Providing a Safety Net for Fort Worth Entrepreneurs
For twenty years, TechFW has been helping Fort Worth entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Originally formed as Fort Worth MedTech, Inc., the initial focus was solely on medical technology companies. While TechFW’s current clients still include many medical companies, they have been assisting companies from any sector since 2003, as long as the company’s offering is based on some form of proprietary technology.
Early financial support for TechFW came from private sources such as the Sid Richardson and Amon Carter Foundations and from local technology companies such as Alcon Laboratories and RadioShack. In 2012, TechFW helped form Cowtown Angels, a group of investors committed to vetting and backing the most promising of TechFW’s clients. This affiliation has proved to be an invaluable springboard for companies who otherwise might not be able to get their products to market.
TechFW’s history is notable for its successes, but its future is perhaps even more promising. Leading TechFW into that bright future is its newest and youngest executive director, Hayden Blackburn. Originally from the DFW Metroplex, Blackburn earned a degree in business from Texas Tech University and then stayed in Lubbock for a couple of years to work with the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance. Right out of college, it didn’t take Blackburn long to figure out he “like[s] working in small teams and wearing a lot of different hats.”
“Working in small teams and wearing a lot of different hats” should be a prerequisite for the job of executive director of TechFW. The number of clients, investors, projects, and programs Blackburn and his staff of four full- and part-time employees oversee on a daily basis is mind-boggling. Even when you add in a couple of contract employees and interns, the TechFW team’s productivity is extremely impressive.
TechFW facilitates several programs for entrepreneurs, investors, and university students, each designed and managed to bring all three groups together in a mutually beneficial nexus of learning and cooperation. For example, Blackburn points out, “The TCU intern program isn’t just for the students. Yes, it gives them the opportunity to work in an entrepreneurial start-up environment, but it also allows the founders to work with young people to hone their management skills and develop their corporate culture.”
On the investor side of the TCU intern program, the Cowtown Fellows program places students and graduate students with a Cowtown Angel who leads them through the entire process of evaluating a potential investment opportunity with one of TechFW’s client companies. Not only do the students get an unparalleled opportunity to understand how an investor thinks and acts, the investor gets a chance to mentor a young person.
For entrepreneurs, TechFW offers programs that help them in every aspect of their business, from foundational development to corporate culture. For example, Think Lab is a structured 12-week, deep-dive program that helps entrepreneurs validate their technology by identifying who their customer is before developing a path to take their product to market. This gives the entrepreneur enough information to decide whether it makes sense to greenlight their project, make some tweaks, or go back to the drawing board altogether. It is an invaluable tool when considering the amount of both time and money that goes into getting a start-up from concept to reality.
Smart Start, TechFW’s incubation program, “focuses on helping the entrepreneur formalize the business framework necessary for the company to execute its path to market strategies.” Through bi-weekly meetings and mentoring relationships, TechFW clients get access to other company founders. “One of the things that we do is put our clients in direct contact with other founders. Founders helping founders is very powerful. They speak the same language and understand each other.”
At 35, Blackburn has the wisdom and experience to manage the people and programs he has been placed in charge of, as well as the youth and energy to advance TechFW’s already robust offerings. “Over the next two years, my goals are to focus on talent development within the companies we work with. I want to strengthen the process of developing innovators into founders, while at the same time ramping up what we already offer them. Within our university programs, I want to strengthen our commercialization support.” This is TechFW’s method for helping young innovators establish a pathway into the entrepreneur community in North Texas.
Launching a business is often described as one of the most frightening and stressful journeys upon which a person can venture. The reason given for this perception is that when a person starts their own company, they typically have no support. Working without a net is unimaginable to most people. For Fort Worth entrepreneurs, their net is TechFW’s well-designed processes and invaluable people.