My name is Megan Smith and I am a summer intern with the Innovation Pipeline in Tyler, Texas. The IP, as we call it, will be Tyler’s first innovation lab and makerspace.

The innovation lab will be a place where entrepreneurs of diverse ages and backgrounds come together to collaborate, team build, and innovate with other local entrepreneurs. If you have a cool idea for a new startup, then the IP will be the place to be!  If you have run a small business for a few years and you’re looking for fresh ideas, or possibly new employees, the IP will help you with both. If you don’t want to launch a startup yourself, but you love the idea of working for innovative new businesses in your local community, the IP will help connect you with people who need your help!

The makerspace will be a prototype and experiment workshop. There will be wood and metalworking equipment, a high tech computer lab, film equipment, 3D printers, and other great resources. Often, this equipment is too expensive for a startup to purchase alone. Being an IP member gets you access to these great resources at a nominal cost.

Lastly, the IP will offer access to mentorship, either one-on-one, or from an established local business. It will also offer mini lecture and workshop series focused on basic startup knowledge in accounting, legal consulting, intellectual property, etc. One thing I’m incredibly excited about is exposing local entrepreneurs in Tyler to the Business Model Canvas (BMC). The BMC teaches entrepreneurs how to create, deliver, and capture value by working through the basic building blocks of a business model. Exciting stuff!

The building for the makerspace and innovation lab is an historic building in downtown Tyler. It’s an awesome renovation project that’s part of a larger initiative to restore and revitalize the downtown district. I’m someone who loves to see something old become new and beautiful again, so this is a really neat process for me to watch.

Actually, this is a pretty entrepreneurial internship. I get to help build the IP from the ground up! Some of my intern tasks involve:

  • Direct involvement in the interview and hiring process for the IP director
  • Develop the lecture and workshop series for the IP
  • Planning an IP Business Plan Competition
  • Acquiring equipment donations for the makerspace
  • Grant writing
  • Developing the structure of the IP based on feedback from the Tyler community
  • Collaborating with local business incubators, small businesses, and academic institutions

The IP is, in and of itself, a startup. Things are always a bit up in the air. It’s fun, however, to embrace the challenges that come with this internship and this startup process.

As with any startup, there’s always a question: why? Why build an Innovation Pipeline? Why build it in Tyler?

Great questions. The simple answer is: Tyler needs a place like the Innovation Pipeline. Not just wants, but actually needs. Residents have expressed a desire for a place like this in Tyler for quite some time. The need, is demonstrated by the fact that community members who are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship go elsewhere to collaborate and launch businesses.  They travel to larger cities such as Dallas, Houston, and Austin. There is no local place in the community that provides access to a makerspace and innovation lab. Thus, small business and innovation is escaping from the local community because the environment needed to foster entrepreneurship is not present.

Tyler also has a long history of entrepreneurship. The IP is simply serving as a catalyst for entrepreneurship in order to propel it towards the future of the city. Without this effort, entrepreneurship and innovation in Tyler run the risk of becoming stagnant – not something for which anyone is hoping. Many cities in the U.S. have makerspaces or at least makerspace fairs. Fostering and growing local entrepreneurship initiatives is something that is happening all across the country.

One final thing that’s pretty neat about the Tyler IP: this is a mayor’s initiative. What this means is that local municipal government recognizes the desire and need for the Innovation Pipeline. While this will be launched by the City of Tyler, the plan is to have the IP be self-sustaining as its own organization in a few years’ time. Thus, this is not something launched for a season; this is an initiative to bring a stable space for entrepreneurial growth and innovation to Tyler for many years to come.

Whew! If you made it through this post, you must really like entrepreneurship or Tyler – hopefully both! :)

Stay tuned for updates on my internship challenges and adventures,