After four years of successful implementation, HSC Next is handing over operations of its Sparkyard platform to Tamara Payne, CEO and cofounder of Ensemble Coworking, a trusted partner in the Fort Worth entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The move will allow Sparkyard, a free, one-stop collaborative platform for entrepreneurs and business owners, to grow in ways it could not as part of an academic institution. HSC Next is the innovation wing of The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, and Ensemble Coworking is a mission-driven collaborative business community and coworking space located in Fort Worth’s Near Southside.
“Connecting entrepreneurs to the resources they need to build a thriving and sustainable business is at the core of who I am and is part of the mission of Ensemble,” Payne said. “It’s a privilege to usher Sparkyard into its next phase.”
SourceLink, based in Kansas City, Mo., will continue to support the platform. HSC is not selling Sparkyard, but rather transferring the license and assets to an organization that can assume its operating costs and successfully take it to the next stage.
“This is the next logical step for Sparkyard,” said Cameron Cushman, associate vice president of Innovation Ecosystems at HSC Next. “Our department has invested a lot of time and funding into Sparkyard during the last four years, and we believe it can achieve even greater success if it is run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Few local entrepreneurs understand the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as Tamara Payne.”
Payne has worked for years to develop the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. She has the twin advantages of being an entrepreneur herself and a resource provider to other entrepreneurs and business owners, giving her a holistic perspective in understanding their needs. She will continue to be involved with Ensemble Coworking as she manages Sparkyard.
Payne competed against other applicants interested in taking over Sparkyard, but ultimately her entrepreneurial experience and standing in the community made her the optimal choice, according to a selection committee organized by HSC Next and comprised of fellow entrepreneurs and resource providers.
HSC Next will begin the handover this month and expects it to be completed in the spring.
Marco Johnson, who is currently the Sparkyard network builder at HSC Next, will work one-on-one with Payne to get her up to speed on the platform’s operations, with Payne taking over more responsibility as the handover progresses. Johnson and Cushman will maintain a presence on Sparkyard’s advisory council to help ensure continuity of service and to provide support on matters both strategic and practical. Their presence on the advisory council will gradually reduce over the next two to three years.
“Tamara’s ideas and vision for Sparkyard are really exciting, and I know Sparkyard – and all our entrepreneur and resource partner clients – will be in good hands,” Johnson said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed running the platform during the last few years. Helping guide local entrepreneurs to resources has really helped me understand the joys and challenges of being a business owner.”
Sparkyard will remain a free service that connects entrepreneurs and business owners to the right resource at the right time to launch and grow their companies. Payne will continue Sparkyard’s role of meeting entrepreneurs where they are and breaking down the barriers between entrepreneurial resource providers.
When HSC launched Sparkyard in November 2019, its ambitious goal to spur economic growth by connecting companies to the right resources promised to fill a much-needed gap in Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Since its launch, the platform has added and refined tools, been translated into Spanish and Vietnamese, and helped countless visionary founders achieve their goals.
“Sparkyard has been a great tool to help connect new entrepreneurs with existing resources and local experts in the DFW area, and we greatly appreciate all the work that HSC Next has invested in making the platform what it is today,” said Robert Sturns, economic development director for the City of Fort Worth. “Looking ahead, Tamara is a longtime advocate for Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we look forward to seeing Sparkyard grow even more under her stewardship.”
HSC Next, the City of Fort Worth’s economic development department and the TCU Neeley School of Business have supported Sparkyard since its inception four years ago as the initiative’s founding sponsors. Payne also recruited the Better Business Bureau, which is pledging $7,500 a year and is acting as a fiscal sponsor to support Sparkyard in its next phase. Payne will continue to fundraise to help cover Sparkyard’s operating costs.
Other efforts include continued recruitment of local entrepreneurial resource partners to the platform and developing new services to expand the platform’s reach.
The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth is located in the heart of the Fort Worth Cultural District. HSC trains the health providers and scientists of the future in an interprofessional ecosystem. In HSC’s six schools, students learn to work in teams and to develop an innovative mindset that prepares them for a rapidly changing health landscape. HSC Health, the clinical enterprise of the Health Science Center, provides patient-centered care to people across Tarrant County. HSC’s research enterprise provides a foundation to expand the frontiers of scientific discovery to improve health and well-being.