Dallas Innovates 2023

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Richard Margolin, founder and CEO at Dallas’ RoboKind, is making waves with the company’s assistive robot technology, which facilitates learning for students with autism.




13 Southern Gateway Park

The new park will be a “game-changing investment in the people and families of southern Dallas.”

14 Tech Surge North Texas continues to flex its strengths as companies big and small flock to the region for tech talent and growth opportunities.

15 Dallas International District

The project to turn the Valley View-Galleria area into a 450-acre global showplace is “fully underway.”

16 Looking to the Future Dallas-Fort Worth’s savviest business innovators talk trends.

18 Learning Leaders

North Texans are providing the passion behind innovative education programs.

19 New Friends New Life Bianca Davis and her team are shining a light on the issue of human trafficking.

22 The Future of Sports

It’s all kicking off in Dallas-Fort Worth.

24 Immersive Entertainment

DFW has become a major testing ground for high-tech amazements.


34 The Tech That Comes Next Futurists give their best “crystal ball predictions” on where we’re headed.

37 Life Science

Here are 16 companies putting the tech in the bio.


40 AI in DFW

How Dallas-Fort Worth has become a hotbed of artificial intelligence technology.

54 Carmack’s Quest: Artificial General Intelligence

The iconic Dallas game developer, rocket engineer, and VR pioneer takes aim at solving AGI.


71 The Future 50 in Dallas-Fort Worth

Meet some of the most innovative and disruptive minds in the region.


113 Conversational AI Platform Dallas-based Inbenta is eying expansion.

114 North Texas Investors

How family offices are changing the venture capital landscape. Plus, advice for startups.

117 6 Investors Fueling the North Texas Startup Boom

From seasoned venture capitalists to up-and-coming angels, investors are setting their sights on North Texas.

120 Against All Odds: 26 Standout Funding Deals

2023 is off to a promising start for business funding in Dallas-Fort Worth.

120 Funding the Founders Island’s Mike Fey, ShiftKey’s Tom Ellis, and POWERHANDZ’s Danyel Surrency Jones.

124 The Exit North Texas saw hundreds of exits in the last year, from IPOs to M&As.


For Glenn Hunter’s cover Q&A with John Carmack, Michael Samples photographed Carmack at his home in Dallas. For the cover, we fed these photos into the Lensa AI app and let AI create an illustration.

Photography and Cover Design: Michael Samples

92 40
From left: Worlds co-founders CTO Ross Bates, CEO Dave Copps, and President Chris Rhodes

Editor Quincy Preston quincy@dallasnext.com

Editorial Director David Seeley

Executive Editor Glenn Hunter

Creative Director Michael Samples

Project Editors Sandra Engelland

Maddie Preston

Contributing Writers Leslie Barker

Maroof Ahmed Lance Murray

Copy Editor John Branch

Group Publisher Kyle Moss kyle@dallasnext.com

Publisher, DALLAS® Publications Steve Reeves steve@dallasnext.com

Director of Media Operations Kevin Fitch fitch@dallasnext.com

PRESIDENT & CEO Dale Petroskey




Eric Griffin DATA


Nicole Ward

in a collaboration
Dallas Innovates is published by Dallas Next
with the Dallas Regional Chamber.
Dallas Innovates is published by Dallas Next LLC. ©2023 with all rights reserved: No part of this publication may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission. Neither Dallas Next nor the Dallas Regional Chamber is a sponsor of, or committed to, the views expressed in these articles. The publisher is not responsible for unsolicited contributions. DALLASINNOVATES.COM Say Yes to Dallas, where living means thriving. Advertising, Bulk Copies, or Other Inquiries publisher@dallasnext.com Mailing Address P.O. Box 822168, Dallas, TX 75382







of the game changers shaping the future of Dallas-Fort Worth. We’ve been on the front lines of chronicling the rise of new technologies, from autonomous cars to blockchain, biotech to fintech, and virtual reality to the metaverse, and their potential to change the way we live and work. But our coverage has always been about more than just the technology itself; it’s been about the people behind it. The innovators, creators, and leaders shaping the region with determination, grit, and a little bit of luck.

Our stories are not about what happened yesterday, but rather what’s to come. Dallas-Fort Worth has emerged from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic in a different place. Our reputation as a tech and innovation hub has never been stronger. With more high-tech jobs added in the past year than any other metro in the U.S., it’s clear that the region is a force to be reckoned with. The energy in DFW is palpable, with a sense of hustle and drive permeating from coffee shops, labs, innovation centers, and offices. The community is constantly pushing boundaries and creating new opportunities.

The future will most certainly be built on artificial intelligence, but what will that look like? We’ve put together a compelling case for why the region can be a major player in the AI revolution. Visionaries like John Carmack, the Dallas tech and gaming wizard, are tackling something once thought unattainable. Our universities, startups, big businesses, and innovators in DFW are building new AI, machine learning, and deep learning technologies set to transform every industry—from business to nonprofits.

Innovation in DFW isn’t just about advancements in technology—it’s also about fostering new ideas and solutions that drive positive social impact and strengthen the community. From tackling housing insecurity to improving education and shaping the future of real estate, local leaders and organizations are working to create a more equitable and thriving community for all residents. We’re privileged to cover the impact they have in the region.

As Dallas Innovates enters its eighth year, our mission is simple: Make Dallas-Fort Worth the region everyone’s talking about. The future is here. Innovation is our engine for growth, and we tell the stories that prove it. With millions of visitors to our website every year and thousands of readers of our newsletter each day, we are the tip of the spear for innovation news in the region, and we’re not done yet. We invite you to join us on this journey by reading our latest annual print edition, visiting dallasinnovates.com, and signing up for our daily newsletter. Learn how Dallas Innovates Every Day.

Dallas-Fort Worth—a leading tech and innovation hub—is poised now to become a major player in the AI revolution. Duane Dankesreiter Quincy Preston Quincy Preston Editor Dallas Innovates Duane Dankesreiter Dallas Regional Chamber Senior Vice President, Research and Innovation

The Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) is a first-of-its-kind, real-world ecosystem that brings cutting-edge technologies to commercialization at a faster rate. Located within the 27,000-acre AllianceTexas development, the MIZ offers a unique set of air and surface logistic assets, including Alliance Airport, BNSF intermodal hub, access to major U.S. roadways, and a flight test center, making it easier than ever to take technology from idea to real-world innovation, fast.

Learn More at alliancetexasmiz.com

Message from the CEO

Message from the CEO

The Power of Shared Purpose

The Power of Shared Purpose

If there’s anything the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) proves, it’s how powerful shared purpose can be. The MIZ is a firstof-its-kind supply chain mobility innovation ecosystem, convening the top companies, ideas, resources and partnerships between public and private sectors in one place. We often see companies approach innovation in isolation, but the MIZ offers opportunities for industry-wide collaboration. Innovation thrives when ideas are shared, challenged, and refined. And places like Silicon Valley or Texas’ own innovation hub, the MIZ, bring people with a shared purpose together, making it easier to take technology from idea to real-world innovation.

