Emerging Entrepreneurs in the Big D
Can you guess where the follow startups were founded-- GameStop, Woot, Words with Friends, SOFTLAYER? Probably Silicon Valley, right? No. How about Boston? Wrong again. I'll give you a hint: it's the fourth largest media market in the country, home to 18 Fortune 500 companies and boasts two major airports, serving as headquarters for two major airlines. Sounds like a pretty good place to start a company, right? Dallas, and the surrounding area called the "Metroplex", sure thinks so and it wants you to start thinking so as well. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the emerging startup scene in Dallas. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found here.
My visit began with a tour of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center (affectionately shortened to “The DEC” where I met the three founders, Trey Bowles, Jennifer Conley and Jeremy Vickers. They are currently located in the same building as SOFTLAYER, a Dallas-born startup that was purchased by IBM for a couple of billion dollars in 2010. The location, gives off the vibe that great companies can be built and grown here. Just west of downtown and the American Airlines Center (home of the Mavericks and Stars), this location is certainly in the heart of the city.
The DEC is following a new model, in some sense, that is a little hard to define. They are a co-working space, an incubator, an accelerator and an entrepreneurial community building organization, hosting an accelerator program all at the same time. Entrepreneurs can rent space from the DEC similar to the way that traditional co-working spaces do. And they host the VentureSpur Accelerator, which just finished its first class of companies a few weeks ago. They are also a destination for events and meetups that focus on all aspects of entrepreneurship including 1 Million Cups, Startup Grind and Startup Weekend Next. The DEC is quickly becoming the front door to the Dallas startup scene.
The DEC boasts a plethora of corporate sponsors and organizations that include Microsoft, Ernst &Young and several investment firms. They also announced a $200,000 grant from the city of Dallas, which seems like a large commitment for a city to invest in the startup community. Their ability to bring in these large corporate and government partners is nothing short of astonishing, especially in a city not traditionally known for being a startup hotspot.
Then it was off to the next part of my evening, the actual launch event for the DEC. In one of the largest skyscrapers in downtown Dallas, Trey Bowles laid out his vision for the DEC and the future of the Big D.
“The DEC is dedicated to bringing promising entrepreneurs, corporations, educators, investors and community leaders together to continue building a thriving startup ecosystem in Dallas,” Bowles said. “We are proud to have champions like the USPTO, the City of Dallas and countless others, share our desire to help others realize their entrepreneurial dreams.”
Bowles presented a compelling case that Dallas is not just a big company town, but that it has a strong history of entrepreneurs from oil wildcatters to Ross Perot to Mark Cuban. The DEC also debuted a pretty cool infographic that highlighted some of the high points of the startup scene in Dallas and the surrounding areas, known as the Metroplex.
Finally, I headed off to my third event of the evening, the Dallas New Tech Showcase in a cool warehouse space just south of downtown. This event was started by entrepreneur Michael Sitarzewski, who just relocated from Boulder, and wanted to bring the meetup to his new hometown. The format was simple – five tech startups got five minutes to present and five minutes of Q&A from the audience. All told there were 75 folks in the room – not bad for only their second event. The geeks and nerds were inspired by what they saw and eager to help serve as beta testers and users of the cool apps presented. Overall, the event gave off a vibe that reflected a city with plenty of talent and ideas just beginning to recognize its potential.
In just a few hours, I was able to get a pretty good view of the startup scene in the fourth largest media market in the country. Dallas certainly seems to be poised for something great and I suspect that soon this city will be creating a name for itself quite outside of the corporate sector.