Burleson City Councilwoman and co-founder of Ensemble Coworking, Tamara Payne, sat down with the Innovate Fort Worth team during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2020 to discuss her entrepreneurial adventure and her love for the Fort Worth entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here are some highlights of that discussion.
Before serving on the city council and before starting her coworking space, Tamara went to school to study communications. She worked at a few television stations and then veered into marketing when she decided she wanted to start a family and the stress of working was not making that easy.
“I had a couple of years of a difficult pregnancy and had miscarried twice and I was trying to get pregnant. I knew that if I was going to do this, I needed to not have any stress. And let me tell you, working in television news is stressful! So, I quit working at Fox in 1999 and I got pregnant two months later. I have twin daughters today that are 20. It was the right decision.”
After a business venture with her husband, and some consulting and marketing on the side, Tamara and co-founder, Dawn Shannon, opened the first women-owned coworking space in North Texas – Ensemble.
“At the time when we launched, April 2016, we were the first woman-owned coworking space in North Texas. I am proud to say that, but I am even more proud now to be joined by so many other amazing women who own coworking spaces in North Texas, as well as Texas as a whole. It is typically a male dominated industry from an owner standpoint because they will go at it from a real estate perspective, but then your community managers who are running the spaces tend to be women. Ironically, it turned out being the other way around because I have a male community manager, which was not intended, but he just was the absolute right guy for it.”
There are a lot of wonderful things about coworking spaces, but Ensemble takes that extra step in making the environment feel cozy. A tremendous amount of thought went into making this space a bit less clinical and more relaxed.
“Where do we feel most comfortable? In our own homes, right? What I wanted to create was a place where people could feel connected to one another, and the environment is a part of that. The environment lends to that collaborative feel that we have inside Ensemble. That ‘comfortableness’ that people have with talking about vulnerable things as an entrepreneur. So, I wanted it to be a place that felt homey and felt cozy, and that people felt comfortable in.”
The space is still professional but has a different feel than other coworking spaces. Tamara’s goal was to create an environment that fit the three words the Ensemble team lives by – Connections, Collaboration and Community.
Tamara has played a huge role in the entrepreneurial community in Fort Worth. Along with hosting 1 Million Cups Fort Worth at Ensemble for over a year, she has been involved with startup crawls, been an advocate and presenter at GEW Fort Worth and is a connector and mentor to entrepreneurs.
“I’m passionate about entrepreneurs because I am one. I have been through this multiple times and have started multiple businesses. I have had some I have let go and some I still have. And the thing for me along the way was having mentors and having people that I could talk to. There were times where it was radio silence for years, and I felt very siloed, and it was difficult. So, part of opening Ensemble was about being able to supply a space that allows for people to connect to the resources that they need. I always say it is about resources. Being a part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Fort Worth is about resources. How do I continue to help these people connect to the things that they need?”
There are always obstacles to entrepreneurship and building of an ecosystem. Tamara touched on a couple of those in the Fort Worth area.
“I think it’s still about communication and knowledge. Entrepreneurs do not know that [the resources] are there. Sparkyard is doing really well in trying to get that word out there but again, that is part of being a part of the ecosystem, making sure that I communicate these things to everybody that they have all these opportunities…the more mouthpieces we have out there to say, ‘Hey, did you know about SCORE? Did you know about the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)? Did you know about 1 Million Cups?’ It’s about getting them connected and bringing them in. So, I think we’ve just got to keep talking about it.”
“The other aspect I find lacking in our ecosystem is money. That is the next hardest thing is getting access to capital. And on a smaller scale, I just do not think there are enough organizations out there willing to say, ‘Hey, let us invest in this small entrepreneur and give them $10k to get them off the ground.”
Listen to her podcast episode, The Coworking Candidate, to hear why Tamara decided to run for the Burleson City Council, as well as her unconventional “Welcome to Texas” story.
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