New Blood: Zielke Transfers Reins of Tech Wildcatters Accelerator

[Corrected 6/30/17, 12:40 pm, and updated 7/3/17, 11:44 am. See below.Dallas—After a year of presiding over management shuffles, Tech Wildcatters co-founder Gabriella Draney Zielke is announcing an executive change that hits close to home.

Zielke is handing over day-to-day duties of the Dallas-based accelerator program to Ricky Tejapaibul, a relative newcomer to North Texas with a background in angel investing as well as working for companies like Motorola Solutions and General Motors. Tejapaibul becomes a managing partner and will be in charge of Tech Wildcatters’ daily operations.

Zielke says Tejapaibul’s relative newness to Dallas was one of the main reasons she thought he would be the right person to lead the accelerator. “He saw such big opportunities here that a lot of people here don’t see,” she says. “He’s somebody who saw it and specifically moved here to be a part of it. That’s really exciting.”

Tejapaibul says he has lived in a number of cities since graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and he says he was looking for a more permanent beachhead from which he could organize his startup activities. “I toured many cities and narrowed it down to finalists,” he says. “Dallas has the best combination of resources available, a talent pool, capital, connections, pretty good quality of life—even with the summers.”

Once Tejapaibul decided to relocate to Dallas, he says he became involved with Tech Wildcatters as a mentor and investor, putting money into seed rounds for Selery Fulfillment, Tech EdVentures, and SD3D Printing. Zielke says she’ll be involved in Tech Wildcatters “two or three days a week” largely to make sure the transition will be smooth. “I’ll be helping in whatever way he needs to be able to meet [his] vision.”

Zielke says she and John Reed, a Dallas investor and businessman, co-founded Tech Wildcatters eight years ago, making it a pioneer of the startup scene in North Texas.

The accelerator unveiled a series of programs aimed at promoting Dallas tech beyond the region, with programs ranging from a first-responder technology initiative with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; its Corporate Innovation Network, which aimed to connect startups with Fortune 500 companies; and GlobeStart, which brought international startups to Dallas and hosted them on an entrepreneurial road-trip from Texas to Silicon Valley. Each of those initiatives have since been wound down.

By 2015, Tech Wildcatters began showing up on “top accelerators” lists, its national profile boosted by the fact it was the only tech program like it led by three women.

[This paragraph updated to reflect the funding amount and the timeline of management changes.] The accelerator started its “Gauntlet” program in early 2016 in which startups could receive as much as $130,000 in funding, but only after reaching certain commercialization milestones. In June 2016, however, Zielke dismissed Molly Cain as executive director and Clarisa Lindenmeyer as chief revenue officer, saying the accelerator needed “better structure.”

[A previous version of the story stated that Robert Brevelle, the accelerator’s COO, was fired. This was incorrect. We regret the error.With all of those leadership changes, Tech Wildcatters halted the start of a new class and delayed raising a new fund.

Looking forward, Tejapaibul says his first moves will be to recruit new mentors and investors and engage with the accelerator’s current roster in gatherings with founders to build back some momentum. “Family offices are not looking at early stage companies, and they should,” he says. “I’m comparing to the ecosystem in Silicon Valley, where investors are more plugged into these investments.”

The Gauntlet program itself, once open-ended in many ways, will be brought back down to a more traditional 12-week offering. Tejapaibul says he wants to extend Tech Wildcatters’ reach beyond Dallas, “and to leverage Texas as a gateway for international investors and entrepreneurs who want to access the U.S. market.”

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