Broward County Library (BCL)’s Built in Broward program is a grant-funded initiative designed to break down barriers to affordable technical training and business development for underrepresented minorities by teaching participants the steps to create their own tech business. Its goals are to establish a clear pathway into tech entrepreneurship that grants underserved minorities economic mobility, to help build a skilled pool of tech talent in Broward County and to provide a blueprint for freelancers to serve startups and business owners in the community.

Launched in August 2020 and scheduled to run through August 2021, Built in Broward provides online workshops, quarterly business/entrepreneur incubators and participation by BCL staff in a national cohort identifying promising practices and models for library-led entrepreneurship initiatives. Built in Broward was created by Broward County Librarian Sheldon Burke, who applied for and received $123,000 from Google through the American Library Association's (ALA) Libraries Build Business Grant, with a goal to build capacity and expand BCL’s programming to small businesses and entrepreneurs from low-income and underrepresented groups. Traditionally, underrepresented and/or low-income individuals have, due to various factors, enjoyed limited access to the tech business sector. Burke wanted to address this issue in Broward County with a new, innovative program designed for up-and-coming entrepreneurs in these groups.

Broward County Library is one of only 13 public libraries around the country to receive this funding from, which has invested $2 million in the initiative. In addition to the strength of Burke’s grant proposal, Broward County Library also received funding due to its commitment to building business in Broward County by offering free business services through its free small business incubator, Creation Station Business Coworking Hub, which provides services such as free meeting rooms, conference space and workshops. In addition to providing for Built in Broward programming, the grant’s funds expand these services and allow BCL to meet the changing needs of its community by providing services focused on tech businesses.

Built in Broward provides a multi-pronged approach that utilizes community partnerships and library resources to provide targeted assistance and education to help participants build service-based tech businesses. It includes The Freelance Business Development Incubator, quarterly incubation programs hosted by Black Valley Digital, a minority-owned educational and digital marketing agency. The quarterly incubators, which are limited to 20 participants per quarter, include mentorship, group coaching calls and online Built in Broward educational workshops, which are also offered free to the public. The workshops teach entrepreneurs to create sustainable freelance business models, price their services, and find clients. A crucial component of the incubators is a support group that teaches new and seasoned freelancers strategies to take the skills they’ve learned through the tech skills workshops and transform them into a full-time freelance business or part-time income.

Built in Broward’s free online workshops began in September 2020, with three to four online events scheduled monthly (with the exception of December 2020). The courses are held by General Assembly, an established career training and continuing education provider that was named Fast Company magazine’s “2019 Most Innovative Company in Education.” They feature local and national-level speakers presenting on tech- and entrepreneur-related topics including branding, design fundamentals, coding for non-programmers, digital marketing, user experience design and more.

Broward County Library’s participation in the Libraries Build Business initiative also impacts how libraries nationwide support and interact with their communities’ small businesses and entrepreneurs. As part of the Libraries Build Business cohort, Broward County Library, in collaboration with the ALA project team, will develop practical solutions to the question of what library-led entrepreneurship models will best help low-income and/or underrepresented entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses. The answers will hopefully lead to successful entrepreneurship programs in all of the United States’ 17,000 public libraries, with the goal of identifying promising practices and models for library-led entrepreneurship initiatives.

Built in Broward outcomes are measured using surveys and virtual interviews with program participants and community partners as well as by workshop attendance. In Built in Broward’s quarterly cohort meetings, the 20 members are given surveys before, during and after completing the cohort program to gauge their opinion of the program and its impact on their careers and businesses. Cohort members also complete one-on-one interviews with project coordinator Sheldon Burke, which are recorded and transcribed for submission to Google Inc. and ALA. These interviews will be compiled, used for evaluation and incorporated into the ALA’s “Libraries Build Business” national playbook, which will be used to improve library business programs across the country. While these interviews are still being transcribed and organized, a recent interviewee commented that after attending the incubator and workshops, they “definitely feel more confident” and “have a better clarity on how to apply the skills I already had towards a business.” Other comments included, “This setting was a very positive and encouraging and motivating setting … It's what you need to make that mental shift to realize you can do it.” As of mid-February 2012, 715 participants have attended the events. Other outcomes include articles in the Miami Herald and Refresh Miami.

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