“Working with entrepreneurs on campus is my favorite part of my job,” says Cathy Ogur, Assistant Director of Penn Libraries’ Lippincott Library of the Wharton School. Cathy regularly meets with students, faculty, and staff in the early stages of business ideation to help them gauge how marketable their venture might be. “The resources of the Penn Libraries help identify gaps in the market for new products, services, or ideas,” says Cathy. “Unless you know what’s out there, you don’t know what’s missing.”
Unlike other library databases, which typically skew towards the academic, Lippincott hosts a collection of business databases that Wharton grads might ultimately encounter in the corporate world. Cathy recently helped two MBA students, Kate Kim and Ryan Morgan, navigate these collections for the development of their venture, rmdy, a digestive supplement for women.
Kate and Ryan met on a bus en route to their first day of Wharton’s pre-term orientation. They quickly discovered a shared interest in products that serve integrative wellness and a shared belief in the power of brands to improve customer quality of life. They decided to investigate the intersection of the probiotic, digestive enzyme, and antacid markets, and so, following the advice of a second-year MBA, Kate and Ryan scheduled their first appointment with Cathy.
“Getting started was the hardest thing,” Kate admits. “But as soon as you have an inkling of something you want to explore, the libraries are invaluable in helping you uncover that knowledge.” Ryan agrees, and encourages students to take the first step in exploring what the libraries have to offer. “Start using the resources early on,” he advises. “As a student, there’s so much available to you, but you have to go to the library, you have to email someone, you have to start. Don’t hesitate to use it all.”
With Cathy’s guidance, then, Kate and Ryan made use of multiple industry databases — BCC Research, IBISWorld, Passport GMID, Mintel, and Business Source Complete, to name a few — in researching their customer base, sizing the market, assessing entry points, and identifying potential manufacturing partners. One of the lesser-known business resources Cathy directed Kate and Ryan to was Panjiva, an importing database that provides information about global supply chains. Panjiva’s indices of bills of lading allow users to determine the origin of imports into the United States. In Kate and Ryan’s case, the import was simethicone, an anti-foaming agent that relieves gastrointestinal bloating (and therefore a crucial ingredient in probiotics).
rmdy’s development entailed research beyond Lippincott’s broad collection of business databases, however. “Kate and Ryan are an exciting example of the Penn Libraries supporting entrepreneurship because they’ve used so many different resources across disciplines,” says Cathy. Indeed, the students cite PubMed, the National Institute of Health’s comprehensive database of references and abstracts, as the resource most crucial to rmdy’s development and the one which they spent the greatest number of hours perusing. Even though Kate and Ryan had the benefit of two advisors from the Perelman School of Medicine, they wanted to do their own in-depth research on each of rmdy’s ingredients.
Kate and Ryan’s use of such varied library resources comes as no surprise to Barbara Cavanaugh, Director of the Biomedical Library. “The Libraries are strongest when we’re working together across domains to serve research needs,” says Barbara. “More and more of the research being done at Penn is interdisciplinary. While it used to be that a subject liaison would serve an individual researcher, it now ‘takes a village’ of librarians to serve a project because research routinely crosses so many domains.”
Kate and Ryan also made use of the Fisher Fine Arts Materials Library, which contains thousands of samples of potential use for construction and design. The two entrepreneurs drew on the collection to conceptualize rmdy’s packaging and were so impressed with the material miscellany that they’ve subsequently escorted tours of fellow students to Fisher. “The Materials Library blows everyone away,” says Ryan. “There are so many cool things down there that nobody knows about. And when you can see something tangible — for instance, our packaging — it really brings a project to life.”
Kate describes the network of library resources, fellow students, and Penn professors that aided in the development of their project as an “ecosystem” which offers student entrepreneurs “support from every angle.” She and Ryan ultimately secured funding, and rmdy is currently scheduled to launch this June (though customers can already sign up for the product’s waitlist at www.rmdyco.com.) “Cathy and the library content resources were critical in our building our business in six months,” says Kate. “We wouldn’t be here without her!”
Cathy is similarly grateful for being able to assist entrepreneurs. “I’m inspired and amazed by their ideas,” she says. “You work with students, then six months later you see that they’re launching their business. It’s gratifying to see their success, and knowing that you had a small part in that.”