Libraries As Tech Incubators?

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By Hadiyah Mujhid (Co-Founder, Black Founders)

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article in the Huffington Post, titled “Art Incubators: How Libraries Offer More Than Books.” The article highlights a project called Library as Incubator that focuses on using libraries as a community resource which support and allow collaboration with artists. The Library as Incubator Project appears to be focus on creative artists, but I believe the same project can be applied to tech entrepreneurs as well.

After reading the article, I was became interested in the possibilities of running a tech incubator from a library. As an bootstrapping entrepreneur, I’ve also taken advantage of coffee shops for office space. It is apparent that one could use a library as just another office space. But what about the other benefits of joining an incubator?

Some of the benefits of joining an incubator (besides office space) include seed funding, mentoring, shared space with other startups (good for advise and collaboration with other teams), and access to investors. Surely, none of these benefits could be actualized by just sitting in a library. But I do believe that you could create these benefits through partnerships and community organizing to create a DIY tech incubator.

Although a DIY incubator can not replace the name recognition and network access of the well-known incubators, it can be a good start for bootstrappers. I came up with a few loose thoughts on how to start a DIY incubator.

  1. Work with your library to use space as a collaboration area. I recommend working with your library because most libraries have quiet policies. I think it is important that startups work in area where collaboration is encouraged, and you’re not constantly being hushed by the librarian. While a smaller local library, may not have the space, your larger main branches may have space available. I visited the SF main library and found many spaces that could be used for collaboration and work areas. There were even study rooms that could be used as phone closets or for longer conversations. I would also make sure that your library as a good wireless internet connection. It should also go without saying that there are many books and publications in the library that could be useful to your startup.
  2. Recruit 5 to 10 startups to join your incubator. The startups must be willing to commit to working in the shared space on a full-time basis.
  3. Mentoring and Workshops. After recruiting your startups, reach out to local tech leaders to come and speak to your incubator. One thing that I have learned in the tech startup community, is that everyone is willing to help and share advice. Be mindful of your speakers time and try to invite your speakers in a considerable amount of time in advance.
  4. Seed Funding and access to investors. Although, many incubators provide seed funding in the range of $10k to $25k for participants. This may not be possible for a DIY incubator. If seed funding is desired, the participant startups will have to actively fundraise from family, friends, and angels. You can also put up a web page for your incubator that will list the participating startups. Other ideas include creating an AngelList page for your incubator.

These are just some of my raw thoughts surrounding using the Library as a Tech Incubator. I would be interested in experimenting with something like this in San Francisco area. I’m also curious to hear some of your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions. Also, if you plan in experimenting with the above ideas, please let me know.

This post was originally posted at Engineers Don’t Blog.

About the guest blogger: Hadiyah Mujhid is an entrepreneur and software engineer currently working on early stage startups in San Francisco. She co-runs Black Founders, an organization that promotes diversity in the startup ecosystem. Hadiyah blogs at Hadiyah.me. Follow her on Twitter at @hadiyahdotme.