When it comes to entrepreneurship and small-business development, Tyler is blessed with more than its share of advantages. Strong attributes include an outstanding quality of life and low cost of living, great broadband service, and a wealth of smart, energetic students graduating from local colleges and universities. But until recently, Tyler didn’t have a brick-and-mortar facility where entrepreneurs could find all the resources they could ever want or need to launch a new venture.
That all changed in September 2017 with the opening of the Innovation Pipeline (IP), a business incubator/maker space that’s the envy of cities many times its size. Developed with the support of the City of Tyler and the University of Texas at Tyler (among other partners), the IP is housed in a newly renovated historic building that features meeting spaces and computer stations, as well as a wealth of state-of-the-art equipment.
“We have a sound lab and a film studio, so you can shoot everything from a full-length feature film to a YouTube video to commercials,” says IP Innovation manager Veronica Brady. “When you come in, you have access to the full Adobe Creative Cloud. We also have three 3-D printers to help people rapid prototype, as well as a vinyl cutter and a laser cutter. And we have a screen printing area so you can do T-shirts or canvas bags, not to mention many other services and features."
While the IP is ideal for any entrepreneur, it seems especially friendly to young people graduating from the area’s colleges and universities.
“We have so many students that come through and want some place like Tyler to live and work,” Brady says. “We want to show them that we support our entrepreneurs and that we can give them the opportunity to start small businesses and not have to go hundreds of miles away and leave family and friends.”
It helps too that the location is easily accessible, even for those with limited transportation options. It’s right across the street from the Tyler Transit Depot, where all of the city’s bus lines converge. The East Oakwood Street location is also adjacent to Keep Tyler Beautiful’s newest park, Cotton Belt Crossing, which will soon feature a restored Cotton Belt Railway business car — a mini-museum that will pay homage to Tyler’s railroad history.
The Future is Now in Tyler
At the same time, the people behind the development of the IP are focused firmly on the future.
“This is a vision we’ve had for quite a long time, and I’m pleased as punch that it’s growing so well,” says Phil Burks, president of the board of directors of the Tyler Innovation Pipeline and CEO of the Tyler-based software company, The Genesis Group.
As of this writing, the IP already has close to 100 members, well on its way to a goal of 300-400 members, which it will likely reach in the next year or so.
Current members are especially appreciative of the involvement of UT-Tyler’s College of Business and Technology, “which provides 85 percent of our workforce, as well as the teaching assistants who can help show our members how to utilize the equipment," Brady says.
“But what our members like most is our network,” she says. “It’s an excellent place for people to meet each other and help expand on ideas. That’s probably our greatest strength — the great relationships between our members, who are so open to helping one another and getting input from their peers.”
Building on that thought, Burks believes that the IP and various collaborations between members will spark many new ventures in the years to come.
“Anything that moves the creative juices forward and encourages out-of-the-box thinkers is great, and you develop those skills from hands-on experimentation,” he says, adding that he’s looking forward to seeing a new generation of entrepreneurs emerge with the help of the facility.
“My measurement of success is when the next Elon Musk stands up and says, ‘I got my start from all the cool things at Tyler Innovation Pipeline,’” he says.