Alyce Alston: ‘Let’s Be Really Clear. The State of Entrepreneurship is Strong in DFW’

Also at the SOE19 event, The DEC announces a partnership with the North Texas Angel Network, Craig Hall remembers Herb Kelleher, Mike Rawlings looks at the city's history of innovation, Dumb Money talks success on YouTube, and the Dallas Startup Evangelist of the year is named.

Marking the halfway point in Dallas Startup Week, the info- and action-packed State of Entrepreneurship address this Wednesday brought the biggest names in local innovation to celebrate exits, honor startups, and even reveal some big news.

It’s easy to see that startups and entrepreneurs are making their mark in Dallas, and it’s not going unnoticed. Wednesday evening brought with it the annual “State of Entrepreneurship” address, presented by Capital One. According to The DEC the event celebrates the people, places, and passions that keep the DFW startup ecosystem thriving.

Held at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas, the event engaged and welcomed businesspeople ranging from startup founders to corporations to incubators/accelerators to the 2019 Dallas Startup Evangelist.

Speakers included:

  • Alyce Alston, CEO, The DEC Network
  • Craig Hall, Chairman & Founder, HALL Group
  • Sanjiv Yajnik, President of Capital One Financial Services, Capital One
  • Trey Bowles, Cofounder & Executive Chairman, The DEC Network
  • Joe Beard, Partner, Perot Jain
  • Josh Baer, Founder & CEO, Capital Factory
  • Chris Camillo, YouTuber/Investor,
  • Leah Frazier, Founder, Think Three Media
  • Mandy Price, CEO, Kanarys
  • Shelly Slater, Co-Founder, The Slate


While the event, and Dallas Startup Week overall, celebrates innovation and ingenuity in startup businesses, its participants know the business ecosystem can’t thrive without the all of its parts. And its parts are many.

Alston says the North Texas economy is among the nation’s strongest. “Let’s be really clear. The state of entrepreneurship is strong in DFW.”

In fact, the region ranks 2nd in the country for year-over-year growth, and is home to 85 coworking spaces, 42 incubators and accelerators, 5 national ranked research universities, and 25 corporatize innovation centers. Also, it’s 7th in nation for healthiest startup communities, 6th in country for most tech jobs, and has three quarters of a billion of VC investment.

But Alston says entrepreneurs can’t rest on their laurels. As a result, The DEC Wednesday announced a partnership with the North Texas Angel Network.

Chris Wilkes, Chairman of the Board of the network, says it has invested over $10 million in startup companies in the last 10 years.

“Many of those companies were in very early stages, where they had a small amount of revenue,” he says. “Some of them did not have revenue at all. But what they had was a good plan. They had a good business idea. They had a good product… Our partnership with The DEC is about expanding our mission. It’s about having more investors join our group.”

The DEC CEO Alyce Alston at the State of Entrepreneurship 2019. [Photo: Cameron L. Cook/Dallas Startup Week]

View from the mayor’s office

After a brief introduction from Alston, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings took to the stage, where he engaged the startup community and implored it to continue the progress the city’s startup community has made in recent years.

“I will tell you that eight years ago, the startup community was just starting up,” Rawlings says. “And what has happened in that period of time, in this decade, is truly remarkable. All of you here tonight need to be ambassadors for this. There’s an old saying: Someone asked the preacher, ‘Why do you preach to the choir? He says, ‘because I need the choir to sing.'”

While entrepreneurs are taking on innovation like never before, Rawlings reminded the crowd that innovation has always had a place in North Texas. From 7-Eleven to Trammel Crow, groundbreaking developments have always played a role in Dallas’ development.

“Think about what Stanley Marcus did right over here with Neiman Marcus when he decided to take on Paris from Dallas, Texas,” Rawlings says. “We can be as cool and chic and high fashion, and sell expensive, wonderful clothing. Think about what Mary Kay cosmetics… What’s truly innovative and creative is that it’s not only that cosmetic company but a way to market.”

Rawlings went on to mention Southwest Airlines, a one-time startup that has become one of the top commercial airlines in the nation.

“Probably the greatest, wildest entrepreneur we ever had was Herb Kelleher from Southwest,” Rawlings says. “He wrote his business plan on cocktail napkin.”

If the startup founders are the choir, Wednesday night’s speaker lineup was the preacher. Taking the stage after Rawlings was Craig Hall.

Mike Rawlings at the State of Entrepreneurship 2019. [Photo: Cameron L. Cook/Dallas Startup Week]

Craig Hall on remembering Herb Kelleher

Craig Hall’s speech honored the late innovative founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, a man whom Hall says “proves the point that good guys can win.”

Kelleher, who died in January, wanted to democratize airline travel to bring prices down and speed up flight turnaround time.

“He was a fierce competitor, but he never, ever sacrificed his integrity,” Hall says. “I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about Herb. from a personal standpoint. They fought with him, and then they loved him after the fight was over. And that’s a real important life lesson for all of us.”

