Entrepreneurs Connect At Inaugural Dallas Startup Week

By Hanah Cho
The Dallas Morning News.

Shawnee Leonard knows Dallas is a great place to start a business. For the last two years, she has been running Makeup by Shawnee, a bridal and special events makeup business.

Just recently, Leonard has been trying to connect with other entrepreneurs. She figured attending the inaugural Dallas Startup Week, which began Monday, would be a great way to get more involved in the region’s booming startup scene.

“As an entrepreneur, you can’t just talk to anyone. You have to talk to people who you can connect with,” Leonard said in between sessions. “You want support and [to] ask someone who has firsthand experience because you know it’s not easy.”

The free weeklong event attracted many entrepreneurs like Leonard who are new to the growing entrepreneurial community in North Texas.

“We wanted the existing community to come together and also get people not connected to the community to plug in as well,” said Fiona Schlachter, a member of the Dallas Startup Week organizing committee. “I’m excited that people who aren’t connected are connecting.”

Organized by nonprofit UPGlobal and a committee of local entrepreneurs, the event features nearly 100 workshops around eight topics tied to North Texas: business, fashion, health, travel, food, social entrepreneurship, education and commercial real estate. Chase is the main sponsor for Dallas Startup Week.

About 2,000 business owners, investors and others registered for the event, which is taking place in and around downtown, including at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center in the West End and at Chase’s Pacific Avenue branch.

John Crawford, CEO of the economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc., kicked off Startup Week with a brief talk about the city center’s evolution over several decades.

He noted that downtown is no longer just a central business district but has become a multidimensional place to work and live, including for startups, Crawford said.
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A number of accelerators and co-working spaces have moved downtown in the past year, including Tech Wildcatters, Health Wildcatters and Dallas Fort Work.

Learning from other entrepreneurs and getting sound advice was what drew entrepreneur Kat Armstrong to Startup Week.

Armstrong, who attended a session on funding for retail-related startups, said her business, Dallas-based Baby Bow Tie, got off to a quick start. Within several months of launching in November 2013, she had secured small orders from Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.
With orders ramping up, Armstrong said, she wanted to learn more about raising capital.

“I don’t know anything about seed or Series A, B or C rounds. It’s a foreign language to me,” she said.

Besides connecting North Texas entrepreneurs, Startup Week is highlighting local success stories as well as failures.

At one session featuring local investors and entrepreneurs, discussion centered on doing business in Dallas and what the region needs to do to make it a hub for startups like Silicon Valley or Boston.

“I don’t think we should aspire to be the next Silicon Valley,” said Matt Himelfarb, a managing director at Dallas Venture Partners. “We should aspire to make Dallas great.”

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