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Innovation Spring in Dallas!

I participated in several events around Dallas this month of April, and each one is proving more and more that Dallas is a great hub for innovation. Here is my journal log about the 2019 Dallas Startup Week for April 1-5, followed by the Dallas Innovation Roadshow bus tour on April 24, and concluding with students talk about innovation at the 2019 DCCCD STEM Summit last Friday, April 26.

The event was sponsored mainly by Capital One, gold sponsors including Thomson Reuters (my employer), Capital Factory, Dallas Regional Chamber, EY, and several other companies, in addition to silver sponsors. It included 150 sessions in 14 different locations around Dallas with 16 various topics such as AI, e-sports, investment strategies, blockchain, and more. I couldn ‘t attend every session, but I participated in at least one session covering a specific topic. My notes below include my notes from attending sessions on entrepreneurship, esports, education, blockchain, and the last one on corporate innovation. I was one of the speakers at a panel.

from Day 1 on entrepreneurship

At a panel on entrepreneurship, one particular speaker I found was engaging is David Copps, CEO at Hypergiant Sensory Sciences in Dallas. He discussed the importance of storytelling for transformative projects. David would say,” who am I for other people? A question should you ask yourself all the time”. When asked about culture in his startups, he said that organizations should allow the culture to create itself.” You can ‘t make people responsible. You let them be responsible”. Learning from mistakes is an essential attribute to entrepreneurship. Dave said that he knew the hard way to attract good people and learned how to let go of the ones that are toxic to the culture in the company. When asked, “is agile the answer to culture,” Dave said agile is a way to administer culture, but it is not the culture in itself. He would add that companies should iterate, iterate, and iterate until they reach awesome; build a culture where people are always learning.

In another forum, we heard entrepreneurs talking about the importance of focusing head down on execution. Entrepreneurs should have an excellent technical understanding of what they are receiving and spending money on. They should establish regular communication channels such as newsletters and emails to keep them up to date with progress. When seeking investment funds, startups should do their homework about the person they talk to before pitching their ideas.

From Day 2 esports

I attended the Mavs e-sports gaming arena in Deep Ellum. The building looks like a warehouse from the outside. Maybe it is but what matters is inside “giant screens, game consoles everywhere, cool lighting, and lots of open space. Dr. Richard Benson, president of the University of Texas in Dallas, first gave a talk about how esports and emerging technology are essential programs at the university. It is anticipated that by 2021 there will be more viewers in the US watching e-sports than any other sport besides the NFL. According to Dr. Benson, e-sports make more money than the music and the gaming industry combined. After Dr. Benson ‘s talk, the director of strategic partnership at Twitch (an Amazon company for streaming game playing), Mark” Garvey” Candell, talked about Twitch and the process of allowing streamers and broadcasters to earn money from game streaming. After that, a forum of e-sports activists in Dallas discussed their products in the space, ranging from blockchain and AI to managing locations and e-sports players. My key take is that Dallas is getting big on e-sports.

From Day 3 education

I attended the session on education and AI that was moderated by a friend of mine, Viswanath Puttagunta, CTO and Principal Data Scientist at Divergence.AI. The panel consisted of Rod Wetterskog, assistant dean and corporate relations at the University of Texas in Dallas (UTD), Dr. Anna Sidorova, associate professor at the University of North Texas (UNT), and Sravan Ankaraj from divergence academy. The panelists discussed how their learning institutions are training professionals in the field of AI. My key take is that both university institutions, in this case, UNT and UTD, and vocational institutions, such as Divergence Academy, are supporting workforce development in AI.

From Day 4 blockchain

I attended the panel on blockchain at Capital Factory, which included Dallas startup leaders discussing their products and services around cryptocurrencies and digital wallets. I found it interesting to answer my question about how they would position themselves in five years when big firms adopt similar technologies as startups today. One panelist responded that they expect big firms to purchase companies like them rather than reinvent the wheel. I guess such startups are here for the short term to be acquired rather than for the long time to grow into larger companies.

