By Kyla Frye
The WT Enterprise Center, a department of the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary of serving entrepreneurs in the Texas Panhandle. In 2001, through a joint partnership between West Texas A&M University and The State of Texas, the WT Enterprise Center was established as the first and only business incubator serving the top 26 counties of Texas. Dr. Russell Long, Representative David Swinford and Don Taylor, worked together to establish the center to serve as a means of supporting local businesses in the community and to help reduce the “brain drain” of students to more urban areas by offering high-level resources here in the Panhandle.
Since then, the WT Enterprise Center (WTEC) has engaged with hundreds of entrepreneurs in the Texas Panhandle to help them validate their business ideas, scale existing companies and connect them to the capital and resources they need to succeed. Twenty years for any organization is a milestone worth celebrating and one that would not have been achieved without a tremendous amount of community support, great clients who really engaged with the WTEC over the years, and a legacy of leaders who sailed the ship to new horizons.
The WTEC was co-founded in 2001, by Don Taylor and David Terry. With funding from The State and the support of WTAMU, they began converting 31,000 square feet of former warehouse space into a business incubator at 2300 N. Western in Amarillo, Texas. The famous saying that Don always used with clients and in regards to building the WT Enterprise Network (name in 2001) was, “use it up, wear it out, make do, do without”. He had a passion for helping small businesses and a stock of great quotes and powerful messages that helped them overcome challenges. Don authored two books Up Against The Wal-Marts and Solid Gold Success Strategies For Your Business. He also authored a syndicate newspaper column titled Minding Your Own Business.
The very first client of the WTEC was Sage Oil Vac, a pump-free fluid exchange vacuum that eliminates oil spillage and messes, in 2002. Gary Sage and son Aaron Sage worked with David Terry and Don to scale their startup from their family farm to now exporting to 11 countries.
“We moved into the Enterprise Center in 2002, as the only company occupying the full facility. Our office was right next to Don Taylor’s and I remember many of his words of wisdom. The plan for the WT Enterprise Center was to of course house other companies in the facility besides Sage but after 6 months we had “farmer sprawled” through the whole facility in Don’s words! As Don and David started constructing and dividing the building, we got an order to build multiple systems for the U.S. Navy Seebees. We got more efficient through this because we had a smaller space and our work doubled at the same time!”– Aaron Sage, CEO Sage Oil Vac.
From there, the WT Enterprise Center continued to expand incubation services and continued hosting the Amarillo EnterPrize Challenge in partnership with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation.
In 2006, the first executive director and visionary for the WT Enterprise Center, Don Taylor passed after a long fight with cancer. The leadership torch was passed to his mentee and co-founder, David Terry.
David expanded the WTEC team and clientele over the next few years. Offering incubation services, idea village, lunch & learn, specialized workshops and more. He worked to develop the Entrepreneur Alliance, serving entrepreneurs in communities across the Panhandle in partnership with Leading EDG. Under his leadership, the WTEC finalized several build outs that split the facility into office spaces, manufacturing spaces and saw the addition of a commercial kitchen. The WTEC was awarded several grants including the EDA University Centers and the EDA Public Works to expand the entrepreneur support campus of the WTEC.
In 2013, Altura Engineering and Design, an engineering firm that specializes in piping design for the oil and gas industry, won the Amarillo EnterPrize Challenge. Since that time, they have added 43 employees to their team, have been named to the Inc. 5000’s fastest growing private companies list three consecutive years and fully paid back their $100,000 funding in non-profit and community support.
“If it hadn’t been for the EnterPrize Challenge, it would have been a tougher start. We didn’t have that business background to begin with. We know the engineering, so we were able to get our first clients and do the work but when it came to running the business and growing the business, especially when we started onboarding the employees, that’s where the advantage of the Enterprise Center really came up because we were able to work with advisors that had been through that before. They were able to give us a lot of advice and what to look for in the future – how we could put systems together today that are going to be scalable as we grow the company. That’s what’s been the real benefit of the Enterprise Center.”– David Salas, Altura Engineering and Design
2016 was a big year for the WTEC, starting off by receiving four international awards for supporting entrepreneurship and economic development.
