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A new frontier for medical innovation – Fort Worth unveils the iter8 Health Innovation Community

Posted Oct. 31, 2019

The new branding for Fort Worth's Medical Innovation District, now known as the 'iter8 Health Innovation Community'.

Fort Worth’s growing medical industry is joining forces with its local entrepreneur community to explore new and exciting frontiers in the medical and biotech industries – all in a location that will provide top talent with a variety of places to live, work, play and collaborate on new health advancements.

This was the overarching message conveyed during a kick-off luncheon at the Woman’s Club of Fort Worth on Tuesday, where partners and community leaders met to discuss the city’s new Medical Innovation District and learn more about what this ambitious project will mean for the region.

The Fort Worth Medical Innovation District – now branded as the iter8 Health Innovation Community – is on course to become the most livable innovation district in the nation, addressing the health needs of the community while also serving as a center for innovation, discovery and creativity.

The district, which is located in Fort Worth’s Near Southside, is also a key element to making the city a hub for innovative businesses – one of the goals of the City of Fort Worth’s Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Collaboration between industries

Hayden Blackburn, executive director of Tech Fort Worth, kicked off the luncheon by showcasing his organization’s work identifying and launching homegrown entrepreneurs. Many of these businesses are already working in the healthcare industry, and are therefore prime candidates to partner with Fort Worth’s medical sector.

Tech Fort Worth has been helping medical innovation and bio-tech entrepreneurs at all levels accelerate their product development, build their startups, prepare for launch, create scalable business models, and match with mentors and investors.

For example, Ampcare – a company that develops therapeutic neuromuscular electrical stimulation technologies – worked with Tech Fort Worth to obtain FDA certification for their Ampcare Effective Swallowing Protocol product. Now they’re selling their product globally, to markets across the United States as well as the United Kingdom, Japan, and Hong Kong.

“Our goal is to bring together audiences of all kinds,” said Blackburn. “From investors to government, from universities to corporations, we want to inspire them to invest their time, interest, and capital in these businesses, and in this community.”

View the PowerPoint from the Tech Fort Worth presentation.

The state of Near Southside

While the geographic location of the iter8 Health Innovation Community is concentrated in Fort Worth’s Near Southside, its boundaries truly extend throughout the entire city to include university campuses, hospitals, biotech firms and businesses throughout the region.

The primary location has much to offer as base of operations for the district, and a comprehensive study analyzing these assets was conducted by Dr. Shima Hamidi, current director of the Center for Transportation Equity, Decisions and Dollars at the University of Texas in Arlington, and soon-to-be Bloomberg Assistant Professor of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Her team explored how the iter8 Health Innovation District could expand the area’s current offerings to set the district up for greater success.

“You can’t beat the location,” said Dr. Hamidi. “The area is close to Downtown, there’s regional connectivity through TEXRail, there’s a unique mix of residential and commercial development and most importantly, there’s many nearby opportunities to ‘live, work and play’, which is the top factor in attracting a creative class to an area.”

However, there are also some challenges to overcome.

While Fort Worth’s Medical District possesses the highest density of medical jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, and is Tarrant County’s second largest employment center with more than 40,000 jobs, more than 60% of these jobs are service-related positions based in hospitals and healthcare. By contrast, most of the jobs in the nation’s other medical districts, such as the Cortex Innovation District in St. Louis, MO, or the Innovation Center in Buffalo, NY, are focused on research and development.

There’s also a need for more physical spaces to foster innovation in the area – labs, incubators, co-working spaces, and shared event facilities. And finally, there’s a need to improve connectivity, biking, and public transit between the business/medical corridors and the more walkable areas around Magnolia Avenue.

Ultimately, the vision of the iter8 Health Innovation Community is to become an inclusive and integrated community of talent, world-class scientists, entrepreneurs, companies and investors in the medical, biotech and healthcare sectors, who will work together to advance groundbreaking research and develop an inclusive system of success that invests in and supports success for all.

