An uncertain economic climate, the decline of the high street, technological change, and the difficulty of getting the right advice and support make for a daunting set of challenges – and 40 per cent of businesses fail within the first year.
New businesses usually have low capital expenditure and want flexible terms, low barriers to entry and quick wins. Although there are more people than ever who want to start their own business and have a brilliant idea, unless they have family and friends who are already entrepreneurs they may not know who to turn to for initial advice and guidance.
Fortunately, our region is home to some of the best cities in the UK for starting up a business. Leeds boasts the third-highest start-up rate in the country and has a flourishing technology start-up scene.
However, growth across the Northern Powerhouse region is far from even. Cities must prioritise the support they provide for the start-ups that will generate the jobs, innovation and economic growth of the 2020s.
The local library might not seem the most obvious place to help with turbo-charging our economy, but since 2011 the British Library has led the development of a national network of city libraries offering services that are tailor-made for young entrepreneurs.
The Business & IP Centre (BIPC) National Network now includes major city libraries in Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and New-castle, as well as Liverpool and Manchester; of the 43,000 people supported by the network since 2016, 47 per cent were based within Northern Powerhouse cities. Like other libraries in the network, the BIPC at Leeds Central Library offers free access to high quality intellectual property (IP) advice, UK and global market intelligence, free and low-cost one-to-one support, workshops and mentoring, delivered with local partners.Most importantly, it offers an accessible and welcoming environment for would-be entrepreneurs to take their first steps in making their business idea a reality.
All this is having a measurable impact on thousands of start-ups – recent figures from the British Library show that more than 12,000 businesses have been created with the network’s support since 2016.
Crucially, the network is also reaching people who are under-represented in business. 58 per cent of users of the BIPC at Leeds Central Library are women, 33 per cent from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background, and 38 per cent were aged 16-35.
Libraries are already based in the heart of our great cities – close to the communities they serve and the ideal launch-pad for start-ups that depend heavily on up-to-date business information, market research, advice and guidance.
The BIPC National Network already extends to 14 city libraries, and the British Library aims to open 20 of them by 2023. By rolling out the business support that start-ups need when inspiration strikes, libraries can play a key role in helping to rebalance the economy of our whole region.
Delroy Beverley is a non-executive director and a trustee of the British Library