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In Conversation with Clyde Higgs: Architect of TechFW's Formative Years

ithin the ever-evolving landscape of technology and business incubation, TechFW stands as a beacon of innovation and support for emerging ventures. At its helm during the formative years was Clyde Higgs, an individual whose vision and tenacity played a pivotal role in shaping the organization's trajectory.

In this conversation, we get a picture of his tenure (2002-2006) as Executive Director at TechFW. From navigating uncertain beginnings to orchestrating strategic partnerships and fostering growth, Clyde shares the milestones, challenges, and enduring spirit that define TechFW's early years. Higgs now serves as President & CEO at Atlanta BeltLine, a comprehensive transportation and economic development effort in Georgia. The sustainable redevelopment project will provide a network of public parks and multi-use trails, and host small businesses, and transit along a historic 22-mile railroad corridor circling downtown and connecting neighborhoods to spur economic development. Join us as we unravel the narrative of a leader whose contributions left an indelible mark on the journey of TechFW and the startups it propelled into the realm of success.

TechFW: Can you reflect on your time as Executive Director at TechFW? What inspired you to take on this role, and what goals did you set for the organization when you started?

Higgs: At best, the early days were ambiguous. I moved to Texas for family reasons and the opportunity to lead TechFW, which aligned with my background. The Board appreciated my experience and vision. Meeting Dr. (Ronald) Blanck from UNTHSC was a turning point from an economic development perspective. In those early days, we had $50k in the bank and three months of operating capital to figure out the program. We examined the funding model, shifting from merely renting space to providing wrap-around services for tenant businesses. A triad relationship with the city, UNT and TechFW brought stability, and we focused on helping the university see the value in technology transfer. We started to discover our niche in the region and set our sights on the numerous bio and life science organizations popping up and determined how we could offer something unique in the space.

TechFW: Can you share some key milestone moments in your time with TechFW?

Higgs: Some pivotal moments included forming partnerships with UNT and the city, securing operational funding, and leveraging opportunities to share our collective knowledge to become a thought leader in the biotech space. We realized the potential to play a role in federal opportunities, becoming an authority on STTR and SBIR grants. It wasn't about getting our fair share, but contributing to the region's DNA. In the early days, we were a motley crew building relationships and a reputation in the community to put structures in place for growth and expansion of the region. I've watched over the years as TechFW has thrived and love where it is today.

TechFW: Which TechFW company or founder has stayed with you over the years?

Higgs: In the early days, E-Grips left an impression. Fred Antonini invented the technology material in the early 2000s. Fred's patented grip material can be used in many applications, helping to make life easier and safer. His tenacity as a founder and ability to generate revenue in unconventional spaces was noteworthy.

TechFW: How did TechFW's direction and growth evolve from inception to your time as the Executive Director? How did you facilitate scaling for entrepreneurs or the organization?

Higgs: We grew into the space at the James Guinn Campus, from hand-me-down desks to a thriving workspace on a newly renovated campus. Partnerships with the City of Fort Worth, with Dorothy Wing, and relationships with UNT, especially with Dr. Blanck and Dr. (Robert) McClain, played a crucial role. Securing lab space lent credibility and attracted corporate partners like Alcon, which helped us to figure out a basic model for operations. The focus was on leveraging federal grants and pushing SBIR know-how to help retain companies in Texas. There was lots of good IP and talent here, but once a company was funded, they went to one of the coasts. This effort added credibility, paving the way for recognition from the State of Texas and the Emerging Technology Fund.

TechFW: When you left and began to transition to a new role, describe what was on the horizon for the organization?

Higgs: In 2006, I moved to the VP of Economic Dev for North Carolina Research Campus. It marked an inflection point. I had been a late 20-something leader who was energetic, enthusiastic, and focused on molding the vision. TechFW needed the next director to bring structure and process development to the organization. As we put the foundation in place, it became clear we needed to increase the size of the portfolio of startups we were serving.

TechFW: What advice would you give to future startup members of TechFW?

Higgs: TechFW isn’t just an entity that tells you to stick through it and hang in there – it's part of our DNA. Scrappy endurance and tenacity are what we are born of. If you are a startup looking for someone who really gets you, the organization is made up of challenges and barriers. That's how it’s survived and thrived throughout the years


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