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Robert Francis: We ain’t Silicon Valley, but we’re making progress

🕐 5 min read

We’re not Silicon Valley. We don’t really have that many valleys, for one thing, but we also don’t have technology behemoths like Apple, Facebook and Twitter.

We’re not Austin either. We don’t have Dell or AMD. Or a one coffee shop per person ratio. Yet.

We don’t have a massive influx of venture capital to fund new ideas and start-ups. We could use that.

But you know what? We’re making some progress. It’s not as fast any really anyone would like. I can’t even say it’s a “scene” yet. But something is happening here that wasn’t here 10-20  years ago.

Cowtown Angels, anyone?

This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week Fort Worth and we’re getting a look – mostly virtually – at some of the start-up businesses and new ventures taking place in Fort Worth. There are over 80 events this week, so head over to www.gewfortworth.com/ for a look and a listen. I think you’ll be impressed.  

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, we got news of a report about how many jobs start-ups in Fort Worth have created. The impact of start-up businesses on job creation in Fort Worth is substantial, according to the report, and in five years new businesses created more than three times the new jobs that the much-vaunted Amazon HQ2 relocation was projected to bring to the area.

Those are just a few of the key findings from new research released by Sparkyard, a free resource to connect entrepreneurs to resources in the area. The research was funded by The University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) at Fort Worth.

The Fall 2020 Jobs Report says that new companies — defined as businesses zero to 1 year old — created 25,157 jobs in 2018 and more than 25,000 jobs in Tarrant County every year from 2013 to 2018. In total, start-ups created 155,307 new jobs from 2013 to 2018, more than three times as many jobs as the aforementioned Amazon HQ2 relocation was projected to bring to the area.

The jobs report could be key to keeping elected officials and economic development groups aware of how much impact start-ups have on the local economy.

In 2019, Amazon was getting city and economic development officials all hot and bothered over bringing thousands of jobs with a second headquarters. The point of this report is, why expend so much economic and personal capital to attract outside companies when the impact of a homegrown company can be even stronger in many cases.

On Monday, Mayor Betsy Price said a new higher education project is taking shape in the central business district. That could have a major impact on the city in attracting new business and – perhaps more importantly – help grow the entrepreneurial segment of our economy.

Here’s an example from Hayden Blackburn, executive director of TechFW on how Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem can work:

Take, for example, the journey of Encore Vision. This story is one of my favorites as it displays  the network effect and the outcomes of all the pieces coming together.

The story of Encore Vision includes … university wet lab space and Phase One trials at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, tech incubation at TechFW, investments from members of Cowtown Angels and an acquisition from Novartis.

The outcome of being acquired by Novartis for $365 million in December 2016 is a giant headline grabbing story, but only half the story. The other major outcome was the creation of Fort Worth’s first venture capital firm, Bios Partners, when science and business came together at Cowtown Angels and members placed their bet on Encore Vision. The launch of Bios Partners put Fort Worth on the map for every therapeutics company across the flyover states.

That’s starting to happen more and more in Fort Worth.

Last week, at our Top 100 event, we honored two entrepreneurs who are pursuing vastly different entrepreneurial roadmaps.

There was Brad Hunstable, CEO of Linear Labs, the Top Private Company CEO of the Year. Linear Labs is building an innovative electric motor here in Fort Worth. Then there was Jonathan Morris, owner of the Fort Worth Barber Shop, who is also part of a team developing a boutique hotel and will host a show on start-ups on the Magnolia Network.

Stay tuned. You’re going to hear more news this week on ideas that will form the Fort Worth of the future. It may be closer than you think.

So here’s how we Texans used to be entrepreneurs:

Bubba and Billy Bob are walking down the street in New York. They see a sign on a store window that reads: “Suits $5.00 each, Shirts $2.00 each, trousers $2.50 each.” 

“Woo wee,” says Bubba to his pal. “We got an opportunity here!”

Billy Bob says, “Yeah, we can buy a bunch of them suits, take ‘em back to Texas and sell ‘em for 2,3,4 times that price!”

“Like shootin’ fish in a barrel!” says Bubba.

“Look,” Billy Bob says, “I don’t have as much of an accent as you, so let me do the talkin’ so they don’t think we’re ignorant hicks from San Angelo.”

Bubba agrees and they go in.

Billy Bob  says to the owner of the shop: “I’ll take 50 of them suits at $5 each, 100 of them there shirts at $2 each, 50 pairs of them there trousers at $2.50 each …”

The shop owner interrupts: “You are from Texas aren’t you?”

“Well … yeah,” says Billy Bob. “How’d you know?”

“Because this is a dry cleaner.”

We’re better than that now.

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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