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Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, formerly the CEO of Pizza Hut, speaks at Dallas Startup Week on Tuesday.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, formerly the CEO of Pizza Hut, speaks at Dallas Startup Week on Tuesday.

DALLAS — Just a few years ago, the idea of hosting an event called “Startup Week” in his city didn’t really even cross the mind of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. But things have certainly have changed since then.

Rawlings spoke on Tuesday evening at Dallas Startup Week, an event organized by UP Global and sponsored by Chase that brings together entrepreneurs, investors, and community-builders for five days of free activities designed to build awareness and support for the startup community.

Dallas was one of six cities — the others are Seattle, Denver, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, and Columbus — picked to host the inaugural Startup Week events.

“It really does say something about this community and about the people who have worked hard,” Rawlings said.

dallasstartupweek The mayor noted how Dallas historically has produced companies from entrepreneurs like Ross Perot and Mary Kay Ash, but that the innovation has slowed over the past two decades. However, he’s hopeful that the startup spirit can once again cultivate in his city.

“I don’t know why Dallas lost its entrepreneurial edge,” he said. “When you really look at the history of Dallas, it has entrepreneurs written all over it.”

Rawlings added that Dallas has not “always been known as a startup machine,” but rather as a place where large corporations set up shop. As we noted in our overview piece about the Dallas startup ecosystem, nearly two dozen Fortune 500 companies like AT&T and ExxonMobil have their headquarters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

After his short speech, Rawlings talked with GeekWire about the presence of so many large corporations in Dallas and what that means for startups in the region. He explained that when he took office in 2011, he put together a tech committee with representatives from companies like AT&T, Texas Instruments, and Microsoft.

Startup Week posters are already lining the streets of Dallas. Photo via Michael Sitarzewski.
Startup Week posters line the streets of Dallas. Photo via Jeff Corkran.

“I asked them what Dallas needed to do,” Rawlings recalled. “They said, ‘we need to be seen as a startup city.'”

Rawlings said he was a bit confused because he thought corporations and startups were competitors.

“[The big companies] said they needed young startups in the area for new technology, more employees, or possible acquisitions,” he noted. “That part of the ecosystem was critical for their strategic growth.”

Big D has made big strides in the past few years, adding organizations like the Dallas Entrepreneur Center and having the startup community connect both online and offline more often. With the help of volunteers, community leaders, and many others in the region, Rawlings said that he’s focused on how to help Dallas become a hub for entrepreneurs who are building startups.

“As we started to think about what Dallas needed to be in the 21st century, we felt that making sure we are a place for entrepreneurs was extremely important,” he said.

Rawlings, the former Pizza Hut CEO, added that strengthening the startup community is key to helping companies in the Dallas area succeed.

“I hope we can give each other honest feedback, because to me that’s what is so important to business,” he said. “You need to have a feedback mechanism that tells you when you’re doing something right or not doing something right. This community will hopefully do that over the years.”

Editor’s Note: GeekWire has partnered with UP Global and Chase to cover four Startup Week events around the country, starting with Tampa Bay earlier this month, Phoenix from Feb. 23 to 27, and Dallas this week. Tune in to GeekWire for more stories about the activities, and to learn more about these emerging startup hubs.

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