Inaugural Dallas Startup Week Puts Focus On Region’s Innovators

Xconomy Texas — 

The first-ever Dallas Startup Week begins today, aiming to introduce the region’s different entrepreneurial ecosystems to each other.

“Now, there is collaboration happening,” says Michael Sitarzewski, one of the startup week’s organizers. “We’re bringing the Greater Dallas-Fort Worth startup communities together to share their experiences and network. Next year, it’s about bringing other people in and showing them why they should start and move their company to Dallas.”

Sitarzewski, founder and CEO of Epic Playground, came to Dallas in 2013 after seven years in Denver, hoping to help boost the startup scene in the Dallas-Fort Worth region as the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. Since that time, he says a robust network of entrepreneurs, accelerators, and investors have blossomed, making a weeklong startup week possible.

This week, more than 2,500 people are expected at about 130 events in downtown Dallas—carefully coordinated so that no session is more than a 15-minute walk away. The programming runs the innovation gamut, from education to the fashion industry and real estate. There are also panels offering entrepreneurial guidance, like legal advice and how to leave the comforts of corporate life for a startup, and an introduction to the region’s accelerators like Tech Wildcatters, Health Wildcatters, and Collide Village. (For more details on the schedule, click here.)

Though the startup week’s events will take place in Dallas, Fiona Schlachter, another organizer, says the agenda features a “city fair” area, which houses startup groups from across the Dallas-Fort Worth region. “This will have anything to show the flavor of startups in their areas so people can find out what’s going on in the cities that surround Dallas,” she says, adding that while some entrepreneurs seek out a more urban downtown environment such as in Dallas, others may prefer a laid-back college town feel like that in Denton, TX, home of University of North Texas, about 40 miles north of Dallas.

Hubert Zajicek, the director of the Health Wildcatters accelerator, says the program decided to move forward the opening of its application period to coincide with the startup week. About 30 finalists will participate in a pitch day in July and a class of about 12 will be chosen to start the three-month program in August.

While Houston—home to the Texas Medical Center, one of the world’s largest health care clusters—gets much of the attention related to life sciences companies, Zajicek points out that Dallas is also a hub in the sector. “There is $6 billion worth of hospital construction going on in (Dallas-Fort Worth) and at least seven large hospital groups competing for healthcare customers,” he says. “That drives a need for innovation and the adoption of innovation in our region.”

One startup in last year’s class, Lantern Pharma, recently closed on $1 million in a funding round led by Dallas-based Green Park & Golf Ventures. Lantern is developing a drug candidate for ovarian and prostate cancers.

The week isn’t all business. The startup week also includes plenty of time for socializing, including a wine tasting and a wrap-up party that was sold-out more than a week before it takes place. And it’s turning out to that it’s not a Texas startup event unless Mercury Fund’s Aziz Gilani pops up to host another round of the Werewolf game. (Gilani will preside over the game tomorrow evening.)