- International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) Mixed-Use Incubator of The Year
- International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) Dinah Adkins Incubator of The Year
- International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Economic Excellence Award for best Entrepreneurship Program
- International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Economic Excellence Award for Regionalism and Cross-border Collaboration
The WTEC also saw another transition in leadership during 2016, with Jeff Reid being promoted to executive director. Jeff oversaw the construction and grant funding of the new training and admin building on Western Street.
The new 8,500 square foot facility helped expand our footprint and added resources to serve more entrepreneurs. Jeff led the efforts to formalize the mentor program, helping connect experienced entrepreneurs and industry experts to new ideas. Hatchworks was also started to assist people interested in exploring their business ideas and how they fit in the marketplace.
In partnership with the Global Entrepreneur Network, the WT Enterprise Center celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) with programs specifically focused on women entrepreneurs. The three-part event, titled “Dream, Girl” was led by program director Brittny Lee and in partnership with the Amarillo EDC and Amarillo National Bank. The celebration started in the morning with brunch and a panel speaking session, followed by workshops focused on topics important to helping female business owners succeed. That evening was the premiere screening of Dream, Girl, a documentary highlighting the challenges of being a female business owner and investor, hosted by the director Erin Bagwell. The following morning, the WTEC hosted a private screening of the documentary at the Civic Center for middle and high school girls from across the Panhandle with a surprise appearance from Erin and they also heard from a panel of local female business owners.
In 2018, the new facility was opened to the public and Jeff Reid retired from a long and successful career supporting small businesses in the Texas Panhandle.
2019 was another big year for the WT Enterprise Center, Kyla Frye was named as Executive Director and several new programs were launched, expanding the reach of the WTEC. Founder’s Club was established to provide graduates and second-stage business owners with the opportunity to connect and learn from peers, discover best practices, share strategic initiatives, and provide valuable feedback for others. It also re-engaged graduates as mentors for first time entrepreneurs in the WTEC programs.
WIRE Accelerator was also established to help high-growth tech startups leverage the strengths of the Texas panhandle and gain access to the capital and resources they need to scale successful companies. WIRE is a 13-week program of hands-on training, mentorship, seed capital, and meeting with industry connections to accelerate their business to the next level. The accelerator program culminates in a final event Pitch Night, where the startups have the opportunity to pitch their business and progress to the community and investors for additional funding.
Revolution at 800, a new collaborative coworking space was launched in 2019, and expanded the WTEC footprint into Downtown Amarillo. The space is home to private offices, dedicated desks, collaborative areas, conference rooms and a training room for entrepreneurs and community members to utilize. The public/private partnership contributed to a strategic initiative of the WTEC to enhance and grow the entrepreneur community in Amarillo.
2020 introduced the Growth Academy. Growth Academy is an 18-month cohort based incubation program led by certified coaches and community mentors. The foundation of this program is focused on real-time assessments of the business, growth benchmarks, entrepreneur training, mentor engagement and cohort roundtables.
2020 also brought on challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. The entrepreneur community embodied the sentiment, limitations can oftentimes breed innovation. They leveraged the global pandemic to serve their customers in creative ways while taking care of their team members. The Texas Panhandle showed up in a big way for entrepreneurs in 2020, by supporting local and partnering with each other to provide resources for our area.
A great example of creativity in 2020 is Copper Clean, a product of BTG Products, members of the WTEC Growth Academy led by WTAMU team Dr. Emily Hunt, Benton Allen, Paige Dodge and Trent Kelly. Copper Clean delivers antimicrobial surface patches applied to door handles, push plates, and other high-touch surfaces to kill surface-borne bacteria. In 2021, they added to the product lineup at The Home Depot and Lowe’s for their Paint Guard product that also kills mold and bacteria in homes and landed a beta pilot at DFW Airport for Copper Clean.
“This is a great milestone for our team. Getting Paint-Guard into big-box stores has always been an overarching goal for the product line. The majority of consumer paint in the US is sold through these distributors so it is exactly where we need Paint-Guard to be sold. We are now working on expanding distribution channels for our Copper Clean product line and we are excited to leverage the connections and experience that we gained in the process with Home Depot in these efforts.”– Benton Allen, Copper Clean Team Member
2021 is looking bright in celebration of the 20th Anniversary and the WTEC is committed to serving, equipping and educating entrepreneurs forging their own path. A community celebration for the 20th Anniversary will take place July 20th at Revolution at 800 (800 S. Polk St) from 4:30-6:30 PM.
To learn more about the WT Enterprise Center, visit their website.