Robert McClain, PhD
Associate Vice President, Research & Innovation
The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth
The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) is a small university in Texas making a significantly outsized impact on innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development in its community. HSC is also one of the newest and unique institutions to be designated an Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) University by the APLU.
HSC is a standalone, post-graduate institution with 2,300 students. HSC consists of five schools training physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, pharmacists, public health experts, researchers and other health care providers for its community. HSC is the first health science center and only post-graduate institution to receive the IEP designation. By a factor of five based on enrollment, HSC is also the smallest institution awarded the IEP designation.
A shared vision for economic engagement guides how HSC trains students, conducts research and stewards’ resources. The following examples illustrate the breadth of HSC activities related to economic prosperity.
One area in which HSC is leading in economic engagement relates to talent and workforce development. HSC initiatives are underway to equip students with the ability to think like entrepreneurs. Equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset means they are trained to think critically about problems and respond with transformative solutions. HSC is convinced that students will be better providers tomorrow if it can help them develop these skills today.
HSC is also taking a leadership role in building a stronger innovation ecosystem in Fort Worth. HSC has committed considerable resources to make Fort Worth a better place for innovators, entrepreneurs and startups. HSC is applying these resources to collaborative efforts with the city, the private sector, community organizations and other universities.
The talent development work and ecosystem building efforts by HSC are unique among post-graduate institutions, especially health science centers. At this time, HSC has no undergraduates nor a business school, conditions often seen as critical success factors for initiatives like these.
Examples of ecosystem-building initiatives led by HSC include the development of an online, community resource to support entrepreneurs and startups (Sparkyard) and an annual awareness campaign and celebration of entrepreneurship, Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).
In spite of launching just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sparkyard platform is a resounding success. Developed in collaboration with the city and Texas Christian University, HSC is the managing partner, investing staff and other in-kind resources totaling more than $600,000 so far. As of January 2021, the number of new users on the platform was 10,703. In late 2020, HSC was awarded $450,000 by the Economic Development Administration to enhance and expand the Sparkyard platform. The award was supplemented by a $120,000 in-kind match by HSC.
Under HSC leadership and in collaboration with Texas Wesleyan University, participation in Global Entrepreneurship Week more than doubled during the first two years, from 1,000 to 2,200. Even in 2020, when the pandemic required an all-virtual event, participation reached 1,600. The number of volunteer organizers tripled and the number of events increased five-fold from 2018 to 2020. Based on the number of community events, Fort Worth was the No. 1 GEW city in the U.S. in 2020.
Because of its work across campus, at the campus-community interface and in Fort Worth, the HSC IEP self-study process was led by HSC Next, the team responsible for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development activities at HSC. The HSC IEP Team obtained input from campus and community stakeholders through a series of focus groups and interviews. Because HSC is much smaller than other institutions that have obtained the IEP designation, the HSC IEP Team had strong and direct relationships with most stakeholders from whom input was sought.
Key to facilitating input from stakeholders was the development of three primer documents for framing conversations about HSC impact. Each primer emphasized a specific theme (Innovation, Place or Talent & Workforce Development) and contained questions derived from the CECE New Metrics Field Guide and the CECE Assessment Tools documents. Focus groups were themed and the appropriate primer document was provided to participants ahead of time. Conversations were initiated either by a short presentation about the IEP self-study or review of the primer, which was used to guide discussion.