Nearing the end of his speech, Hall produced a bright, colorful necktie from his pocket. The tie, he said, was a gift from Kelleher, an ongoing joke he said he and the airline mogul shared. The tie was given to him along with a note, which read, in part: “the attached tie screamed, ‘Craig Hall,’ to me as I walked through the men’s department of Kmart.”

Craig Hall remembers Herb Kelleher. [Photo: Quincy Preston]

Sanjiv Yajnik on a new era in tech

Also speaking was Sanjiv Yajnik, president of financial services at Capital One. The banking company, he said, was also once a startup born of a dream.

“The dream was that we wanted to change the way that banking was done, that financial services was done,” Yajnik says. “We were not interested in making money for ourselves or big corporation or anything like that. We basically said that we want to challenge the market for the sake of the customer. That’s what we want to do. We want to introduce humanity into into financial services.”

Yajnik says a new industrial revolution is underway—this time not spurred by technological development but instead by innovative thinking around tech.

“When people are running around thinking about, ‘how do you automate things,’ I think they’re missing the big point, because this revolution has new technology, new software, new hardware, new ways of doing things, and it is the machine learning and augmented intelligence revolution that is on us. It’s a massive change.”

Lastly, Yajnik, a lifelong innovator, shared his recipe for disruption to startups looking to break ground with new ideas.

“You need the right people—you need people who are trained in technology in data science, design, and design thinking—and then you also need sources of inspiration.”

Sanjiv Yajnik at the State of Entrepreneurship 2019. [Photo: Cameron L. Cook/Dallas Startup Week]

Joe Beard’s insights from an investor

Joe Beard, a partner at Perot Jain, said the startup industry is showing positive trends for emerging tech startups. 

“From our perspective, we’re seeing a lot of positive trends in the market deals, deals are getting funded across the broad array of sectors and technologies, whether it’s a cybersecurity, blockchain, eSports, mobility, it’s all happening,” Beard says.

Some examples of these include ParkHub, which raised $13 million; Alto raised $14.5 million total; Vinli closed $14.5 million, Neighborhood Goods has $14.5 million, real estate startup Door raised a $12-million series A, Hypergiant raised $5 million, Linear Labs closed $4.5 million just last week, Last Mile Logistics raised $8 million, and AmplifiAI raised $3.9 million.

Beard called for a round of applause for all the startups that made an exit in 2018 before handing the microphone off to Josh Baer, founder & CEO of Capital Factory.

Joe Beard at the State of Entrepreneurship 2019. [Photo: Cameron L. Cook/Dallas Startup Week]

The incubator landscape

Josh Baer’s Capital Factory is based in Austin, but recently expanded to Uptown Dallas in partnership with the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. Because he often travels back and forth between the Capital Factory sites, Baer has gotten an inside look at the Texas startup culture.

“Texas startups think big, but they know how to start small,” he says. “That’s what I’m seeing, and that’s a strategy that I really like. And Dallas investors think big, and they move fast. It’s easy to get deals done in Dallas and the investors here like to collaborate they like to do deals together.”

Furthermore, Baer says he is proud of the growth and progress he has seen The DEC and Capital Factory make in North Texas.

“I can tell you from my own experience that this city is on the rise. Every week, our space in the deck with the deck gets busier and busier. Every week the kitchen has more and more people in it when I walk in. I can feel the energy building, and I know other people feel it, too.”

Baer presented Alston with a traditional military medallion known as a challenge coin. The coin, he says, is emblazoned with the words “The center of gravity for entrepreneurs in Texas” and “Presented for excellence.”

Josh Baer at the State of Entrepreneurship 2019. [Photo: Cameron L. Cook/Dallas Startup Week]

Meet Dumb Money

Dumb Money is a Dallas-based YouTube channel with more than 20,000 subscribers. Founded by three men who quit their day jobs to become online personalities highlighting the startup scene, Dumb Money has invested in more than 42 Dallas-area startups.

“We started Dumb Money because we wanted to show how early stage deals come together,” says Chris Camillo, a co-founder of Dumb Money. “As much as we love the theatrics of the big network shows like Shark Tank, pitch competitions, generally, aren’t how investors like us discover and invest in startups.”

The channel, he says, is intended to show the investing process from the moment of the first introduction all the way through to the exit.

Speaking of exits, a Dumb Money startup, Fixed Repair, was recently acquired by Angie’s List parent company ANGI.

Dallas Startup Evangelist of the year 

Leah Frasier, of Think Three Media, presented the Startup Evangelist of the year award at the end of the night. The award went to Nancy Hong, director of Addison TreeHouse. The five finalists were Jasmine Brand, Lisa Jill, Nancy Hong, Jessica Vittorio, and Keisha Whaley.

“It’s clear that in the eyes of many, many, many people, this person who I will name shortly has worked tirelessly, and she personifies the spirit of our thriving startup community,” David Kirkpatrick, Hong’s “speechwriter” says on her behalf.

Leah Frazier presented Nancy Hong with the Dallas Startup Evangelist award at the State of Entrepreneurship 2019. [Photo: Cameron L. Cook/Dallas Startup Week]

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