If there’s anything the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) proves, it’s how powerful shared purpose can be. The MIZ is a firstof-its-kind supply chain mobility innovation ecosystem, convening the top companies, ideas, resources and partnerships between public and private sectors in one place. We often see companies approach innovation in isolation, but the MIZ offers opportunities for industry-wide collaboration. Innovation thrives when ideas are shared, challenged, and refined. And places like Silicon Valley or Texas’ own innovation hub, the MIZ, bring people with a shared purpose together, making it easier to take technology from idea to real-world innovation.

At the beginning of 2022, the MIZ was named Top Transportation Innovator by D CEO and Dallas Innovates. The prestigious award set the tone for a very ambitious year, including our inaugural mobility innovation summit – Forward Fort Worth. A preeminent event that brought together nearly 200 of the world’s most recognized transportation and logistics companies, policymakers, entrepreneurs and investors. All focused on one goal – advancing surface and air mobility throughout the supply chain. The summit tapped into another key benefit of the MIZ ecosystem and that’s shared progress. Forward Fort Worth was created to address opportunities and challenges – attracting the next generation of talent, Advanced Air Mobility, the list goes on – the key is in the power of shared knowledge to carve the path to adoption and commercialization.

At the beginning of 2022, the MIZ was named Top Transportation Innovator by D CEO and Dallas Innovates. The prestigious award set the tone for a very ambitious year, including our inaugural mobility innovation summit – Forward Fort Worth. A preeminent event that brought together nearly 200 of the world’s most recognized transportation and logistics companies, policymakers, entrepreneurs and investors. All focused on one goal – advancing surface and air mobility throughout the supply chain. The summit tapped into another key benefit of the MIZ ecosystem and that’s shared progress. Forward Fort Worth was created to address opportunities and challenges – attracting the next generation of talent, Advanced Air Mobility, the list goes on – the key is in the power of shared knowledge to carve the path to adoption and commercialization.

In just a few short years, we’ve cemented North Texas (and the MIZ) as a leading nexus for supply chain innovation. We’re proud to lead the way and excited about the success and progress our partners are making. The MIZ is now home to autonomous surface vehicle companies in each stage of the delivery process – long-haul, middle-mile (Gatik), and last-mile (Clevon). And with a growing push to commercialize unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the MIZ offers the resources, partnerships and infrastructure for companies to scale and commercialize new technology utilizing the AllianceTexas Flight Test Center. All while solving regulatory challenges in real-time.

In just a few short years, we’ve cemented North Texas (and the MIZ) as a leading nexus for supply chain innovation. We’re proud to lead the way and excited about the success and progress our partners are making. The MIZ is now home to autonomous surface vehicle companies in each stage of the delivery process – long-haul, middle-mile (Gatik), and last-mile (Clevon). And with a growing push to commercialize unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the MIZ offers the resources, partnerships and infrastructure for companies to scale and commercialize new technology utilizing the AllianceTexas Flight Test Center. All while solving regulatory challenges in real-time.

Built on the foundation of successful public-private partnerships, AllianceTexas and the MIZ are becoming one of the state’s most formidable economic engines, generating approximately $100 billion in regional economic impact to date. In a rapidly evolving, always innovating industry, the MIZ is not only empowering the next generation of innovation, we’re making a positive impact today.

Built on the foundation of successful public-private partnerships, AllianceTexas and the MIZ are becoming one of the state’s most formidable economic engines, generating approximately $100 billion in regional economic impact to date. In a rapidly evolving, always innovating industry, the MIZ is not only empowering the next generation of innovation, we’re making a positive impact today.




southern Dallas.” And there’s little doubt the Southern Gateway Park will be transformative once it opens as planned next year. A 5.5-acre green space being built over Interstate 35E in southern Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, the $172 million project will be Dallas’ second freeway deck park, with the same basic infrastructure as Klyde Warren Park bridging downtown and Uptown. But the Southern Gateway, a public-private partnership aimed at revitalizing the area’s economy, will have some unique touches as well, including programming reflecting Oak Cliff’s rich history. Infrastructure work on the first of its two phases was scheduled to be finished by December—the same month the park announced it would be getting $7.75 million from the FY 2023 omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Biden. The park isn’t the only local development nabbing federal funds for innovation and improvement. Following passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in 2021, the White House said in November that $13.9 billion of that money would be headed to Texas. Among DallasFort Worth projects slated to benefit are a zero-carbon power plant at DFW International Airport, new lanes for State Highway 121 in Collin County, and the extension of bicycle and pedestrian routes around several DART light-rail stations. —Glenn Hunter


Deep Ellum, one of Dallas’ most iconic neighborhoods, will celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2023 with a big, yearlong celebration. Each month, events will celebrate the district’s history, arts, music, and entrepreneurial legacy—including a parade in June honoring the district’s history as a Freedmen’s town, a music festival in October, and a storytelling summit in December with Deep Vellum. Known as the “birthplace of the blues in Texas,” the district regularly buzzes with live music, street art, galleries, restaurants, clubs, and culturally creative retail. Its birthday will bring something new: the opening of the Deep Ellum Community Cultural Center. It’s just one way 2023 will “shape the neighborhood’s future as a continued mecca for creatives, entrepreneurs, and all comers,” says a Deep Ellum Foundation leader.


North Texas continues to flex its strengths as companies big and small flock to the region for tech talent and growth opportunities.

Dallas-Fort Worth is known for the ingredients that tech firms and other companies look for when seeking to relocate or expand: Well-trained tech talent, a sense of optimism, a world-class airport, leading research universities, and affordable real estate.

Sure, DFW, a region of over 7.7 million people, isn’t immune from the fickle nature of the economy, but the region’s resilience helps it stand tall as a place to do business. Some companies may be trimming expenses, but investments in North Texas by major companies validate North Texas’ attraction to outsiders seeking better opportunities for themselves and their employees: Caterpillar moved from Illinois to Irving. Goldman Sachs is designing an office tower near Victory Park that will house roughly 5,000 employees as part of its expansion beyond New York City. Samsung has leased over 670,000 square feet of space in Fort Worth for a new shipping hub. And JCPenney is returning 2,000 employees to its Plano campus.

Other recent announcements show multiple expansions and headquarters relocations to the region. For example, ExteNet Systems, a provider of LTE and 5G wireless and fiber neutral host communications infrastructure solutions, will move its headquarters from Illinois to Frisco, the same city that attracted wireless networks provider Boingo’s

headquarters move from California. In Fort Worth, Estonian autonomous delivery vehicle manufacturer Clevon opened a U.S. HQ, and in Addison, rocket engine maker Firehawk Aerospace also relocated from California.

In Carrollton, Paranet, a cybersecurity company, opened its new 11,000-square-foot state-ofthe-art facility where it will house roughly 100 analysts and provide better support for existing and future clients.

Since 2010, North Texas has seen more than 222 new corporate headquarters moving to the area, according to the Dallas Regional Chamber. The region is now home to 24 Fortune 500 companies, according to the DRC’s 2023 annual report.

Dale Petroskey says that 10 of the last Fortune 500 headquarters moves are from eight different business sectors. The president and CEO of the DRC notes that more than one million new jobs have been created here since 2010, and we’re now No. 1 in the nation in three-year job gains.

