Silicon Cities
Dallas: A city of Mavericks, Cowboys and Entrepreneurs
Free Enterprise Staff | June 23, 2016

Dallas may be well known for food, football, and friendliness, but in recent years, it has also developed a well-earned reputation as an entrepreneurship haven.

To those in the Big D, it’s no surprise more entrepreneurs are relocating to the city. It hosts thousands of entrepreneurs from across the country every year for its Dallas Startup Week, is home to several Fortune 500 companies—such as AT&T and Exxon Mobile—and has some of the most business-friendly tax rates in the country.

Meanwhile, the Dallas-Fortworth area was named the most “business-friendly city” in America by Market Watch in 2014, and last year, the region was named the best place to launch a business by Thumbtack.

Kevin Hart, co-founder and CEO of Dallas-based startup Aireal (and not the comedic actor), isn’t surprised and thinks it’s high time that the broader startup community started recognizing his home city for its entrepreneurial potential. It’s the city’s business strengths—a growing talent pool and local affordability—that he believes have helped push his virtual reality company to new heights.

“In Dallas, you have a lower cost of living and top talent… there’s a reason so many companies and entrepreneurs are moving here now,” he explained. “Here I can get three developers for the price of one in San Francisco. Because it’s so expensive to live and work in those kinds of cities, you have to pay workers more, and that means you have less [funding] left over.”

Hart’s startup has managed to partner with several clients—including the Discovery Channel—since its 2013 launch thanks in part to Dallas’ central location in the U.S., which makes it relatively easy to get to other thriving economic hubs across the country.

“Because of where Dallas is [located], when we travel it’s easy to get anywhere, and that gives us an advantage,” he said. “A flight to New York takes about the same times as a flight to San Francisco for us and because it’s much cheaper to live in Dallas we can afford to travel from coast to coast more than, say, someone in Silicon Valley on the same budget.”

While the city still doesn’t currently attract the same level of investment as other hotspots, such as San Francisco or New York, it’s slowing luring more venture capitalists and investors to the area—which is a boon to local entrepreneurs.

Gabriella Zielke, CEO and cofounder of local accelerator Tech Wildcatters, believes local funding has improved markedly in recent years. One major reason why? She believes startup investors are recognizing that Dallas has what it takes to be the Silicon Valley.

“The startup funding scene has done a complete 180 in the past six years [and] the biggest difference is in the level of activity,” she said.

Zielke pointed out that in 2009, there was one co-working space, Tech Wildcatters, and there were about two startup-focused events per month. Today there are more than 40 co-working spaces, more than 15 accelerators and incubators, and at least three startup [funding] events per day.

Fellow Dallas entrepreneur Jonathan Van agrees that funding opportunities have “changed drastically” for the better, but that Dallas’ diverse business opportunities—which reach far beyond just tech—are also luring more entrepreneurs to the city.

“Dallas is a business town,” he said. “I constantly overhear business deals discussed inside Starbucks and local coffee shops. It could be a tech startup, or it might be the launch of a fashion brand, restaurant, Class A office space or more. The diversity of business experience here is phenomenal and makes it appealing for every type of company.”

Added Hart: “You can accomplish whatever you want if you have the right amount of hustle, and because Dallas is cheaper than a lot of other startup cities, with less competition, you can hustle your way to success faster and quicker here. It’s only a matter of time before the city is top.”