From Day 5 “corporate innovation”

I was part of the 1st panel on corporate innovation at Capital One. My fellow panelists were Scott Emmons from The Current Global, Sean Minter from AmplifAI, Charles Lass, MIT, and Sterling Mah Ingui from Fidelity Labs. Dalia Powers from CBRE was our moderator. The discussions centered on innovation in the corporate space. I shared my journey in leading the transformation of a learning product at Thomson Reuters. I talked about the personal and team challenges in shifting mindsets from waterfall to agile and from old technologies to new. Of course, the success does not come from IT alone but through partnerships with the business, leadership, and all other parts of the organization.

My key takes from the Dallas Startup Week in its second year is that we have many entrepreneurial mindsets in the Dallas metroplex. Traditionally one would assume that the innovation hub is in Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Toronto/Montreal. But, nowadays, Dallas has an attractive offer:

  • Less expensive property.
  • Great universities (UTD is ranked 4th in the world in Computer Science).
  • An energetic talent that wants to make a difference.

The Insider Tour: DFW Innovation Roadshow

Accenture sponsored an insider tour event to showcase corporate innovation within the Dallas metroplex. I owe a big thanks to Natalie Pazera from the Dallas Chamber for recommending that I join the tour bus. I also thank Sarah Laborde from Accenture, who handled the logistics as well as help reserving a meeting room for me at Capital Factory to take a conference call before joining the tour.

Capital Factory

The meeting point for the innovation roadshow was at Capital Factory. That place is truly magical. If you want to hang around with startups, innovators, and investors, I would highly recommend checking the site. They have rooms labeled as games, such a conference room called Minecraft. They got a beer tap hanging out from a wall with a drawing in the shape of an arcade machine. They have arcade machines and even game cartridges on the shelf display. Capital Factory in Dallas comes after the first one in Austin. Startups can rent space, set up meeting events, and engage with investors for seed investments. The location is fantastic and hype.

Ok, back to the roadshow. The first tour was Capital One Garage.

Capital One Garage

Capital One Garage is the innovation center for financial services and digital strategy for Capital One. Rachna Ponia from the technology programs and operations management department took us on tour around the Garage. The place is located in Plano and oversees home loans, auto finance, or consumer-centric products that assist in purchasing decisions. For instance, a product that graduated from the Garage is the Auto Navigator, which now includes a new feature that helps customers compare car information by only taking photos of the cars that interest them. Another product that graduated from the Garage is Eno, a Capital One digital assistant that automatically sends valuable insights and alerts about your credit card accounts. Rachna walked us through some of the floors and walked us through the teams ‘ agile processes. We saw Kanban boards, notes, tasks lists, and various colorful writings on the whitespace walls. We saw testing rooms that host customer feedback sessions. Rachna said that all team members in any given project are collocated in the same place. The place is fun. They have their music band and a hype workspace to innovate. More information about the Garage can be found at the following article Alexandra Cronin (2017) article” The Wow Factor: Inside the Garage, Capital One Plano ‘s center of innovation.”

Ericsson Garage

Our next stop was the Ericsson Garage in Plano. Ericsson is a Swedish company that provides information and communication technology (ICT) to service providers. It handles 40% of all mobile traffic around the world. End users in the United States may not know about Ericsson because the company is not selling end-user products nowadays. However, I did have my first Ericsson cellphone in 1996 when I lived in Lebanon. Ericsson ‘s portfolio of products covers networks, digital services, managed services, and emerging technologies powered by 5G and IoT platforms. You can read more about Ericsson). The Plano office is Ericsson ‘s headquarter office in America. I do not recall the names of the Ericsson engineers, but they gave us an overview of the technologies that Ericsson is focusing on 5G and IoT. We saw simulations of how 5G can be used in edge computing and demoed practical use cases for augmented reality applications. We also saw simulation examples of IoT devices around smart cities. My key takes from the Ericsson visit is that the force of 5G is coming whether we need it or not today. But we should be ready with ideas, especially in the IoT and mobility space, that would take advantage of its speed.

