| By Gale Staff |
To hear Kent Palmer tell it, NaperLaunch began much like any new business does; by recognizing and fulfilling an identified need. In 2013, Palmer, business librarian at Naperville Public Library just outside of Chicago, recognized that many members of the business community had the same five basic needs: information, guidance, mentoring, workspace, and the ability to make connections with other people in the area. However, business owners and new entrepreneurs weren’t aware that those valuable resources were well within their reach.
A BRAND IS BORN
Like a determined entrepreneur, the Naperville business team initiated strategies to package their product. Palmer said, “We had the idea that giving our business services a brand name like NaperLaunch made it easier to market our services and resources. We were already offering supportive business databases and a significant collection of print materials. But now, all of that has a name and the name has become a brand—NaperLaunch.”
The library wanted to ensure they understood the needs of local business to help them be successful. This led to the creation of the NaperLaunch Advisory Group. With members including the president of the Chamber of Commerce, the president of the local Economic Development Council, and six business owners, NaperLaunch has a steady stream of referrals and has elevated its value to the overall health and vibrancy of the community.
NURTURING ENVIRONMENT FOR DEVELOPMENT
Communal space and community support have been integral to NaperLaunch’s success. Starting a business can be a lonely endeavor so the library repurposed available space into a meeting room and co-working space to support collaboration. Naperville also tapped civic and community organizations to increase visibility and maximize opportunities. The library business services staff has also been regular contributors to local business forums and entrepreneurial events as speakers and panelists.
They cultivated a special relationship with SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors. “We arranged for the local SCORE chapter to provide the mentoring and coaching while we take care of the rest,” Palmer said.
ACADEMY LAUNCHED, BUSINESSES BENEFIT
After several years, the Naperville team recognized that entrepreneurs needed additional business skills development. “They come to us with really great ideas but sometimes need help turning those ideas into a sustainable business. We responded by creating the NaperLaunch Academy so we could provide further support,” Palmer said.
The academy offers a focused curriculum to help entrepreneurs develop fundamental business knowledge, improve salesmanship and leadership skills and learn the “lean startup process.” The resource, Gale Small Business Builder is a foundation for several of the academy’s courses which include:
- Starting a Business in Illinois
- Lean Business Model Canvas
- Write a Business Plan
- Professional Selling Skills
- Entrepreneurial Leadership
IT TAKES JUST THREE WORDS
To those wanting to launch a program specifically targeting the entrepreneur market, Palmer has three words of advice, “Just get started.” He suggests replicating some of Naperville’s efforts such as holding programs and workshops and attending them to learn along with your customers, and identifying resources to support your users. The result can position your library as a net contributor to the economic development of your community. That’s a brand position any library would be happy to hold.