With a boost from the federal government, the WERX Foundation of McKinney is teaming up with the community college system in Collin County to launch a joint project aimed at fostering innovation and helping aspiring startups in North Texas.
The two North Texas partners are among 35 recipients in 19 states tapped to receive federal assistance under a new $15 million program created by the U.S. Commerce Department to spur innovation across the country.
The grant recipients, including nonprofits and higher-education institutions, were selected from a pool of more than 215 applicants as part of what U. S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker called a national effort to propel “visionaries and job creators of tomorrow.”
Collin College and the WERX Foundation, which provides shared workspace and a business center for startups and innovators, will use the $345,895 grant to help establish shared centers at the WERX facility and three campuses. The McKinney Economic Development Corp., Collin College and the Cotton Mill Partners will provide matching money and in-kind support.
“I think it’s going to be an excellent opportunity for our students and our community members to really take off with idea development, an opportunity they haven’t really had up until this point.”
Collin County, which includes a northern portion of the city of Dallas, offers a rich environment for innovation and job creation. As one of the fastest-growing counties in both Texas and the nation, Collin County has become a destination for corporate relocations and registered a 20 percent increase in job creation from 2008 to 2015, a surge which outstripped the rate of population growth.
“I’m really excited about it,” Dani Day, vice president for academic services at the seven-campus college system, said of the planned collaborative program. “I think it’s going to be an excellent opportunity for our students and our community members to really take off with idea development, an opportunity they haven’t really had up until this point.”
Reflecting countywide growth, the college system has expanded from 5,000 students in 1986 to a present-day enrollment of about 53,000, more than the 50,000-plus enrolled at the University of Texas’ flagship campus in Austin. Campuses selected for the new program are Spring Creek at Plano, Preston Ridge at Frisco and Central Park at McKinney, the county seat.
WERX FOUNDATION GREW FROM A PILOT PROGRAM
The nonprofit WERX Foundation, which grew out of a successful pilot program, serves as an incubator for startups, providing shared work space, mentoring and resources such as high-speed Wi-Fi, internet services, and printing. WERX is in McKinney’s historical Cotton Mill, a 112-year-old former denim maker.
“We help startups and small businesses kind of fill in the blanks of the things they need to know so they can become successful,” said Christine Smith, WERX founder and executive director. Fees range from $75 a month for open-desk seating to $1,050 a month for a midsize office to accommodate six people.
Under the Regional Innovations Strategies program, similar “maker spaces” will be set up for the first time at the designated college campuses to provide collaborative space, software and curriculum to support innovation. The space at WERX will support emerging technology while the three spaces at Collin College will support manufacturing, health care and media, according to a press release announcing the grants.
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