By MARTY LEVINE
Even with so many businesses shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurs are still busy dreaming up — and making concrete plans for — startup companies.
LaMonica Wiggins remains their top Pitt resource for help.
Wiggins, entrepreneurship librarian in the research and educational support department of the University Library System, still meets with students, faculty, staff and community members (remotely, of course) who are intent on finding the best information on which to base their business decisions: What is the market I’m aiming for? What is the climate like in that business area? Who are the essential customers?
Wiggins has long combined libraries and business. After earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees here (the latter a master’s in library and information science in 2011), she spent several years working for the Carnegie Downtown and Business, where she was a business librarian. “That’s where my interest bloomed,” Wiggins says.
More recently, she was at Penn State as their entrepreneurship librarian. “Once the same position came open at Pitt, I jumped on it,” she says. “It was the chance to reconnect with the ecosystem in Pittsburgh and see what the University was doing about entrepreneurship as well.”
Startups at the University tend to be more focused on technology or advances in the health sciences, but Wiggins’ Pitt clients range across the Schools of Medicine, Engineering, business and many other areas.
When the campus is up and running, she takes her expertise into classrooms where students need to learn how to navigate such library resources, and runs a twice-weekly business research clinic, which she started to facilitate one-on-one business research consultations. Under COVID-19, that work has moved to Skype or Zoom. She helps with the University’s Big Idea and Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh) competitions as well.
Wiggins also normally conducts a lot of community outreach, regularly meeting with business hopefuls at the Community Engagement Center in Homewood or the Riverside Center for Innovation on the North Shore, which focuses on minority entrepreneurs. Her experience with public libraries has helped her redirect her community clients to resources available online for those with a Carnegie Library card, since normally they could access Pitt resources only by coming to campus.
Now she is aiming to devise a set of new resources all about starting a business during COVID-19. “Small business owners are in survival mode now,” she notes. And while she herself has fewer customers, they keep coming nonetheless. She is working on the possibility of a podcast, a pandemic-specific library resources guide or an asynchronous online class.
Starting a business in the U.S. is toughest for minority and women entrepreneurs, and Wiggins is particularly aware of their hurdles.
“They often face some unique challenges,” such as access to business capital and helpful networks of experienced individuals, she says. “My passion is to work with these types of entrepreneurs to help them get a leg up on the process,” Wiggins says. “I want to give them all the tools they need to succeed.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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