New research also shows that Dallas-Fort Worth leads the nation in the growth of high-tech jobs. The number of jobs increased by 9,784 positions from 2021 to 2022.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has released a long list of relocations and expansions in Texas that illustrate the state’s—and DFW’s—strength. “The inquiries from large companies and small businesses alike are not slowing down,” his office noted. —L.M.

Deep Ellum Is Celebrating Its 150th Birthday All Year
Boingo’s move to Texas—and its new office at The Star in Frisco—supports the “company’s vision and our ability to attract and retain top talent,” says Boingo CEO Mike Finley. The connectivity innovator’s office eventually will become its corporate base.


Sanjiv Yajnik and Arun Agarwal know the economic power of Indian Americans in Dallas-Fort Worth. The organization they cochair, the Indian American CEO Council, documented it in a 2021 UT Dallas report the group funded. Indian Americans own 5.3% of all DFW businesses, the study found, with combined sales receipts of about $10 billion.

Yajnik, president of Capital One’s financial services division, and Agarwal, CEO of Dallas-based bedding company Nextt, founded IACEO in 2018, when they accompanied Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on a trade mission to their native India. Today the organization is working to strengthen DFW-India ties and elevate the region’s Indian American community. Toward that end, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson proclaimed Aug. 15, 2022, Indian American Day in Dallas. Among IACEO’s future goals: bringing an Indian consulate to the city and growing alliances. —G.H.


The project to turn the Valley View-Galleria area into a 450-acre global showplace is “fully underway.”

Ten years in the making, the Dallas International District is moving ahead in the area north of LBJ Freeway between the Dallas North Tollway and Preston Road.

Plans include a 20-acre central park, one-of-a-kind international festivals, and community gatherings where “worlds can collide” year round. It will include a mix of luxury and affordable multifamily living and a Dallas ISD STEAM school.

People can expect advanced mobility features, too. The district has a Civic Innovation Smart Zone funded by a public-private partnership.

The district’s goal is to be a home for international businesses of all sizes and boost Dallas’ presence on the global stage. An early anchor is the French-American Chamber of Commerce, which opened its trade office. The nonprofit organization promotes and develops business connections and opportunities between the U.S. and France.

Growth in and around the district will increase trade, foreign investment, and cultural community, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says.

The vision for the cultural district gained momentum last year, and now that it’s underway, “2023 will be even bigger,” says Suzanne Smith, strategic project manager with the City of Dallas and CEO of Social Impact Architects. The group has three goals, which include the acquisition of more land to build the park, building the International STEAM Academy and hiring a principal,and adding more international trade offices to the Prism Center. —L.M.


First-year “prognosis” for Techstars Physical Health Care Accelerator in Fort Worth?


Trey Bowles, managing director of Techstars’ first accelerator in North Texas, cites several “wins” from its first cohort. Hamzah Shaikh, CEO of Stabl Inc., will move to DFW to continue growing the business, which oversubscribed on its first funding round. Several entrepreneurs, including Zama Health CEO Brendan Sullivan, Articulate Labs CEO Josh Rabinowitz, and Recvr Health CEO Jonathan Truong, have signed pilots and are growing their customer bases. That dose of success is thanks to the global investment platform’s multiyear collaboration with the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth, the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and Goff Capital. HSC received $4.8M from Fort Worth’s and Tarrant County’s federal Rescue Plan Act funds for the program.

Cameron Cushman, assistant VP of Innovation Ecosystems at HSC, calls it the first “true accelerator program” in Fort Worth—and a “big win.”

—Quincy Preston

In October, the Heartland Forward economic think tank announced research showing that Dallas’s University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was No. 1 in Texas—and No. 4 nationwide—among peer institutions for commercializing new biomedical technology.

While the report was gratifying, it may not have come as a surprise to those who know Brad Phelan. As the leader of UTSW’s techcommercialization effort, located at Pegasus Park, Phelan oversees multiple initiatives propelling scientific and medical research from the lab to

the commercial market. They include the UTSW Pitch Competition, where students and faculty present early-stage technologies to investors and entrepreneurs, and the UTSW Biotech+ at Pegasus Park Commercialization Milestone Award. As Heartland documented,

the work of Phelan and others is paying off. To date, UTSW says, its scientists have received nearly 750 patents, the university has issued more than 1,100 licenses and options to business partners, and 90 startups have been launched off UTSW technologies. —G.H.

How UTSW’s Brad Phelan advances scientific and medical research from the lab to the commercial market.
The district’s new buildings will be built around an “iconic” central park. RENDERING: OMNIPLAN, PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE ORGANIZATIONS FLAGS: OLEKSII LISKONIH /ISTOCKPHOTO The Techstars Physical Health Fort Worth Accelerator Opens Applications on March 13.

Looking to the Future to Stay Ahead of the Game

Dallas-Fort Worth’s savviest business innovators have their eyes on the future along with the present. From analyzing data for proactive problem-solving and devising plans for working smarter to plotting the best ways to capitalize on emerging trends, these leaders know the critical importance of looking forward to stay ahead of the curve.

PICKUP, a lastmile same-day delivery solution for top retailers like HomeGoods, BigLots!, and buybuyBABY, operates in more than 90 cities offering “a seamless delivery” to boost its partner brands.

On trends in last-mile delivery: Customers are growing their online shopping habits and want their products delivered directly to them regardless of where the warehouse or storefront is located. Customers have also grown accustomed to immediate gratification when shopping online and want their products delivered where and when they want it. This has increased the importance of retailers offering same-day and scheduled deliveries. Retailers that are looking to meet that demand must partner with a trusted last-mile delivery provider that will serve as an extension of their brand.

Lu is a key player at Kilby Labs, the research and development arm of Texas Instruments, where, she says, “We are laser-focused on the next era of semiconductor technologies.”

On applications beyond semiconductors: Texas Instruments and Kilby Labs research centers have been and will continue to initiate new projects in the medical, health, and wellness industry by developing and applying sensing, processing, and connectivity ICs— both analog and digital to enable more applications. One of the projects we are currently working on is a smart analog sensing interface. Once finalized, it will more effectively and efficiently sense and analyze air quality to detect risks to human health. It will also be used in fire alarms and other safety devices.

Minter’s AI-driven “performance enablement” platform supports employeecentric organizations across industries. With clients on every continent, “except Antarctica,” Minter has seen an increase in job complexity: AI and automation can help.

On AI/ML solutions: Workers are expected to master complex interactions while keeping customer experience and satisfaction at all-time highs. Layer on the challenges that come with workforce retention issues, a hybrid work environment, longer ramp times for new hires, and the overload of data caused by having a complex tech stack that doesn’t necessarily talk to each other, and the digital work environment has become a difficult place to easily find success. We’re seeing even more organizations leverage AI to enable frontline leaders to work smarter, help drive a better employee experience through fun and hybrid-team connectivity, and enablement of their teams to improve results.

Golf-related entertainment company Drive Shack Inc. launched its grownup minigolf Puttery brand in 2021 in The Colony. DSI recently delisted from the NYSE to focus on growth and reduce costs and distractions.

