Gina Camacho’s father Joe is an auto body shop owner. A few years ago, when he published a job posting for a skilled auto body painter, he received dozens of resumes for house painters. Puzzled, he reached out to Camacho’s husband, a corporate recruiter named Rich, to find out what he did wrong. Recognizing an opportunity to improve the way blue-collar talent is sourced, Gina and Rich began Blue Recruit, a company that connects skilled tradespeople with employers or ― as Gina likes to call it ― “match.com for plumbers.”
In the third session of our Libraries and Entrepreneurship Webinar Series, Gina shared her entrepreneurial journey with attendees, describing her startup’s needs and the kind of information she sought along the way. A lifelong library user, Gina spent many days using her local library in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, as her workspace. The library offered her a quiet place that allowed her to be productive, a stable internet connection, and information resources to help her get her business off the ground. Never once, however, did she inquire about library programs and services designed to support entrepreneurs.
Gina noted that the process of starting a business can be very isolating and lonely, so she encouraged librarians to offer in-person networking events and other programming to give entrepreneurs a greater sense of community. “We're all tired and cranky and broke, and it's just nice to have a community,” she said. “Even if we’re not in the same industries, we all seem to have common issues that we can talk through.”
In addition, Gina said, libraries offer great meeting spaces that entrepreneurs can reserve to meet with clients or partners. Many libraries, she recently learned, have makerspaces that include podcast studios and 3D printers ― helpful tools for startups looking to grow their businesses. Gina also identified the kind of information and services that entrepreneurs would appreciate having easy access to. These included vetted lists of local lawyers and accountants, available grants and loans, and local business accelerators and startup programs.
To support entrepreneurs like Gina, Durham County Library doubles as a business development hub. Librarian Leander Croker manages a Business Services team of four. In addition to providing entrepreneurs with the information, programming and meeting space they need, the team is actively training and developing library staff to provide entrepreneurs with one-on-one assistance.
Leander and her team are also busy establishing relationships with local businesses, something she says takes time but goes a long way toward changing the perception of libraries as merely places for checking out books.
“Our partnerships are extremely strong,” said Leander, identifying Durham Technical Community College’s Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), the City of Durham, the Office of Workforce Development, and a local bank among the library’s business partners. “It takes some of the pressure off the librarian having to know everything, which we don't. We just know where to find it. […] And it is really helpful to our programming.”
And that programming can be passive. Leander said her staff created QR codes that patrons can scan and respond to simple questions: Why did you choose the fourth floor? Are you a small business owner? What kind of programming are you interested in? Brochures tell patrons about upcoming programs and resources. For example, Durham County Library offers patrons access to the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course, an eight-module, self-paced course that enables aspiring entrepreneurs to learn the underlying beliefs and behaviors that can help them start a new business, pursue a new career, accomplish personal goals, and achieve richer lives.
“Let it grow organically,” Leander advised. “That's how Durham County Library started presenting business services. It really grew organically into what we hope is going to be an entrepreneurial hub that everyone sends people to, and then we can be that equity bridge [connecting them] to other places.”