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Scottsdale library spurs innovation through collaboration

The Scottsdale Civic Center Library may become an epicenter of innovation as ASU Venture Catalyst looks to create a collaborative work space for budding entrepreneurs, inventors and aspiring small-business proprietors.

The idea is to bring the education and principles of making a start-up feasible -- technologically charged or not -- to the general public free of charge through a unique partnership between Arizona State University and the city of Scottsdale and various other community partners, including the Arizona Small Business Association.

The project, coined “EUREKA,” is the first of its kind on the planet and, among other things, hopes to show the everyday resident how to turn his or her idea into a workable, marketable concept, proponents say.

Starting in April, Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd., will offer start-up resources, host classes, provide mentorship and online support to help spur a real-working innovation economy built locally.

The right fit

“Libraries have always been community resources for anything that you might need,” Kathy Coster, Scottsdale innovation manager, said in a March 12 phone interview. “Today’s library has to work with the community by fulfilling community needs.”

The library of the 21st Century is a work in progress, Ms. Coster says.

“The innovation economy, or what we see, is lots of people using our resources alone, and they may be job hunting or thinking up the next big software program,” she said. “They are working in isolation and we want those people to come together and begin cooperation on projects and trading information with each other.”

Ms. Coster says the library of the future could be home to innovation.

“We know a lot of people out there need a space to go to and explore their options, and maybe get their idea off the ground,” she said. “We are going to provide a wide range of educational resources for those people.”

The project comes at no cost to taxpayers, Ms. Coster says.

“We are using existing space and just reconstituting staff duties,” she said of transforming the Scottsdale Room at Civic Center Library into the EUREKA space. “We are doing this out of existing resources, which is unheard of these days.”

What is also unheard of is providing this kind of access to entrepreneurial support free of charge, according to Gordon McConnell, assistant vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU.

“Most accelerators are based around the idea that we are going to focus on these few people and the hell with everything else,” he said in March 12 phone interview. “That started to concern me.”

Hand picking the best entrepreneurs might not be the one-size-fits-all approach to creating practical innovation, Mr. McConnell contends.

“We don’t always get these decisions right,” he said of common incubator programs popular nowadays with municipalities looking for the next big business to call its borders home.

“Everybody has the potential to be great ... you don’t need to be Google.”

Libraries of the 21st Century could be great launching pads for the everyday inventor or fledgling entrepreneur, Mr. McConnell says.

“Here are places that are already embedded within your communities and across the nation,” he said of the modern library in most communities across America. “You can definitely get it started here.”

The real push is to provide access to small communities and their residents to true entrepreneur aid and mentorship through the use of online collaborative tools, Mr. McConnell points out.

EUREKA gives the Digital Age a new platform for innovative efforts. “The problem is, libraries cannot do this on their own. The libraries will be the spokes of the wheel.”

Mr. McConnell called the EUREKA space an “experiment,” but one he thinks is going to work.

“Libraries were never really a place for books. They were originally a place where people could come together to work on ideas,” he explained. “This is remembering where the library come from.”

A library reborn

Michael Beck, Scottsdale libraries adult services coordinator, says libraries are evolving -- and the EUREKA space may be next big step.

“We see about 1,500 to 2,000 people a day, so we have the space and the access to the people,” he said in a March 12 phone interview. “We are trying to create a programming hub to help. We think the library is perfectly positioned to make this program special.”

Mr. Beck calls the EUREKA effort a collaborative one.

“This is really a great example of how libraries can create strategic partnerships,” he said of the agreements forged with ASU and entities such as the Arizona Small Business Association. “We are staring here (something) other libraries can model.”

That model could be one that spurs economic activity through communities across the nation, one Scottsdale economic development professional says.

“We understand we are going to be serving new audiences,” Kim Hanna, Scottdale economic development project manager, said in a March 12 phone interview. “We are going to be reaching out to new partners.”

Ms. Hanna says a community library speaks to the spirit of collaboration.

“We really love that it serves the entire community and that it removes any barrier into the start-up world,” she explained of the mass appeal potential the community library brings. “It is a fantastic opportunity for the entire community.”

Ms. Hanna points to the Alexandria Network as a catalyst for startups to get off the block.

Named after the Library Alexandria in 3,000 B.C. ,the network will provide programming that can be remotely tapped into with an Internet connection.

“Part of the vision of the network is that people from different corners of the state will find each other,” she said of the Alexandria Network. “This function of the EUREKA space is not just for small high-tech enterprises, we also want this to serve the small-business community.”

News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 via e-mail at tthornton@newszap.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/nvnewsman

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