On creating unique concepts in sports entertainment: People—specifically adults—are craving nostalgia with a twist. We see this in remakes of classic movies, elevated comfort food, and fresh takes on things we used to do as kids. Competitive socializing concepts are popping up across the nation.… DSI has been a leader in capitalizing on this trend. When creating the brand concept for Puttery, we wanted to revive the classic game of minigolf with an adults-only atmosphere and a luxurious aesthetic. We designed courses that are just difficult enough to keep the game interesting and flushed with fun details perfect for today’s social media culture.

Laughlin is a leader in the Alliance Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ), where Hillwood tests the latest tech like drones and self-driving trucks to help drive the future of logistics.

On trends in the supply chain/logistics industry: The present macroeconomic influences (labor shortages, consumer expectations, outdated manual and analog processes, globalized sourcing, and continuing supply chain disruptions) are forcing businesses to evolve their supply chain to be more resilient and reliable. With technology and data services making their way into all elements of the supply chain, we believe the largest impact will be realized in intermodal and seaports first, with a really close follow-up into the warehouse and distribution facilities. Leading trends will be in 1) connected and digitized freight solutions, 2) data integration platforms, 3) increasing customer demands for visibility, and 4) supporting network and connectivity infrastructure.

CauseLabs creates website designs and apps for nonprofits and social impact businesses. In 2023, it’s offering packages high on accessibility that take the hassle out of launching and maintaining websites.

On AI content generators: AI is adding new functionality that could be added to future websites. There are AI automated translators, AI content generators for both short- and long-form content, AI image recognition, AI music generators, AI realistic and artistic image generators like DALL·E 2, and more. This is going to change our access to artistic media and fresh content, but it may also result in messy sites and inaccurate data initially. It’s a phase of tech evolution that we’ll need to work through.

HANA KHOURI CEO Drive Shack BRIAN KAVA CEO PICKUP RUSSELL LAUGHLIN EVP, Strategic Development and Innovation Hillwood SHERYLE GILLIHAN CEO CauseLabs SEAN MINTER Founder and CEO AmplifiAI XIAOLIN LU Fellow and Director of IOTLab Texas Instruments

CEO and Co-Founder CareSignal— a Lightbeam Company

CareSignal pioneered deviceless remote patient monitoring to improve care for underserved and high-risk patients.

In 2021, CareSignal was acquired by Lightbeam Health Solutions to enhance its population health management platform.

On the use of AI in improving patient outcomes:

AI plays a critical role in scaling the capacity and efficiency of healthcare providers by using proactive predictions and prescriptive problem-solving to meet individual patients’ needs. Much of the clinical value of AI comes from its ability to pull in broad characteristics for every patient, including types of subclinical and environmental attributes that aren’t accessible to clinicians and are so rarely considered in care plans. We now recommend “next best actions” and provide deep insights based not only on clinical relevance, but also the socioeconomic and behavioral features of a patient.

The Texas Blockchain Council aims to make Texas a leader in blockchain innovation. In the last year, the organization tripled the number of member companies, and news went viral that the council donated Bitcoin mining machines to the City of Fort Worth, making it the first U.S. city to mine its own Bitcoin.

On finding a balance in regulating cryptocurrencies: The trend of additional regulatory attention to the bitcoin, blockchain, and crypto industries is likely to continue in 2023. This asset class is growing in adoption and importance, which means that policymakers are finding that they need to have an opinion about it whether that is one of light-touch regulation that favors innovation or heavyhanded regulation that favors pushing the industry offshore.


Dallas-based fintech Gig Wage is here to help. Not just the workers, but employers too.

“A WAR FOR 1099 TALENT IS DRIVING INNOVATION AND SERVICES TOWARDS GIG WORKERS,” says Craig J. Lewis. More folks are doing gig work for one main reason, the founder of Dallas-based fintech Gig Wage says: People can make what they need. “Our data show earnings rising,” Lewis says. Because of that, “there’s a financial social safety of services forming, like healthcare, credit, tax tools, and more for workers.” Lewis also notes an increase in gig workers getting incorporated and operating as businesses. The founder, who expects to have more than a million contractors on his 1099 payroll and payments platform by the end of 2023, partnered with Commonwealth and GreenDot on a study of the special needs of gig workers. His platform also lets firms track and manage their independent workforces. Lewis is focused on a path to profitability for the startup, which tripled its revenue from the start of 2022 as of early fall. —Q.P.

Craig J. Lewis, Gig Wage founder and CEO,
LEE BRATCHER Founder and President Texas Blockchain Council


The co-founder and former CEO of Dallas-based POWERHANDZ leads a $150M Amazon lnitiative. Her brand strengthens athletes. Now she’s empowering through opportunity. POWERHANDZ

Co-Founder Danyel

Surrency Jones

(see page 123) has a new challenge as head of Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator. Created in partnership with Amazon’s Black Employee Network and a coalition of partners, the BBA aims to drive economic equity for black-owned businesses, providing resources to help them thrive. Black entrepreneurs have less access to capital, mentorship, and growth opportunities, Amazon notes, and are underrepresented in retail.

Long-time exec leads Microsoft’s Black Partner Growth Initiative.

Raamel Mitchell became global director of Microsoft’s Black Partner Growth Initiative last year. Mitchell leads the efforts to build a multibillion-dollar global ecosystem of black tech companies. Mitchell was the Microsoft Citizenship and Market Development Director for the central United States, where he led public-private partnerships, ecosystem development, and community engagement strategy.—Q.P.

Learning Leaders

Education is the bedrock of a community’s success. It provides the knowledge that future leaders use as a foundation for their lives. These North Texans are providing the passion behind innovative education programs, entrepreneurial endeavors, and creative initiatives to inspire the next generation of leaders and innovators.

“The last two years have really underscored the need for strong, meaningful collaboration between home and schools,” Roden says. Research has long documented the impact of parent engagement on a child’s education, and the pandemic changed the dynamic: Parents had to take on a new role–and become a real partner to their children’s teachers. When schools came back in person, that didn’t stop, she says. That’s why’s ReadyRosie focuses on evidence-based content for “seamless fluidity” between the classroom and home. Roden wants families to confidently reinforce classroom learning at home, and really operate as a team with their child’s educators and caregivers. —Q.P.

Wong, a former Raytheon engineer turned educator, is inspiring her students to use their engineering skills to make a difference in the world. Wong assigned her senior-level engineering class a final project to design, develop and test devices or tools to help a local child with special needs. The students focused on an 8-year-old boy named Jack, who was born with spina bifida, Chiari malformation, hydrocephalus, and clubbed feet. The students came up with three designs: a bathroom bench station, an activity station, and a portable catheterization station. The project solved real-world problems—and gave Jack useful devices that didn’t exist in the marketplace, she says. —Q.P.

