Mel Lambert is the Director of Adult & Community Services at Kirkwood Public Library. Prior to that she was a Reference Librarian at St. Louis County Library who assists small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs with using FREE library resources to grow their businesses. Mel credits her work at St. Louis County Library as her introduction to ecosystem building.
“I found ecosystem building while working here, and that has changed my life.The people I met in the last two years are impressive. From the entrepreneur support organizers who dedicate their time to funneling money and resources to people, to the actual entrepreneurs, non-profit builders, and job searchers who forge ahead despite any number of obstacles.”
To you, what is an Ecosystem Builder?
Ecosystem Builders are people who look at all levels of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, from helping entrepreneurs startup, to connecting them to funding, to making sure they have talent to hire when they’re ready.
What motivates you as an ecosystem builder?
The people. Not just the entrepreneurs who are excited about their adventures, but the other ecosystem builders who are energized and coming up with new ideas for their communities.
What is the most successful/impactful program/event/thing you do/have done in your ecosystem?
Through the library I ran a Women in Business networking lunch and panel discussion. We had 6 successful small business owners from the community come and share their experiences. We had moderated networking with lunch first, with each of the panelists at a table connecting those who are in complementary industries, and then a panel discussion so anyone could ask questions. This program has connected people to resources, to others in their industry, and given invaluable advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. I’ve gotten a ton of great feedback from this program – and a want for more like it.
What is the biggest challenge you face as an Ecosystem Builder?
Getting the word out about what we do. Making sure everyone knows we have grant money available for first time entrepreneurs on the foundation side. On the library side making sure people think of their library first as a place to start research for their business – and that includes other ecosystem builders!
What is the biggest frustration you face as an Ecosystem Builder?
Getting the word out. I think that’s my greatest challenge and frustration. I want everyone to know and love libraries and their space in the ecosystem as much as I do. Even small libraries can have an impact by connecting people to the right organizations and networks.
What ecosystem building skill/knowledge do you want to gain?
I’d love to know more about applying for grants. I’ve spent a lot of time finding the right grants for people, but don’t know much about the application process myself. I think learning these skills would make me invaluable to other ecosystem builders and organizations, as I’d be able to help them work through the process along with finding the right fit.
What are the most important things that need to happen to advance the field of ecosystem building?
Acknowledgment that it’s a field. I think there needs to be some sort of organized place for people to congregate in the field. Someone needs to step up and be the leader – setting goals and actions those of us in the field can take.
How can we support you in your efforts?
Tell people how awesome libraries are as research institutions! How we are a great on-ramp for everyone, we are the original inclusive space because anyone can use us, and we’re FREE!
Mel has been involved on many of the ESHIP Goal calls, including the monthly Goal 7 call. We asked Mel to share her thoughts and experiences working on Goal 7.
Why does Goal 7: Sustainable Work matter to you?
This work is important, not only because it keeps the economy moving, but because it provides a safe space for all entrepreneurs. This was the first place I heard talk about inclusivity and diversity in a way that mattered, that pushed for inclusion and highlighted diverse entrepreneurs and their work. Not just identifying it as a need, but also showing diversity’s value to the ecosystem. It’s time people started recognizing the work that goes into this type of profession, and how important it is to building up communities.
What are you doing in the field to move this goal forward in your community?
As a librarian, I’ve been very vocal about how libraries are a great space to build resources for ecosystem builders. I’ve helped different chambers in the St. Louis region find data for their groups, done some work for the NCRD (National Center for Resource Development) – helping them put together lists of resources and contacts, helped Startup Champions Network search for grants, and worked with different entrepreneur support organizations in St. Louis connect with each other and other resources the library may have available to them.
I’m a board member and Program Director of the BALSA Foundation which provides grants and resources to first-time entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area. I’ve helped many of the entrepreneurs in this organization pull together resources for their business plans, and met with some of the other presenters to help them figure out what information they need to succeed, and what data we can help them find.
I’m also a mentor for WePower – helping their entrepreneurs connect with resources and other organizations who may be able to help them.
My main goals in moving Sustainable Work forward is showing the value to other libraries, and how they can help keep their ecosystem builders going forward by providing them with data. With doing that, the side goal is also showing libraries how they can make this work sustainable by hiring people who have the skills to help entrepreneurs and workforce development. Libraries and ecosystem builders should be working together, all the time. I’d love to see different libraries get grant money to support things like an Ecosystem Builder in residence – who can help build up the profession, while also providing much needed guidance to the communities we serve.
Where can people learn more about this your work on this goal and support you in your efforts?
Support your local library! Look at what database and research offerings they have on their website! Most have a ton of resources you’d never know existed that can help you with your research for free. If you don’t know how to use a tool – ask! Librarians can easily help you learn how to use a research database. Follow groups like EveryLibrary who have also been champions on this front, driving home how libraries are ecosystem hubs and provide access to materials to all.
I’m about to start a new job at Kirkwood Public Library – so right now the best place would be to follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. I’m hoping to bring much of my skills to the new library and build up some of their resources to help their ecosystem.
Be sure to check out Mel’s collaborative article, “Beyond Books: Libraries’ Role in Entrepreneurship Ecosystems” on Medium.