Tech & Startups

Denton’s New Entrepreneur Center Serving as a Catalyst for Innovation District, Revitalization

Stoke is a public-private partnership between the city and the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

Stoke will open in Denton at The Railyard on Aug. 1.
Stoke will open in Denton at The Railyard on Aug. 1.

The Dallas Entrepreneur Center is helping the city of Denton get one step closer to the development of its innovation district. With the addition of its first fully dedicated co-working space, Denton expects to see growth in the developing tech community and a spike in the revitalization of an area in downtown Denton.

Stoke, a 9,216-square-foot co-working space and entrepreneur center, is slated to open Aug. 1 at 608 E. Hickory St. and already is 96 percent full. The center marks the DEC’s fifth location, joining the Addison Treehouse, the San Antonio Entrepreneur Center, and Dallas’ DEC and its new Innovation Hub, which will launch Aug. 3 at 311 N. Market St.

While the new location, Denton’s first public-private partnership, helps continue building on the DEC’s growth strategy, it also is aiding a tech community that has been gaining momentum in the last couple of years.

“Denton has a thriving community,” said Trey Bowles, recognizing grassroots efforts as well as those launched by the city. “They’ve done a lot of amazing stuff from the ground up.”

“There’s a significant number of entrepreneurs or tech-based workers that live in Denton that have been officing out of coffee shops for the last few years,” said Aimee Bissett, Denton’s economic development director, who worked on this project for almost four years. “Over time, it became more obvious that there really needed to be a good funding vehicle and the city would participate in that.”

The DEC will be charged with providing the programming and management for Stoke, while the city will be responsible for leasing the space. The city has budgeted $225,000 per year to cover this cost.

The Denton City Council in 2014 approved $220,000 worth of funding to aid the Denton’s Economic Development Partnership in its goal of developing the innovation district, which is expected to help make the city a tech destination. Since then, the partnership has continued to look at ways it can aid the community with some of its funds. Stoke was financed partially by the partnership and partially via a tax increment financing agreement. The DEC expects to use membership fees to pay for Stoke’s operating budget, amenities, and programming.

The new center is expected to provide a hungry entrepreneurial community with spaces to host tech events, hackathons, conferences, and other programs. Stoke also has partnerships with TechMill, a nonprofit supporting entrepreneurs in Denton; and Texas Women’s University and the University of North Texas, both of which have entrepreneurial programs in place.

“It’s been a long time coming for sure,” said Kyle Taylor, president of TechMill. “Some of the things we had been working on we had to put on hiatus. So now that we have a space, we can start pursuing some of these things.”

Stoke will not only serve as the catalyst for growth within the tech and entrepreneurial communities, but also as part of a larger revitalization plan for en economically depressed area near Denton’s downtown transit center, three blocks from the downtown square.

Stoke will open in a warehouse that has been vacant for years, Bissett said. So the center served as a solution that addressed two issues: the need for a co-working space/tech hub, and a project to kick off plans for a transit-oriented, mixed-use redevelopment program.

The city hired the Martino Group to develop The Railyard, which includes the warehouse and 110 apartment units on the same parcel of land, located near the Denton County Transportation Authority’s downtown train station. About 90 units have already been leased. As a result of the development, the Denton Community Market is relocating to be closer to the space.

The city wasn’t always planning to play a major role in the development of an entrepreneur/tech hub. It initially wanted to see what the grassroots movement would be able to accomplish on its own. But Bissett said the city quickly realized it needed to step in after community entrepreneurs and innovators were unable to tackle such a large feat.

“You’ve got startups and new companies trying to fund their stuff, making it impossible for them to fund a space,” she said. “The city essentially is subsidizing space so that the membership can focus on launching their businesses.”

In the end, everyone wins, Bissett believes. The entrepreneurs and innovators get space to grow their businesses and community, and the city grows its economic base as startups get the resources they need to fully develop within Denton.

Stoke follows the same model as the Addison TreeHouse, a partnership between the DEC and the town of Addison. The Innovation Hub is fully owned and run by the DEC, and the San Antonio Entrepreneur Center follows a licensing model.

The DEC currently has about five more deals in the works, mostly in North Texas.

“These deals take a long time to get done,” Bowles said. “It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to get an agreement, then a year or a year and a half to get something launched.”

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