TECH Fort Worth spurring industry growth

Budding business owners get practical help through a public-private partnership between the City of Fort Worth, the Neeley Entrepreneurship Center and others.

TECH Fort Worth spurring industry growth

TECH Fort Worth spurring industry growth

Budding business owners get practical help through a public-private partnership between the City of Fort Worth, the Neeley Entrepreneurship Center and others.

The idea factory is just off I-35, south of downtown. There, in an old red-brick schoolhouse, entrepreneurial new businesses are explored and launched in an innovative partnership called TECH Fort Worth.

The building is filled with researchers, business professionals and TCU business students who are taking their ideas, testing their plans and launching fledgling businesses.

“It’s a cool place to learn and grow along with like-minded individuals,” says Justin “Red” Sanders ’04 whose Fort Worth-based Red Productions, a script-to-screen production company, was a candidate for the City of Fort Worth’s 2009 small business of the year award. He launched his business at TECH Fort Worth and is the first to “graduate” to his own shop.

TECH Fort Worth was founded in 1998 when Fort Worth wanted to diversify its economic base after downturns in the defense industry. With the help of the city, the group refashioned the old James E. Guinn junior high into office space for entrepreneurs creating high-tech medical devices.

Fast forward 10 years and TECH Fort Worth is now a proving ground for all manner of business ideas, among them, a specialized moving company for complex Internet technology systems, wind-power generators for urban settings, telemedicine to monitor vital signs remotely and a mechanical heart pump for severe cardiac patients.

An internship program with the Neeley Entrepreneurship Center launched  three years ago allows seven or more TCU students to spend 200 hours over summers with TECH Fort Worth companies such as those.

“Students meet clients, go on sales calls and get opportunities they might not get elsewhere while in school,” says Brad Hancock, director of TCU’s Neeley Entrepreneurship Center.
Additionally, several students also have office spaces where they test and launch their businesses. Students currently brainstorming their business ideas at TECH Fort Worth all were participants in the TCU Texas Youth Entrepreneur of the Year competition.

They are:
– Justin Anderson, a senior making Anderson Trails granola, a soft granola. It’s an idea he came up with as a teenager in braces forced to avoid crunchy foods.
– Erick Van’t Westeinde, a sophomore who restores and sells classic and classy cars, particularly Porsches, Jaguars and Mercedes. He’s about to move in.
– Jeff Livney, a junior who runs a boutique marketing company, Livney+Partners. The business develops brand identities, creates promotional products, works on Web sites, and more.

The real-world experience is invaluable to students at TCU’s entrepreneurship program.

“They’ve become poster students for entrepreneurship,” says Hancock. “They aren’t just studying it, they are doing it. They wouldn’t have room in their dorm rooms to stock inventory or meet with clients.”

Students and all entrepreneurs who earn office space at TECH Fort Worth meet with the organization’s staff several hours a week for four to six months to review their business plans.

Entrepreneurs whose plans survive the incubation stage are promoted to the next level, where TECH Fort Worth offers on-call consulting, long-term planning, Internet services, and contacts with lawyers, accountants and human resources specialists.

If that stage proves successful, the new business is launched.

Two businesses have been launched since TECH Fort Worth started that model in 2007 and both are TCU alums. One is Red Productions. The other is John Elliott ’00, who started Office Authority, a business that does scanning technologies for inventory control.

“TECH Fort Worth is the perfect venue for students to find inspiration,” says David Minor ’80, entrepreneur-in-residence at TCU. “They are right there in the thick of it.”