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However, reshaping the business support landscape won’t happen overnight. In the meantime it is extremely important to identify initiatives that work and that could be delivered at scale. Business and IP Centres, hosted in libraries, are one of these initiatives.
The road from good business idea to money in the bank can be long. The idea needs to be refined and tested before it can be commercialised. And then there are legal issues, incorporation, IP, employment, marketing, distribution, sales… It could all easily feel like too much hard work, unless you know where to seek advice.
Luckily such places exist. Yesterday, the Business & IP centre was launched at the Newcastle library. The scheme has been running at the British Library since 2006 and has proved itself to be a great first port of call for wannabe entrepreneurs. Over seven years, the St.Pancras based Business & IP centre has seen 350,000 people walk through the door and 2,775 businesses established. It also helped create almost 3,500 jobs and add £47.1 million to national output. In March the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Arts Council England (ACE) granted £450,000 to develop a national network of Business & IP centres. The launch in Newcastle kick-starts this process, with Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool to follow soon.
How does it work? The Centre’s foundation, as with all library services, is information. It offers access to the Business & IP databases that libraries already hold, which helps entrepreneurs refine their ideas, identify and assess new markets and apply for patents. Added to that are practical workshops, one-to-one sessions with experts and networking opportunities, all in an accessible central location and a library space familiar to most.
Source: Business & IP Centre National Network – transforming public libraries into engines of economic growth.
A more challenging question however, is how the Business & IP centres relate to the existing diverse public sector business support offer. Not all of the services they offer are unique (similar schemes include the Growth accelerator, Ready for business, Start-up loans etc.) but there are reasons to believe that Business & IP Centres deserve better visibility within the system.
Business & IP centres will be unique because they will operate as a national network; combining scale benefits in management, standardisation and marketing with the ability to adjust service provision to the needs of individual places. They will also be able to make the most of local expertise by developing partnerships with local industry experts and service providers and linking them up with entrepreneurs.
The reshaping of the business support landscape is under way, and it won’t be built from scratch. In order for the new system to be more efficient, policymakers need to concentrate on making the most of what is out there. The Business & IP centres deliver measurable economic benefits and don’t cost much, yet the British Library previously failed to gain RGF funding to support the initiative. More attention should be given to up-scaling successful initiatives at all levels of government and, with single pot allocation coming soon, LEPs should be looking to make the most of chances to syndicate success.
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