Small is a passionate STEM and foundation leader. As CEO of LH Capital Inc. and Lyda Hill Philanthropies, she oversees all its investments and philanthropic endeavors. Its IF/THEN Initiative has had a string of successes since its launch in 2018. The #IfThenSheCanThe Exhibit, the largest collection of statues of women ever, debuted at the Smithsonian Institute as part of #WomensFuturesMonth. And 90 of the 120 statues are on display at two Dallas destinations, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Its STEM-inspired Mission Unstoppable is an Emmy-winning TV show just renewed for a fourth season that reaches 1 million viewers weekly. —L.M.

Ramirez takes a “unique approach” to technology to develop products that work for Meritize’s customers. Frisco-based Meritize, which works with students, educators, and employers, offers “merit-based funding” options and information on skills-based education and training opportunities. Uniquely, Meritize says, it looks at factors beyond a person’s credit, such as military service or other accomplishments. And, it says it only funds “programs that it can prove are ROI-positive investments for students/trainees.” Ramirez, as VP of technology, leads product management and marketing with her background in SaaS experience combined with a decade in edtech. —L.M.

Founding Member ReadyRosie Director of Technology and STEM Trinity Christian Academy CEO Lyda Hill Philanthropies and If/Then Head of Technology Meritize EMILIE RODEN LISA WONG NICOLE SMALL

Bianca Davis, CEO of New Friends New Life, and her team help teen girls and women who have been sex trafficked find a way out. IMPACT


New Friends New Life hosts a bus tour to raise awareness about the pressing issue that can happen “anywhere and everywhere,” even here.

BIANCA DAVIS AND HER TEAM AT NEW FRIENDS NEW LIFE ARE SHINING A LIGHT ON AN ISSUE that’s all too often kept in the dark. Texas ranks No. 2 in the nation for the most cases of human trafficking, according to the organization. And it’s happening here in North Texas. Last year, the 25-year-old nonprofit helped 350 women and girls get a fresh start. Human trafficking, which involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel someone to either commit a sexual act or to work against his or her will, can disproportionately affect women and girls of color, and often thrives as a result of other socioeconomic and racial disparities. “Because the average age a girl is trafficked is 15 years old, we educate our teen girls and boys about this issue,” the nonprofit says. Human Trafficking Awareness Month, in January, is a reminder that human trafficking exists in our world—and in our communities—and Davis, the CEO of NFNL, wants people to join the fight. A charter bus excursion sponsored by its men’s advocacy group helps people learn about the realities of trafficking “happening anywhere and everywhere”—not only in areas that you might expect. NFNL was recently the recipient of a $150,000 lead grant from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute of The Dallas Foundation, and named as one of 11 awardees across three countries to receive funding from The Slalom Foundation as part of its Social Equality Initiative. —Q.P.


My Possibilities’ new job-training facility will be a “first” in Texas. The nonprofit helps adults with Down syndrome, autism, and cognitive disabilities continue their education.

Michael Thomas leads the Plano nonprofit that offers educational programs for persons with cognitive disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism so they can continue their education. My Possibilities broke ground on the Career Services Building, a job training facility that will be the first of its kind in Texas providing certificate programs for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities to prepare for careers in culinary arts, customer service, administrative support, facilities and environmental services, hospitality, and technology. —L.M.


Jeremy McKane seeks to make the world’s oceans better via OCN.ai, the first Measurement as a Service business building a community of advocates, investors, academics, and entrepreneurs working to regenerate the ocean. In 2022, it closed its first funding round. Its mission is to create a decentralized place for ocean data collectors to share data and get paid for it. —L.M.



Suzy Batiz is passionate about making your world “consciously” fresh & clean.

SUZY BATIZ IS CLEANING UP. NOT JUST WITH HER WILDLY SUCCESSFUL DALLAS-BASED BRANDS ~POURRI AND SUPERNATURAL—which put her on the Forbes list of America’s richest self-made women—but through her goal of “elevating the experiences” of people’s daily routines. “That’s always been our superpower,” Batiz told us. In 2007, she launched Poo~Pourri, a before-you-go toilet spray that stops bathroom odors before they begin. After selling over 100 million bottles worldwide, her company dropped the “poo” in early 2022, broadening its product line under the new name ~Pourri. The “natural odor elimination company” now aims to tackle odors everywhere. In 2018, Batiz launched Supernatural, a line of natural cleaning products made with essential oils called “Conscious Concentrates”—and Goop.com sold out of it in two hours. Today, after “working through supply chain congestion that continues to be an obstacle for us,” Batiz has big plans for both brands. “For both ~Pourri and Supernatural, we’ve committed to developing products for our customers that offer zero compromise, with natural solutions,” she said. “We believe people are exploring more holistic lifestyles as we return back to healthier routines,” and “mental health and mindfulness” is key. “Cleaning the home and making space for more creativity and less distractions is a huge step in this,” Batiz added. “So you can expect to see us to continue growing, expanding, and creating nontoxic, safe products that actually work.” The latest from Batiz? She’s helping others learn how to “master the game of life” with a new course based on her personal journey, called AliveOS. A waitlist is live. —David



Frisco-based XR Sports is a launchpad to build fan engagement hubs so that influencers can have more control and a more equitable split from the value they drive. Kedreon Cole, XR’s founder, thinks influencers should own the rights to their “digital kingdoms.”

Cole says that sports and media properties are leaving “significant value on the table” when they collaborate with third-party platforms. “We have our eyes set on supporting the largest original content creators from sports, music, and entertainment,” he says. Using data science, analytics, and blockchain technology, the XR Sports platform aims to address longtime challenges in the creator economy, such as data access and attribution for digital content. XR Sports is one of five early-stage startups added to the Mastercard Start Path startup engagement program. “The ability to directly access Mastercard resources is an incredible win,” Cole says. Thanks to the program, XR Sports will gain access to the Mastercard’s blockchain/crypto technology and additional payment technology. “Mastercard has an interest in the future of commerce, specifically at the intersection of the ‘creator economy’ and ‘fintech’ and that’s where XR Sports lives,” Cole says. —L.M.


The UTDesign Capstone is a secret weapon for companies with a backlog of projects, slim resources, or a need for a fresh take on solutions. Senior students from the Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science tackle challenges for sponsor companies; Projects can span AI, AR, IoT, computer vision, game development, bioengineering, robotics, software development, and more. The awardwinning human-centered design program recruited a record number of projects last year: Apply now for next semester. —Q.P.

‘PROVEN PRACTICE’: Suzy Batiz, one of Forbes’ richest self-made women, has a new course on how to “master the game of life”— AliveOS.

Tasty Innovations

Dallas-Fort Worth’s food and beverage industry ranges from giants like FritoLay and Darling Ingredients to startups with creative, tempting treats. Related sectors employ more than 420,000 people in the region, generating $27 billion in economic output. But ever since the frozen margarita machine was born at Mariano’s in Dallas, we’ve been drawn to innovators who think up new ways to sip, snack, and drink. Here are four that caught our fancy recently.


The Dallas-based startup’s already a hit with the MLB. Now it’s ready to really kick off.

