HSC Is Handing Off Operations of Sparkyard, a Platform for Fort Worth Entrepreneurs

HSC Next said the move will allow Sparkyard—a free, one-stop collaborative platform for Fort Worth entrepreneurs and business owners—to grow in ways it could not as part of an academic institution.

UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth announced that HSC Next is handing over operations of its Sparkyard platform to Tamara Payne, CEO and co-founder of Ensemble Coworking, after four years of successful implementation.

HSC said the move will allow Sparkyard—a free, one-stop collaborative platform for entrepreneurs and business owners—to grow in ways it could not as part of an academic institution.

“Connecting entrepreneurs to the resources they need to build a thriving and sustainable business is at the core of who I am and is part of the mission of Ensemble,” Payne said in a statement. “It’s a privilege to usher Sparkyard into its next phase.”

In June, we told you about how the HSC Sparkyard platform completed an online economic dashboard of Tarrant County entrepreneurial activity and two other website updates funded by a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.

HSC Next is the innovation wing of the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth. Ensemble Coworking is a mission-driven collaborative business community and coworking space in Fort Worth’s Near Southside.

SourceLink, based in Kansas City, Missouri, will continue to support the platform.

‘The next logical step’

HSC said it’s not selling Sparkyard, but rather transferring the license and assets to an organization that can assume its operating costs and successfully take it to the next stage.

“This is the next logical step for Sparkyard,” Cameron Cushman, associate vice president of Innovation Ecosystems at HSC Next, said in a statement. “Our department has invested a lot of time and funding into Sparkyard during the last four years, and we believe it can achieve even greater success if it is run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Few local entrepreneurs understand the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as Tamara Payne.”

HSC said that Payne has worked for years to develop the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Payne has the advantages of being an entrepreneur herself and a resource provider to other entrepreneurs and business owners, HSC said, giving her a holistic perspective in understanding their needs.

She will continue to be involved with Ensemble Coworking as she manages Sparkyard.

Entrepreneurial experience helped seal the choice

HSC said that Payne competed against other applicants interested in taking over Sparkyard, but ultimately her entrepreneurial experience and standing in the community made her the top choice, according to a selection committee organized by HSC Next and composed of fellow entrepreneurs and resource providers.

HSC Next said it will begin the handover this month and expects it to be completed next spring.

Marco Johnson, Sparkyard network builder at HSC Next, will work one-on-one with Payne to get her up to speed on the platform’s operations, with Payne taking over more responsibility as the handover progresses, HSC said.

Johnson and Cushman will maintain a presence on Sparkyard’s advisory council to help ensure continuity of service and to provide support on matters both strategic and practical. HSC said that their presences on the advisory council will gradually reduce over the next two to three years.

“Tamara’s ideas and vision for Sparkyard are really exciting, and I know Sparkyard—and all our entrepreneur and resource partner clients—will be in good hands,” Johnson said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed running the platform during the last few years. Helping guide local entrepreneurs to resources has really helped me understand the joys and challenges of being a business owner.”

Supporting the Fort Worth entrepreneurial ecosystem

When HSC launched Sparkyard in November 2019, HSC said its goal to spur economic growth by connecting companies to the right resources promised to fill “a much-needed gap in Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Since its launch, HSC said the platform has added and refined tools, been translated into Spanish and Vietnamese, and helped many visionary founders achieve their goals.

“Sparkyard has been a great tool to help connect new entrepreneurs with existing resources and local experts in the DFW area, and we greatly appreciate all the work that HSC Next has invested in making the platform what it is today,” Robert Sturns, economic development director for the City of Fort Worth, said in a statement. “Looking ahead, Tamara is a longtime advocate for Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we look forward to seeing Sparkyard grow even more under her stewardship.”

HSC Next, the city of Fort Worth’s economic development department, and the TCU Neeley School of Business have supported Sparkyard since its founding.

HSC said that Payne also recruited the Better Business Bureau, which is pledging $7,500 a year and is acting as a fiscal sponsor to support Sparkyard in its next phase.

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