Akron-Summit County Library offers tools for entrepreneurs

by Laura Bednar

The main branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library on S. High Street in Akron offers several resources for budding entrepreneurs. Tracy Williams, microbusiness specialist at the library, recently spoke to the Richfield Chamber of Commerce to highlight some of the library’s business offerings.

The library’s Microbusiness Center and Makerspace, founded in 2016 using a $190,000 Knight Foundation grant, provide training and the tools to physically create a product.  

The Microbusiness Center is open to entrepreneurs and college students studying entrepreneurship who want to receive business training and use educational resources. It also includes individualized consulting sessions with Williams.

When Williams consults with someone, she asks, “What would you do for the rest of your life if money wasn’t a factor?” to help them figure out what direction to take in their new venture.

She gave an example of a woman who started a business to help single fathers find housing. Williams also said the library has been a patent and trademark resource center since 1995. To use the center, patrons must have a library card and fill out an application at akronlibrary.org/microbusiness.

Makerspace, also referred to as the “TechZone,” includes a variety of machines to create prototypes of new products or brand items with a company logo. According to Williams, the space is open to the public at little to no cost.

The library’s Downtown Services Manager Brett Neff gave an example of a product people can make in the TechZone: a vinyl banner for presentations or events. There is a fee associated with this printing service and others at the center, but some machines are free to use. However, patrons must bring their own materials.

Other equipment includes a direct-to-garment printer to make T-shirts, a laminator, photo printer, sewing machine and a laser engraver to etch a logo or design. “It prints onto most materials,” said Neff, adding that companies could etch glassware or other giveaway items for a conference or event.

To bring a product idea to life, the TechZone includes a 3D printer, which can take an idea outlined on a computer and turn it into a 3D object. Williams said the printer builds an item layer by layer using plastic, and the cost is $1 per print hour.

For those interested in media, Makerspace features a studio to record music, interviews or podcasts. Staff members are present to ensure visitors use the equipment properly and answer questions. Visit akronlibrary.org/tz for more information on the TechZone.

Besides the Microbusiness Center and Makerspace, the library offers what Neff called a “library of things.” People can rent items like kitchen gadgets, cake pans, a karaoke machine and board games. Also for rent are pieces of art, which Williams said businesses can display at a grand opening to entice people inside or start a conversation. Library visitors with green thumbs can view the seed sharing library and take up to six packs of seeds for their garden.

As Williams said, “The library is so much more than books.” ∞

The above business card holder was made
using the library’s 3D printer. Photo