Evanston partners with public library to launch program assisting startups

Huzaifa Patel, Reporter

Evanston and the Evanston Public Library will launch a free program Tuesday aimed to help people take the next step in developing their startup businesses.

The program, NextChapter, is meant to assist Evanston’s freelance, “solopreneur” and home-based businesses during the early stages of development. The program will give businesses a support network of local entrepreneurs as well as library staff well versed in business and professional development.

“Suppose someone has a business idea but doesn’t know how to get it to market,” said Paul Zalmezak, the city’s senior economic development coordinator. “They might not even know how to make a business plan. This would provide them with that kind of early stage support.”

Reference librarian Kathleen Lanigan said NextChapter events will be held in the third floor seminar room as well as two other community meeting rooms. Northwestern students are encouraged to join, as the program is available to anyone with a library card.

“The idea is people are already hanging out at libraries and using the resources available to learn how to start a business,” Zalmezak said. “We thought we could create a coworking site for people to get that early stage support.”

Zalmezak said events will consist of workshops, seminars and other networking events happening primarily at the main branch of the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. Because the local entrepreneurs will not be paid, the program has an extremely low budget.

“We’re using our army of community-minded entrepreneurs and business owners who will teach the seminars for free,” he said. “The idea is that on the flip side, they’ll earn some business from the clients they meet through NextChapter.”

Zalmezak mentioned that the project was inspired in part by an article on The Atlantic’s city and neighborhood blog, The Atlantic Cities. The article, “Why Libraries Should Be the Next Start-Up Incubators,” details a 2013 Arizona State University plan that started business incubators in public libraries.

We’ve been thinking of ways that we could improve support for our freelance and home-based business community for some time, and this became an inspiration for how we should do it,” he said.

The city hopes after entrepreneurs attend multiple sessions, the seminars will become a long term network for aspiring businesses to turn to. Eventually, officials hope the network creates partnerships that exist outside of the library-based events.

NextChapter is currently partnered with a diverse group of local companies, including Creative Coworking, Onshore Networks and Oldani Entrepreneurial Law, Zalmezak said. In addition, the program’s advisory panel consists of representatives from two NU programs: the Kellogg School of Management’s Levy Entrepreneurial Institute as well as the Robert R McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

The first NextChapter event, “Mediation for Partnerships and Small Business” will take place March 19. The event will focus on the basic principles of mediation in the business world.

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