In an effort to create an ecosystem of shared resources and spaces for entrepreneurs to share ideas, the Fort Bend Economic Development Council launched an Innovation Council initiative Sept. 29.

Rachelle Kanak, marketing and operations executive for the FBEDC, said this program will be a countywide service for startups and innovators with ideas who may not have the education or community yet to build it out.

“We know there are a lot of entrepreneurs and startups and innovators in Fort Bend County,” Kanak said. “They just may not have access to [human resources] or venture capital. They may not know where to get started in terms of marketing.”

Kanak plans for the Innovation Council to identify who those innovators are then develop their business acumen. The goal is to bring these forward thinkers together for more opportunities to collaborate.

“This is right in our wheelhouse as a community,” Kanak said. “To just pull all the stakeholders together and get us all rowing in the same direction on something that is as important as supporting innovation.”

The FBEDC worked with The Cannon in January 2020 to study Fort Bend County’s economic landscape and capacity for innovation. The Cannon provides coworking space; virtual and physical community; and programming for entrepreneurs, investors and mentors alike.

The firm found several factors that prime the county for creating new businesses, such as the 447% population growth the county experienced from 1980 to 2015, ethnic diversity, and high levels of both educational attainment and household income.

The Cannon suggested the FBEDC foster three innovation hubs, or shared office spaces, throughout the county. Kanak said these hubs are in various stages of development in Fulshear, Sugar Land and Richmond.

Fulshear Director of Economic Development Herman Rodriguez said the city is looking to facilitate online spaces where Fulshear businesses can connect in the fourth quarter of 2022. This will help determine what resources the businesses may need from the city, he said.

“First is trying to build that network of entrepreneurs that does need resources,” Rodriguez said. “At that point, we can decide what we can provide them. We are hoping the demand is high enough to create a shared space that minimizes overhead.”

Kanak said the rollout for programming with the Innovation Council is paused due to the holiday season, but the FBEDC and development firm Houston Exponential will meet to plan next steps in mid-November. Kanak is eyeing networking events, seminars from experts and shared spaces coming in 2023.

In its 2020 study, The Cannon outlined five critical points for Fort Bend County to successfully develop a network of innovation hubs.

1. Alignment, awareness and accessibility of entrepreneurial efforts countywide

2. Educational programs focused on new entrepreneurs and early-stage business development

3. Helping locally focused companies and entrepreneurs innovate and scale with programs and partnerships

4. Integration with local education programs to augment their activities and create synergy between business and academia

5. Developing curriculum and programs for potential investors and for businesses seeking capital