Entrepreneurs in Fort Worth are about to have a digital one-stop shop to provide them with the right resources at the right time in their business development.
The initiative is called Sparkyard, a name that derives from combining that innovative “spark” of an idea with the lineage of the Fort Worth Stockyards — one of the first industries that helped establish Fort Worth as a city.
But while the concept pays homage to Fort Worth’s Western heritage, Marco Johnson, network builder for Sparkyard, said the platform is all about helping Fort Worth — and its community of small businesses and entrepreneurs — grow into its new identity as the 13th largest in the country.
“It’s no longer adequate to rely on the identity of Fort Worth as the ‘City of Cowboys and Culture,’” Johnson said. “We have a very diverse population — ‘Cowboys and Culture’ doesn’t resonate with everybody. We’re collectively trying to figure out as a community who are we, and I think Sparkyard will be a valuable tool that helps us take a look at who we are, what we have locally, and — maybe even aspirationally — what are we trying to be?”
The spark that will light the fire
The primary purpose of Sparkyard is to help entrepreneurs sort out the often-confusing collection of local resources available to help them locate funding, scale up production or even launch their business. In fact, Sparkyard’s foundation — the Sourcelink platform — was developed in Kansas City to solve a similar problem: local entrepreneurs needed help navigating the area’s multitude of resources, and those resources needed help connecting to each other.
“There are gaps in our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Johnson said. “As an entrepreneur standing on the outside, it can all seem a bit fragmented. They don’t always know where to go to access the resources, who the resource providers are or what they’re offering. With Sparkyard, we’re trying to create a comprehensive experience so that people can understand what’s out there and how to access it.”
The tools that Sparkyard provides are primarily digital, and include a resource navigator, a referral mechanism, a comprehensive community calendar and basic background information on topics like how to register a business, funding, hiring employees and more.
However, there are offline components for those who are less tech-savvy — Sparkyard has a telephone helpline available at 682-351-2563, and will soon be hosting office hours for entrepreneurs hoping to talk things over in person.
More functionality will be added soon, and one element that Johnson is particularly excited about is the ability to collect data on Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial community.
“The reality is that we don’t have a very good understanding of the nature of our entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Fort Worth,” Johnson said. “How many entrepreneurs are there? How many different industries are they working in? What are their needs? Where are they excelling? None of that information is known right now, and by starting to collect this kind of data, we’ll be able to start producing baseline reports that can help give us a solid foundation to build upon.”
Ready for launch
For those looking to celebrate Sparkyard’s official launch during Global Entrepreneurship Week (Nov. 14-22), the launch party will kick off from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 at the IREB Building on the UNT Health Science Center campus. Admission is free, and registration is available online.
Additionally, podcast listeners can download a recent episode of the Innovate Fort Worth podcast through their preferred provider to hear Johnson discuss Sparkyard with Cameron Cushman at the UNT Health Science Center.
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