both the public and private sectors, since every company needs to reconcile their accounts. This is especially true in the public arena, where reports are required.

She could see this need firsthand. "When I started at the bank, it had $4.8 billion in unreconciled accounts." But the process, she felt, was inefficient, redundant and paper intensive. More importantly, she said that inattention to the balance sheet had consequences that ultimately contributed to the recession. "As we all know, part of this recession happened because people just ignored the balance sheet," she said.

She said the library helped her a great deal by providing databases. In addition, library personnel personally helped her in finding answers. "All my sales calls are being generated from all the data I got from the library. My lead generation is coming from the library," she said.  Using the lead-generation software in itself has saved her thousands of dollars, she noted.

But even more important, it has given her hope.  "I'm crossing my fingers and continuing to develop the product, adding more modules and functionalities," so it can become "the account reconciliation product of choice," she said.

Libraries throughout the country are also providing resources for entrepreneurs, including the Dallas Public Library

On its website is a page, Starting a Small Business in Dallas, prepared by the staff of the library's Urban Information Center and Business & Technology Division

It includes information on incorporation, registration, permits, licenses and assorted legal matters, as well as where to find financing and other assistance.

And in Arizona, the Pima County Public Library provides information from such sources as the City of Tuscon and the U.S. Small Business Administration on starting a business.

It just goes to show that, for budding business owners, the library is a springboard for good ideas. It makes good business sense to check out your library.

 

Photo credit: A3 Munier Quam

 

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What a great resource for those trying to launch their businesses. All the best to all of the budding entrepreneurs. Regarding Ms. Malhotra's business, there is a real need out there for account reconcilation software. Good luck!

It sounds like Shagun turned what could have been a difficult situation into a great opportunity. She created a product that is needed in the marketplace and I'm sure will be in demand very quickly. Best of luck to you as you get your new company up and running!

Inspirational story! A great example of someone identifying the gaps and having the courage/proactive nature and vision to try and fill it.

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