Long Overdue

Episode 13: Cultivating Your Library’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, Part 6

Dec 22, 2020

Host Duncan Smith is joined by Daisy Magnus-Aryitey of NC IDEA, an organization dedicated to strengthening North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Their conversation focuses on why libraries are perfectly poised to support economic development in their communities and how they must be intentional when developing services for entrepreneurs.

Learn how EBSCO’s Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course can support library programming for entrepreneurs.

Tammy Ross:

Welcome to Long Overdue: Libraries and Technology, a podcast for librarians in which we explore important trends and topics in the library industry. You are listening to episode six in our series called Cultivating Your Library's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, hosted by Duncan Smith, founder of NoveList, and EBSCO's Chief Strategist for Public Libraries.

Duncan Smith:

Before we begin, I want to thank those of you who've been following this podcast series. Over the past several months, we have heard from a number of guests who have spoken about the experience in adopting an entrepreneurial mindset, the importance of networking and building partnerships within the business community, and the ways in which library services to entrepreneurs are shaped by the communities they serve. Today's guest is the perfect person to close out our series because she is not only an accomplished entrepreneur herself, but she has also studied entrepreneurship and innovation, and is currently leading a statewide program in North Carolina to strengthen the state's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Daisy Magnus-Aryitey is the program director at NC IDEA, a private foundation devoted to growing entrepreneurs in North Carolina. Thank you for joining us Daisy and let's start by having you tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

Sure. Thank you for having me Duncan. It's a pleasure to be here today. I think my entrepreneurial journey, I think it kind of goes back to being four years old and arriving in the United States, immigrating to the United States from West Africa and sort of having to take on that entrepreneurial mindset in order to adapt to this new country, to a new language and new culture. I always sort of take a very broad approach to what does it mean to think entrepreneurially and try to intentionally decouple that from building a business, because to think entrepreneurially is to input information from your environment, and then use that information to act, use that information to take the next informed steps forward. So taking problems and viewing them as opportunities, and then using them to your advantage. Since I arrived in the United States, I have used that entrepreneurial mindset to navigate and to grow my career as I've developed into an adult and into the sort of later stage in my career as an entrepreneur education director at NC IDEA.

Duncan Smith:

So it sounds to me like Daisy, like for you, entrepreneurship has been a lifelong journey that was in part kickstarted by your immigration to the United States. Is that right?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

That is absolutely correct. I would also say that, I guess more recently I used entrepreneurial thinking to design a career. I started out before going to graduate school and before joining NC IDEA, I worked as a software developer and sort of found that role by looking at what positions were open, who was hiring and where do I have a chance to stand out? And software development really became that role. So I did that for a few years, working at a university here in North Carolina, and then I transitioned into the nonprofit sector, working at a tech nonprofit, leading their efforts there to bring technology education to underrepresented groups. Following that I went to UNC to get a Master's in Education Innovation Technology and Entrepreneurship, which brings me to my current role here at NC IDEA.

Duncan Smith:

Yeah. I imagine throughout your life, libraries have played an important role in helping you identify opportunities and chart this journey you've been on. I know that you recently had a chance to judge a pitch competition at the Entrepreneurs and Libraries Conference, and we'll talk a little bit more about that conference for our listeners later in the program. But what can you tell us about your impression? What challenges did you see facing libraries and what opportunities do you see for libraries as a result of participating in that competition?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

Oh yeah. So I was really, really delighted to be a part of that competition and I was really blown away by the quality of the ideas and just the quality of the pitches. One thing I see as, I guess, a challenge and an opportunity for libraries is libraries are presented with an opportunity to be very nimble in these times. And it's interesting. We kind of see libraries as sort of very slow moving organizations, as large organizations tend to be, but in actuality, I found from watching the pitches and hearing the ideas that libraries are moving very quickly to address the specific issues within their community. I think that was really exciting to see just how nimble, just how agile, just how reactive they are to the specific issues in their surrounding communities.

