A new business accelerator program wants to help make Fort Worth a world leader in the physical health industry and attract young and growing businesses to the area. 

The Fort Worth Techstars Physical Health Accelerator will recruit 10 up-and-coming businesses from around the country to move to Fort Worth for three months to develop and pitch their ideas to investors like venture capitalists, angel investors and foundations.

The program was announced on Feb. 22 at City Council as the city aims to beef up its economic development plan to attract more business to town. 

Council member Leonard Firestone said in a Jan. 2 meeting that Fort Worth needs to act with more urgency to attract businesses. During the Feb. 22 council meeting, he praised the investment from Goff Capital, calling it a great example of the private sector supporting economic growth and innovation. 

“That is really going to put us on the map,” Firestone said. 

The accelerator is funded by $4.8 million in American Rescue Act funds from the city and county and about $10 million from real estate investment firm Goff Capital and The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth over a three-year period. 

“We knew that early-stage funding for local startup companies has been lacking in our city,” Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said in a statement. “And this effort will not only bring more startup funding to our area, but also will serve as a recruiting mechanism to bring the best and brightest minds in physical medicine and rehabilitation to Fort Worth for the accelerator.”   

TechStars has programs all over the world. A few young Austin companies in that program have raised millions to start their business and have based their businesses in the city. LawnStarter, an on-demand lawn care business, went through the program and raised $10 million for the business and is now based in the city. 

However, Austin has more resources for economic development. According to a Fort Worth City Council report, Austin has $10 million to lure companies to relocate, compared to $2 million in Fort Worth. 

Fort Worth has been losing out on the race to bring companies to town. Most recently, electric truck company Rivian was considering a site in west Fort Worth. Despite the state’s $500 million incentive plan, the plant ended up in Georgia. 

Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director, said there’s been innovative companies that have started and established in the city, but many have moved away.

“Unfortunately we haven’t been really good at creating an environment that keeps them here,” Sturns said. 

Sturns said TechStars is a step forward to creating a better place for innovative businesses. 

Cameron Cushman, assistant vice president of innovation ecosystems at the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth, said the lack of an accelerator program in the city to pull in early-stage companies from across the country is a big gap in the community. That’s when he started talking with TechStars to create an iteration of the program in Fort Worth. 

TechStars funds more than 500 startups each year through its programs spread across the country, according to a news release.

The realm of physical health is a good investment because it’s ripe for disruption and is a way bigger industry than some realize, Cushman said. Musculoskeletal disorders are one of the most frequently reported causes of lost work time, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. 

The program creates the opportunity to make Fort Worth a world hub for physical health, something he said is an industry gap, Cushman said. 

“If you get cancer, you go to Houston. If you have heart issues, you go to Cleveland Clinic or maybe Mayo Clinic,” Cushman said. “If you want to innovate in physical therapy, where do you go? There’s really not any city in the U.S., at least that I’m aware of, that kind of owns that market.” 

This is the first time a TechStars program has focused specifically on physical health, said Trey Bowles, managing director of TechStars in Fort Worth. Bowles believes there’s great potential for innovation in the industry by using technology like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Applications for the first cohort of 10 entrepreneurs are open now and will be announced at the beginning of fall, Bowles said. The curriculum will include mentoring to help refine business models, subject expertise and connections to possible customers. 

The entrepreneurs will stay in Fort Worth for three months during the program, but the long-term goal is to keep them in the area, Bowles said.

“What we’re going to have to show people is that they can either find relationships, capital or customers here,” Bowles said. “If we can do that, that will really go a long way in showcasing for a company why they need to be based here. One of the great things about entrepreneurs is that entrepreneurs will go where opportunity exists.”

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

Disclosure: Cameron Cushman is on Fort Worth Report’s Advisory Council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....

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