Several local entities partnered two years ago to create a website intended to help entrepreneurs launch and grow small businesses.
The site, CentralOhioEntrepreneurs.org, has its origins in an entrepreneurial steering committee formed by the Columbus Chamber and became a reality thanks to an Ohio Third Frontier grant awarded to TechColumbus. Today, the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Online Community Library Center, and the Small Business Development Center at Columbus State Community College, as well as the Columbus Chamber, are site partners.
Read our interview with CentralOhioEntrepreneurs.org’s business librarian April McCollum −who has a master’s degree in library and information science and a bachelor’s degree in international relations, both from Kent State University, where she also minored in economics− to learn how she goes about personally assisting site visitors, what questions she’s been asked, and the one thing she doesn’t provide.
Melanie McIntyre: How does CentralOhioEntrepreneurs.org help those looking to start a business?
April McCollum: CentralOhioEntrepreneurs.org connects entrepreneurs with the resources that are out there to help entrepreneurs. Right now, we have over 500 links to business resources. So, in the case of someone starting a business, they would find resources addressing questions like, “What is the best legal structure?” “What business names are available?” What kind of licensing will I need?” How to start small business bookkeeping and the list goes on.
CentralOhioEntrepreneurs.org also helps aspiring entrepreneurs by connecting them with resources that will help them think through the startup process. There are local workshops, online workshops, organizations that offer mentoring programs and business advice.
MM: How does it help those looking to advance a business?
AM: Entrepreneurs will find links to resources addressing issues they will face as they grow. So information on small business marketing, human resources, competitive intelligence, import/export, and so on. There are also links to online entrepreneurial communities, websites where entrepreneurs congregate to share ideas and information.
MM: Why might it be helpful for an entrepreneur to contact a business librarian like yourself?
AM: Business librarians know how to find valuable resources quickly. The entrepreneur might be looking for resources to include in their business plan; the entrepreneur might be looking for resources to help validate a business decision; the entrepreneur might be looking at meeting with a prospective client; the entrepreneur might be looking at understanding a prospective industry’s prospects and long term outlook. I help connect entrepreneurs with resources to help them. Resources can take the form of an industry report, demographics, a mentor, a business counselor or a local organization. Each entrepreneur’s needs are different.
MM: Can you give me specific questions you’ve been asked and how you went about answering them?
AM: “I’m going to call on a prospective client. Can you help me figure out how big they are?” I helped the entrepreneur find company information using CML’s premium access to company reports.
“What resources are out there to help me figure out the best way to take my small business to the national market?” I helped connect the entrepreneur to local mentoring resources.
“Can you help me find directories where I can advertise my small business?” I helped the entrepreneur identify free national and international product directories specific to the company’s product, where the entrepreneur could register their small business so prospective clients could find them.
MM: How can you be contacted?
AM: I’m available via phone or email, 614-360-3992, firstname.lastname@example.org. I do need to have a brief chat with entrepreneurs looking for research assistance. The chat ensures that I understand their need and direct them to the best resource to meet their need.
MM: How long does it typically take you to respond?
AM: I’m prompt at returning messages. It is best if people tell me when they can be reached, and I try to work around that. I find it is important to have a phone conversation, as it really helps me make sure I’m sending them to the best resource to meet their need.
MM: Is there anything else you think I should know?
AM: CentralOhioEntrepreneurs.org is a free service. There are also resources listed for local networking. Since networking is not specific to any stage of business development, there is a whole page dedicated to networking. The page contains links to blogs, event calendars maintained by Central Ohio organizations, online entrepreneurial communities, and more.
Also, I think it is important to note that I help connect entrepreneurs with resources; I don’t provide advice. If an entrepreneur needs advice, I can help them find a mentor or a counselor that will help them figure out the best way to proceed.