Fort Worth-based HTeaO offers “ultrapremium” iced teas and coffee at 68 locations in five states. CEO Justin Howe first got the idea for the company when his parents’ Amarillo restaurant saw a sales jump in flavored ice teas. He opened his first Texas Tea location in Amarillo. By 2018 he had three locations, rebranded them as HTeaO, and began selling franchises. This month, Dallas-based Crux Capital and Trive Capital both decided to have a taste—by getting a minority stake in the company.

Founder Julie Fox changed what came out of her kitchen after her husband, Mike, had a health condition, getting rid of grains, dairy, processed foods, and refined sugars while adopting the Paleo diet. She began making nut-based snacks like almond butters, cashew butters, and grain-free granolas using only real, whole-food ingredients. That led her to launch Dallas-based Julie’s Real in 2015, offering everything from grain-free granola “office packs” to Paleo baking mixes to Paleo dark chocolate grain-free granola bars.

Dallas-based nVenue’s predictive analytics platform takes real-time data of what’s happening in a game and runs it through “millions” of models to show the predictive percentage of what could happen next. (Strikeout? Single? Home run?) Its “micro-betting” nextplay predictions have aired on NBC Sports and

Apple TV+ MLB broadcasts, and in October nVenue launched its NFL predictive betting product—with a goal of getting it into NFL game broadcasts on NBC Sports. NBC fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry has joined nVenue as an advisor, which might help seal the deal. —D.S.


In 2022, drones buzzed over Dallas-Fort Worth to deliver chicken wings, ice cream, pet meds, and more. For 2023, things will get a lot racier when drone racing zips onto the scene.

TikTok went nuts last summer when Miami-based influencer Chef Pii posted her “Pink Sauce”—a Pepto-colored concoction that fascinated millions. But she ran into issues when she tried to sell it. That’s when Dallas-based Dave’s Gourmet—famed for its Dave’s Insanity Sauce—stepped in. Dave’s turned the sauce into an official shelf-stable product, and this month the big deal arrived: Walmart has become the exclusive retailer to carry Pink Sauce until July 2023 in over 4,300 Walmart store locations nationwide.

The co-founders of Fort Worth healthy food concept Rollin’ n Bowlin’ got real in November about helping people “kick a sugar craving.” Their solution: Realsy, a new CPG line of nut butter-filled dates. The snacking brand is a CPG spinoff of the startup that co-founders Sophia Karbowski and Austin Patry launched from a food truck as TCU students in 2017. Karbowski calls Realsy a “small but soon-to-be mighty platform” that will “disrupt the better-for-you snacking industry with an actually good-for-you snack.” —D.S.

Calling drone racing “the No. 1 sport for Gen Z,” the Drone Racing League has appeared on NBC and top streaming platforms. On February 4, the DRL will take off in a live audience event at Esports Stadium Arlington. “The world’s 12 best drone pilots” will battle it out at the SIM Live! event, racing through the virtual Skyscraper Circuit map on the DRL SIM, a drone racing simulator video game. “DRL is the defining sport of the 21st century, challenging the status quo of other major properties,” CMO Anne Marie Gianutsos said. “We meet fans where they are and give them what they want—high-tech and high-speed competition across real-life racing, esports, and the metaverse.” —D.S.

HTeaO: 26 Flavors of Iced Tea Pink Sauce: TikTok to Walmart Julie’s Real Offers Paleo Treats Rollin’ n Bowlin’ Gets Realsy
Cofounders Kelly Pracht (far right) and Bruce Sears started nVenue in 2018.

CUP CRAZY: Dallas will be one of 16 host cities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for the 2026 World Cup.

FORE: PGA of America’s new Frisco HQ is just one of many golf and golfentertainment HQs teeing off in the Dallas area.

STICKY WICKET: DFW cricket fans will stick around this new stadium in Grand Prairie when Major League Cricket launches there in July.

GET SPIKED: The players above are some of the athletes who’ll pound kill shots for the Pro Volleyball Federation in February 2024.

A PICKLE PLACE: With two Dallas billionaires deeply invested, pro pickleball is about to take off big-time in Big D later this year.

WORLD CHAMPS: OpTic Gaming’s esports team The Dallas Fuel won the 2022 world championship in the Overwatch League.


The Future of Sports Is in North Texas

If the future of sports has one home, it’s right here in North Texas. A big brag, we know. But consider this: From high-tech advances to the hottest sports trends to startups on the edge of fitness science, it’s all kicking off in Dallas-Fort Worth.

From the rise of data and analytics to AI-enhanced training systems, technology is the name of the game for pro teams across North Texas—for both their players and their tech-driven venues. That’s increasingly true for everyone from the Cowboys to the Rangers to the Dallas Stars, FC Dallas, Dallas Wings, and the XFL’s Dallas Renegades, right down to the GPS performance metrics devices worn by the Dallas Jackals rugby team. Startups have also launched in the region to offer everything from OxeFit’s “smart gyms” to POWERHANDZ high-performance training gloves to Monarc’s robotic quarterback. But beyond high tech, the even bigger story here is the ever-widening range of sports making their home in North Texas. Here’s a look at some of the biggest newsmakers—and why you’ll be hearing about them for years to come.


The Dallas Cowboys top the list of the most valuable sports franchises on earth at $7 billion, according to Forbes. That’s reason enough to spiff up their Arlington home. But when the team recently announced plans to make $295 million in improvements to AT&T Stadium, one goal for the upgrades goes beyond football to the global game of—well, football (as in soccer). Jerry Jones and his family aim to make the Cowboys’ home a glittering marquee venue of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be played in 16 cities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The ultimate prize they seek: hosting the World Cup Final right here in DFW.


Sticky wickets are coming to DFW. So are cartwheels, cherries, diamond ducks, golden ducks, and more. Get ready to learn these terms and more when Major League Cricket launches in DFW this July. Local investors Anurag Jain and Ross Perot Jr. joined a $44 million funding round last May to build out the league’s infrastructure, with six teams representing Dallas, San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. MLC will adopt the sport’s shortened Twenty20 format. Dallas-based HKS is designing a “world class” stadium with major event capacity and seating expandable to 20,000 in Grand Prairie at the site of the former Texas AirHogs ballpark. It will also be the home of USA Cricket, the governing body for the sport in the U.S., and will host international tournaments as well.


The PGA of America moved its HQ from Florida to Frisco, debuting its $33.5 million, high-tech new home last August as part of a planned $500 million-plus mixed-use development that’s been dubbed “the Silicon Valley of golf.” The new PGA headquarters has lots of company in North Texas. Dallas-based Invited is the world’s largest owner and operator of golf and country clubs and is the majority owner of the BigShots Golf entertainment venues. Also headquartered in Dallas: tech-driven Topgolf, Drive Shack, and Puttery, as well as Arcis Golf, the second-largest owner of private, resort, and daily-fee golf clubs in the U.S. No wonder Invited CEO David Pillsbury calls Dallas “a golf Mecca.”


Millions have fallen head over paddle for pickleball, and Dallas billionaires have gotten in the game. A year ago, Tom Dundon, chairman and managing partner of Dallas’ Dundon Capital Partners and owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, acquired majority ownership of the Professional Pickleball Association, e-commerce platform Pickleball Central, and PickleballTournaments.com. In November, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was named the first team owner of the PPA’s six-team VIBE Pickleball League, slated to launch in 2023. “I couldn’t pass up the chance to invest in the fastest-growing game in the country,” Cuban said at the time. Soon after, Major League Pickleball and the VIBE Pickleball League announced a strategic merger to unify the sport under the Major League Pickleball brand.


