Sometimes entrepreneurial events can give you a sense of déjà vu with the same people gathering over and over again.
A group of startup community builders is working to change that in Fort Worth and hopefully inspire more innovators to jumpstart their ideas into businesses.
“Our hope is that we really unearth a lot of the hidden entrepreneurs …”
Through the first Startup Crawl FW, attendees can get a crash course on Fort Worth’s startup ecosystem touring coworking spaces, universities, and other entrepreneurial centers to learn about the resources available and network with those in the community.
“Our hope is that we really unearth a lot of the hidden entrepreneurs who are doing great work in their garages or backyards, but they aren’t plugged into the the normal entrepreneurial community,” said Cameron Cushman, director of innovation ecosystems at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth.
Cushman, who co-founded 1 Million Cups, led similar startup events during his time working for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.
Now back in his hometown, Cushman and others such as Hayden Blackburn, assistant director at Tech FW, thought it was about time Cowtown held one of its own.
STARTUP CRAWL WILL FEATURE SEVEN STOPS
Blackburn said it’s hard to cut through the noise, but the event Thursday could enable entrepreneurs to share their stories with more people that can help spread the word.
“I’m hoping that there’s something new even for those that have been in the space working with startups,” Blackburn said.
And those that may not be launching a startup or be connected to the business sector are welcome, too, said Tamara Payne, co-founder of Ensemble Coworking, North Texas’ only 100 percent female-owned coworking space.
“If they’re interested in business, supporters of business, [or] if they love Fort Worth … we want them to come out,” she said.
“It’s wonderful that we can all embrace each other, we can help each other, and lift each other along the way.”
The crawl has seven participating sites — Common Desk Fort Worth, Connex, Ensemble Coworking, newly opened WeWork Clearfork, Texas Christian University, the University of North Texas Health Science Center, and James E. Guinn Campus, where the Fort Worth Business Assistance Center, Tech FW, and IDEA Works all are located.
Each stop will have its own celebration with many featuring food, drinks, live music — and of course startups on display. UNTHSC also will be offering tours of its labs, which are available for rent to people wanting to test out their innovations. Crawlers will be transported to sites via shuttle buses and can start at any location besides Connex, where a shipping container office community is still being built.
“It’s wonderful that we can all embrace each other, we can help each other, and lift each other along the way. That’s what Startup Crawl is all about,” Payne said.
Organizers are encouraging those in Dallas to come out. Those interested can meet at The Dallas Entrepreneur Center at 3:15 p.m. Thursday and take the 4 p.m. Trinity Railway Express train over to the T&P Station in Fort Worth, Cushman said.
RAISING THE PROFILE OF FORT WORTH STARTUPS
Startup Crawl FW is being supported by The Fort Worth Promotion and Development Fund, which was developed by former Mayor Kay Granger in 1994 to give financial backing for initiatives promoting the city.
Current Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is hoping the event can raise the profile of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. She said the community at large is not very aware of the volume of startups that call Fort Worth home.
E-Mist Innovations, which is known internationally for its electrostatic disinfection application system, and Encore Vision, which sold to Alcon parent Novartis in a multimillion-dollar deal, both grew out of business incubator Tech FW. PICKUP and Booster Fuels can trace ties to Hillwood’s AllianceTexas development in far north Fort Worth as well.
And there are plenty more early-stage companies working in the medical, aviation, aerospace, and many other sectors, Price said.
“We do have a bustling startup community. That’s a well-kept secret and we don’t want it to be well-kept anymore.”
“We do have a bustling startup community. That’s a well-kept secret and we don’t want it to be well-kept anymore,” Price said.
Last year, the city released a comprehensive economic development plan, which took a deep dive into business and workforce growth from attracting corporate relocations to helping small businesses and neglected neighborhoods. Becoming “a hub for creative businesses,” was one goal mentioned in the plan.
The city and Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce have been increasing their efforts to get the word out about the community’s assets. In March, the city hosted an activation at South By Southwest in Austin featuring local artists and small businesses as well as innovations from Tarrant County-based corporate heavyweights such as Bell and Lockheed Martin.
Price said the appearance has yielded some interest from businesses looking to locate operations here. Next week’s Startup Crawl can build on that momentum.
“We want to showcase what’s happening in Fort Worth as we expand out on our economic development strategies. Building our creative class of entrepreneurs is a huge piece of that,” she said.
Marco Johnson, director of operations for Accelerate DFW Foundation, which operates the IDEA Works incubator, described Fort Worth’s startup community as “burgeoning,” but with a fragmented resource network.
“Frankly, we don’t know how many entrepreneurs there are out there. … The way that we reach entrepreneurs is by holding events like this — Startup Crawl, Startup Weekend, and 1 Million Cups,” he said.
The seven stops on the crawl are not all the city has to offer early-stage companies, but rather a sampling close enough where people can hop from site to site.
“We’ve already had people express interest in doing the next one even though we haven’t done the first one yet,” Cushman said, noting a group of places on the east side of town could be stops on a future crawl.
IF YOU GO
Startup Crawl FW
When: 5-9 p.m. Thursday, May 31
Where: Common Desk Fort Worth, Connex, Ensemble Coworking, WeWork Clearfork, Texas Christian University, the University of North Texas Health Science Center, and James E. Guinn Campus (Fort Worth Business Assistance Center, Tech FW, and IDEA Works)
More info, map of locations & tickets: startupcrawlfw.org
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