Editor’s note: In advance of our CultureMap Social: The Innovation Edition, we chatted with our event partners about the Dallas startup scene. Up next: Molly Cain of Tech Wildcatters.
Named one of Dallas’ 40 Under 40 in 2012, Molly Cain, executive director of Tech Wildcatters, is also a regular contributor to Forbes, co-founder of GlassHeel.com — a career and lifestyle site for professional women — a rescuer of greyhounds, a certified yoga instructor, and a mentor to many in the Dallas startup community.
This summer, the mentor-driven seed fund and technology accelerator mobilized leading developers and members of Dallas’ disabled community to design, test, and build new tech that addresses the unique lifestyles of those with special needs.
Cain took some time to talk to us about Tech Wildcatters and to share her perspective on what makes Dallas the best place to do business.
CultureMap: What makes the startup community in Dallas special?
Molly Cain: In every startup community around the nation, there’s serious momentum happening, and Dallas is no exception. Our community in particular has progressed enough to where we’re now seeing impressive financial results. Companies that were an idea in 2012 are now pulling in millions in revenue per quarter. We’re bursting at the seams with people who have ideas – which I love! I’m personally pitched no less than five startup ideas per week (more if I’m out attending events).
It’s clear more people are thinking creatively here. It’s true Dallas has experienced a lot of startup success over the past decade, but that happened despite the lack of a strong startup community surrounding it. Now the community is buzzing with support and help for promising startups. Talent is becoming more readily available, the partnerships, the corporate support, and the media all play a role.
This is a fun time to be an entrepreneur or involved with one in some way. We’re thriving right now, and it’s because our city supports this growth. We have several active accelerators, our angel investors are excited — everyone is passionately diving in head-first, and it’s showing.
CM: What is something that people don’t know about doing business here?
MC: The power of networking in Dallas is a force to be reckoned with. We’re such a great hub for innovation that the Department of Homeland Security put money where their mouth is and launched their first-ever wearable technology effort here in Dallas with us at Tech Wildcatters just this year.
CM: Why do you think Dallas is as important an entrepreneurial hub as cities like San Francisco or Austin?
MC: My first answer to that question is always about the amazing corporations that live in our backyard. Dallas is known for housing many well-known Fortune 500s, and most have all participated in the growth of the entrepreneurial effort here in Dallas. Not to mention that Dallas has a rich (and I mean $$$$) history of entrepreneurs.
But to really dig into that question, you should talk to some of the more recent ones — like Lance Crosby, who sold SoftLayer to IBM for $2.1 billion, or TJ Person, who built Koupon Media, and, lastly T.K. Stohlman, founder of FanPrint (which is literally exploding as we speak).
Dallas is just as important an entrepreneurial hub as cities like San Francisco and Austin; we just market it less. We’re just too busy working.
CM: Sum up Dallas in three words.
MC: Tradition, renown, rugged.
CM: How does your organization fit into what’s happening on the startup scene?
MC: Tech Wildcatters (TW) is dedicated to seeing Texas recognized as a top three innovative region within the next five years. When Gabriella Draney Zielke launched us in 2009, there were very few startup resources working together in an accessible way. Today it’s far easier to get an idea from inception to realization. That’s because of amazing organizations like the Dallas Entrepreneur Center (DEC), 1 Million Cups, The Ground Floor, and many more.
The growth of these organizations has allowed TW to focus on attracting the best startups and supporting every aspect of their business, from mentorship and investor introductions to product launches and PR. We are now working hand-in-hand with corporations in Dallas that have been expressing interest in startups for years via our Corporate Innovation Network.
We help corporations get involved so they can build their innovation strategies using new business ideas that hail from the startup community. We call this greasing the wheels. It’s what we do best, and we’re so honored to be part of this community in every way.
CM: What does innovation look like to you?
MC: Simple: problem solving. That often means an entrepreneur working at Tech Wildcatters HQ at 2 am, chugging Red Bull, tenaciously working on an idea for a major corporate client. I’ve seen them do this for Neiman’s, for the Dallas Stars, for Caesars Palace. The list goes on.
Visionary people who simply won’t give up when they’re onto something that could change the way things are done right now in the traditional business sense — they are innovation.
CM: What is Tech Wildcatters doing that’s different than anyone else in Dallas?
MC: We attract startups from all over the world to experience our methodology. We connect them with incredible mentorship: mentors that are proven, road-tested, and successful (in both wins and fails), then we invest in them. We believe in them. We coach them. We block for them and we stay with them through the life of their entire company. Our portfolio of startups is incredible; most haven’t exited yet simply because they’re growing like mad.
Startup life is hard, and at Tech Wildcatters, we give them a sub-community that they can rely on for the lifespan of their company. From educational to financial and just plain emotional support, they’ll get it with us. It’s what I love most about my job: meeting and working with the alums and finding out how we can keep them on track and successful.
Even those that “fail” or close their doors, we still consider part of our family and encourage to do great things. We’re not an accelerator, we’re kind of a lifecycle.
CM: Why are mentors so important in the tech world?
MC: Mentors are important in every world. If you are someone who wants to succeed, you need a mentor, plain and simple. You’re making bad business decisions otherwise.
I personally have four. It’s smart to surround yourself with more than one person who’s smarter than you, who can guide you, and slap you a little when you’re acting stupid. It’s not special to any kind of industry. Just get a mentor. If you’re in the network with Tech Wildcatters, you’ll be fortunate to have access to hundreds.
CM: How does Tech Wildcatters help support a female presence in the startup community?
MC: It’s easy. We live it every day. We talk about it. We are walking examples. And while we want more females in our community, we demand it because diversity creates the most successful teams. I was speaking to an entrepreneurship professor earlier today who mentioned she sees half of a female for every 10 men who want to be involved in our industry.
TW is a direct contrast to the statistics. We have an all-female executive team (the only top accelerator entirely run by females) and that gets noticed, so we embrace this designation.
What I love is a young women walking into our office asking how she can get involved because she sees us doing the very thing she wants to be doing. If we can be role models and inspire anyone to pursue a bigger career than they originally thought possible, that’s a big win.
Buy tickets to the CultureMap Social: The Innovation Edition, which takes place September 30, 6 pm, at 129 Leslie.