British Library teams up with ten London boroughs to support entrepreneurs across the capital


The British Library’s Business & IP Centre today celebrates the launch of a major new initiative, Start-ups in London Libraries, a three-year project to support London’s entrepreneurs from all walks of life to get their business idea off the ground. This coordinated network of free support for start-ups will officially launch in over 60 public libraries this month, in partnership with ten London boroughs.

With funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the project will be delivered in the boroughs of Bexley, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. Open to aspiring entrepreneurs, early-stage start-ups and those people who have simply dreamed of being their own boss, the new services will work with the Business & IP Centre to provide a grass roots solution to business support and equip locals with the skills, information, confidence and connections they need to turn their ideas into viable businesses.

The project will invest in public libraries to transform their current offer. Librarians and newly appointed SME Champions in each borough will receive specialist training to work with business experts to co-deliver a comprehensive programme of free two-day workshops and events, confidential business information sessions and tailored, face-to-face advice. The participating libraries will also offer free, walk-in access to business information resources including COBRA (the Complete Online Business Reference Advisor), a programme of live webinars and practical industry fact-sheets.

In a launch event at City Hall today, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, will say: “For the past 13 years, our Business & IP Centre has worked tirelessly to try and democratise entrepreneurship across the country. From fashion designers to digital innovators and social enterprises, tackling homelessness in our capital, the wonderfully eclectic cohort of businesses that we have supported through our National Network shows that all libraries have the potential to be hubs where ideas of any kind, dreamt up by anyone, can become a reality. We are delighted to be awarded ERDF funding to continue breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship across some of London’s most diverse communities.”

Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business, will today announce his role as the project’s ‘Champion of Champions’, in which he will draw on his own experience of starting up a business in London to advise the ten newly appointed SME champions on the needs of service users. He commented: “As an entrepreneur myself, I understand that quite often businesses need a little bit of help to turn the kernel of a good idea into something truly transformative. This initiative from the British Library will deliver vital support to our burgeoning small business community while providing a huge boost for the capital’s libraries. There is nowhere better than London for a business to grow and flourish. It is a real honour to be the ‘Champion of Champions’ for this exciting scheme that will help many entrepreneurs realise their dreams and deliver economic prosperity for the capital.”

Start-ups in London Libraries is modelled on the British Library’s National Network of 13 Business & IP Centres located in major UK libraries, which has an impressive track record of stimulating new economic growth, having generated £25 for the UK economy for every £1 public money spent.

Further support is available at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre, which is home to over £5 million worth of market intelligence and is the library of the UK’s Intellectual Property Office. The Centre has a proven track record of stimulating economic growth: new figures show that it has helped to create over 1,800 new businesses and 3,600 new jobs over the past two years. Of these businesses, 64% are owned by women and 42% are owned by people from a black and Asian minority ethnic background, compared to just 20% and 5% of UK business owners respectively.

Sabina Ali, founder of Sabina Motasem and a Business & IP Centre user, commented: “The British Library’s service has offered me so much. From personalised support to mentoring, the support I received enabled me to grow what was just an idea, a start-up, into a business that has stockists in the US, Europe and London. I wish I had this kind of support available in my borough when I started all those years ago.”

The three-year pilot is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the British Library, ten participating London boroughs and is generously supported by J.P. Morgan and Arts Council England. If successful, the project could be rolled out across all 33 boroughs and across the country, as part of the British Library’s mission to democratise entrepreneurship in the UK.

Charles Harman, Vice Chairman at J.P.Morgan Cazenove, commented: “London’s entrepreneurs build fantastic businesses and aim to create employment in their communities. However, some entrepreneurs face much higher barriers to growing their businesses than others. This initiative is a great opportunity to deliver a community-focused start-up support system in boroughs that need it most and, as importantly, develop a scalable model across London and the U.K. We are very pleased to support making such business support services more accessible to diverse founders from an early stage.”