Strategic goals for the district include:

  • The creation of a research and innovation park to anchor the district, complete with a bio-business center.
  • Transforming the area into a talent magnet for the medical-tech industry through talent attraction and retention strategies, as well as a local labor empowerment plan to ensure a local, diverse workforce.
  • Increasing physical, social and visual connectivity to the ecosystem through networking and mentorship programs, and making the areas between area medical campuses and amenities/residential areas more walkable and bikeable.

View the complete PowerPoint presentation for the Medical Innovation District’s capacity analysis, growth and vision.

Making space for collaboration and community

Presentations by Gary Toth of Project for Public Spaces and Alex Feldman of U3 Advisors, two nationally recognized economic development and placemaking consulting firms, helped emphasize the importance of making the iter8 Health Innovation Community a place that fits seamlessly into the neighborhoods and community of Near Southside.

Project for Public Spaces has been instrumental in working with Sundance Square, Discovery Green in Houston, and Pearl Brewery in San Antonio to ensure that these areas are more than examples of good design – they’re well-used, well-loved, and embraced by the people who call the area home.

Toth described that the placemaking process that will be used in the creation of the iter8 Health Innovation Community as one that will involve key stakeholders uniting together towards a common vision, and collaborating with underserved communities through partnerships and engagement to address concerns of affordability and displacement long before development begins.

He recommended taking “lighter, quicker, cheaper” actions to generate early wins, build trust, and create excitement to get residents and stakeholders alike invested in the overall vision for the district. He also recommended the creation of a public innovation center that will provide the area with affordable workspace, business startup services, and programs that can give newcomers an opportunity to get connected to all elements of the Health Innovation Community.

View the PowerPoint from the placemaking presentation.

Feldman discussed the importance of anchor districts – districts anchored by universities, hospitals, and other large not-for-profit organizations that help drive the area’s economic engine. A collaboration between multiple anchors can bring a variety of benefits to the district, including population growth and a reduction in housing vacancies.

As an example, Feldman referenced the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, which is anchored by seven hospitals and universities. In 2014, this part of Memphis was facing disinvestment and walkability issues. Additionally, students and local employees were living outside of the district, resulting in long commutes.

By creating quality public spaces, clean and safe streets, and collaborating with local businesses, and offering housing incentives, the Memphis Medical District is now booming – attracting and retaining more residents, reducing daily commutes, and fostering a unique sense of identity for the people who live, work and play in the area.

This vision will help drive the development of Fort Worth’s medical district.

View the Powerpoint from the anchor district presentation.

Introducing the iter8 Health Innovation Community

Finally, Ken Schaefer and his team from Schaefer Advertising presented a new branding and messaging platform, which will help drive engagement and national awareness of the iter8 Health Innovation Community.

The district will be positioned a place where medical ideas can push boundaries, opening new frontiers for health advancements. This identity is supported by the project’s core pillars of collaboration, inspiration and community support; and is characterized by a continual dialogue between the district’s entrepreneurs and its anchor institutions.

The branding will help tie the iter8 Health Innovation Community’s core value of collaboration into the geography itself; as walkability, connectivity, and placemaking will be prioritized in the development of the space. Workforce housing development, transit improvements for commuters, and connectivity between Fort Worth’s districts will truly integrate this innovation district into the heart of the community.

View the PowerPoint from the branding and messaging presentation.

Moving forward

Four launch teams have been created to begin work on different aspects of this initiative, and the following individuals have been named to lead each team.

  • The Anchor Coalition will be championed by Judy Bernas, TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine.
  • Med-Tech Innovation/Commercialization will be championed by Hayden Blackburn, Tech Fort Worth.
  • Places and Spaces will be championed by Mike Brennan, Near Southside, Inc.
  • Marketing will be championed by Ken Schaefer, Schaefer Advertising.

A shorter presentation on the iter8 Health Innovation Community was given during a City Council work session earlier this week, and is available on the city’s website.

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