Duncan Smith:

That's great. I think one of the things that also came up at that conference was the assistant director for Launch Greensboro talked about how libraries have a specific opportunity within any ecosystem to sort of be the place where individuals who don't think of themselves as entrepreneurs discover the entrepreneur within. Jenn (Hensel) went on to say, and I think you would probably view this as true also, that NC IDEA's programs and services, and a lot of the entrepreneurial support organizations that serve entrepreneurs, they can't help people until people actually self identify and begin to view themselves as entrepreneurs. So do you see that libraries have kind of an entrepreneurial education/awareness role in their communities?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

Absolutely. I think libraries occupy a very peculiar place in society. I think they're one of the few universally trusted organizations and they're one of the few organizations that serve people from birth throughout their lives. No matter what stage of life somebody is in, there is a library program that is a point of connection. Libraries are connected to the larger community and other resources within the community and they really are a point of connection for everyone. So people can go into libraries, they feel safe, it feels familiar, it feels trusted, and so it's just a perfect place to be able to offer them these sort of new opportunities, new resources, even new identities to take on.

So you think the library, maybe they're offering a book club for fantasy writers or a book club for teens. And so people can kind of come in and try these new programs and also try on new roles in an environment that feels familiar, and safe and trusted. I think the libraries really are that important point of connection that allows people to see themselves possibly as entrepreneurs, if they've never considered that as an identity before.

Duncan Smith:

Yeah Daisy, for the past year and a half, I've had several conversations with several people about libraries and entrepreneurship, and I don't believe I've ever heard anyone express the thing that you just expressed, which is that the library is a safe space and a trusted space. I mean, I've certainly heard that, but a safe and trusted place where people can try on new roles and new identities. That's very insightful of you so thank you for sharing that with me and with our listeners. NC IDEA, which by the way, I want to just do a shout out for NC IDEA because that organization, the organization that you're a part of, has really shaped my thinking and brought me along as someone who wants to support entrepreneurs. So I really appreciate that. And you just finished, NC IDEA just finished a two day summit that focused on supporting our statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem here in North Carolina. For libraries who are thinking about becoming more engaged in their local entrepreneurial ecosystem, what were some of the takeaways from the summit that you would like to share with our listeners?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

Yes. So one of the key takeaways from the summit was that entrepreneurism really exists in all communities and the diversity of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ideas really is key and critical for social change within a state, within a region. We're not focused only on certain industries be it pharmaceuticals, or tech, or high growth or any of that. It was really about how do we champion? And how do we explore? And we want to learn more about entrepreneurism in the diverse regions within North Carolina.

Think tying back to libraries, I think one thing that libraries can take away from the NC IDEA summit is that the potential for entrepreneurial growth and the social change that comes out of entrepreneurism really exists within every community. And it does not have to be tailored to fit a certain description of what we may think that entrepreneurism has to look like. So if you have a region that is really a farm community, how can you create entrepreneurism around that, that's already a part of the community? And so I think librarians and library centers just have this real opportunity to take what exists and to really use that going forward.

Duncan Smith:

One of the things that we've heard from several of our other guests, and especially from libraries who have been actively engaged in serving their entrepreneurial communities, is exactly the point that you just made. This is not about trying to bring in necessarily some unknown different, I mean, if you're in rural North Carolina or in a rural state or community anywhere in the United States, you don't necessarily need to go out and try to recruit a tech firm to move in. You need to really look at what is in your community and nurture and grow that. And that certainly is a strength of public libraries, that community focus. NC IDEA has made a major commitment to supporting African-American entrepreneurs. What can you tell us about that decision and what your organization is doing to increase the entrepreneurial success among North Carolina's black entrepreneurs? What do you think libraries can learn from this effort?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

NC IDEA always has an eye towards supporting diverse entrepreneurs. We recently launched the NC BEC, so that's the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council. The goal of that council is really to provide grant funding to ecosystem partners that are supporting black entrepreneurs specifically. NC IDEA wants to be very intentional that we are supporting the entrepreneurial aspirations and the economic potential of the North Carolina black community. And we know that when one group is under optimized, we're all harmed in the process. So it's really in our greater interests to make sure that entrepreneurial activity and aspiration, wherever it exists, that we are supporting it, that we are leveraging their success in order to really develop and nurture and grow all of North Carolina's economy.

