Naperville library developing business incubation center

Naperville library officials are developing plans to provide space, technology and mentors for budding entrepreneurs through an initiative called BiblioTek Centers for Innovation and Discovery, which could launch as soon as this spring.

BiblioTek is imagined as a workspace within the library for innovators who are developing ideas they hope will blossom into businesses, said Julie Rothenfluh, the library’s executive director. The idea is modeled after a similar partnership that created an incubation center at the Scottsdale Public Library in Arizona with help from Arizona State University.

“It’s maximizing existing resources in a way that really can contribute to the economic development of the community,” Rothenfluh said.

The library is developing BiblioTek with support from the Naperville Development Partnership, the city and area educational institutions.

Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership, said the initiative aims to capitalize on the library’s popularity as a work destination for people who run home-based businesses and offer a public twist on the co-working centers and business incubators popping up in Chicago and some suburbs.

“People feel comfortable in this environment; they feel that they can call on the resources here,” Jeffries told library board members Wednesday night. “We think we could be creating a unique future visionary opportunity to add to what you already do.”

The library’s model for supporting people with innovative product ideas will use existing space at the 95th Street Library and the Nichols Library downtown to offer mentorship opportunities, educational programs targeted at people starting businesses, computer workstations and technology such as 3-D printers and green screens.

Robert Fieseler, the Naperville City Council’s liaison to the library board, said the collection of entrepreneurs who are likely to gather at such a business incubation center will be valuable to anyone with a new idea but little experience.

“I call it a startup business cohort facility,” Fieseler said. “The cohort to me is the very important part — it’s the interactions. You want like-minded people, leaders of developing businesses to feel comfortable to succeed and to fail.”

Library board members praised the BiblioTek idea as forward-thinking, but Jeff Davis asked about the program’s costs.

Rothenfluh said there is not yet a separate budget for BiblioTek, as the library plans to use existing resources in a more concentrated way, look for grants and use volunteer assistance. She said next steps include surveying entrepreneurs to determine which services they would use the most and visiting the Scottsdale library to see its business incubation center and talk with those who launched it.

“This is a phenomenal idea, a great model,” library board Vice President Ron Davidson said. “This is right where we want to go with helping our patrons.”

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