Fort Worth’s goal to be a business-friendly city starts with educating owners, helping them grow and run their companies, and supporting them through all stages.
“Two things determine whether a business can get off the ground successfully and sustainably: 1) a validated market opportunity with customers willing to pay for a product or a service; and 2) a product or service that addresses such an opportunity.” In a recent article in Entrepreneurship magazine, Sramana Mitra, founder at One Million by One Million (1M/1M) blog, stated that the “benchmark that business incubators should be measuring themselves against is simply their success in doing this.”
Charles D’Agostino, executive director of the Louisiana Business & Technology Center at Louisiana State University and LSU Innovation Park, stated: “Incubators do work, but they must be more than a real estate entity offering executive suite services. Effective incubators provide business counseling and management assistance to their client firms. The value-added business services differentiate them from an office suite.” He added that incubators “must evaluate the management capability of the entrepreneurs and assist in finding – and developing — management for these companies.”
These were just the subjects of the governing board of IDEA Works FW, Fort Worth’s multi-industry, small-business incubator, during its annual meeting on Jan. 25 and part of the research of the board’s executive committee members – subject matter experts in small-business incubation.
A 2015 TNW Insider article by Vanessa Butz stated, “If global innovation through entrepreneurship is the goal, incubator and accelerator programs, just like startups, need to learn from failure, iterate and iterate fast to continuously improve existing models so that they fit their local target market to provide the best possible support systems” and “accelerators and incubators need to recognize and embrace the environments in which they are acting.”
With this research and discussion as a backdrop, at the board’s annual meeting some significant decisions were made relative to the Fort Worth incubator’s next stage of development.
1. Co-working Space: There are a growing number of co-working spaces locally, such as the well-run Ensemble Coworking just two miles away. The co-working space at IDEA Works is envisioned to be re-purposed as an outlet for those small-business owners who meet the criteria, growth focused, with a product or service that clients or customers are willing to pay for, and that need from IDEA Works, as D’Agostino said, “to develop management capabilitie.”
2. Client Member Profile: Growth for IDEA Works will be defined in the future by admitting client members who clear the hurdles of an application process where federal tax records are provided and clearly defined exit outcomes are established, such as bankable at exit. Growth will be aided through monitored resource assistance from the paid staff at the incubator. As with many start-up entities, IDEA Works has experimented since launching three years ago, with some clients who were there because they needed space and could pay. Future clients are envisioned to have, at least, two full-time, dedicated staff.
3. The Competitive Differentiator: The key differentiator of IDEA Works will be the resources it makes available to clients, which will be two-fold. The first resource will be access to a growing number of community individuals and professional services firms willing to serve as coaches and mentors.
The second resource will be a focus on training, program curriculum and delivery systems that 1) developing management talent and 2) validate client products and revenues through increases in client revenues. In other words, the incubation time serves to educate entrepreneurs on what they need to know to have sustainable growth.
The programming efforts will be led by the new programming chairman of IDEA Works governing board, Eve Richey, chief digital officer at Haggar. Richey’s programming committee is rounded out by these fellow board members: Mershelle Davis with Lockheed Martin, Tamela Thornton with ESmith Legacy Holdings, Chris Botvidson of Ascend Concepts and Marc Richards of CBIZ Valuation Group.
In developing its new model of training and experiential learning for IDEA Works clients, the programming committee will work closely with Fort Worth Business Assistance Center and the Tarrant Small Business Development Center and local educational institutions. For IDEA Works clients who are not physically located in IDEA Works at 600 E. Rosedale St., the curriculum will be a blended model of virtual and live learning focused on how to develop the owner as both a leader and a high-impact manager.
4. Mutually Beneficial Strategic Alliances. How might the assets found at IDEA Works and others at the Guinn Complex be leveraged and collaborated with other organizations having comparable economic development goals that spring from growing sustainable small businesses? The first target groups that IDEA Works leaders plan to explore are with local educational institutions and co-working spaces. Fort Worth’s goal to be a business-friendly city starts with educating owners, helping them grow and run their companies, and supporting them through all stages.
Ed Riefenstahl is the director of experiential learning in Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business’ MBA Program. He is a former director in Ernst & Young’s entrepreneurial services practice and a Global Alliance director for KPMG Consulting. He and his spouse, Valerie, founded The Alternative Board in Fort Worth. He serves on the board of directors of the Fort Worth BAC Education Foundation. e.riefenstahl @tcu.edu