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TechFW Spotlight: Navigating Growth with Darlene Boudreaux

Embark on a journey through the transformative years of TechFW as we sit down for an illuminating interview with Darlene Boudreaux, the seasoned Executive Director who steered the organization through remarkable milestones and accomplishments from 2006-2018. In this exclusive interview series with our leaders over the last 25 years, Bourdreaux shares insights into her tenure, the genesis of Cowtown Angels, notable exits, collaborative endeavors, and pearls of wisdom for aspiring startup members from coaching over 100 startups over the years. The legacy of TechFW is woven with milestones that reflect its commitment to fostering innovation, providing fertile ground for budding ideas, with noteworthy success stories - and Darlene's is just one of them. She continues to support our organization as a Fractional CFO and as a financial coach for TechFW members.

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?

Boudreaux: I had just sold my company a few months earlier and spent time renovating a house, channeling my creative energy while I decided what was next. Dorothy Wing, a TechFW Board member, approached me at a women’s business event and asked if I would be interested. I said sure, I’ll come to work a few hours a week for a few months. Initially planning to assist temporarily, I found myself drawn to TechFW's mission and community support. It turned into over 12 years full-time because I realized I believed in its mission, there was potential and community support, and I enjoyed making a difference in our community.

TechFW: Did your background in the pharmaceutical industry play a role in your decision to explore new avenues for progress at TechFW?

Boudreaux: Absolutely. My extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry — from growing up with a father in the industry, then being a consultant, and then finally owning a manufacturing company in the space — influenced my approach. During those first few months, I did a lot of research to understand why TechFW had been established, what the original goals were, and I realized my potential to contribute significantly from my experience.

TechFW: How did your financial background and depth of knowledge influence your approach to supporting startups at TechFW?

Boudreaux: For one thing, when I got there, the organization had almost no cash in the bank and had no leverage at all to accomplish anything. I worked hard in the early years with Jay Chapa at the City and Rob McClain at UNTHSC to change the situation and give TechFW the financial foothold it needed to be sustainable. They were great partners for TechFW from its inception in 1998. My financial acumen played a crucial role in reshaping the organization's fiscal foundation.

TechFW: Could you highlight some of the most significant milestone moments during your time at TechFW?

Boudreaux: I served as Executive Director from August 2006 to November 2018 and two pivotal dates stand out. October 1, 2008, was a huge milestone. On that day, TechFW began leasing the building from the City. That was the day that TechFW’s Board became the decision-makers for the organization, creating a true partnership with the City and UNTHSC. The second big date in my mind is August 12, 2012. That was our first recruiting night for the Cowtown Angels. I’d been working on the concept for a couple of years before that. I created the North Texas Angel Network (NTAN) about a year or so earlier, intending for it to be independent of TechFW, and I found someone else to run it — Chuck McCoy. The problem is that its earliest investor members were in Dallas, so the whole operation moved there, not accomplishing my goals for a Fort Worth-based angel group. Brent Sorrells and I started over and came up with the Cowtown Angels, so named because we thought that would help it be more attractive to Fort Worth members and less likely to migrate anywhere. It was started as a program of TechFW, not independent of TechFW. On that night in August 2012, at the Fort Worth Club, we invited several local angel investors to hear a pitch by Bill Burns of Encore Vision, to give them a taste of the types of entrepreneurs they might expect to hear pitches from in the future, and we started recruiting members. TechFW: Can you share more about how you developed Cowtown Angels?

Boudreaux: We were starting to be successful with getting entrepreneurs into our programs but a lot of these entrepreneurs wanted to know if we knew anybody with money they should talk to. Then people in the community would ask me if I knew which entrepreneurs they should invest in. We didn’t have time — nor the ability, legally — to be the middleman on deals. I looked around the country and figured out what angel groups were doing and how they were organized. I settled on the model that Kansas City was using. The incubator there had started an angel group. It was a separate entity but run by the same management team as the incubator. This was novel in the incubator world but we spent a lot of time on documents and tried to think of everything.

TechFW: What were the growth goals and directions for TechFW from its inception to your departure, and how did you help entrepreneurs scale their businesses?

Boudreaux: TechFW’s origins can be traced back to several Town Halls that Kay Granger held during the 1990’s when she was the mayor of Fort Worth, seeking to diversify the city’s economy away from strictly being a town focused on defense and aviation. A citywide leadership group formed a task force to figure out how to do this, and after seeking input from the public, they came up with four different ways to do it. A separate nonprofit was set up for each of these — TechFW was one of them. David Chappell, who was honored at the recent 2023 Impact Awards, was one of the members of that original task force and was always proud of TechFW and gave me advice in the beginning. The original goal was for TechFW to increase the local innovation economy for life sciences. This was based on study data that showed Fort Worth had the necessary foundation for this due to Alcon, Galderma, and DFB being based here, giving us the needed basic workforce skills in this industry. The study demonstrated that a nonprofit incubator could start to help create the surrounding ecosystem and support the entrepreneurs who would make it happen. Because I’d just come from the pharmaceutical industry, this made perfect sense to me, and I realized that I could support this through bringing my contacts together. Brent Sorrells, who was then Assistant Director and now serves as President of the Board, and I created the ThinkLab accelerator, SmartStart incubator, and the FastForward scaling programs. We began to narrow our focus to life science startups. We made a few exceptions for entrepreneurs with proprietary technologies. By concentrating on the industry we were tasked with helping, we laid the foundation for sustained growth.

TechFW: Did any companies achieve a successful exit during your tenure at TechFW?

Boudreaux: Of course! ZS Pharma became a client in 2009, when I convinced Al Gulliem (who had been a friend of mine) to move the company to Fort Worth. Of course, Encore Vision was the first presenter at the Cowtown Angels recruiting meeting and got an investment from Cowtown members, and ultimately sold. There were many others, but those were the big ones.

TechFW: Reflecting on your tenure, what advice would you give to future startup members of TechFW?

Boudreaux: Learn about and take advantage of everything that TechFW offers. Get to know the staff and when they suggest getting in touch with someone they know, or they suggest some activity, do it. They are really there to help you grow!


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