Duncan Smith:

That's great. One of the things that I think that was brought up at the summit was that, and I think it was Dell, the speaker from Federal Reserve, brought up the fact that the rate of new entrepreneurs has basically been flat for like 20 years, but that in certain population segments, entrepreneurship is growing. And that one of those segments I believe was among African-American women. Did I hear that correctly?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

Yes. Yes. You did hear that correctly. There has been a phenomenal rate of entrepreneurism among black females in the past few years, and I'm not sure if anybody knows precisely why. But that is one group that is really having a growth in entrepreneurial activities and really having an outsized impact in their cities and communities as a result.

Duncan Smith:

I think that's a really important insight and awareness for our listeners to be aware of, because one of the things that public libraries have tended to do is, at least, when they start working in entrepreneurship, certainly two of the libraries that we talked with earlier in this series, Cuyahoga County, out of Ohio and Mid-Continent Public Library System in Missouri, both focused on low to moderate income individuals. They felt that was their opportunity because that was the group that they were connected to and that was the group that had the least amount of services available to it.

So you said something that I think is also very important earlier when you were talking about NC IDEA's focus on serving black entrepreneurs. You wanted to be intentional. And so I would like for you to put your consultant hat on here for a second. Study after study shows that almost half of the public libraries in the United States would like to increase their services to entrepreneurs. What kind of guidance would you give to that group of libraries that may not know a lot about entrepreneurship or the business community, and may not be tightly integrated into that community yet? What are some quick tips for us?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

Quick tip, the first and perhaps the last tip is start having conversation. Reach out to business hubs, reach out to accelerators, reach out to co-working spaces and just start to talk to entrepreneurs in the area, find out what they need. In business development, we call it customer discovery and that should be the starting point whether you're developing a new service or a new product, is talk to who your customer is. One thing that Dr. Dell Gines said at the summit that really just resonated with me and I've been thinking about it since he said it. He said that, "Entrepreneurial ecosystem building should be horizontal and not vertical."

And so horizontal meaning that we are having those critical conversations at every juncture, that we're using human centered design in order to build our services. Because then we know that our services really are impactful. Then we know that the programming that we're doing really is meeting a need. This is where libraries really have an advantage over other organizations and other groups is that people are already coming into the libraries and people feel welcome in the libraries and people are willing and excited to have conversations with the libraries. Having those talks and having those conversations and letting the outcomes of that guide programming, I think is really what's going to make the difference in the end.

Duncan Smith:

That's great. Daisy, I want to thank you so much for being with us today and for embodying what it means to be an entrepreneur in today's world, and just sort of share your story because your story is really a shining example of the potential that libraries and that all communities have to help individuals reach their full potential. One of the things that I've frequently said is that in those days when library users actually walked through our doors and instead of walking up to the curb today, that the person who walked through that door, who walked in, should be different when they walk out. I think focusing on entrepreneurial services and being intentional about those services is one of the best ways that the public library can live up to its promise, and fulfill its responsibilities in the communities that it serves. So thank you again for being part of our series and for wrapping us up here. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?

Daisy Magnus-Aryitey:

Thank you so much for having me. This has been just a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed the point that you made at the end there, Duncan, that patrons should be different when they leave the library and I think that they are. I think people are enriched when they leave the library and having this other service, this entrepreneurial education opportunity and experiences is going to add to that even further.

Tammy Ross:

Thanks for checking out Long Overdue: Libraries and Technology. If you'd like to learn more about how EBSCO's new Entrepreneurial Mindset training course can help your library support entrepreneurial thinking in your community, please click the link that we've shared in the episode description. Thank you again for listening.

 

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors.