‘A City That Innovates’: New Report Highlights How Mayor Eric Johnson Plans To Make Dallas an Inclusive Hub for Entrepreneurs

"As a city, it's time for us to really take seriously building for our future," the mayor says. Dallas has been—and is—the engine that drives the fourth largest metro in the nation "but we have to start acting like it."

The Mayor’s Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship just released a report detailing recommendations for how Dallas can attract, retain, and grow startup companies—including measures to develop and support women and underrepresented entrepreneurs in North Texas.

Here are highlights of Mayor Johnson's press conference and the report.

At Pegasus Park on Thursday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson marked the official release of the Mayor’s Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship report.

“The report comes at a critical time for our city,” the mayor said at the press conference.  “As a city, it’s time for us to really take seriously building for our future.

The choice to deliver the announcement at one of Dallas’ newest innovation hubs—the 23-acre, future-focused Pegasus Park campus—reinforced the mayor’s message. 

“Pegasus Park is a prime example of a cutting-edge development in our city, one that’s going to help Dallas become a top city for biomedical innovation,” the mayor said. “But Dallas also has something that is very difficult to measure or rank: We have strong, talented, and resilient people.”

Dallas is built on innovative thinking. As the mayor points out, the city has become a top 10 U.S. city by population on the sheer force of innovation. We’ve got no port, no navigable waterway, no major military base, he said.

Why have we become what we become?  “It’s because we’re the kind of city that will build a park on top of a freeway,” the mayor said. “Innovation and entrepreneurship are part of our city’s DNA.” 

Dallas has been—and is—the engine that drives the fourth-largest metro in the country, Mayor Johnson said. “But we have to start acting like it.”

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson [Photo: City of Dallas]

We have the opportunity to be an internationally recognized hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. “And we should be,” the mayor said. “When people talk about innovation, I want Dallas to be in the same conversation with Silicon Valley with New York, with Austin.”

That means building for the future.

Because, the mayor says, “Dallas can’t just be an amenity or a perk for our neighbors in this region. We can’t just be along for the ride while our suburban neighbors are booming.”

Mayor Johnson describes being intentional about fostering a culture of innovation. “That means putting the pieces in place now for entrepreneurs to succeed,” he said.

With that in mind, Mayor Johnson formed the Mayor’s Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in January 2021. The move underscored Johnson’s commitment to making startups and entrepreneurs a mayoral priority. The Task Force was formed to encourage growth in Dallas by identifying the resources necessary to support innovation and entrepreneurship.

There’s work to do

Texas has consistently been known to be one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S. But with Silicon Valley used as a benchmark, Dallas still has some room for improvement, the report says.

Click the image to download the report.

Historically, less than 5 percent of startup funding has been invested in underrepresented groups, including less than 3% of those funded being women-owned startups. This left Mayor Johnson eager to grow Dallas’ funding rate and discover what the City can do to attract, retain, and support startup companies owned by underrepresented groups such as minorities, women, and veterans.

The latest report addresses socioeconomic challenges and creates a multi-faceted plan to educate, equip, and empower entrepreneurs to generate high-growth businesses.

The report’s recommendations serve as a road map for Mayor Johnson’s “Build for the Future” agenda. 

In addition to the opportunity to be known as an international hub, “we can become the undisputed top city in the country for women entrepreneurs,” Mayor Johnson said. “We can focus on growing representation in our startup community among historically underrepresented groups”.

The Task Force plans to emphasize the following five initiatives—curriculum, coaching, capital, and customers for startups—and plans for the implementation to occur over the next several years, according to a news release:

  1. Entrepreneurial Liaisons within City Hall—An “Entrepreneur in Residence” and “Venture Capitalist in Residence” inside City Hall to bring a fresh perspective. Sourced from the local entrepreneurship community, these new roles will help the City think creatively about how to support startups, financially or otherwise; 
  2. Entrepreneurial Support Platform—An integrated platform that streamlines startup support. The platform will be built and maintained by an organization on behalf of the City;
  3. Entrepreneur Resource Hub—A fully automated resource platform that provides premier curricula and support content. This will be a centralized, up-to-date location to obtain information and make human connections; 
  4. Innovation Zones and Infrastructure Network—Programmatic support to facilitate the innovation zone and infrastructure network. The Task Force recommends a minimum of five innovation zones, each with its own incubator and programmatic leader, which will become a micro center tied to the Dallas infrastructure network; 
  5. Capital Sources for Startup Growth and Success—A private limited partnership, independent of but with strong support from the City, will raise capital from Dallas-area corporations, family offices, foundations, endowments, and high net-worth investors. This “fund of funds” would drive private investment and help startups secure Seed, Series, and Exit investments.

The summary of recommendations came from the mayor’s experts, the task force.

At the press conference, Mayor Johnson detailed other mayoral priorities, pointing out that it’s hard to improve on something if you’re not measuring it. The mayor intends to track the start of creation in the city and begin to offer resources to those startups.

Mayor Johnson also plans unique team-ups with the city’s transformative companies, like Match Group. The mayor plans to work with the company to set up a mentoring matching system.


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The implementation of innovation zones also will serve as a merger to two important elements of supporting startups. First, a physical location will provide a place for people to go, meet, and brainstorm. Second, a programming element will serve as a teaching and empowerment tool, which can set up startups for success.

In addition, an online platform will be created to provide people with an interactive outlet where they can share why they think their area is a good spot for an innovation zone, he said.

Collective ambition

The mayor’s message was supported by a bevy of colleagues gathered at Pegasus Park, including his two task force co-chairs— Mandy Price, CEO of Dallas-based Kanarys, and Trey Bowles, co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of The DEC Network—and City Council Economic Development Committee Chairman Tennell Atkins.

In order to help the Mayor’s ask Force achieve its large mission, organizations such as Accenture, Sunwest Communications, and Project Mockingbird have provided pro bono work that helps Mayor Johnson to utilize both public and private collaboration in order to implement its recommendations.

Rooted in his mission, the Mayor announced that he is willing to dedicate discretionary bond funds to help support incubators and is already working on utilizing a Fair Park building as a future incubator. According to Darren L. James, president of Fair Park First, establishing this program will allow the city to “nurture and support emerging and entrepreneurial businesses in the Southern Sector.”

Startups are the “heartbeat of innovation”

Startup businesses are the driving force of “homegrown ingenuity and the heartbeat of innovation,” priming a highly productive and inclusive economy for generations of Dallas residents to come, according to the report.

For example, major companies such as Southwest Airlines and Texas Instruments initially were Dallas startups and have since have taken their respective industries by storm. Now, startups in the region such as Taysha Gene Therapies and Alkami Technology have the potential to do the same.

“Tens of billions of dollars of economic impact”

“The work that will be completed at the innovation zones will be arguably the most impactful startup investment that we see over the next decade. I believe it will result in tens of billions of dollars of economic impact and is a great example of bringing together different stakeholders,” said Mayor’s Task Force Co-Chair Trey Bowles.

“The innovation zones that we’re talking about are really exciting, because it’s going to marry two of the most important elements of supporting startups together,” Bowles says. “First, physical locations a place for people to go and meet and have collisions. Second, a programming element that will help teach and train and empower and equip them for success.” 

Bowles also describes an online application process. He wants people “to participate and share why they think their area is a good spot for an Innovation Zone.”

Places like this are happening all over our city, Bowles points out.

Trey Bowles

Trey Bowles. [ Photo: Hannah Ridings ]

In our report, “you will see we committed to building five over the next 10 years,” he said. “I want to be clear, that does not mean there will only be five or there can only be five, there’s so much innovation entrepreneurship across this entire town. The opportunity is limitless.”

Bowles notes that startup isn’t necessarily synonymous with tech. 

“When we talk about startup companies, what we’re really talking about is high growth, scalable, and sustainable businesses,” he said. “It doesn’t always mean tech companies.”

It takes capital

Through the Task Force, Co-Chair Mandy Price wants to ensure the City of Dallas is creating a supportive hub for startups, bringing more founders to the table, and driving innovation.

