IDEA Works FW’s Hayden Blackburn: Innovation is Everywhere

Idea Works

DI ADVISER Q&A: HOW THE IDEA WORKS FW INCUBATOR HELPS ENTREPRENEURS


Good ideas can come from every industry, not just technology. That was an underlying notion behind the 2014 launch of IDEA Works FW, a Fort Worth incubator specializing in businesses with two to nine employees.

Hayden Blackburn, its director, is helping member companies in industries as diverse as mergers-and-acquisitions advisory services, architecture and delivery, along with practice-management software for dental offices, and cordless table lamps.

What makes your organization an innovator?

When I think of innovation in regards to IDEA Works FW and the multiple angles you can take when exploring innovation within an organization, I think through our founding as a public-private partnership.

Innovations in civic and community change-making are my favorites at the moment.

The power of empowered citizens having a vision for filling gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, paired with the City of Fort Worth’s openness to collaborate and support local people in solving local problems, is something that will continue to inspire me throughout my career.

Building from the work done in the industry of business incubation and the dynamics of a collaborative environment, we created a new program that has become home to many entrepreneurs. We have also helped motivate entrepreneurial leaders to fill more and more gaps.

Innovations in civic and community change-making are my favorites at the moment.

What is the most exciting innovation in your organization’s industry at the moment, and why?

Hybrid models are exciting. Communities are pairing traditional approaches in incubation with new methods in coworking, seed funding, and specific spaces for commercial kitchen incubation.

All of this, along with rapid prototyping in makerspaces, has allowed communities to diversify their offerings for supporting new ventures.

I personally feel that not being tied to any one model allows each community to build what is most needed for their startup community through customer development.

There is a thirst for growth in the ecosystem. This is working to match the thirst for growth in the entrepreneurs that make up (and lead) the startup community.

Why do you believe North Texas is such a hotbed of innovation?

The sheer size of the North Texas mega-region makes for some wonderful hidden gems and pockets of innovative thinking.

We have corporations that practice open collaboration techniques and that invest in the best talent out there. In the start-up community especially, there are guiding values like inclusiveness and openness to all ideas that influence the rate that like-minded dreamers are connecting and hatching the things that will change our lives.

The sheer size of the North Texas mega-region makes for some wonderful hidden gems and pockets of innovative thinking.

While we have areas that support innovation to improve, I feel that creative initiatives and work is being done in North Texas at the rate it is because we don’t have any huge deficiencies as a whole.

There are deficiencies in certain areas –- such as a lack of code schools in Fort Worth — but that does not mean it is a gap across the entire region. We have to be open to seeking it out and reducing the barriers to access the tools, knowledge, talent, and motivation to build and make their inventions.

When citizens of North Texas pair creativity with passion, we have seen some exciting things come into being. North Texas has been fairly resilient. This will be an important reason why innovation will continue to happen across the region.

What is the most intriguing innovation you have seen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the last year, and why?

My curiosity has been piqued by the change happening in the universities across the region to tweak and explore new paths for the commercialization of research.

With so many Tier 1 schools that are research focused, if we can develop a strong system and approach to commercialization, we will see an acceleration of exciting initiatives.

We are also seeing this from individuals that are leaving large corporations and launching new ventures that are driving change in industries and product lines that haven’t seen innovation in years, even decades.

Have you or your organization ever failed when trying something new or different? If so, what happened, and what did you learn?

Failure is a learning opportunity.

Since launching in early 2014 we have had missteps that led to greater growth and that have strengthened the program because of our founding value of continuous improvement.

To be a champion of change, there is no such thing as a comfort zone.

We are constantly trying different things that no one in our community has done before. Since we can test them on a small scale, we don’t conclude these experiments were failures if they don’t go as we had planned.

This has allowed us a great deal of flexibility in delivering the program the entrepreneurs of IDEA Works FW need right now.

If you could go back in time and give the 18-year-old version of yourself one lesson about innovation, what would that lesson be?

For innovation to happen you must pair an entrepreneurial spirit to create change with a pioneering spirit for getting through the tough times to try new things. To be a champion of change, there is no such thing as a comfort zone.

What is the next big thing in the area in which your organization operates, and how does Dallas fit in?

You will hear the words capital and talent mentioned a lot in the startup circles.

The next big thing will come from open collaboration.

Community change-making is going to make all the difference when it comes to innovative solutions for addressing shortcomings in two areas.

One shortcoming is the difficulty organizations can have in attracting and retaining talent. The other problem is in increasing the flow of capital to the best and brightest ideas and teams, no matter the industry they are in.

The next big thing will come from open collaboration. We are already seeing a drive to operate in this way across Dallas-Fort Worth. I would recommend watching what happens in the areas of access to talent and the flow of capital in the coming years.


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