Public Libraries Nurture Entrepreneurship

Erica Compton on a panel discussing the role of the maker movement on entreprene

by Erica Compton, project coordinator

I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to present at the 2014 Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship in Louisville, KY, October 15–16. With a focus on “Making an Entrepreneurial City,” over 120 mayors, economic development staff, and entrepreneurship experts came together to discuss ways to promote startup activity and encourage higher levels of entrepreneurship in their cities.

The conference was convened, in partnership with Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. One area of focus was the growing “maker movement,” and its role in innovation, entrepreneurship, and building a city’s economy. My invitation to present was due to the national recognition of the Idaho Commission for Libraries’ innovative statewide “Make It at the Library” project, which I co-lead with my colleague Sue Walker. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share the role that libraries can play in this vital area.

I sat on a panel featuring Ross Baird, CEO of Village Capital, and Alexander Bandar, CEO and Founder of the Columbus IDEA Foundry. Our moderator, Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, WI, led us in a robust and interesting discussion on the role of the maker movement on entrepreneurship. I was able to focus on a very specific topic: how do we cultivate entrepreneurship and innovation at an early age so our youth are prepared for an ever-changing job market and future? How do we provide our youth with important “soft” skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration, AND introduce them to emerging technologies like 3D printing, robotics, and wearable electronics, so they are ready to tackle any challenge, job, or career? My answer—making! And more specifically, making in libraries!

To help frame this statement and provide some background, I shared with attendees a startling fact: typical 18-year-olds spend only 18.5% of their waking hours in formal educational settings! That means a lot of out-of-school time can be maximized for our youth and help them build valuable skills.

But, the reality is that not all children have the opportunity to attend an afterschool program. Afterschool Alliance just released the America After 3PM report with statistics from 2014:
•  19% of Idaho’s children (54,797) are alone and unsupervised between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.
•  42% of Idaho’s children would participate in an afterschool program if one were available.
Only 8% of Idaho’s children participate in an afterschool program (compared to 9% in 2009 and 9% in 2004).

Unmet Afterschool Needs in Idaho

These statistics show a huge unmet need in our communities. And since major barriers include ability to pay and program availability, I believe that making in libraries is key to filling this need.

So back to building innovators and entrepreneurs ready to take on any future….

Libraries can offer free and open out-of-school learning opportunities that provide kids with the chance to create, innovate, explore, and problem-solve. They are places where kids can work with new tools and emerging technologies, enhance current skills and learn new ones, and learn the importance of failing forward (the process of learning from mistakes or failures to improve upon a design or concept).

Libraries are well-positioned to ensure that entrepreneurship and innovation are second nature to our children, preparing them for the possibilities ahead. Through the Make It at the Library project, the Commission will continue to support and develop Idaho libraries’ efforts to bolster economic growth in their communities through entrepreneurship and innovation.

See a blog about the Maker Movement discussions at the conference, including a quote from Compton,  at www.kauffman.org/blogs/policy-dialogue/2014/november/getting-the-fit-right.