The Guinn Complex is located at the intersection of East Rosedale Street and the Interstate 35W access road. It currently contains three buildings that were once part of the James E. Guinn School, previously called the Southside Colored School, the first school for “people of color” in the City of Fort Worth.

This is the first in a series of articles on what takes place in those three buildings, which to many of us unfortunately remain a best-kept community secret. But as the Guinn School nears its 100th anniversary in 2017, I trust that century celebration events and these articles will increase awareness among residents and spur additional small business, economic development success stories.

The building that faces the I-35W access road is the former middle school. Built in 1937, it today houses the Fort Worth Business Assistance Center and other entities focused on helping start-ups and small businesses sustain and grow. It is commonly known as “The BAC.”

The former elementary school faces East Rosedale. Built in 1927, it is the home of IDEA Works FW, a multi-industry, small-business incubator. Behind these buildings is the former gymnasium. The newest of the three buildings, it was completed in 1957 and is the home of TECH Fort Worth, a small-business incubator for entrepreneurs with emerging technologies that have documented intellectual property.

More on these entities shortly, but first a little history of the complex’s namesake. James E. Guinn, a Fort Worth native, was the oldest son in a family of eight children. His father, a former slave, moved to Texas in 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. James Guinn’s parents knew education would be pivotal in the lives of their children. Although neither parent could read or write, they helped found the Southside Colored School and motivated James to attend college at Prairie View Normal College. He returned home to Fort Worth, where, at the same school his parents helped start, he became in 1900 the first black Fort Worth native to serve as a principal in the Fort Worth public schools. Guinn died in 1917, before construction was completed on the permanent building for the Southside Colored School. The school was named in his honor.

Next year we will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the James E. Guinn School.

This article is an overview of what is available at the Guinn Complex.

First stop is the Business Assistance Center. Go here first if you are thinking about starting a business or have just launched a business and you come from a technical background with little business experience. At the BAC, Fort Worth city staff will help you tap into inexpensive courses, for example how to do a business plan, or access free to nominal-expense business counseling. And there are key partners in the BAC building. They include SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Here you have the opportunity to be paired with a retired business executive volunteering his or her services.

Another key stop for start-ups and small-business owners is the Tarrant Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Its resources are taxpayer-funded. Its counselors have expertise in helping start-ups and small businesses navigate the maze of finding capital. And for that, you may not have to go any farther than that building. Check out PeopleFund, Alliance Lending and William Mann CDC (Community Development Corp.). The annual marquee program of the BAC is the Annual Business Plan Competition.

If you happen to be an early-stage business, i.e., one with some revenues and staff, with a desire to grow profitably and ethically, head to IDEA Works FW. This incubator’s clients include onsite resident members and offsite affiliate members who have access to an entrepreneur-in-residence, advisory council members, coaches and mentors there to help them “graduate” through the custom “curriculum” designed for them. Launched in 2013 with city and state support, IDEA Works recently graduated its first client members. Key metrics for its members include job growth, revenue growth, profitability growth and investment in the enterprise. IDEA Works FW clients have small-group access to speakers, roundtable guest talks and discounts from local service providers upon graduation. The annual marquee program of IDEA Works FW is the Entrepreneur Summit. IDEA Works FW governance is the nonprofit, 501(c)3 BAC Education Foundation Board of Directors.

Last, TECH Fort Worth is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that is also governed by a separate board of volunteer directors. It was formed in 1998 to diversify the Fort Worth economy though an emphasis on new technologies and originally focused on medical technologies. In 2003, TECH Fort Worth broadened its mission and included companies based on any form of proprietary technology. TECH Fort Worth provides offerings similar to those at IDEA Works FW, but is focused on emerging technology clients.

TECH Fort Worth provides its clients with solid roots for growth, support through building a healthy eco-system of technology entrepreneurship, and relationships to help clients accelerate to commercialization. The annual marquee program of TECH Fort Worth is the IMPACT Awards. TECH Fort Worth was also instrumental in helping fill a local gap in access to capital. Cowtown Angels, an angel investor program of TECH Fort Worth, connects entrepreneurs seeking early-stage funding with local investors.

Though there are still a few gaps in what is available to help local entrepreneurs “live long and prosper,” the Guinn Complex should always be the one-stop, first-stop for them in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

Next month, I’ll focus on IDEA Works. —-


Written by Ed Riefenstahl

Ed Riefenstahl is a former director in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Services practice, a co-founder of LaBodega Winery and co-founder of The Alternative Board of Fort Worth and has coached or consulted with over 100 business owners. He is the Director of Experiential Learning in the Texas Christian University Neeley MBA Program, where he co-founded Neeley & Associates Consultants. e.riefenstahl@tcu.edu