At Third Birthday, the DEC Takes Stock of Its Impact on Startups

Dallas—Last night, the Dallas Entrepreneur Center threw itself a third birthday party of sorts, a fete that also introduced an expanded facility for startups that have grown to need more than a co-working desk.

The gathering was also an opportunity for DEC co-founder and CEO Trey Bowles to give concrete examples of the center’s impact and successes. “People look at places like the DEC, entrepreneur centers, incubators, and say, ‘That’s cool. I’m glad that you’re out there helping entrepreneurs,’” Bowles says. “But then they want to know, ‘Does it work? How do you know how it works?’ ”

The DEC—or “deck,” as it is called—was founded three years ago by Bowles, who wanted to create a startup hub in a city more known for its big-business pedigree than its innovative companies. Bowles says he was getting a lot of anecdotal feedback about the DEC’s success, but decided to hire Axionomics, a local economic development firm, to do some number-crunching. The firm surveyed 66 of the 270 companies that are now or have been members of the DEC and found that activity there accounted for $130 million in economic impact in the North Texas region, supporting about 1,350 full-time jobs.

“This shattered all my expectations,” Bowles says. “It shows the DEC is doing good work and highlights this new model for entrepreneur centers.”

The new model he’s talking about is a franchise model, but one that can be adapted to local needs. The DEC has worked with startup groups and economic development departments in the Dallas suburb of Addison, TX, and in The Woodlands, TX, (just north of Houston) in building startup facilities in those communities. Bowles says the idea is to give these centers a blueprint of best practices. Once the center is up and running, membership extends to all the sibling centers.

On Wednesday evening, the DEC formally unveiled its new “Innovation Hub,” a so-called co-working plus space designed for companies that are further along the growth trajectory—ones that are generating revenue and have raised a little money than a startup just newly hatched.

Accelerator, incubator, and co-working spaces targeted to startups have proliferated across the country in recent years, and that has led to the need to evaluate their effectiveness. Rice University professor Yael Hochberg received a $1.5 million grant from the Kauffman Foundation in February to study which types of educational programming offered by accelerators and incubators have the most benefit for startups.

For Bowles, the study results are also helpful for a practical reason. “As a nonprofit, this is exceptionally important since we have to live off of fundraising,” Bowles says. “We can say, ‘Look, this works, and we can prove it.’”

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