Telling the truth about SME life today

How the British Library can help you grow your business

You don’t have to watch The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den to appreciate that people with bright ideas don’t just need financial backing to turn creative ideas into successful products and services. They need expert advice and guidance and skills to grow the kind of businesses that will generate economic success. I believe public institutions, like the British Library, have an important role to play.

We talk to many entrepreneurs at the British Library and we have been listening closely to what they have to tell us. In our new report, Enterprising Voices, users of the Library’s Business & IP Centre express their views about changes that would make the biggest difference for them. How to ensure that well researched start-ups can secure finance from the banks, for example: how to promote entrepreneurship among new graduates through an internship scheme for SMEs; how to help small businesses to fight intellectual property infringement; how to reduce the financial burden of maternity leave on small firms; how to help start-ups get up and running. And much more besides.

It is through listening to the views of business users that the British Library has learned to adapt and extend its own range of support services. Now government must do the same. People who think of the British Library as the home of historic treasures like Magna Carta are often surprised to learn of our role underpinning economic development. In fact, in every area of the Library, not just the Business & IP Centre, valuable resources for companies large and small can be found. Every day, all kinds of people come here to research products and services that will benefit the economy – from publishers, novelists, television and film producers to retailers, fashion designers and architects, along with experts in just about every field of science, technology, pharmaceuticals and medicine.

We now offer the world’s largest collection of published business material and intellectual property information, including thousands of market research reports and details of 60 million patents. We provide easy access to over £5m of information, giving entrepreneurs access to the same information as a major multinational corporation. The Centre also offers a range of free or low-cost workshops, events and one-to-one advice sessions, designed to give people the skills they need to start up and run a business. It has created an entrepreneurial hub in which users can collaborate, network and exchange ideas and experiences in an open and inspiring environment.

Since the doors opened in March 2006, more than 100,000 entrepreneurs and SMEs have used the centre. Nearly nine out of ten say they would not have achieved the same results without the help they received. The Centre is popular with the young, with 46 per cent of users aged between 16 and 34. Women account for around half of all users, with black and minority ethnic entrepreneurs making up over a third.

The Business & IP Centre estimates that the Centre delivers over £32m net additional turnover to the UK small business sector and that users generate £5.5m in income to the Exchequer. Clearly, it meets a crucial need so it is worth asking how we can build on its contribution for the future. So what lessons can be applied by the nation as a whole

In physical terms, plans to make business & IP centres available in other parts of the UK have been warmly received in many quarters. We want to extend access to high value electronic information resources in cities across the country. New regional centres would offer British Library content together with webcasts, ecourses, high value electronic databases, and advice on how to roll-out and adapt the model in other cities, including staff training, business partnerships and a programme of workshops and events. It would be a cost effective way of supporting entrepreneurs throughout the UK.

It is the aim of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to make the UK the most enterprising economy in the world and the best place to start and grow a business. Giving practical support to the UK’s entrepreneurs and listening to what they have to say is one of the most important ways to make it happen.

Dame Lynne Brindley is chief executive of the British Library.Related articles:* The report, Enterprising Voices, and details of the British Library’s programme of special events to mark Global Entrepreneurship Week are available here. * Ninety minutes with Lord Sugar


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