Business Assistance Center: IDEA Works provides startups with resources for growth


IDEA Works

Hayden Blackburn

600 E. Rosedale St.

Fort Worth 76104

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Last month, I provided an overview of the entities that make up the Guinn Campus, one of Fort Worth’s best kept economic development secrets. (Fort Worth Business Press, Sept. 12-18, 2016) This is the second in a series of articles on what takes place in those three buildings at the corner of East Rosedale Street and Interstate 35W access road. This month, I focus on IDEA Works FW, a multi-industry incubator and newest resident to the campus.

About four years ago, Hayden Blackburn approached the City of Fort Worth’s then-economic development director, Jay Chapa, about the opportunity to create some form of incubator in the empty building on the Guinn Campus facing East Rosedale. That triggered a conversation by Chapa with the BAC Education Foundation Board of Directors, where Chapa put forward the idea of that board to create something special. That was all that was needed to spark a small group of board members to get together with small business development consultant Blackburn, Jan Norton, an angle investor and mentor, and Bruce Raben, a marketing consultant, to launch IDEA Works FW in the fall of 2013. Various concepts were considered. For example, should we have a focus that ties to some local needs: with the closing of the city’s International Center, an international focus? Should we look to support local industry strengths (aviation, defense, logistics, transportation, health care and energy)? After numerous meetings that included leaders and interested parties, the board’s work group settled on a multi-industry focus for businesses that are considered Stage 1 – emerging businesses that are beyond start-up and have recurring revenue stream and between 2 and 9 employees.

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The work group also decided on a mission statement that was approved by the BAC Education Foundation Board. The mission of IDEA Works FW is to provide emerging businesses with nurturing relationships, state-of-the-art tools, meaningful programs and workshops, an attractive and secure work environment, best practices and access to global resources to enable client members to sustain and scale their enterprises. The vision of IDEA Works is to be THE recognized builder of sustainable businesses in the communities it serves.

Norton subsequently became a board member of the BAC Education Foundation and Blackburn was hired in the fall of 2013 as its first and only director.

There is a difference between a business “incubator” and a business “accelerator.” Most people tend to agree that an accelerator is typically a for-profit entity that works with a start-up or Stage 1 business for a short and specific period of time, such as a few months. The accelerator usually infuses a small amount of capital and receives a small amount of equity for its capital and counsel. The clients of an incubator are in for a longer period of time, typically 12 to 24 months, where certain objectives and levels of business maturation are attained. Incubators are typically nonprofit entities that are either totally or partially funded through various forms of private-public partnerships (state, city, universities, etc.). They do not typically provide capital directly to the incubator client and therefore typically do not have an equity position in the business client.

The board’s work group decided that prospective clients at IDEA Works apply and go through a screening process. Screening criteria used for potential acceptance into IDEA Works are: 1) potential for employment growth, 2) capacity to innovate, 3) potential for additional investment, 4) a community or civic interest and 5) the potential to catalyze other employment or economic growth that feeds into or off the business.

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If accepted into IDEA Works FW as a client, the business receives space at IDEA Works and a customized curriculum and training to “graduate” out within two years. Prospective clients who would be screened out are those that 1) have some legal liability, 2) lack openness and/or the ability to collaborate, 3) have current needs that don’t match what IDEA Works offers, 4) have an illegal enterprise or operate in a questionable industry and 5) do not have an interest in growing and therefore increasing and developing human capital.

The board’s work group also decided that there needed to be an entrepreneur-in-residence for accepted clients. The entrepreneur-in-residence would receive space at IDEA Works at a reduced rent in exchange for mentoring and coaching new clients accepted into IDEA Works. After considering various applicants, the work group decided on Technology Team and the owners, Allen Spinner and Sherry Green. They both had experienced another incubator concept as a client resident and had also previously shown themselves to be business owners willing to assist and invest time and resources to educate prospective business owners at the Business Assistance Center.

The initial clients in IDEA Works FW were all on-site residents. In a few months affiliate clients and collaboration clients were added to IDEA Works’ portfolio of client types. (More on these next month.)

So what services and resources does an accepted IDEA Works client receive?

1. Coaching and Mentoring: This is provided by the incubator’s director, the entrepreneur-in-residence and members of the advisory council. Advisory council members consist of trusted, vetted advisers in law, human resources, finance, marketing, sales, operations, etc. They participate in various events monthly and meet formally with clients every quarter. A formal mentor-mentee program is under development.

2. Tools and Assessments: IDEA Works FW uses the Growth Wheel model in working with its clients. Growth Wheel comprises 20 aspects of business ownership and leadership that all businesses must consider. Growth Wheel sessions with incubator clients are focused on one or some of the 20 areas on a regular meeting schedule. Another tool is the Business Model Canvas, nine building blocks that together create the overall “canvas” for an individual business and business model.

3. Programming and Events: IDEA Works FW provides many ways for its clients to engage, share and grow. The first Monday of every month there is a highly recommended entrepreneur roundtable.

The agenda includes a discussion on a business read of the month. Speakers each month discuss topics with an access focus, such as access to capital, talent, information, design thinking and mentoring. And every Wednesday from 9-10 a.m., IDEA Works hosts 1 Million Cups, a program started by the Kauffman Foundation. Clients and entrepreneurs gather to hear two, six-minute presentations, each followed by 20 minutes of feedback and questioning.

4. Networking: The management of IDEA Works FW, led by Hayden Blackburn, provides regular mixers for the members, the members and the advisory council, and the members with other resources on the Guinn Campus.

(Next month I will focus on some of the client graduates and current clients and tell business owners how they can become affiliate or collaboration members. In the interim, for a tour or to learn how you can become involved as an advisory council member or prospective IDEA Works client, contact Hayden Blackburn at or at 817-569-6869.)

Ed Riefenstahl is a former director in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Services practice, a co-founder of LaBodega Winery and co-founder of The Alternative Board of Fort Worth, and has coached or consulted with over 100 business owners. He is the director of Experiential Learning in the Texas Christian University Neeley MBA Program, where he co-founded Neeley & Associates Consultants.