Fort Worth is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, but some community leaders are concerned the city’s entrepreneurial growth is not keeping pace with its population.
A new white paper from Sparkyard outlines recommendations for how Fort Worth can invest more in becoming a hub for start-ups.
Cameron Cushman, the assistant vice president of innovation ecosystem at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, led the creation of the report. A white paper is a document used to present government policies or legislation and gauge public reaction to a particular solution, product or service.
Once he realized the city was behind others of a similar size in some entrepreneurship metrics, he wondered how the city could change course, Cushman said. He wants the report to serve as a jumping-off point for community conversations and believes the city should take more responsibility in bolstering entrepreneurship.
The report urges the city to shift to a customer service mindset with getting new businesses started.
“If you want to support the mom-and-pop shops, the small restaurants, you have to shift the burden to help companies get open as quickly and efficiently as possible while maintaining standards and code,” Cushman said.
The city should invest more in small businesses because of the number of jobs they create, according to the report. New companies (zero to 1 years old) accounted for 25,776 jobs in Fort Worth from 2015 to 2020, according to the Texas Secretary of State Office.
Fort Worth’s economic development director, Robert Sturns, agrees with the report’s thesis, although he wishes there had been more conversation between Sparkyard and the city before the report’s publication.
“If we had an economic development project creating 25,000 jobs, we would be all over it,” Sturns said. “We need to have that same type of enthusiasm for our small business owners.”
Fort Worth lagged behind other major Texas cities in new company formation from 2015 to 2020. Austin had 222,183 new companies formed, Houston had 140,655, Dallas had 112,507 and San Antonio had 46,910.
As the 12th-largest city in the nation, Fort Worth ranked 40th in capital raised from local, early-stage companies. The city raised $17 million. The amount of capital raised was closer to the nation’s 32nd (Albuquerque) and 40th (Omaha) largest cities. The 11th-largest city, Austin, saw $673 million in capital raised.
Fort Worth’s issue of early-stage capital raised is a “chicken-and-the-egg” situation, Sturns said. There is a direct correlation between the amount of money in venture capital and new company formation, he said.
“If we can get investors interested in Fort Worth to raise that profile, I think that would help,” Sturns said. “We’ve had some success (…) We need more venture capitalists to think of Fort Worth as an opportunity. But do they come because they see a market or does the market develop and that attracts venture capitalists? I think we need to approach from both aspects to see how it would work.”
To improve the city’s entrepreneurial standing, the white paper suggests the following actions, among others:
- Invest in coders and developers
- Hire a Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Entrepreneurial Officer
- Streamline the permitting process to reduce barriers to starting a business
- Increase support for Global Entrepreneurship Week
- Establish a center for new company formation
- Start a seed accelerator program
- Diversify resources for businesses, starting new programs and ending unnecessary ones
- Create new investment funds to match investments
- Establish a mentor program for entrepreneurs
None of the suggestions in the report are out of the realm of discussion, Sturns said. Some of the recommendations are actions the city has already been looking into, such as a seed accelerator program, hiring a chief innovation officer, and overall revamping incentives for start-ups.
“The permitting process is something we’ve been talking about for a while, and we’ve instituted a new system in the past year to address some concerns we were hearing from small businesses,” Sturns said. “And we’ve long been a sponsor of Global Entrepreneurship Week. But I think there’s a real opportunity to make that a larger event.”
Although Cushman believes the responsibility falls on the city to foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem, Sturns said he has told Cushman he doesn’t believe the city should take a “top-down” approach in boosting growth.
“Entrepreneurship ecosystem development isn’t something the city itself should lead,” Sturns said. “It’s something the entrepreneurs should lead, and the city is there in a support role, providing opportunities and funding when it calls for that.”
Regardless, Sturns said, the report is a good point for discussion and helps the city understand what entrepreneurs want.
Darlisa Diltz is the managing director for North Texas Entrepreneur, a company that started in 2018 with the goal of educating and training entrepreneurs. Diltz was one individual Cushman consulted with during the creation of the white paper.
Diltz has been concerned with the same resources being highlighted again and again, she said. She hopes the city can invest more in a variety of resources for entrepreneurs, particularly those in underserved, nontraditional entrepreneurial communities.
Boosting growth ”is big picture and a hierarchy of needs comes into play when you’re trying to revamp a whole community,” Diltz said. “I feel if a paper of this magnitude is going to come out, there needs to be a continuous conversation and direct focus. The white paper is great and (Cushman) really took the initiative to get it out there.”
Cameron Cushman is on the Fort Worth Report Reader Advisory Council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our advisers, board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.