The State Library Victoria was founded in 1854 with an aim of being “the people’s university”.
Led by Justice Redmond Barry, the library operated – and continues to do so – on the belief that free access to knowledge played a huge role in the development of a civic and prosperous community.
It is the country’s oldest public libraries and was one of the first in the world to be free.
Now, a $2 million donation from a local philanthropist and successful businesswoman is set to allow the State Library to launch an innovation hub that reaffirms these values in the digital age.
Australian Christine Christian has donated the cash to the State Library to allow it to establish Start Space, a dedicated area in the library for very early-stage entrepreneurs and startup founders.
Some of the space will be free for anyone to use and draw on the talent and expertise on offer, in keeping with the library’s founding ideals, director of library services and experience Justine Hyde said.
“The library was founded on the idea that through the access to information and knowledge you could become more socially mobile and open up more opportunities. I see this realisation of Start Space as the 21st century version of that 19th century ideal,” Ms Hyde told InnovationAus.com.
“In here you’ll have support, access to information, experts and networks that can fulfil your potential. It’s an interesting twist on the founding ideals of the library,”
Start Space will provide “emerging entrepreneurs with free access to resources, services, programs and mentors to transform business ideas from concept to reality”.
It doesn’t want to step on any toes in the thriving Victorian startup community though, with Ms Hyde saying that Start Space is aiming to provide support to individuals that only have an initial idea.
“We’ll be really targeting a niche that we can see in the startup ecosystem – for people that have a really great idea but don’t know how to get started,” she said. “They’re not necessarily ready to go into a hub or coworking space, or a formal program, but they have the seed of an idea.”
“The library will be a place for them to come with that idea and get help to make it happen.”
To ensure this is effective, the library is now looking to partner with Victorian accelerators, incubators and coworking spaces.
“The critical thing will be how it connects in with those other offers around town, and how we work with them. We have a range of potential partners and possibilities. We see Start Space as a pipeline into the other services and resources in the startup ecosystem,” Ms Hyde said.
Start Space will have a two tiered approach. The first space will be free for anyone to use and will provide users with resources, services, programs and mentors, while the second will be paid and function more like an entry level coworking space.
Ms Christian, the former chief executive of credit check agency Dun and Bradstreet Australia, will also be providing funding for a regular entrepreneur-in-residence for the space.
“The library has always been a place where anyone can freely access information and knowledge to help them reach their potential,” Ms Christian said.
“Start Space extends that to support those looking to embark on an entrepreneurial journey. It will take the fear out of getting started by providing access to the right support, advice and networks, which I know from experience makes a significant difference to a venture’s success,”
“For those keen to innovate across any field – creative, artistic, tech or social enterprise – Start Space will be a game-changer.”
Start Space is part of the State Library’s $88 million Vision 2020 redevelopment. Part of this will focus on improving the tech offerings in the facility, including audio, video and post production facilities and two-way broadcast technology.
The redevelopment is staggered across the coming years, and Start Space isn’t expected to be opened until mid-to-late 2019. In the meantime, the State Library will be working to develop the program, establish partnerships in the startup community and “building momentum behind the brand”.
It’s another in a series of cultural institutions and landmarks that are looking to open their doors for the tech and startup communities and provide dedicated innovation areas. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image recently opened its own 2000sqm coworking space for entrepreneurs, while similar projects have been seen in New York and Wellington.
“More and more cultural organisations are moving into that space – there’s a real movement towards supporting creativity and economic development through cultural organisations.It’s an interesting shift and an exciting place to be,” Ms Hyde said.