|Award Category:||Community Connected Campus|
|Submitted By:||Arizona State University|
The Alexandria Co-working Network, developed by Arizona State University (ASU), brings people together in collaboration spaces in public libraries, creating a network of places for people to connect, collaborate and find valuable resources. Launched in May of 2013, Alexandria Co-working Network is designed as a hub and spoke between the activities of the ASU and the public library system. The objective is to help designated libraries in Arizona and beyond offer innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration spaces through both a physical and a virtual network that supports the creation of new innovations and aids economic development through the creation of new startup companies. Libraries in the network create open collaboration spaces in their facilities, where innovators and entrepreneurs can find collaborators and mentors. In this environment they also get access to fully equipped working spaces, library fact-finding services, and physical and digital library resources. Through the Network, ASU offers entrepreneurial education, training to library staff, access to a distributed mentor pool and most importantly a platform, in which libraries can use to serve the entrepreneurial community. Since the launch of the network, ASU has jointly opened four locations within Arizona (Scottsdale, Mesa, Phoenix, and Goodyear) and these spaces have reported success in serving the community, making impact upon the local economy, and attracting new constituents to libraries. In the near future, the Network will expand to other states, with current discussions underway in several libraries.
Libraries today are facing a number of pressing issues from reduced visitors to meeting technology needs from constituents. Many librarians are looking to transform these public spaces to better serve the community interests by making similar shifts in culture, technology, and thought. The Alexandria Co-working Network (ALEX) is a solution to many of these problems, bringing innovation and collaboration back to the libraries. The ALEX network addresses two challenges facing the entrepreneurial ecosystem and libraries.
Challenge 1: Hundreds of inventors, problem solvers, potential entrepreneurs, micro and small businesses need assistance in cultivating and advancing their ideas in the United States. While places like Silicon Valley, Austin, and Boston are hubs of innovation and attract entrepreneurs to their regions, other communities need to provide resources to support their entrepreneurial ecosystem. Although the entrepreneurial landscape is growing with numerous new incubators and accelerators across the country, these organizations typically target high potential startups with minimal support for fledgling entrepreneurs and small businesses. Challenge 2: Additionally, libraries today are facing a number of issues from meeting needs during the 21st century. With 8,951 public libraries in the United States, libraries are asked more and more to meet the needs of their constituents and adapt to the 21st century. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, 94% of those surveyed say “having a public library improves the quality of life in a community;” yet, just “23% feel like they know all or most of the services and programs their library offers.” Additionally, about one in five (20%) say they don’t know very much about what is offered, and 10% say they know nothing at all.” These figures suggest that there is an apparent disconnect between the resources available and the general public and are making libraries reconfigure their roles in society. “Library leaders nationwide are adapting to this shift by reimagining the library as an engaged community center.”
In order to help these two challenges, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation from Arizona State University (ASU) has created the Alexandria Co-Working Network (ALEX). Launched in May of 2013, ALEX supports the community of entrepreneurs through leveraging the assets of a research university and tapping into highly respected institutions, libraries, to offer collaboration spaces. Alexandria Network helps the modern library offer these spaces emphasizing innovation and entrepreneurship, which ultimately creates a network of places for people to connect, collaborate, and find valuable resources. ALEX reimagines libraries as places of innovation and ideas and attracts constituents for its resources. The network is named after the world’s first great library in Alexandria, Egypt, which was established in the third century B.C. The library at Alexandria, and the other libraries in antiquity that followed it, were not just about books; in essence, they were society’s first co-working spaces and knowledge hubs. Libraries are highly trusted institutions that are embedded in communities—safe places for community members to connect with others, find information and resources, and pursue their entrepreneurial ideas. ALEX is designed to help the modern library offer similar collaboration spaces with an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Alexandria Network provided a place for entrepreneurs to go to work on their ideas and collaborate with other entrepreneurs. ASU actively engage with each of our library locations by setting up mentor office hours, holding entrepreneurial classes under ASU’s Rapid Startup School program, and providing marketing material for the libraries to promote their location. Additionally, ASU connects libraries to rest of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. These collaboration spaces are designed to complement other types of co-working spaces rather than compete with them. As such, it helps to be build connections with other existing resources and programs to entrepreneurs.
