Venture Dallas Names Three Winners in Inaugural ‘Startup of the Year’ Awards

The winning companies were selected from 100+ nominees and eight semifinalists. They reflect "strong themes" in the Dallas-Fort Worth ecosystem: FinTech, DefenseTech, and PropTech, says steering committee member David Evans.

Venture Dallas named its first-ever Startup of the Year winners at its fourth annual conference,  selecting three companies from a competitive pool of over 100 nominees.

Winners were announced Oct. 25 at the Venture Dallas Summit, which gathered hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University.

Dallas is increasingly producing top-tier companies run by elite founders, Venture Dallas says.  

The new awards are an opportunity to acknowledge their work, according to steering committee members Samantha Colletti of Silicon Valley Bank and David Evans of Sentiero Ventures. The goal is to “bring visibility to startups doing great work in the Dallas-Fort Worth ecosystem”—especially those that might not have immediate name recognition, Evans said.

Venture Dallas opened nominations for the awards to the steering committee, nominees, and the general public, Evans noted. To qualify, startups had to be local or have strong Dallas-Fort Worth ties, hit a $1 million revenue minimum or have a substantial capital raise, and actively seek fresh investment within the next 12 months.

From the slate of nominees, the steering committee narrowed the field down to eight semifinalists before naming the top three winners.

“Our top three choices reflected strong themes in the Dallas ecosystem: FinTech, DefenseTech, and PropTech,” Evans said. The winners “highlight the diversity of the Dallas startup and business ecosystem overall.”

Venture Dallas 2023 Startups of the Year

The three winners are:


Joe Beard and Joel Radtke, co-founders of CollateralEdge [Photo: CollateralEdge]

CollateralEdge, founded in 2021 by Joe Beard and Joel Radtke, is a fintech platform that helps community and regional banks increase lending capacity. The Dallas-based startup’s proprietary collateral coverage engine expedites underwriting so banks can quickly approve qualified business loans. The company built its technology to support commercial lending in different types of deal scenarios, including those with “airball” financials, borrowers without an established bank relationship, businesses with an uneven financial history, and applicants with customer concentration risk, among other use cases. CollateralEdge aims to enable commercial lenders to say “yes” to more customers without compromising credit quality.

Firehawk Aerospace

Firehawk Aerospace CEO and Co-Founder Will Edwards holding the company’s 3-D-printed fuel at its Addison office.  [Photo: Michael Samples/Dallas Innovates]

Firehawk Aerospace, founded in 2019, is a fast-growing hybrid rocket engine innovation and manufacturing company. Its 3D-printed fuel propels the startup’s proprietary “3D-Ultra” rocket engines. Founded by CEO Will Edwards, Steve Edwards, and Ronald Jones, Dallas-based Firehawk aims for a streamlined process that shortens production times and slashes costs “up to 90%.” Firehawk currently produces its hybrid rocket engines at its Addison office and conducts static fire testing at a two-acre site in Midland. A new launch range announced last week will allow the startup to test full propulsion system performance during actual flight conditions.


TestFit co-founders Clifton Harness, CEO (left), and Ryan Griege, CTO (right).

TestFit, founded in 2017 by Clifton Harness and Ryan Griege, helps real estate developers and architects save time and money by automating the design process. The Dallas-based startup’s AI-powered building configurator offers real-time insights on cost, asset design, and build feasibility. Its software, which can be integrated into existing systems, makes it faster for developers, architects, and investors to evaluate opportunities and “de-risk decisions.” San Francisco-based Prologis—whose venture arm invested in a $20 million Series A round for TestFit last year—recently deployed TestFit’s platform to “better judge the feasibility of new warehouse sites.”

Venture Dallas “Startup of the Year” semifinalists

In addition to award winners Collateral Edge, TestFit, and Firehawk Aerospace, the semifinalists are:


Autonomize, founded by Kris Nair and Ganesh Padmanabhan, pairs AI insights with human expertise to drive improvements in patient experiences and care. Its human-centric AI platform analyzes and contextualizes clinical and biomedical data to inform healthcare decision-making and data discovery. Autonomize’s software integrates into existing systems and workflows to provide deployable AI to improve healthcare services. 


Dottid, founded by Kyle Waldrep in 2016, is a PropTech aimed at streamlining and simplifying the leasing process for brokers, landlords, and tenants. Centralizing correspondence, documentation, and task tracking on its SaaS platform, the startup aims to help folks in commercial real estate save time and hassle. In August, the startup announced its Dottid AI ‘Assistant’ for CRE operations.

ID90 Travel

ID90 Travel, founded and led by Mike Stacy, “provides the technology that makes airline employee travel possible for the world’s leading airlines.”  The startup’s solutions use automation and optimization to reduce costs and streamline processes. The Southlake-based company said on LinkedIn it’s become a “leading one-stop comprehensive solution for airlines’ employee travel needs,” adding that it’s addressing a market “starved for innovation.” Last week, the company ranked No. 96 on The Dallas 100.


Nada, founded by fintech entrepreneur John Green, aims to open up real estate wealth creation to everyone. Nada launched in 2019 with its integrated, flat-fee real estate service model and the slogan “Sell your home online, pay nada.” Then, in 2021, Nada teamed up with New York-based Republic to launch Cityfunds, an index-like real estate investment product, in several markets, including Dallas. It plans to expand Cityfunds to four other markets by the end of this year. 


Zirtue, a fintech founded in 2018 by entrepreneur Dennis Cail, aims to transform peer-to-peer lending and borrowing. The startup’s automated platform facilitates personal loans between family and friends. Zirture recently partnered with money-transfer giant MoneyGram to give more people worldwide a “hand up” in securing loans.

Awards presented by White Unicorn Agency

White Unicorn Agency’s Brooks Johnson and Jonathan Rosenberg unveiled the Startup of the Year winners onstage at the Venture Dallas conference. 

“The Dallas startup community holds a special place in our agency’s heart,” said White Unicorn Managing Director Johnson, whose firm spearheaded a rebranding and marketing campaign for Venture Dallas earlier this year. “We’ve helped hundreds of founders achieve their dreams through creative marketing. And we see many clients in the audience today.”

Venture Dallas: Expect ‘bigger and better’ in 2024

The annual Venture Dallas conference convenes investors, founders, and advocates to grow the city’s startup and investor ecosystem and highlight Dallas as an entrepreneurial hub. Venture Dallas’ Evans and Colletti said they look forward to next year’s Startup of the Year program.

“Like everything we do at Venture Dallas, our goal is to do it bigger and better next year,” Evans said. “We’re already thinking about ways we can expand the program—and just as importantly—make sure that this year’s winners take part in the programming.”

All three rising stars are Dallas Innovates 2023 Future 50 honorees, featured in the annual magazine in January.

Dallas Innovates is a media sponsor of the Venture Dallas 2023 conference, which was held October 25, 2023, at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

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