By Melissa Repko The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with Michelle Williams who will oversee programming and services as the executive director of the southern region of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.
The Dallas Morning News
For years, the Dallas Entrepreneur Center has been known as the place that hosts startup events and offers co-working space in the West End of downtown Dallas.
As the nonprofit organization expands to southern Dallas, entrepreneurship centers will soon open at Southwest Center Mall, Paul Quinn College and the University of North Texas at Dallas. Michelle Williams will oversee programming and services as the executive director of the southern region.
The main hub of the southern region will open in the summer near Southwest Center Mall, better known as Red Bird Mall. The shopping center will get new life with the entrepreneurship center, new offices, a Marriott Courtyard, green space and upscale apartments. The entrepreneurial incubator will open in a temporary space and later move into the mall.
The two college entrepreneurship centers will open next fall.
Williams, an education advocate, comes from Leadership ISD, a nonprofit organization that runs a program to teach civic leaders about public schools. She's also president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Urban League. She recently spoke about her new role at the DEC in the West End. Her comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Question: What appealed to you about your new job, and why were you inspired to accept it?
A: Working in any field of equity -- the judicial system, the education system -- you can see how opportunity intertwines with those things. You can see how in the education system, race and socioeconomics play a huge part of it. You can see how in the judicial system, race and socioeconomics play a huge part of it. Having the opportunity to work in a space where I can help an entire community find opportunities to explore entrepreneurship really hit home for me. It seemed like really exciting work.
Question: Tell me more about the centers. What are the plans for the southern region?
A: It includes three different locations. The main hub will be at Red Bird Mall, partnering with the development that [Dallas investor] Peter Brodsky is undertaking in that area. When he was doing his community tours and asking, "What is it that you want to see in this development in the mall? What kind of retailers do you want to see? What kind of resources do you want to see?," he said over and over again the ask was "We need an entrepreneur center. We need an incubator. We need some resource for people who are growing their business." There's not even a coffee shop in the area where people can grab a desk, so we need a collaborative resource where we can go sit down, build some community and get some education. So it was birthed really out of the community asking for it.
The Red Bird center will model a lot after this [West End] center, so we're working with the architects and telling them to model the floor plans similarly to make sure we have an event space, co-working space, dedicated space. The unique thing the Red Bird center will have that this center does not have is a coding academy that will offer a coding boot camp in our space. We will also have a computer lab in our space to open up more opportunities in the tech field.
Question: How will your background factor into your new role?
A: It's amazing how much education and educational equity ties into launching into entrepreneurship. Going back to the coding example, when we're looking at areas where the high school only offers algebra II as the highest level of math and biology as the highest level of science. How, then, do we expose children to opportunities to learn the tools and skills that they would need to even think about launching any kind of tech or coding business?
Financial literacy is a big thing. If they [students] are not receiving those types of tools and resources, how are we filling in those gaps to make sure they can start viable businesses? There's a direct correlation between the information our entrepreneurs will come in with and the way we fill in those gaps to make sure we support them in ways that are empowering.
Question: What are some the barriers for entrepreneurs?
A: It's really similar across the board. If you ask anyone, they're going to say money. It's either capital to grow their business or it's money to take the risk. When we're talking about underserved communities, oftentimes people don't have a safety net. They have to work 60 hours a week to put food on their family's table. How then do they find the time and money to bootstrap a business? Another one is access to resources. Where do you go to find information on what type of business you're building, how to set it up and how to write a business plan?
Question: What are you most excited about?
A: I'm most excited to see people's dreams become reality. That's the most exciting thing about working here at the DEC. People literally come in here with an idea and you get to watch them grow. You can be really strategic and intentional about providing them support. And then you look up in two years, and they have five employees and then they have 10 employees. That's just an amazing thing to get to watch. -- Michelle Williams Age: 31 Education: Bachelor's degree in education from Western Governors University Hometown: Born in Denton, grew up in Gainesville and lives in Dallas Family: Has a 14-year-old son, Javon