Fresh ways to make a new business work

Heather Eidson/Staff Photographer
Heather Eidson/Staff Photographer

In these high tech times, a young man just out of college with a degree in the humanities usually has a lot in common with his middle aged dad who has been working in middle management for the last quarter century. For one thing, it’s probable that neither one of them has a job, or is likely to in the near future.

So what can you do when there are three to six applicants for every job, and the “job creators” have decided (yawn) that’s just something they’d just rather not think about right now? Well, when nobody will hire you, you have to hire yourself.

Call it being entrepreneurial if that makes it sound less desperate, but when you start any kind of a business you’re essentially hiring yourself. And if you also hire other people, you often end up being the lowest paid employee.

But if you approach it in the right way, which is sometimes not the obvious way, it can work. My wife and I have done it, and in fact there are more people who have done it than you may think. It may not work the first time, but if you have access to realistic information, a little good advice, and can spend at least some of your time around enthusiastic, optimistic, and creative people, things will fall into place.

You can find that stimulating work environment by renting space in a “co-working” establishment, like the Gravity Building project that Jimi Allen is starting in downtown Aurora. But before I comment on that, let me say that such places, while they give you access to new ideas and the real life experiences of your co-workers, are not set up to do the serious hand holding many new entrepreneurs require.

For that you may need the kind of business incubator that the Naperville Public Library is launching, along with the Naperville Development Partnership. It’s going to be called BiblioTek Centers for Innovation and Discovery, and will offer a place to work plus programs on the basic stuff every new business person needs to know, like budgeting, marketing, intellectual property, and all the “what do I do first?” stuff.

BiblioTek, which I assume is a play on “bibliotheca,” the Greek word for library, will essentially take budding entrepreneurs from the point where they have an idea to the point where they have a business plan. With a business plan, they can find money and other kinds of support.

Fortunately, starting a business is easier than it used to be. Because of the Affordable Care Act, the self-employed can now buy health insurance at group rates, and the Internet makes it much easier to get by without office help, or even an office.

But co-working centers, like the Gravity Building project at 56 S. LaSalle St., in Aurora (, provide freelancers, entrepreneurs, and inventors with not only a full- or part-time desk, along with meeting rooms, WiFi, and other office amenities, but the kind of environment that encourages creative partnerships.

Because ideas come from our interactions with creative, imaginative people, whether or not they share our interests or activities, co-working centers provide an environment where, as Jimi Allen puts it, people simply get better. This is the age of collaboration, not competition.

The idea is not to put your competitor out of business, but to use that competition to build a better business and a stronger business community.

There is no doubt that small business people today face unprecedented challenges from things like foreign labor and iniquitous multinational corporations. But they can overcome those challenges. It doesn’t require money or political influence. They can do it simply by the quality of their ideas.