The Dallas State of Entrepreneurship (SOE) event – expertly organized and hosted by The DEC Network – reigns as one of the most exciting and raucous celebrations of entrepreneurship in the DFW area, and 2021 was no different. Adding to the excitement is the fact that this was the first year that representatives from Fort Worth were invited to give an overview of all the cool stuff happening in our local ecosystem. This was also the first in-person event for most attendees since the onset of the pandemic. Duty called and Sparkyard rose to the occasion. It’s not every day that we get to show off our Funkytown pride to our friends on the other side of 360.
I’ve lived in Fort Worth for three years, and I can attest to the fact that the rivalry between our two cities is real (especially for Fort Worthians). Do I fully understand it? Nope. Do I think it’s kind of ridiculous? Absolutely, because we are two different cities that actually complement each other well. Does the rivalry create an opportunity around which we could craft our presentation? Darn tootin’. So, we leaned into our “younger, misunderstood sibling” status and got busy.
We used the SOE to educate our Dallas friends on how Fort Worth came by the name Panther City. If you don’t know the story, I’ll briefly recount it. Legend has it that sometime in the early 20th century a panther got loose from the Fort Worth Zoo and was roaming around the city. A Dallas city newspaper picked up the story and mentioned the wayward panther, but stressed it wasn’t a big concern because Fort Worth was so sleepy, that a panther could walk down the middle of downtown and not a single person would be there to see it. Fort Worth’s most famous benefactor and media mogul of the time – Amon G. Carter – happily adopted the nickname “Panther City” and it has stuck ever since. In putting together the information for the SOE presentation on the wins of our local entrepreneurs, it became clear that Fort Worth has moved beyond the image of a sleepy town and is in fact growing into a hub of entrepreneurial activity.
We kicked off the presentation by showing just how important entrepreneurship is to economic development in Tarrant County by referencing our 2020 Jobs Report and the fact that over 25,000 jobs are created each and every year by firms 0-1 year old.
That is a powerful stat that we want everyone to know and memorize because it shows the huge impact of entrepreneurs on our economy. More than 25,000 jobs are being created by entrepreneurs in Tarrant County every year without any sort of organized strategy. We crunched the data over a five-year period (2013 – 2018) and found that this was consistently true. Imagine what kind of economic impact we could generate by gathering key stakeholders and educating others on the power of entrepreneurship – we could see an explosion of new ideas and companies.
For a deeper dive on the 2020 Jobs Report, check out our previous blog here.
Most people inside and outside Fort Worth don’t think of our city as a biotech hub. But consider the fact that we’ve seen five big – and I’m talking BIG – biotech exists in as many years between 2015 – 2020, starting with the sale of ZS Pharma to AstraZeneca for $2.7 billion all the way up to the sale of Eyevance for $225 million last year.
All told, the value of exits for these companies totaled at least $3.5 billion (HPS sold for an undisclosed amount in 2018). Kudos to TechFW and the UNT Health Science Center, both of which worked with all these companies in some way and are currently helping the next generation of innovative biotech startups.
Funky on Main Street
Funkytown boasts an impressive cadre of creative Main Street brick-and-mortar companies that were launched by creative local entrepreneurs. We wanted to feature a local startup legend who is so well respected for his success as a serial entrepreneur that he was given his own show where he interviews other entrepreneurs about the cool things they’re doing.
We’re talking of course about Jonathan Morris, well known for launching the coolest barber shop in the city as well as his upcoming boutique hotel across from Dickies Arena. He is also launching his own show called Self Employed on the Magnolia Network started by Chip & Joanna Gaines (known for their hit HGTV show Fixer Upper). The first season features Jonathan’s interviews with Fort Worth creative entrepreneurs who are responding to local challenges and creating businesses that add to the funk of Funkyown.
Building the Ecosystem of the Future
Up to this point the presentation focused on the past and the present, so we decided to close by focusing on the future and our efforts to build a startup ecosystem that is highly networked, well-provisioned, inclusive, and innovative. The platform we’ve chosen to advance these objectives locally is Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is active in 180 countries and engages millions of people through thousands of events worldwide.
A loose band of misfit volunteers revived GEW in Fort Worth (GEW FW) in 2018 and 2020 was set to be our biggest yet until Covid-19 forced a change in plans. Like any good group of innovators, we pivoted to a fully virtual platform, which created opportunities we’d never dreamed of before. Thanks to our dedicated volunteer organizing committee and over 40 community partners (who are responsible for organizing and running all the sessions), GEW FW was the largest GEW event in the entire US, boasting virtual attendees from 28 states and 46 countries with sessions in three languages. The organizing team is already planning for 2021 so mark your calendars for GEW FW 2021 November 8 – 14. We truly believe that this celebration of local companies and entrepreneurs could one day rival Austin’s SXSW festival.
You can read a more in-depth blog of GEW FW 2020 here.
It was an honor to show off Panther City’s finest to our friends and Dallas and as our presentation made clear, the Panther is awake and roaring. We hope to return next year with another set of stellar updates.
Want to get involved? Reach out to us at email@example.com
About the Author
Marco Johnson is the Sparkyard Network Builder, a position funded by the UNTHSC. He is a Fort Worth resident and Global Citizen whose professional journey has led him to exotic, faraway locations including Eastern Europe, Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the planet Neptune to name a few. He is skilled in entrepreneurial ecosystem building, impact investing, international agricultural development, private equity finance, and fine-tuning Weber carburetors. He is a Virgo and his spirit animal is a Tesla coil. All thoughts, views, and comments are his own and do not reflect the thoughts, views, or comments of The University of North Texas Health Science Center.