Equalizing the playing field for all
It may be surprising to some, but entrepreneurship in Durham is a tale of two cities. There are the individuals that belong to organizations, such as American Underground or the Frontier, with connections, resources and, oftentimes, money. On the other hand, there are individuals with the same dreams without any of the advantages.
These inequities can’t change without intentional efforts to create equal opportunities for all aspiring entrepreneurs. In Durham, one of the driving forces behind this effort has been the Durham County Library, with support from the Durham Library Foundation.
When the newly renovated Main Library reopened this summer, so did the “Incubator at Main Library,” a new small business center for the Durham community.
The center, encompassing the entire fourth floor of the library, offers a dedicated co-working space to budding entrepreneurs. The biggest draw is on-hand support throughout the entire entrepreneurship process, from ideation to implementation.
The center is led by the Library’s business services department, which strives to promote workforce development and cultivate a thriving business community of learners. Leander Croker, business services manager, leads the group in their mission to support Durham’s local business endeavors.
“Durham County Library serves as the ‘equity bridge’ between atypical entrepreneurs and the established entrepreneurial community,” said Croker. “We provide free business programs, research resources and networking events for all entrepreneurs at any point in their business development.”
Croker hopes the center alleviates the pressures and fears that many entrepreneurs, especially minorities, face when starting their own business. She is building an environment where entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and all experience levels can feel comfortable. “We don’t judge the question,” said Croker.
The center is already receiving recognition from the local government.
Both the City of Durham and Durham County are excited and eager to support their efforts. According to Croker, having the support of the city is one less battle to fight down the road.
The small business center wouldn’t have been possible without a grant awarded to the Durham Library Foundation in 2019. The SunTrust Lighting the Way Award recognizes and supports nonprofit organizations working to build more financially confident communities through financial education, workforce development and entrepreneurship.
Thanks to a connection between Foundation Board member Rhodes Craver and longtime Durham resident and SunTrust CEO Bill Rogers, the Durham Library Foundation was able to meet with Autrice Campbell Long of the Suntrust Foundation. A few months later, the Durham County Library, through the support of the Library Foundation, was named a winner of the $75,000 grant.
“The SunTrust Foundation is proud to recognize and support our local nonprofit partners that empower and strengthen the communities they serve,” said Stan Little, president of the SunTrust Foundation. “Durham County Library is making a meaningful impact with their programs to improve the financial well-being of the people who need it most.”
In 2022, the center will expand their offerings to include specialized programming, such as roundtables, workshops and outdoor meetups. Croker hopes events like these will create community among the center’s visitors and, eventually, a “Startup capital of the South” with fair and equal access for all entrepreneurs.