HSC’s Sparkyard Amps Up Support for Fort Worth Entrepreneurs with Innovative Features and Inclusive Approach

Backed by a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant, Sparkyard’s collaborative platform for entrepreneurs has new features, including an online economic dashboard, an interactive growth circuit, and a Vietnamese translation. The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth initiative aims to fill gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem with customized “Spark Plans,” a comprehensive regional events calendar, and a directory of free business-building resources.

The UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth’s Sparkyard platform recently completed an online economic dashboard of Tarrant County entrepreneurial activity and two other website updates funded by a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.

Sparkyard is a free, one-stop collaborative platform for entrepreneurs.
The other updates included an enhanced interactive growth circuit showing users what phase they are in and a translation of Sparkyard into Vietnamese, which is the third-most spoken language in Tarrant County.

“We are grateful to the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s grant to HSC that helped us launch new services and expand existing ones on the Sparkyard platform,” Cameron Cushman, HSC assistant vice president of innovation ecosystems, said in a statement. “The entrepreneurial ecosystem dashboard is a unique tool that informs us how we are doing relative to other large Texas cities. Unfortunately, our ecosystem is not performing to the level it should as the 12th-most populous city in the country. This will help us understand where there are gaps and where to devote resources to help us help entrepreneurs.”

Filling a gap in the entrepreneurial ecosystem

Sparkyard said a previous update included a Spanish translation of the site.

When Sparkyard was launched in November 2019, it had a goal to spur economic growth by connecting companies to the right resources and promised to fill a much-needed gap in Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

HSC said that two years ago, it received an additional $562,500 grant to expand and refine the platform, which included adding a list of eight tools and features that it said read like a business owner’s wish list.

Sparkyard said it provides a variety of free services to entrepreneurs in the Fort Worth area, including customized Spark Plans to help businesses overcome current obstacles, a comprehensive regional events calendar, a directory of free business-building resources, local economic research, ways to identify resource gaps and more.

Sparkyard’s new features

Sparkyard said that its new features are designed to make the platform more engaging, user-friendly and useful to entrepreneurs and anyone involved in entrepreneur-led economic development.

The new dashboard includes a variety of metrics that track the health and progress of Tarrant County’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, HSC said.

The site’s landing page features top-level metrics that give a broad overview and then subpages divided into three categories: jobs, funding and rankings — how Fort Worth compares with five other large Texas cities. HSC said the research and analysis for the dashboard was guided in part by three Texas Christian University Master of Business Analytics students who produced the work as part of their graduate capstone project.

The new Growth Circuit is designed to be interactive and completely self-guided.

HSC said that a digital version of the Growth Circuit was a natural step given the popularity of Sparkyard’s Growth Circuit series.

Helping more entrepreneurs

Via a series of filters, HSC said a user answers questions that will narrow down what stage of development the company is in, and then narrow it further to what step within the circuit they’re on. The map then lists the resources that work at the user’s identified stage/step and makes it easy to connect with and learn more about them.

Should entrepreneurs seek to connect directly to a person rather than using the platform’s digital tools, they can easily to link to the site’s Spark Plan and request a customized list.

Sparkyard’s managers also completed the site’s translation into Vietnamese, making its more accessible to one of the fastest-growing and economically important populations in North Texas.

“Most people who live in the area are not aware that Vietnamese is the third-most spoken language in Tarrant County,” Marco Johnson, HSC Next’s Sparkyard network builder, said in a statement.

“The latest census informed us that there are more than 35,000 Vietnamese American residents in our county, and the DFW Metroplex has the fourth-largest Vietnamese American population in the entire U.S. We also know that the rate of entrepreneurship in this group is far higher than the national average, yet we don’t see them accessing services like Sparkyard. We aim to change that,” Johnson said.

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