In November, Frisco-based OpTic Gaming saw its esports team The Dallas Fuel win the 2022 Overwatch League world championship in front of thousands of fans at California’s Anaheim Convention Center. “We had a chance to make history today and got the job done,” OpTic owner and Chief Gaming Officer Mike Rufail said at the time. Rufail’s company was formerly known as Envy Gaming before its merger with OpTic in 2021. In June, Envy retired its branding and adopted the OpTic name. OpTic Gaming also operates the 100,000-square-foot Esports Stadium Arlington, which just hosted the SMITE World Championship January 13-15 with eight esports teams competing for $415,000 in prizes.


It’s not just for the Olympics anymore. The Pro Volleyball Federation, an indoor women’s volleyball league based locally out of Frisco as well as Columbus, Ohio, announced its launch last November. The league will feature 8 to 10 initial teams playing in “volleyball hotbeds” across the U.S. Its two co-founders are Stephen Evans, president of The Remedy, a sports and entertainment marketing agency based in Dallas, and Dave Whinham, president and CEO of Columbus-based The TEAM Management. Former college player Jen Spicher, the league’s CEO, calls the PVF “a fantastic new opportunity for these awesome athletes.” But the dinks, spikes, and digs are still a year away from happening: The league takes the court in February 2024. —D.S.


For most travelers, DFW Airport’s Terminal C is just a way to get someplace. But this summer it’ll get its own destination: Nowitski, a new, high-tech bar and restaurant concept steeped in the brand power of the Dallas Mavs legend. You may not see Dirk himself there, but you’ll be able to take a “virtual selfie” with an AR version of him thanks to tech from Frisco-based Aireal. Dallas-based D&B Mitchell Group pitched the restaurant to the airport, promising a VIP sports entertainment experience with the feel of an upscale club suite—and lots of can’t-miss Dirk magic. —D.S.


A cross between soccer and ping-pong, teqball is played on a curved table with “Teqers” kicking, kneeing, and heading a soccer ball back and forth. Fort Worth set up teq tables for public use at two parks last summer, a year after Big D hosted the Dallas Challenger Cup for teqball-playing men and women. —D.S.

SLAM DUNK The sports-themed restaurant experience could score big with the brand power of the Dallas Mavericks legend. Move over, Pickleball.



The venue’s top two floors and their huge decks will offer “bonkers” views of the Dallas skyline—likely a magnet for corporate events.

TOCA Social rocked London. Its first U.S. venue kicks into the Dallas Design District early this year with a three-story soccer, dining, and drinks attraction filled with “interactive and socially competitive” game boxes. In a TOCA box, a ball is launched at a player with targets waiting on the video screen. The first location launched last August in London, attracting cast members from “Ted Lasso” and top Premier League players. Why did the company touch down in Dallas for its first U.S. venue? “It’s pretty undeniable to everybody that Dallas is becoming an entertainment hub, a sport hub, a tech and growth hub,” Zach Shor, SVP of TOCA Social U.S., previously told us. Formerly COO of Topgolf International, Shor spent seven years at Topgolf and most recently was head of innovation at Grapevine-based GameStop. —D.S.

Immersive Entertainment Rules Here

Ready to really get in the game? Dallas-Fort Worth has become a major testing ground for an endless variety of immersive entertainment concepts—and more high-tech amazements are on the way.

If you like entertainment you can sink yourself into—from “full-body” virtual reality to mind-bending art trips to reimagined arcades—you’re in the right place. North Texas may be America’s greatest high-tech playground. Some of the latest concepts in immersive entertainment have gotten their first launches here, and our region’s also attracted the first U.S. expansion of some of the U.K.’s most popular high-tech venues. Here’s a look at what’s waiting for you all over—one experience at a time.


Cosm, a leader in experiential media and immersive tech, is bringing one of its first two entertainment venues to Grandscape in The Colony—bridging the gap between virtual and physical realities. Founded by Dallas’ Mirasol Capital in 2020, Cosm hired Dallas’

HKS to design the sprawling three-level venue, where an 87-foot LED screen will work wonders for up to 1,500 stunned spectators. Cosm’s proprietary dome and curved display tech will take you inside the action—from live sports and entertainment to experiential events, immersive art, music, and more. An L.A.

venue is slated to open in 2024; there’s no confirmed date yet for the Grandscape opening. Cosm is creating a “new category of immersive entertainment called ‘shared reality,’ working with partners globally to stream live content to physical venues and to virtual worlds alike,” said majority owner Steven Winn.

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Meow Wolf is as strange, imaginative, and deliciously weird as its name implies. Millions have “portal hopped into worlds unknown” at its locations in Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and Denver. Now a fourth, 40,000-square-foot Meow Wolf is opening later this year at the Grapevine Mills mall in Grapevine. Local artists are being recruited to help create “unreal, mind-bending narratives brought to life with never-before-imagined immersive art,” like Light Tunnel (above) from the Las Vegas location.


At Sandbox VR, groups of up to six gear up in the “most immersive full-body VR” for action-packed metaverse experiences. Inspired by the Star Trek Holodeck—and now open in Dallas and Fort Worth—the local locations let you don a VR helmet and body gear and grab your virtual weapon to play one of six wildly interactive games. Built by EA, Sony, and Ubisoft veterans, Sandbox VR has attracted investors including Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Kevin Durant, and Will Smith.



Lions and tigers? Oh no. Two Bit Circus is a “microamusement park” with 35,000 square feet of tech-enhanced entertainment fusing interactivity with the “wonder and spectacle of classic circus and carnival.” It launched in L.A., and its second venue is now open in Dallas. Attractions include arcade games, multiplayer VR experiences, and “story rooms.” There’s even a robot bartender named Guillermo, plus “classic carnival eats” to go with the “molecular mixology.”


Activate “takes entertainment into the future by fusing technology and physical activity together to create live-action gaming experiences.” Its six locations in Canada and the U.S. have up to 11 rooms with laser mazes, touch-activated climbing walls, arcade-style target walls, light-flashing basketball hoops, and more—with your score tracked by an RFID bracelet. The challenge: “Put your brain and body to the test.”


In Deep Ellum and Grandscape in The Colony, Electric Gamebox reinvents how video games are played with hyper-immersive games in digital smart rooms using projection mapping, touch screens, 3D motion tracking, and surround sound without headsets. Gaming pods host two to six players at a time.


Forget everything you know about mini-golf—the ho-hum windmill and the sad Astroturf. Puttery put its first “modern spin on mini-golf” at Grandscape with four wildly creative 9-hole “golf courses” on two floors, three bars, an outdoor terrace, and multiple lounges and seating areas. The illusion course above still makes our head spin. —D.S.