The key innovation behind ALEX is bringing two resources together: entrepreneurial resources from a top research and innovative university and space and assets from libraries, to offer collaboration spaces emphasizing on innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Alexandria network differentiates itself in many ways: 1. Minimal costs – ALEX taps into existing infrastructure, libraries, to offer collaboration spaces. Marginal costs are required to setup these spaces and design them entrepreneurs to work. Comparable places such as incubators and accelerators have high setup costs. The average initial set-up cost is estimated around $3.7 million for an incubator, which many similar services as provided at library locations in ALEX. 2. Sustainable – ALEX model allows itself to be sustainable without many costs. Staffing plays the key role; however, libraries can split staff time and enlist volunteers to offer support for day-to-day operations. 3. Leverages existing resources – ALEX leverages sometimes underutilized resources and existing space within libraries for these collaboration spaces where entrepreneurs can build a startup. Many resources are already housed within libraries that entrepreneurs need, such as books, newspapers, access to computers, and wireless internet. Furthermore, entrepreneurs are exposed to additional resources within libraries that they may have not known, such as technology and search tools. Libraries are knowledge centers that entrepreneurs can tap for their startups. 4. Creates a network – ALEX will build a network, where exchange of ideas and best practices can be shared among hubs and spokes. This exchange will enhance collaboration and foster greater success of the co-working spaces, and ultimately the local economy. 5. Access to Entrepreneurial Curriculum – A core component from ALEX is ASU’s Rapid Startup School, training designed to support entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, problem-solvers and small-business owners. It offers the opportunity for participants to develop an entrepreneurial mindset while learning the fundamentals of launching a new venture. Wherever attendees are on the continuum of entrepreneurship, Rapid Startup School delivers content from industry experts with practical experience, ensuring that participants can immediately put to use what they’ve learned.
Since its launch in spring of 2013, the Network has made its mark in the community providing entrepreneurs a resource that is open, accessible, and free to all through its current three partner libraries. ASU began with a pilot project in Scottsdale Civic Center Library in May 2013, which has resulted in more than a dozen new companies and engaged more than 6,000 participants to date. When surveyed, 55% of these participants were new to library. These numbers had surpassed expectations originally set forth. ASU had delivered more than 30 classes as part of the network.
Additionally, ALEX has also attracted national attention, where many other libraries have expressed interest in participating in the Network as well as modeling partnerships similarly between libraries and universities.
Due to the minimal costs and leveraging of existing resources, more libraries can participate in the network to scale and grow. ALEX taps into existing infrastructure, libraries, to offer collaboration spaces. Marginal costs are required to setup these spaces and design them entrepreneurs to work. Comparable places such as incubators and accelerators have high setup costs. The average initial set-up cost is estimated around $3.7 million for an incubator, which many similar services as provided at library locations in ALEX. ALEX model allows itself to be sustainable without many costs. Staffing plays the key role; however, libraries can split staff time and enlist volunteers to offer support for day-to-day operations. ALEX leverages sometimes underutilized resources and existing space within libraries for these collaboration spaces where entrepreneur s can build a startup. Many resources are already housed within libraries that entrepreneurs need, such as books, newspapers, access to computers, and wireless internet. Furthermore, entrepreneurs are exposed to additional resources within libraries that they may have not known, such as technology and search tools. Libraries are knowledge centers that entrepreneurs can tap for their startups.
Since starting the Alexandria Network, we have expanded to opening collaboration spaces in four library locations including Phoenix Burton Barr Library, Mesa Red Mountain Branch, Scottsdale Public Library, and Goodyear Public Library. ASU has plans to expand to other cities in Arizona as well as libraries in California.
The core goal is to have a community-based, ‘democratization of entrepreneurship’, that is complimentary to the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem. These spaces in ALEX will serve anyone who wants to be part of the entrepreneurship value chain from idea to product to commercialization, such as mentors, experts, innovators, thought leaders, curious-minded individuals, and problem solvers. With cities and regions turning to entrepreneurship as way of growing the economies and creating jobs, innovative projects and programs to support the ecosystem are in demand, such as the Alexandria Co-Working Network.
UEDA Awards of Excellence Finalists presented at the Annual Summit in Santa Fe on September 29-30, 2014. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.