UT Dallas Design Studio “Innovation Lab

Our third and last stop was at the University of Texas in Dallas Design Studio and Innovation Lab. The UT Design Studio is located in Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Its purpose is to bridge industry with students, especially those working on capstone projects before graduation. From the UT Design website, there have been 557 total corporate-sponsored projects, 3411 total students completing capstone projects, 249 companies that sponsored projects, and seven national first-place awards in university capstone project competitions since 2014.Rod Wetterskog, the same Rod mentioned before in Dallas Startup Week, walked us through the lab and gave us an overview of the winning projects. Also, Dresden Goldberg, Assistant Director for the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the university, walked us through the process in which many of the graduates set up their startups and, the institute would help them with initial funding. My key take from the UT Dallas Design Studio is that the corporate world can get the best talent to work on industry-related projects at way much cheaper cost than hiring an intern. You may get 4 to 6 minds for 10k per semester, which is the price of one intern. (No offense to interns!).

Thanks to Accenture for sponsoring the Garage Tour trip. The visits were a great attestation to innovation in Dallas. I also met some great minds on the bus! I met Chris Gillan, entrepreneur and Senior Vice President “Corporate Innovation at Capital Factory. I also met Lisa McComb, CEO, and co-founder of Rectify, a product for identifying and protecting confidential or proprietary information in data sets. I also had a very entertaining discussion on IoT at home with Bobby Katoli, founder of CERES Technology, a Blockchain-enabled IoT device for the supply chain of perishables.

2019 DCCCD STEM Summit

The Dallas County Community College District had its innovation/stem summit last Friday, April 25. The event details are listed here. It started with a keynote from Romelia Flores, IBM Distinguished Engineer. Ms. Flores is also a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin and has 68 inventions, 38 patents, and another 30 patents pending. The program continued with an industry panel on how innovators turn ideas into action. It followed with a student panel where three students from the UTD Design Studio that I referenced above discussed their project and the importance of collaboration. The event concluded with lunch and company round tables where students interacted with various local companies present at the event. I managed to listen to the student panel, which enlightened me on how much the new generation is learning so much and so fast in today ‘s world of innovation and technology.

The 3 UTD senior students, Brishty Som<, Reynu Shirali, and Safwan Mazhar, talked about teamwork and collaboration. I missed the first part of the talk, in which I assume they discussed their capstone project. But what I managed to figure out is that it is related to IoT, embedded systems, and hardware. The project itself is not what matters here, but what impressed me is that the three senior students talked like experienced professionals in the industry. When they were asked what were their takeaways from the capstone projects, their answers were very mature and intellectual. One said that they learned better to work in a team than in silos. The project leader noted that she realized that doing everything yourself does not work and that it is important to utilize other peoples ‘ skills and talents. Have faith in others. All this is important for a successful project.

When the moderator asked what feedback would they give to students, their answer was even more powerful: “Don ‘t let traditional education limit you. Don ‘t wait to register for a class that has a technology that interests you. Just pick it up by checking the internet. Pick a personal project. Be involved in the community. Picking up skills on the fly is a crucial skill. “Be prepared to change. If you always wanted a particular career but found yourself that you don ‘t fit, try switching to something else. Find your passion and work towards your love. Don ‘t compare yourself to other people.

All this concludes my April 2019 innovation discovery adventure in Dallas. I learned a lot from others regardless of their role in the Dallas society: investors, managers, leaders, innovators, students, professionals, gamers, educators, and more. I came to Dallas in 2001, and I feel more and more now that this place is indeed a magical land of opportunities.

Entrepreneurship in Dallas

For Dallas Entrepreneurs, soon-to-be, or any of my Dallas contacts, you should check out the following entrepreneurial sources in Dallas. The DEC (Dallas Entrepreneur Center) is a nonprofit org to support innovation in the Dallas website: http://thedec.co. Capital Factory (https://www.capitalfactory.com/) brings fellow entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors in one place. You can get a space there to innovate as well. Mavs Gaming (https://www.mavs.com/mavsgaming/) is a primary e-sports arena in Dallas. I will write in more detail about these and related key entrepreneurship areas in Dallas but do check Capital Factory events at https://www.capitalfactory.com/events/. I also highly recommend subscribing to Dallas Innovates https://dallasinnovates.com/, the newsletter by the Dallas Regional Chamber and D Magazine.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.