New funding to enhance Sparkyard’s ability to support Fort Worth startups and entrepreneurs
The University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) received a $450,000 grant for Sparkyard, a collaborative platform that supports Fort Worth entrepreneurs and startups. Grant funds will significantly expand the initiative’s ability to connect new business owners to resources they need to launch and grow their companies. HSC will match the grant with an additional $112,500 in the project.
The combined investment in Sparkyard of $562,500 by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) and HSC comes at a critical time for Fort Worth. Entrepreneurship has proven to be one of the fastest, most equitable, and most sustainable ways to rebuild the economy after a downturn, such as that caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The EDA funds are part of the CARES Act Recovery Assistance, which provides a wide range of financial assistance to communities and regions as they respond to and recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
“Sparkyard is thrilled to embark on new initiatives to help Fort Worth and Tarrant County build back our economy stronger with financial support from EDA,” said Marco Johnson, Sparkyard Network Builder at HSC. “This funding will help us expand our impact and help us reach even more entrepreneurs who’ll be bringing exciting new ideas and products to market.”
Sparkyard is a collaboration founded by HSC, the City of Fort Worth and the Texas Christian University Neeley School of Business. The free platform is designed to break down silos and build an entrepreneurial ecosystem with highly-networked resources.
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, and more. The funding will be used to expand services and introduce new ones that will help ignite entrepreneurship in our area. New initiatives to be funded by the EDA and HSC and rolled out over the next two years include:
- Pilot Expansion: Introduce Sparkyard into one additional entrepreneurial community in Texas. Sparkyard’s success in Fort Worth has created a demand for the platform elsewhere in the state.
- Develop Ecosystem Dashboard: The dashboard will help policymakers and other stakeholders prescribe solutions to address ecosystem weaknesses by developing a custom set of key indicators to judge overall health and progress.
- Build Cofounder Pairing Tool: This digital resource will connect first-time entrepreneurs with seasoned business owners. First timers perform exponentially better when they work with a seasoned entrepreneur or when their co-founder fills in talent gaps.
- Build a Regional Startup Jobs Board: This tool will create a digital jobs board specifically for young companies that are looking to hire local talent.
- Translation of Sparkyard.co to Spanish and Vietnamese: These are the second and third most commonly spoken languages spoken in Tarrant County. Data reveals that these groups start businesses at a higher rate than the national average.
“The resources that Sparkyard provides are critical to the recovery of DFW’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in light of the pandemic,” said Economic Development Director Robert Sturns. “We’re proud to continue to sponsor them, and are excited to see the additional impact they’ll make on the region’s small business and startup communities with this funding.”
Sparkyard published a 2020 Jobs Report showing that startups play a significant role in job creation in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, with firms 0-1 years old accounting for almost 10% of new jobs created in 2018. In all, new firms created 25,157 jobs in Tarrant County in 2018.
“The Neeley School of Business at TCU is committed to unleashing human potential with leadership at the core and innovation in our spirit,” notes Daniel Pullin, the John V. Roach Dean of the Neeley School, “Our partnership with Sparkyard is critical to our role of becoming a leader in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in Fort Worth and well beyond.”
It is widely understood that the most effective way of supporting rapid economic recovery is by supporting local small businesses and startups, particularly those with a focus on innovation. Regardless of the type, new businesses account for nearly all new net job creation. At the same time, research shows that half of current Fortune 500 companies were launched during a recession indicating that economic recessions are a great time to launch new ventures. The investment by EDA and HSC will help Sparkyard meet the evolving needs of entrepreneurs and business owners while helping attract more would-be entrepreneurs to pursue the challenge and excitement of launching a new business.