Tech Wildcatters’ New Network Enlists Corporations to Boost Startups

To help startups get off the ground, Tech Wildcatters is bringing in Big D’s big businesses.

The Dallas-based accelerator has unveiled a new program called the Corporate Innovation Network, a select group of companies that will have a much more hands-on role with Tech Wildcatters’ startups.

“This is a way to formalize the relationship with some of our corporate partners and give everyone more value,” says Gabriella Draney Zielke, Tech Wildcatters co-founder and CEO. “This program will make the connections between the companies and our entrepreneurs deeper and more substantial.”

Zielke founded the accelerator five years ago to concentrate on startups seeking to innovate in business-to-business technology. That makes sense in a regional economy dominated by well-known corporate names in transportation, retail, and financial services.

Now, Tech Wildcatters aims to bind that relationship tighter with its corporate network program. The idea is that the startups will benefit more directly from the companies’ domain expertise and connections to get their products to market faster. The corporations, for their part, are plugged into entrepreneurs who provide innovative solutions that can be used by the larger companies. Bringing big companies and startups together to help each other makes sense, but it doesn’t always get put into practice. Tech Wildcatters efforts are the next step in current tech summits that bring the two parties together in speed-dating like fashion, as my colleague Wisconsin Editor Jeff Engel wrote last year.

Tech Wildcatters holds the companies accountable, requiring that each member in the network commits to beta-testing products from at least one startup in the accelerator’s portfolio each year. So far, seven companies have signed onto the network, including Comerica, SoftLayer, 7-Eleven, and the Dallas Stars hockey franchise. The network will have a total of 10 companies.

“We get approached often by startups and companies looking to work with us,” Brad Alberts, the Stars’ chief revenue officer, said in a press release. “It’s nearly impossible to understand all the products they’re offering, much less if they’re a quality company to work with. This program is a perfect way for us to sift through the clutter and work with early-stage companies with little to no risk.”

The companies will meet the new class of 16 Wildcatters startups March 2 when the accelerator’s sixth program begins. Last year’s class included entrepreneurs from Brazil, the United Kingdom, and at home in Dallas. The accelerator says it accepted just 4 percent of the applications it received last year.

Another notable change taking place at Tech Wildcatters is a sidelining of its GlobeStart program, which had brought six to eight international startups to Dallas and taken them on an entrepreneurial road trip of sorts from Texas to Silicon Valley. The idea was to create a global entrepreneurial community with ties to North Texas.

But Zielke says that that effort has been pushed down the priority list as Tech Wildcatters seeks to boost its accelerator program and the corporate network. “We do have a couple of companies that we had already accepted” into GlobeStart, she says. “We offered to do their own individual trips. We’ll talk with them to tailor what they would like to do.”

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