Today we’d like to introduce you to Marco Johnson.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Marco. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My name is Marco Johnson and I’m the Sparkyard Network Builder. I’m excited to tell you about this new resource that helps entrepreneurs launch and grow their companies.
Let’s start with some context. Fort Worth recently became the 13th largest city (by population) in the US. However, our entrepreneurial ecosystem is highly underdeveloped considering how large our city is. We don’t see the level of entrepreneurial activity for a city of our size, meaning we don’t have many people starting companies here. Part of the issue may be support for new companies. While Fort Worth has many resources that cater to entrepreneurs and business owners, the resource landscape is generally fragmented, siloed, and resources don’t communicate well with each other. Furthermore, entrepreneurs don’t have a simple “roadmap” to follow that helps them launch or grow their company.
That’s where Sparkyard comes in – a free portal that decodes the Fort Worth entrepreneurial ecosystem and connects entrepreneurs to the right resource at the right time to start, scale, or accelerate their company.
We officially launched Sparkyard on November 14, 2019. Since our soft-launch in August, we’ve had over 1500 unique users visit the site who have logged over 2300 sessions. Users have used Sparkyard to perform over 400 searches for help from resource partners, and I have fielded 60 specific requests for assistance. To us, this proves not only that Sparkyard is fulfilling a market need, and that we have lots of entrepreneurs and business owners who need help with their company or idea. Today we have 42 Resource Partners, most of whom provide free support and services to entrepreneurs; we hope to triple that number by the end of 2020 and feature resources not only from Fort Worth and Tarrant County but also crucial resources from Dallas and elsewhere in Texas that we don’t have locally.
Sparkyard is sponsored by the UNT Health Science Center, TCU, and the City of Fort Worth’s Office of Economic Development.
My professional background includes over 20 years of international economic development, primarily in places of recent war, conflict, or natural disaster. I’ve worked in a variety of different industries (humanitarian/refugee work, microfinance, impact investing, private equity investment, and international agricultural development). The common thread that weaves all these experiences together is a focus on helping people overcome challenges so they can sustainably build (or rebuild) their lives and communities.
Fostering entrepreneurship is universally recognized as a highly effective way to help people take control of their lives, address critical issues in their community, and achieve their ambitions. I’ve taken the lessons I’ve learned overseas and brought them with me to North Texas. I’ve met incredible entrepreneurs since I moved here two years ago; what’s lacking is a general embrace of entrepreneurs by the general public. We need to celebrate their achievements more and tell their stories, and make sure they have the resources and support they need, whether they’re dreaming up the next big tech company, opening a store on Main Street, or running a business out of their home. We launched Sparkyard to help on all those fronts.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Fortunately, it has been a relatively smooth road so far. Entrepreneurs and business owners need a way to make sense of the services that are offered, and service providers have been looking for a more effective way to collaborate. Sometimes an organization doesn’t clearly see the benefits to collaboration, and that is what has led our community to be siloed and fragmented. But over time, as we illustrate the positive effects of working together, I believe we’ll feature a robust list of resource partners that are all working together to help entrepreneurs.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Sparkyard – what should we know?
Sparkyard is designed to be a meta-connector, making sure entrepreneurs and business owners have access to the right resource at the right time to launch or grow their company. Our site features:
– Web pages with content on how to establish and grow a company; a Resource Navigator that lists nearly 50 free local resources
– A community calendar that lists relevant local events and meet ups
– A blog featuring content from Sparkyard, local entrepreneurial influencers, and local companies
– The ability to build a customized action plan based on an entrepreneur’s specific needs with resources specifically curated by me;
– We feature a hotline for people who would rather make a phone call than use the website;
– On the backend, our site features a powerful database and CRM that helps us collect and analyze data, which we will use to educate everyone in our community about entrepreneurs, their successes, challenges, and current needs. This will help us advocate for the development or funding of resources that will help move the needle on entrepreneurship in our area.
This is just our opening set of services. We’ve already identified 3-4 more services that we can provide that will help address gaps in our ecosystem that no one else is currently addressing. One of those is what we call a Resource Map, which will actually map out the life cycle of a business – from idea to maturity – and we’ll list all the free resources that are available at each of the stages. We expect to launch that later in 2020.
Sparkyard is built on the SourceLink platform, which has been around for 15 years and powers similar initiatives in dozens of cities around the US. It’s a proven platform that has seen great success in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Albuquerque.
Sparkyard is proud to be a central part of the Fort Worth ecosystem. We were very involved in helping to organize Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) in Fort Worth last November, which featured 50+ events at more than 30 locations around Tarrant County. GEW Fort Worth engaged more than 2000 people. GEW is organized and celebrated in 180 countries around the world featuring 40,000+ events, and we were proud to organize it in Fort Worth for the second year in a row. GEW Fort Worth will be back again in 2020 thanks to the numerous sponsors, companies, organizations, and people that volunteered their time and resources to make this year such a resounding success.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
We are a free website that helps entrepreneurs make sense of the multitude of free resources that exist to help them launch or grow their company. We don’t charge for access to the site, nor do we charge service providers for being listed on Sparkyard. Thanks to our generous sponsors, Sparkyard is and will always remain a free resource.
- Website: www.sparkyard.co
- Phone: 682-351-2563
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: sparkyardfw
- Facebook: sparkyardfw
- Twitter: sparkyardfw
- Other: LinkedIn: Sparkyard