The DEC Network, long noted for its entrepreneurial work in Dallas, is heading west to Fort Worth where it will operate a new center aimed at helping support small business owners and startups.
According to the Fort Worth Report, The Fort Worth Local Development Corp. approved $500,000 over two years to create the Fort Worth Entrepreneurship Center, which will be operated by The DEC Network beginning in August.
The center will be tentatively located at 400 Bryan Ave. in the Near Southside, the same building as Roots Coffee.
News comes as The DEC Network prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary
The news comes as The DEC Network is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and as it works on the construction of its newest innovation hub in Dallas, the RedBird Innovation Center.
According to the Fort Worth Report, the city of Fort Worth has struggled to create businesses when compared to the state’s other large cities, lagging behind Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio in the number of businesses created.
But Fort Worth is working to change that stat. The city received recognition earlier this month from WalletHub as a great place to start a business, ranking as the top city in Texas and No. 9 out of the 100 best U.S. cities, based on business environment, access to resources, and business costs.
Booming Fort Worth seeks more entrepreneurial support
The city is also trying to reinvent its Business Assistance Center.
Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development department director, visited The DEC’s center at RedBird in Southern Dallas years ago and met with CEO Bill Chinn.
“I kind of went out there and just met with Bill and saw the operations,” Sturns said during a Local Development Corporation meeting in March, according to the Fort Worth Report. “And that was really, I think, our first discussion about … how can we get something like this here in Fort Worth?”
Sturns told the Fort Worth Report that the city has grown substantially since the Business Assistance Center was established and that it made sense to have one center to support business back then.
But with booming growth that has boosted the city’s population to roughly 935,508 people, there needed to be more support.
“We’ve got to encourage more of these types of operations across the community,” Sturns said. “It’s just going to be critical.”
Trey Bowles helps spur the initiative
Trey Bowles, co-founder and former CEO of the DEC Network, told the Fort Worth Report that he shared with the city how the organization had set up centers in the past. Bowles sits on the city of Fort Worth’s entrepreneurship and innovation committee and is a chairman emeritus at The DEC Network.
“I felt like it was important and I’ve been able to build this in different cities and see it be really, really helpful. And the city of Fort Worth wanted to do it,” Bowles said. “I came in and said, hey, I’ll help share how we’ve done this and what we did before. I introduced (the city) to the Fort Worth Entrepreneur Center team, and they thought they would be great to do that.”
Bowles said he will be a paying tenant of the new center as managing director of the Techstars Physical Health Fort Worth Accelerator.
The DEC is centered on starting a business—coaching, community, networking, raising funds and finding new customers for business, Bowles said. According to the DEC Network, the Fort Worth Entrepreneurship Center will host workshops, events, pitch competitions, and a network of mentors to assist people who come to the center.
Drawing more investment dollars
People who had offices in the DEC Network in 2022 raised more than $15 million in capital, according to the organization’s latest impact report.
Those who want to actually establish an office in the center have to pay, DEC Network said. However, curriculum around business, mentorship, and events is free.
DEC Network CEO Chinn said he considers the network a type of incubator program.
“We don’t have these delusions that our curriculum is going to accelerate every business,” Chinn said. “But what we’ve seen is when we put people in the same walls, in a co-working situation, but also in an event, you find your capital and you find your future partners, you find those folks that can really accelerate your growth.”
Chinn told the Fort Worth Report that he also wants to bring more investment dollars that are essential for fast-growing businesses.
To help Fort Worth gain more local startup dollars, Chinn said he wants to bridge the gap for DFW investors to notice startups in Fort Worth.
“There’s some incredibly exciting investment opportunities,” he said. “And for some reason we got people flying from Dallas to San Francisco to go find and deploy their capital. They don’t have to fly to San Francisco. They just need to just drive right down the street.”
Aiming for ‘the first center of many’
Kay West, a FUSE fellow who studied how to boost support for small businesses in Fort Worth, said she sees The DEC as part of the solution to supporting Fort Worth business.
West said that the location of Fort Worth’s center, Near Southside, may leave some communities out.
“That’s great for a group of people, but certain groups of people don’t necessarily go over there and they may not,” West said. “So what about everybody else? What about the other people who don’t have transportation or don’t even go to the Near Southside?”
Chinn told the Fort Worth Report that no organization can fill all of the business community’s needs, and that’s where collaboration fits in.
Bowles also told the Fort Worth Report that there’s great hope that the organization will grow in Fort Worth.
“Entrepreneurs need support all over the place,” Bowles said. “Our hope is that this is the first center of many centers, right, and that there’s no reason to say that the programs can’t leave and be outside of the space.”
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