Start-up Investment in the Heartland is surging. Venture Dallas has organized an innovative event to accelerate the growth of the North Texas innovation ecosystem
by Dave McKenna, Editor CREB on August 25, 2020
Texas is a great place to innovate and launch a startup. From Austin to Houston to Dallas, the Lone Star State is emerging as the center of gravity of what some call the Mighty Middle – the twenty-five states of the American heartland between the two established innovation ecosystems based in Silicon Valley and New York.
Venture Dallas, a volunteer led organization dedicated to growing the innovation ecosystem in Dallas-Fort Worth, is working to accelerate the growth of the Texas innovation ecosystem with an innovation of its own. It has organized a month-long virtual networking and pitch-fest to run from September 15 to October 18. The event is designed to bring the best Texas-based startups together with top-tier investors from around the country. Qualified startups will be admitted to a curated online environment to connect them with interested investors.
Hosted on Thumbraise, an app specifically designed for pitching startups, the selected startups create a short pitch video similar to an Instagram Story which will be made available to investors. Interested investors will then be able to connect with the startups directly and begin a dialog and potential invest.
MIGHTY MIDDLE IS GROWING FAST
This is an exciting time to launch a startup in Texas, which leads the way in the Mighty Middle. The Mighty Middle has seen fantastic venture investment growth over the past ten years. According to Cruchbase data, the Mighty Middle has seen double digit annual growth in venture funding for a decade, and Texas leads the way in the region.
“The best is yet to come for Texas,” said Bryan Chambers of the Venture Dallas Host Committee and VP of Accelerator and Investment Fund at Capital Factory. “The next ten years will be the strongest it has ever been for tech and innovation, especially in Dallas.” In the last ten years the Mighty Middle has seen 28 exits over $500 million and the rise of five unicorns.
While many still think of Silicon Valley and New York as the primary innovation ecosystems in the United States, the truth is that the big coastal VCs have been looking beyond their local markets for years to find great companies. The work-from-anywhere ethos growing out of the Covid experience is adding fuel that trend. “Those in the venture business know there is a migration of capital from the coasts to the heartland. And it is happening in a big way in Texas,” said Chambers. “ Just look at the recent announcements from Uber, and Tesla. Look at Austin-based Gigafund, and the recent expansion of Jim Breyer from Menlo Park to Austin as well.”
The idea for the event is as innovative as the startups Venture Dallas is promoting. “This is something very different from a pitch contest,” said Chambers. “It is a virtual experience in a curated, private network of qualified startups and high-quality investors, designed to create relationships.”
The imaginative approach of this follow-on event is born out of necessity. Venture Dallas’ inaugural event last year was as a big hit. The conference last year was an in-person event over a day and half, which attracted hundreds of North Texas startups and investors from all over the country.
The global pandemic made an in-person event impossible. However, just as the creative response to Covid has actually lead to some positive discoveries (from WFA to somewhat-less-boring political conventions,) the new format has some advantages. Participation is open to any Texas — limited to North Texas. And since no travel is required, the event is free to all participants. The event is well on its way to exceeding last year’s participation.
While the event is free for both the startups and the investors, it is selective. Any startup is welcome to apply to participate, but there are a few qualifications to be admitted. Full-time founders are one important marker for selection. “We’re looking to include any and all qualified venture opportunities. Qualified venture opportunities have committed founders working full-time on their companies,” said Chambers.
The investors are vetted as well. There are 144 investors participating and growing each day. The group spans certified angel investors to large institutional funds. The cadre for the event is very diverse in their targets and interests as well. “Every stage and every sector is represented, from Impact, to proptech, to agriculture, to cybersecurity,” said Chambers.
For startups interested in participating, a simple two-minute application is available at Venture Dallas. A few minimal questions to help qualify the application is likely to be of interest to the investors are required. Accepted applications will receive access to the Thumbraise environment.
Over 140 startups from across Texas have already signed-up, and as many investors from around the country. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see triple that number by the time we kick off,” said Chambers. Texas as the anchor of the Mighty Middle is expected to draw increasing attention as capital continues to migrate in land from the coasts. Venture Dallas is planning to put some new Texas starts on the map.