After five years of building a nonprofit to provide education, mentorship, and community support for North Texas entrepreneurs, Trey Bowles is pulling back from its day-to-day operation.
On Thursday morning, the serial entrepreneur announced plans to step down from his top leadership role at The Dallas Entrepreneur Center. The nonprofit also is moving its headquarters away from Dallas’ West End to The Centrum in the Oak Lawn neighborhood.
“I think a testament to the sustainability of an organization is how does that organization thrive or exist after the founder is gone?”
Bowles will remain involved in long term and strategic planning as executive chairman of the DEC board of directors. The decision to relinquish his day-to-day responsibilities after five years of operation was always part of the plan, he said.
“The DEC has done what I wanted to help do,” Bowles told Dallas Innovates. “We started it, we built it, and we helped create a collaborative ecosystem across North Texas.”
Now, he said it’s time for a new leader to take the reins and continue that work.
“I think a testament to the sustainability of an organization is how does that organization thrive or exist after the founder is gone?” Bowles said.
NEW DEC LEADER IS EXPECTED IN NEXT FEW MONTHS
In the next few months, the DEC plans to hire its next executive director. Once that leader comes on board, Bowles will remain in a limited capacity to help in that transition, but he doesn’t expect to be on the payroll for too much longer.
The DEC executive director is a multifaceted position as Bowles has defined it. The incoming leader should be understanding of the needs of an entrepreneur, knowledgeable about nonprofit operation, and comfortable developing relationships with sponsors, corporate CEOs, mentors, and public officials alike. This person also will become an advocate for entrepreneurs in the community, Bowles said.
“We want somebody who believes in Dallas the way we do.”
“We want somebody who believes in Dallas the way we do,” he said. “Who has an understanding of the vast resources that exist here, but also the historic reality of entrepreneurship and innovation in the region with a keen awareness and commitment to the fact that although we have been an amazing entrepreneurial, innovative community since our inception, we have not been a great place for all entrepreneurs.”
Bowles is a believer in giving people, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation, equitable access to become entrepreneurs.
Since founding the DEC in 2013, he’s helped build programs for a diverse set of entrepreneurs including women and minorities. As lead organizer of Dallas Startup Week, the 2017 five-day event series had the most diverse audience and more female attendees percentage wise than any other Techstars Startup Week held throughout the country that year.
DEC IS MOVING ITS HEADQUARTERS TO THE CENTRUM
The DEC model of nurturing entrepreneurs has been replicated in Addison, Denton, and San Antonio. Last January, it announced plans to move into southern Dallas. The University of North Texas at Dallas has opened its satellite DEC space with other southern Dallas centers at Paul Quinn College and Red Bird Mall on the way.
Bowles said the DEC will retain a presence in the West End, but in June its headquarters will be moving to The Centrum joining Austin-based startup accelerator Capital Factory. He couldn’t say what the West End office would look like in the future, but did mention a general coworking offering would not be part of that location anymore.
“Now that there are 62 coworking spaces in Dallas, that piece of the process to help entrepreneurs grow is solved, so we don’t have to do that anymore in downtown Dallas,” Bowles said.
BOWLES’ NEXT CHAPTER
Prior to starting the DEC, Bowles founded and grew a number of startup companies including the peer-to-peer file sharing site Morpheus.
He said his time leading the DEC has been rewarding in a different way from his for-profit ventures.
“We don’t judge success in a nonprofit world by how much money you make or what happened to your equity, but [rather] getting to see the impact and the outputs that our team has created in the lives of entrepreneurs across the region,” Bowles said.
And he believes the DEC has made a difference in North Texas. The profile of the local startup ecosystem has been raised nationally and internationally and collaboration among organizations has yielded more investments for the community.
There is still room for improvement, he said.
Bowles would like to see even more startup success through funding, growth, and exits. He also sees potential in increasing family office and high net worth investments into early-stage entrepreneurs. Moving forward, collaboration will continue to be key.
“We have to be able to work together. I don’t think there should be a center of any ecosystem.”
“We have to be able to work together. I don’t think there should be a center of any ecosystem. I think there should be a decentralized network of awesome organizations doing different things and supporting each other in that,” he said.
The DEC will still be a part of his next chapter, it’s just not how he will make a living. He’s not ready to give details on what the future holds for him just yet, but he expects it will be in the for-profit realm.
“I want to make sure we get the DEC transferred over successfully so that the person [who] comes in to run it is equipped and empowered to lead the organization, and then I will make a decision about what’s next for me,” Bowles said.