Allen County Public Library, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center to partner to help aspiring Fort Wayne-area entrepreneurs

Beginning in early April, the Allen County Public Library and Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC) will collaborate to help northeast Indiana entrepreneurs turn ideas into successful businesses, products or services, the two organizations announced early this week.

The library gets multiple requests each week from library users asking for help with starting a business, library Director Greta Southard said in the announcement.

“We can assist them with access to resources and information, and the NIIC can provide business coaching and advice,” Southard said. “A formal relationship with the NIIC was a natural way for us to help our patrons in a more comprehensive way.”

As part of the partnership, the NIIC will set up regular office hours in the conference room in the Business & Technology department on the second floor of the main library, 900 Library Plaza, Karl R. LaPan, NIIC president and CEO, said via email.

The NIIC initially plans to have a staff member at the library for “NIIC Hours” 2:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m.-noon Thursdays starting in early April, LaPan said. The times and frequency of “NIIC Hours” may be adjusted, depending on the demand for the service.

The NIIC also may do a “soft opening” sooner “to test our processes and systems to make sure we can meet the expected demand,” LaPan said.

The one-on-one coaching will be provided at no charge to people who are seeking help with starting or growing a business, the announcement said. Library staff will assist by providing data that entrepreneurs and NIIC coaches need to make business decisions.

The library and NIIC also plan to cooperate soon on offering education and training to aspiring and current entrepreneurs through workshops at both the library and the NIIC, the announcement said.

“It is a natural fit that our nationally recognized library system would be an acknowledged and trusted hub of entrepreneurship in our community,” LaPan said. “We are proud to collaborate with them to bring value-added services to their offerings.”

In the future, both NIIC and library staff envision expanding the program to all 14 library branches.

LaPan said it’s too early to say when that may happen.

“We want to be sure whatever we do offers the highest quality, highest touch possible to ensure aspiring entrepreneurs and business builders get what they need to take the next step in their business venture,” he said. “Together with the library, we will continually review program effectiveness and metrics to determine the right mix of services and right access points for services.”

MAKE AN APPOINTMENT

Beginning in early April, people seeking help with starting a business can make an appointment to meet with a staff member of the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC) in the Business & Technology department conference room on the second floor at the Allen County Public Library’s main branch, 900 Library Plaza.

• To schedule an appointment, ask a librarian, call the library at 421-1200 or email ask@acpl.info. You also can call the NIIC at 1-260-407-6442.

Eventually, the NIIC hopes to set up an online scheduling system, said Karl R. LaPan, NIIC president and CEO.

• Initially, a NIIC staff member will be at the main library for “NIIC Hours” 2:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m.-noon Thursdays starting in early April, LaPan said. Times and dates may be adjusted based on customer demand.

WHAT TO BRING

Entrepreneurs attending a “NIIC Hours” coaching session with an NIIC staff member should bring any hand drawings, sketches or research you have done or prototypes you might have of your business concept or venture, LaPan said.

But it’s never too early in the process to explore your idea with a NIIC business coach, he said. You don’t have to do a lot of pre-work or investigation in advance.

The NIIC uses an action-oriented launch process LaPan describes as “Assess>Discover>Do.” The process helps an entrepreneur figure out if she or he has a viable and feasible idea more quickly and in a smarter way than many people would do on their own, he added.

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