by Seth Bodine May 21, 2023 4:30 pm
The Dallas Entrepreneurship Center at RedBird is the model for the new Fort Worth Entrepreneurship Center. The DEC is a coworking space with events, mentorship programs, curriculums to support people who want to start a business. (Seth Bodine | Fort Worth Report)
A new center to help support small business owners and startups is coming to Fort Worth in August. The hope is it will lead to new jobs and the creation of new businesses in the city.
Fort Worth is getting assistance from a nonprofit in Dallas that has created the support centers around North Texas for the past 10 years. The Fort Worth Local Development Corporation approved $500,000 over two years to create the Fort Worth Entrepreneurship Center. It will be operated by The DEC Network, a Dallas nonprofit that aims to grow and support new businesses.
The center will be tentatively located at 400 Bryan Ave. in the Near Southside, the same building as Roots Coffee.
The city of Fort Worth has struggled to create businesses in the city when compared to the state’s other large cities. Currently, it lags behind Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio in the amount of businesses created. The city is also trying to revamp its Business Assistance Center.
City officials and small business advocates hope that the new center is another resource to support existing and aspiring business owners and startups.
Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development department director, said he visited the DEC’s center at the RedBird mixed-use development in south Dallas years ago and met with the organization’s CEO, Bill Chinn.
“I kind of went out there and just met with Bill and saw the operations,” Sturns said during a Local Development Corporation meeting in March. “And that was really, I think, our first discussion about … how can we get something like this here in Fort Worth?”
Fort Worth has grown substantially since the Business Assistance Center was established, Sturns said in an interview. It made sense to have one center to support business back then. But with a population that has grown to 935,508 people, there needs to be more support.
“We’ve got to encourage more of these types of operations across the community,” he said. “It’s just going to be critical.”
Trey Bowles, cofounder and former CEO of the DEC Network, said he shared with the city how they have set up centers in the past. Bowles sits on the city’s entrepreneurship and innovation committee, and is a chairman emeritus at the DEC Network.
“I felt like it was important and I’ve been able to build this in different cities and see it be really, really helpful. And the city of Fort Worth wanted to do it,” Bowles said. “I came in and said, hey, I’ll help share how we’ve done this and what we did before. I introduced (the city) to the Fort Worth Entrepreneur Center team, and they thought they would be great to do that.”
He said he will be a paying tenant of the new center as managing director of the Techstars Physical Health Fort Worth Accelerator.
The DEC revolves around a curriculum for starting a business – coaching, community, networking, raising funds and finding new customers for business, Bowles said. The Fort Worth Entrepreneurship Center will host workshops, events, pitch competitions and a network of mentors to assist people who walk through its doors.
People who had offices in the DEC Network in 2022 raised more than $15 million in capital, according to the organization’s latest impact report.
You find those folks that can really accelerate your growth’
The DEC Network Center at RedBird helped Nikki James grow her company, Building Intellect Tutorial Services.
Since starting in 2020, James now runs a business with about 270 employees and works with the Dallas and DeSoto school districts. More hiring is on the books. James expects to grow to more than 400 employees. She said the DEC Network was a go-to resource to help grow the business.
“It’s because I had great mentors that I could call,” James said. “People who have done this before. It makes a difference when you are able to have it right there, kind of laid out.”
Those that want to establish an actual office in the center have to pay. The curriculum around business, mentorship and events are free.
Chinn, the DEC Network’s CEO, said he considers the network a kind of incubator program. But the real magic is the connections people make.
“We don’t have these delusions that our curriculum is going to accelerate every business,” Chinn said. “But what we’ve seen is when we put people in the same walls, in a co-working situation, but also in an event, you find your capital and you find your future partners, you find those folks that can really accelerate your growth.”
Chinn also wants to bring more investment dollars that are vital for businesses that are growing fast. Fort Worth is also behind in the amount of startup dollars raised, forcing some local entrepreneurs to look elsewhere. Chinn wants to bridge the gap for DFW investors to notice startups in Fort Worth.
“There’s some incredibly exciting investment opportunities,” he said. “And for some reason we got people flying from Dallas to San Francisco to go find and deploy their capital. They don’t have to fly to San Francisco. They just need to just drive right down the street.”
‘Entrepreneurs need support all over the place’
Kay West, a FUSE fellow that studied how to boost support for small businesses in Fort Worth, views the DEC as only part of the solution to supporting business in the city. She thinks there still needs to be changes to the Devoyd Jennings Business Assistance Center.
West does say the DEC Network has some skin in the game with engaging diverse communities. But she notes that the location of Fort Worth’s center, Near Southside, may leave some communities out.
“That’s great for a group of people, but certain groups of people don’t necessarily go over there and they may not,” West said. “So what about everybody else? What about the other people who don’t have transportation or don’t even go to the Near Southside?”
Chinn acknowledges that no organization can fill all of the business community’s needs. That’s where collaboration fits in. The Fort Worth Entrepreneurship Center plans to work with other resources and organizations around the city, including those at the Business Assistance Center.
Bowles also mentioned that there’s aspirations for the organization to grow in Fort Worth.
“Entrepreneurs need support all over the place,” Bowles said. “Our hope is that this is the first center of many centers, right, and that there’s no reason to say that the programs can’t leave and be outside of the space.”
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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.