“You can’t study to be an entrepreneur. Sometimes, you just have to jump.” - Successful entrepreneur (and “Shark Tank” host) Barbara Corcoran
Once upon a time....
In 2002, Venkat Kolluri quit his job at Lycos, and partnered with his friend Alden Dorosario, to start his own technology‐based business, called Chitika, Inc., and – as he says – “Conquer The World.” He jokes that when others were running OUT of the industry, he ran straight IN. He started out working alone, out of his basement. At first, it was exciting, but after a few days, it was harder to get up, and he was suddenly blindsided by the silent killers of budding entrepreneurs: loneliness, self‐doubt, and frustration.
Luckily, Venkat didn’t give up. About eight years ago he found his way to the Shrewsbury Public Library and was amazed by what he saw: “the most powerful asset this country has at its fingertips.” He discovered that public libraries are already full of all the resources entrepreneurs need to get started. A professional place to meet clients. Check. Free wi‐fi? Check. Coffee? Check. And most importantly, other people? CHECK! As a successful entrepreneur, Venkat wanted to help other entrepreneurs get started, so about a year and a half ago he approached Maureen Ambrosino, Westborough Library Director; and Priya Rathnam, Shrewsbury Public Library Adult Services Librarian, about the idea of creating an innovative space for entrepreneurs. Expecting to be told that libraries are quiet places, he instead learned from them that modern libraries are becoming community hubs, encouraging people to connect and create. He also discovered that librarians are no longer the cardigan‐wearing, hair‐in‐a‐bun, shushing‐you‐with‐an‐evil‐glare stereotype of the past. A project to nurture entrepreneurs fit perfectly with the Westborough Public Library’s strategic plan, which included collaborating with the business community and fostering creativity. Maureen put Venkat in touch with Adult Services Librarian Donna Martel, and the planning began, to launch Krosslink.org shortly afterward.
The idea of forming an organization to support entrepreneurs caught the attention of the Westborough Economic Development Committee (EDC) and SCORE. The EDC’s mission is to promote business development in town, and the EDC Coordinator, Francisco Torres, knew that if there was a support system for entrepreneurs to set the foundations and start their businesses, it was a golden opportunity for the town. He could seize the moment when entrepreneurs begin their site search for office space and help them to do so in Westborough. SCORE volunteers also attend monthly meetings, give presentations, and connect entrepreneurs with resources in the community. Their participation has also led to mentoring sessions with Krosslink participants.
At the start of the second monthly meeting, the first entrepreneur and case study was presented to the group: Linda Townsend and her idea of a Release Wellness Center (day spa, wellness center, and natural foods restaurant). Linda presented her idea to the other entrepreneurs, and the group gave her feedback on ways in which she could strengthen her business plan. The momentum continued thereafter to build a support system for her to succeed. She went on to secure funding, solidify her business plan, purchase a town‐owned historic property to renovate in Westborough , and she will be ready to open later this year. The Krosslink vision has become a reality.
Today, Krosslink is in 7 libraries: Westborough, Shrewsbury, Groton, Southbridge, Sudbury, Southborough and Sutton, where entrepreneurs meet monthly to help each other and to hear expert speakers on various business topics. It’s the goal of the Krosslink team to have chapters in 10,000 public libraries in the U.S. by 2025. It’s a common sentiment, in our electronic and connected world, that libraries are obsolete and everything anyone needs to know can be found online. Yet Krosslink is an example of how, with local leadership, innovative libraries, and dedicated individuals, we can create spaces for entrepreneurs to connect, create, and make that jump.