Jan. 28, 2016 11:42 am

The Free Library is opening a resource center for social entrepreneurs

The Business Resource Innovation Center will curate information for and foster the growth of new social enterprises and nonprofits. It's getting its own space in a few years, but programming starts next month.

The Free Library is actually full color.

(Photo by Flickr user camera_obscura [busy], used under a Creative Commons license)

Librarians are charged with curating information on subjects that demand attention.

That said, social entrepreneurship just demanded a hell of a lot of attention, because the Free Library of Philadelphia is opening up a whole department dedicated to fostering the growth of new social enterprises and nonprofits.

The Business Resource Innovation Center (BRIC) is expected to have its own space in the Central branch in the next three to five years, but programming is launching in the next few weeks.

On the surface, BRIC is a merging of sorts between the library’s Business, Science & Industry Department and the Regional Foundation Center, but more robust and focused specifically on accelerating aspiring social entrepreneurs. BRIC will offer mentorships, one-on-one consultations, research assistance and more.

“A lot of times people like to think of business as one thing and nonprofits as another thing, but there can be a lot of overlap,” said Caitlin Seifritz, ‎a librarian at RFC. “Nonprofits are like a business, they just aren’t making a profit. [Yet] a lot of people starting a nonprofit realize you do need a business plan. We can serve both populations well.”

Launching a nonprofit isn’t easy, Seifritz said. Last year, she said, RFC hosted a three-part program on how to start a nonprofit. One hundred people attended the first segment. For the second segment, over 30 folks dropped out. By the third segment, there were less than 40 in attendance.

“You’re not going to start a nonprofit in a day,” she said. “I don’t want to scare people, but they need to know up front what’s expected of them. These aren’t easy things to do.”

That’s why BRIC will be dedicated to laying out the groundwork for folks who come in with inquiries and work to gauge how serious they are. And if a nonprofit isn’t the right solution? Then they can steer them towards social enterprise.

Gillian Robbins, a librarian with the library’s Business, Science & Industry Department, said BRIC has been studying social enterprises in Philadelphia like Wash Cycle LaundryUnited By Blue and the Message Agency and social entrepreneurs like Yasmine Mustafa and Ather Sharif.

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Seifritz said planning for BRIC programming — all events that will be free to attend, by the way — is already in the works. The Free Library will host a representative from the Census Bureau in March to educate folks on how to best use demographics data. In May, the event focus will be specifically on social enterprise when the library hosts an event featuring presentations from startup lawyers.

Right now, though, BRIC is still putting itself together.

“This is a living, breathing organism,” Robbins said. “We’re working to be one department, but it will take a minute to be a seamless organization.”


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