Price, an entrepreneur who built her own diversity, equity, and inclusion tech company in Dallas, has a personal connection to the work.

“When I started Kanarys and began fundraising, I learned that for such a strong market, Dallas had more work to do in terms of supporting their many talented entrepreneurs,” she said.

Mandy Price, founder of Kanarys [Photo Courtesy Mandy Price]

Price encountered “numerous challenges that many entrepreneurs like myself face,” she said at the press conference.

While fundraising for Kanary’s, Price realized “that for such a strong market, Dallas had more work to do in terms of supporting their many talented entrepreneurs.”

The company was mostly offered mentorship, she said. But “what we really needed was capital.”

The two go hand in hand, and the report shows that, she said. Price recently closed a $3 million seed round, which brought her startup’s total amount raised to 4.6 million today.

That’s an accomplishment and a great support, but the majority of the funding came from outside of Dallas, Price said.

Co-Chair Bowles agrees on prioritizing the need for capital: It’s not possible to grow; it’s not possible to scale without the funds to do so. “We always say, unless there’s gold at the end of the rainbow a startup cannot really be a startup,” he said.

Bowles says the task force has recommended a “fund of funds,” as an instrument to help support and bring capital into the community.

Going to Council

City Council Economic Development Committee Chairman Tennell Atkins is hoping to include the Task Force in the City’s new development plan, which is expected to receive a City Council vote later this month.

“We have to build for the future with a focus on providing equitable opportunities for all of our residents, especially those in southern Dallas,” Chairman Atkins said. “I am grateful for Mayor Johnson’s creation of the Task Force and for the Task Force’s push to ensure equity. I look forward to making the Task Force recommendations a key part of the City’s economic plans going forward.”

Believe Chairman Atkins when he says “we’re going to be the number one place in the country for entrepreneurs and innovation,” Bowles said.

“The great thing about Dallas is that we were built on the shoulders of pioneers and entrepreneurs and wildcatters,” he said. “This is a city that has built on a culture of innovation.”

But Bowles is a realist: we need to continue to push that forward— “encourage it and power force it and make it available for all entrepreneurs, regardless of whether they’re in North Dallas, South Dallas, Southern Dallas, West Dallas, or Houston.”

By supporting the Task Force and its recommendations, Mayor Johnson hopes to create a long-lasting culture of innovation in Dallas.

“Collectively, we hold the keys to a better tomorrow,” Mayor Johnson said. “And by building for the future now, we can create a resilient economy for the 21st century.”

Mayor Johnson’s 15-member task force

Top row, left to right: Trey Bowles, Mandy Price, Kristin Battle, Bryan Chambers, and Duane Dankesreiter; Second row: Michael J. De La Cruz, Diana Flores, Angie Gaylord, Wanda Granier, and Robert C. Johnson; Third row: Aasem Khalil, Emily Ledet, Simon Mak, Raamel Mitchell, and Sanjiv Yajnik

The Mayor’s Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship includes:

  • Kristin Battle – President and CEO, Strategic Focus, LLC, Strategic Focus Educational Services
  • Bryan Chambers – Vice President of Ventures, Capital Factory
  • Duane Dankesreiter – Senior Vice President of Research and Innovation, Dallas Regional Chamber
  • Michael J. De La Cruz – Senior Vice President of Business Development, Group O
  • Diana Flores – Immediate Past Chair, Dallas College Board of Trustees, and Vice President, Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Angie Gaylord – Deputy Chief of the Office of Transformation & Innovation, Dallas ISD
  • Wanda Granier – CEO, BridgeWork Partners, and past Chairman, Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Robert C. Johnson – Venture investor and TeamSupport LLC founder
  • Aasem Khalil – Head of Southern Region Investment Banking, Goldman Sachs
  • Emily Ledet – Market Executive, Bank of America
  • Simon Mak – Executive Director and Professor of Practice, SMU Cox Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship
  • Raamel Mitchell – Director, Corporate Citizenship and Market Development, Microsoft
  • Sanjiv Yajnik – President of Financial Services, Capital One 

 

You can download the report here.

The story was updated with additional information from the press conference at 8:30 p.m., on May 13, 2021.

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