SXSW Showcases Dallas Startup Community

For the first time at SXSW, the Dallas tech community and support organizations banded together to throw a party in celebration of the city’s booming startup activity and increasing national spotlight.

by Hanah Cho, The Dallas Morning News / March 16, 2015
Dallas, Texas Flickr/Marko Forsten

(Tribune News Service) — In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, a well-known entrepreneur dropped by a South by Southwest party celebrating the North Texas startup community.

Few at the party Saturday noticed Steve Case, co-founder of AOL. But the fact that he stopped by, albeit briefly, was a feat. Earlier that day, he had given a keynote speech on the future of the Internet at the annual interactive, music and film festival.

Just a few years ago, such a gathering would not have even happened because the Dallas tech startup scene wasn’t mature enough or working together as well as it is today, says Trey Bowles, co-founder of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

For the first time at SXSW, various Dallas startups and support organizations banded together to throw a party dubbed “Dallas Drops the Mic.”

Sponsors included the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, accelerators Tech Wildcatters and RevTech, online startup community LaunchDFW, cloud company Softlayer, membership-based private airline startup Rise and startup lawyer Ryan Roberts.

For the Dallas tech community, the party’s name was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to the city’s booming startup activity and increasing national spotlight. Artists and singers often drop microphones after a great performance.

Tech Wildcatters, for instance, was picked as one of two U.S. accelerators to pilot a wearable technology program for the Department of Homeland Security. The inaugural Dallas Startup Week this month drew more than 2,000 participants, shattering the attendance record for a first-time startup week.

More than 100 entrepreneurs, investors and supporters, mostly from North Texas, packed the first floor of Old School Bar & Grill on Austin’s Sixth Street downtown for the celebration Saturday.

They mingled, exchanged business cards and talked business. They exhausted the free bar tab in 40 minutes. And they dropped inflatable mics.

Kent McKeaigg, founder and president of Dallas-based Order My Gear, traveled to Austin just to attend the party and reconnect with other entrepreneurs.

McKeaigg said he’s been focused recently on growing revenue and becoming a profitable company. Unlike San Francisco and even Austin, where there are a lot of distractions, Dallas provides opportunities to succeed, he said.

“If I were in San Francisco, it’s all about what you did before,” he said. “In Dallas, they look at the revenue and our company.”

Molly Cain, Tech Wildcatters’ executive director, said hosting the party in Austin was one way to tell the world that Dallas, too, is a great place for tech startups.

“Austin has been the cozy startup mecca for Texas. We’re slowly starting to take that land,” Cain said. “It’s exciting. South by is a perfect opportunity to say competition is coming.”

People outside Texas are noticing.

Iowan Andy Stoll, who stopped by the party as it was winding down, said Dallas is becoming known for more than being a mecca for Fortune 500 companies.

“In the last two years, Dallas has been getting attention on the national startup scene more than ever before,” said Stoll, who works for Iowa Startup Accelerator. “Dallas gets mentioned as one of the top places to start a business in the U.S.”

With so many parties competing against one another during SXSW, though, it isn’t easy to steal the spotlight completely from Austin.

The city’s tech community hosted its annual Austin Startup Crawl last week before the festival. The huge party typically attracts several thousand attendees, who hop from one startup location to another in downtown Austin.

Still, every event or party has to start somewhere. The Dallas tech community has not had a collective presence at SXSW until this year.

Francesca Pick is a believer in the Dallas startup scene.

Pick, a community builder for OuiShare, a Paris-based think tank on the collaborative economy, came to the party with Dallas entrepreneur Chirag Gupta, who owns coworking space Nod.

Pick has been working to organize a local event with Gupta and other Dallas entrepreneurs, who have been extolling the region as a startup hub in Texas.

“I think of Austin as the live music capital,” said Pick, whose mother grew up in Austin. “To me … Dallas is the startup capital. I think outside the U.S., people don’t know Austin as the tech space.”

©2015 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC