Designing Small Business Supports to Strengthen Fort Worth’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

January 15, 2022

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FUSE Corps

To ensure small businesses not only survive but thrive post-pandemic, the City of Fort Worth is working to adapt its programs and resources provided through the Economic Development Department’s Business Assistance Center (BAC). Fort Worth will partner with FUSE Corps to build the BAC’s capacity, enabling it to supply the most impactful technical and programmatic resources to the city’s minority and women-owned small businesses.

This fellowship project begins on April 25, 2022, and ends on April 24, 2023. The fellowship begins with a multi-day virtual orientation the week of April 25, 2022. The selected Executive Fellow will begin their first day of providing services to the host agency on May 2, 2022.

PROJECT CONTEXT 

It’s been just over a year since pharmaceutical companies launched vaccines in the fight against Covid-19, ushering in hope for the end of the pandemic, lockdowns, and social distancing from friends and loved ones. With this promise, the economy began to rally, consumers broadened their spending, and business growth and activity increased. However, small businesses and entrepreneurs, who comprise the heart of the American economy, continue to face challenges arising from the pandemic – predominantly minority-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs of color. Small businesses owned by people of color already face systemic barriers to accessing financing and business resources and are more likely to have to take drastic steps to stay afloat.

Given this, the City of Fort Worth has provided small businesses with an influx of information, resources, and funds, supporting them in pivoting to meet the unprecedented businesses challenges arising from the pandemic. This included distributing financial assistance through the Preserve the Fort Small Business Grants Program, awarding almost $55.0 million dollars in funding to more than 1,600 local small businesses; supporting the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber in awarding over $15,000 in microgrants to small businesses; and collaborating with PeopleFund to launch the Business Resiliency Microloan Program, which provided for the establishment of an $850,000 loan pool for eligible companies.

Another key service that enabled the survival of small businesses in Fort Worth at the height of the pandemic was the Economic Development Department’s Business Assistance Center (BAC). The BAC is a one-stop shop that provides training, technical assistance, funding opportunities, and business support services to established, start-up small businesses and micro-enterprises. During the pandemic, the BAC and its partners successfully shifted their services to support the immediate needs of small businesses in the city. However, small businesses’ needs have now permanently changed in the face of the pandemic, and the BAC must adapt to provide programs and resources that grow and strengthen Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem post-pandemic, placing a renewed focus on nurturing the uptake of services by minority-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs of color.

The City of Fort Worth will partner with FUSE Corps to build the BAC’s capacity, enabling it to supply the most impactful technical and programmatic resources to the city’s minority and women-owned small businesses. The FUSE Executive Fellow will work closely with the small business community to capture these businesses’ needs, ensure the assistance provided by the BAC meets those needs, and tailor recommendations and process improvements that revitalize the BAC through a lens of equity. Through the successful execution of this work, there will be more opportunities to start and grow businesses for anyone in Fort Worth, thus creating a more diverse and inclusive business environment.

PROJECT SUMMARY & POTENTIAL DELIVERABLES

The following provides a general overview of the proposed Executive Fellowship project. This summary and the potential deliverables will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the Executive Fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the Executive Fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Executive Fellow and the host agency

Starting in April 2022, it is proposed that the FUSE Executive Fellow will connect with a wide range of critical stakeholders, including staff across city departments, a dozen on-site and off-site BAC collaborative partners, chambers of commerce, community-based organizations, neighborhood councils, and small business owners. Utilizing this initial listening tour with key stakeholders, the Executive Fellow will build off of any existing assessments and map the programs and technical assistance provided by the BAC, including one-time assistance necessitated by the pandemic and which partners provide these services. The Executive Fellow will conduct extensive research on supporting entrepreneurial innovation at the local level, reviewing Boulder, Kansas City, and Dallas’s programs, to determine national best practices and cutting-edge programs and policies that support small business growth, assessing applicability locally.

The Executive Fellow will then design a survey to capture critical information on small businesses in the city, capturing data from minority-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs of color. The survey will collate the needs of these businesses in light of the pandemic, gaps in programming, the ideal programs or technical resources the BAC should provide, user experience with the BAC, and accessibility barriers. The Executive Fellow will ensure the survey can reach the entire small business community, accounting for potential language needs and the digital divide. This process should be clearly mapped, ensuring the Economic Development Department can make updates to the survey and use it as a yearly feedback loop on Fort Worth’s small business needs.

In the next phase, the Executive Fellow will make recommendations for revitalizing the Fort Worth Business Assistance Center (BAC), focusing on enhancing uptake of services by minority-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs of color. The Executive Fellow will make additional recommendations to support the Economic Development Department in facilitating program management and continuity of assistance, despite staff no longer being physically located in the BAC. The Executive Fellow will then initiate recommendations and activities that are most urgent and can be implemented quickly. 

  • Conduct a thorough review of the current landscape Conduct an in-depth landscape analysis of the BAC, collating all relevant programming and processes; map providers and identify cross-cutting themes, strengthen existing lines of communication between stakeholders, conduct deep research on supporting entrepreneurial innovation at the local level, reviewing national best practices and models
  • Design, launch, and analyze a survey of small business owners – Utilize an equity lens in the development of the study, detail questions or prompts to extract: the needs of each business/industry, the ideal programs or technical resources the BAC should provide, user experience with the BAC, usage rates programming and the impact of those resources; analyze data, map gaps in programming, and determine barriers to accessibility; ensure survey can be used yearly, to support a feedback loop with the community
  • Form recommendations, engage stakeholders, and catalyze buy-in – Build out proposals to support the use of the BAC by minority-owned small business and entrepreneurs of color; support process improvements; design program solutions for the BAC to best meet the needs of the small businesses surveyed; detail how to provide continuous services or a schedule of programming without staff physically present at the BAC; identify barriers to implementing any recommendations; solicit and incorporate input from stakeholders to build consensus around changes
  • Roll-out recommendations and support long-term implementation – Work with leadership across Departments to effectively advance recommendations; support capacity building, creating internal infrastructure and systems; measure and broadly share progress towards goals, and ensure that the needs of small businesses and racial/gender equity are centered in all strategies

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Project Supervisor – Robert Sturns, Director, Department of Economic Development
  • Executive Sponsor – Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager, City Manager’s Office

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Approximately 15 years of professional experience in a relevant field; preferably having worked in a corporate space
  • Entrepreneurial experience, having built their own business, highly desired
  • Understanding of the venture capital landscape
  • Some community engagement experience essential
  • Cross-cultural agility, relating to a wide variety of diverse audiences
  • Familiarity in working in a bureaucratic environment, prowess in managing delicate situations or stakeholders
  • Strong record of success engaging a variety of cross-sector stakeholders and managing cross-functional teams
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills, easily able to make a business case
  • Proven ability to create and deliver powerful presentations with ease in public speaking
  • Strong emotional intelligence and empathy
  • Superior critical thinking and analytical skills
  • A self-motivated and goal-oriented leader who can also be an independent worker
  • Capacity to sustain progress within potentially ambiguous environments
  • Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations
  • Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity
FUSE Corps is an equal opportunity employer with a core value of incorporating diverse perspectives into our work at every level. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this position.
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