The Calgary Public Library is bookmarking its spot in the city’s evolving entrepreneurial landscape.
And, it’s banking on Calgarians wanting to check it out.
Kevin Franco, a Calgary entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experience locally and internationally, has joined the program as the first-ever entrepreneur in residence at the library.
“I started my very first business going to the Central Library and taking out a book—now there’s an opportunity for you to come and actually speak to a human and get feedback on whatever you’re working on, or get a better understanding of what that might look like,” said Franco.
The pilot program was created in conjunction with Platform Calgary. Franco also serves as an entrepreneur in residence at Platform Calgary.
“The library has residency programs currently for historians, poets, writers, artists, and they’re very successful to help the community access professionals or very experienced people in those areas,” he said.
“Extending that residency program to include entrepreneurs is kind of a natural progression.”
The goal for the library is to help guide people that are new to the world of entrepreneurship. Franco, and residents to follow, will offer advice, pointers, and feedback on starting a new business venture.
Appointments are available for one-on-one sessions with Franco each Wednesday, at the Central Library. The sessions can be booked through the library’s website.
“There’s not really classes per se, or cohorts, which is what you see in a lot of startup ecosystems and services for entrepreneurs,” said Franco.
He suggested that people book as soon as possible, as the appointments are filling up fast.
Additionally, four webinars are also going to be put on by the library. Details on dates and times for those webinars will be released soon.
Franco is the former CEO of Entrill, a former Calgary-based eBook company. Entrill launched the Walmart and Mayo Clinic eBook stores and had eBooks for sale at Safeway, Calgary Co-Op, and Sobeys locations.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years and in my ‘a couple companies ago,’ we designed a really interesting way and new use of storytelling using technology,” he said.
Entrill was able to raise over $1.3 million in seed funding in 2014. Firebrand Technologies, a Massachusetts-based company, acquired Entrill in 2017.
For Franco, being an entrepreneur is about making change.
“What entrepreneurialism means to me is seeing something that you want to see done, or some change you want to make, and going after it and taking control to make it happen,” he said.
He said that often people jump into becoming entrepreneurs without understanding the full scope of what that means. And the risks involved.
The residency program, he hopes, will help people to better understand that scope.
“I think it’s important to go in with your eyes open and really understand all the variables that are there, and what are the potential risks what are the potential upsides,” he said.
“The one-on-ones are important for entrepreneurs as they get going because every business is a little bit unique in its own way—so having that one-on-one interaction is important,” said Franco.
Among the topics that new business creators can discuss with Franco range from basic business skills like managing relationships with customers, investors, and staff, to navigating the legal realities of doing business and working with accountants and the Canada Revenue Agency.
“There’s there’s a broad range of topics, anywhere from financing a startup, understanding the risks of a startup, and how to deal with the failure of a startup,” he said.
“You might have great skills in a traditional corporate environment, but a startup is completely different. And the skills that you need to work on and refine are more about working with the customer in a way that maybe you hadn’t ever before.”
Pilot program is itself entrepreneurial for the library
The program is being run as a pilot in order to gauge interest from the public.
“We’re just mapping out to see see what the take up is from the public and how they can fit with the patrons of the library,” said Franco.
The pilot will create a framework for when future entrepreneurs in residence step into the role.
“Because of the years that I’ve spent working as an entrepreneur in residence [at Platform Calgary], and realizing that this is a pilot program, they really needed somebody that can help design the program, not just fulfill the role,” he said.
“What I’m doing in starting this is really creating the template, so that if it is successful, they’ve got a playbook to move forward on.”