HSC Next’s Sparkyard expands, refines tools for entrepreneurs

Marco Johnson Head Shot
Marco Johnson

Managers of Sparkyard, a free, one-stop collaborative platform for entrepreneurs, 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.

The other updates included an enhanced interactive growth circuit showing users what phase they are in and a translation of Sparkyard into Vietnamese — the third-most spoken language in Tarrant County. A previous update included a Spanish translation of the site.

When The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth launched Sparkyard in November 2019, its ambitious 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. Two years ago, HSC received an additional $562,500 grant to expand and refine the platform, which included adding a list of eight tools and features that read like a business owner’s wish list.

“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,” said Cameron Cushman, HSC assistant vice president of innovation ecosystems. “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.”

Sparkyard 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.

All of 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 newly created dashboard includes a variety of metrics that track the health and progress of Tarrant County’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. 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. 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 version of the Growth Circuit is designed to be interactive and completely self-guided. A digital version of the Growth Circuit was a natural step given the popularity of Sparkyard’s Growth Circuit series. Through a series of filters, the user answers questions that will narrow down what stage of development the company is in, and then narrow it even 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.

If an entrepreneur wants to connect directly to a person, as opposed to using the platform’s digital tools, any user can easily to link to the site’s Spark Plan and request a customized list.

Sparkyard managers also completed the site’s translation into Vietnamese, making the tool 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,” said Marco Johnson, HSC Next’s Sparkyard network builder. “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.”

To learn more about Sparkyard resources, go to www.sparkyard.co. Visit the Sparkyard ecosystem dashboard at https://www.sparkyard.co/dashboard/.

Sparkyard Interactive Growth Circuit: https://circuit.sparkyard.co

Sparkyard site in Vietnamese: https://www.sparkyard.co/vi-viet/

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