Universal Parks & Resorts wants to capture a whole new generation of fans— and it plans to do that right here in North Texas with a “one-of-a-kind” theme park in Frisco. Calling the planned park “unlike any other in the world,” Universal is designing it specifically for families with young children. The new park concept—set in a “lush green landscape featuring immersive themed lands”—will bring well-known Universal characters and stories to life “in ways that will wow even the youngest theme park goers,” the company said. The proposed park will be sited within 97 acres of land Universal recently purchased in Frisco, and will target “a whole new generation of fans” on a more intimate scale than larger Universal parks. An adjacent themed hotel will also be part of Frisco’s newest attraction. The new Frisco park will be “full of family-friendly attractions, interactive and playful shows, character meet-and-greets, unique merchandise, and fun food and beverage venues,” the company said. The park and its surrounding area will have “a completely different look, feel, and scale than Universal’s existing parks.” More details about the park will be revealed over time, the company said. The schedule for start of construction and a projected opening date have yet to be released. —D.S.



MOST AGENCIES WOULDN’T DREAM OF WALKING AWAY FROM A FINALIST PITCH. BUT FIREHOUSE CEO STEVE SMITH AND EXECUTIVE creative director Tripp Westbrook lead the advertising agency with what they call “courage in the face of convention.” Even when it means saying goodbye to a stipend. So when Firehouse walked away from a recent pitch after “three deep campaign ideas,” they called on that conviction to protect their creative rights. The pitch stipend would have given the potential client a total of 12 ad campaigns. Firehouse even offered to pitch for free to retain their intellectual property, but it was a no-go. Smith and Westbrook aren’t afraid to shake up the status quo and challenge conventional thinking. That may be why one client calls the 25-year-old agency’s work a break from the “usual crap.” It helps to know which “unwritten rules” of advertising can be broken: Firehouse helps brands break out of more traditional marketing formulas when crafting ad campaigns. In one campaign that was a “huge success,” it advised Interstate Batteries to get beyond run-of-the-mill battery ads. Turns out, market research shows people only think about car batteries when they fail. Firehouse shifted the storyline to “dependability.” And in working with the National Cheer Association, the agency portrayed cheerleaders as hard-working athletes instead of taking a more expected “glitter and bows” approach. The result? The intended stakeholder group “ran away with the ad campaign themselves,” becoming true brand ambassadors who adopted the hashtag “#TheWorkIsWorthIt.” Firehouse, recognized by prestigious award programs like The One Show, The Webbie Awards, The Obies, and Communication Arts, was recently named as one of Ad Age’s 2022 Best Places To Work in America. The agency, which counts Lennox, Trupanion, Coinstar, and Mary Kay among its clients, was the only Texas-based agency listed in the 200-employees-or-less category. —Q.P.

CHIEF BOBBLEHEADS: At Firehouse, CEO Steve Smith (right) and CCO Tripp Westbrook recognize their talented employees with coveted bobbleheads on their talent wall.
It’s not every advertising agency with the resolve to walk away from a pitch. Especially as a final-four contender.

Skating on the Creative Edge

A doodling Dallas artist hits it big with Drug Receipts NFTs.

IMAGINE A “TYPICAL DALLAS GUY.” WHATEVER YOU COME UP with, it probably won’t be Arlo Eisenberg. He describes himself as “an agitator, a communicator, a skeptic, and a graphic artist with a distinct point of view.” Distinct is putting it mildly. A graduate of Dallas’ Booker T. Washington arts magnet school, the former pro rollerblader won the X Games Street title in 1996, snagging steep cred in the action sports and streetwear worlds. In 1993, he and his friend Brooke Howard-Smith had co-founded Senate Industries, an inline skating accessories startup that “exposed legions of young people to countercultural ideals.”

Snap forward to today, and Eisenberg’s still skating on the creative edge. Along with his Dallas Design District creative agency—named simply Eisenberg—he runs the NFT company Drug Receipts in collaboration with Howard-Smith, co-founder of New Zealand-based Non-fungible Labs, and fine art photographer

Tyler Shields. (All three are former pro rollerblading buddies.) Drug Receipts is based on Eisenberg’s own doodles drawn on restaurant and bar receipts, featuring talking pill bottles, strolling capsules, moody syringes, and a saucy tablet.

10,000 of the transgressive Drug Receipts NFTs sold out last March in 24 hours, earning

$2.5 million. “I’ve always made time for art,” Eisenberg says in a video post. While working a “very demanding” agency job in 2015, he began doodling art works on lunch receipts. “I had no idea where it would go, but I kept drawing.” He posted the works on an Instagram account called @drugreceipts.

“Over time the drawings evolved, the characters and themes developed, and it started to gain a little bit of traction.” Now, after that $2.5 million sales day, life has changed for Eisenberg.

“Drug Receipts is a project built on the pillars of art, subversion, science, skepticism, and community,” he says. “For the first time in my life, I don’t have to make time to make art. NFTs make it possible to just make art.” — D.S.


The AIGA Dallas Fort Worth community of creatives develops a deck of cards each year.

This year’s Birdwatchers Edition is a flock of creativity that involved 54 local designers as well as ProPrint.com, paper pros Lindenmeyr Munroe, and packaging designers at Schaefer Advertising. Find them online at AIGA Dallas. —Q.P.


From Lincoln Logs to Tinkertoys to Erector Sets, the history of building toys is full of creativity. But LEGOS stand out for inspiring fans of all ages.

AIA Dallas explores famous skylines and landmarks in the Building Toys & Toy Buildings: Brickitecture, an exhibition curated by architect Blane Ladymon. About 105 sets of micro-builds from the curator’s collection are on display to help inspire architecture and construction. Guests can design and build creations, too. The free exhibit runs through Feb. 11 at AD EX, the Architecture and Design Exchange, 325 N. St. Paul Street, Suite 150, in downtown Dallas. Check days/times. —Q.P.



The DEC Network will host several Signature Events in 2023, the 10th year of The DEC Network: Women X Tech sponsored by Smart Business Concepts on February 8, State of Entrepreneurship presented by Bank of America on March 29, Techstars Startup Weekend presented by ioogo from April 21 to 23, WEDallas Mompreneur Summit sponsored by Capital One on May 10, Dallas Startup Week sponsored by Capital One from September 10 to 14, and The DEC Network Golf Classic in October. You won’t want to miss any of these fantastic events! Stay up to date: Sign up for The DEC Network’s newsletter at b.link/DECnewsletter.

Startup Alley Expo at Dallas Startup Week sponsored by Capital One. Panelists Lynette Bell, Gabe Madison, Tre Black, and Donta Wilson at Building Generational Wealth through Entrepreneurship event at The DEC Network at Redbird. The DEC Network cohort member Totteanna Shanklin, CEO and founder of XOLI, pitching at THE BIG PITCH presented by Strategic Innovation powered by Toyota Financial Services. The DEC Network member Nia-Tayler Clark, CEO and founder of BLACK LIT, with her team. The DEC Network Golf Classic Shotgun Shoot-off. Bessy Martinez, founder of The Latina Group and Austin Latinas Unidads, at Women of Innovation. Local DEC Network partner Holly Burrow networking at The DEC Network event. Local Redbird member Branden Williams from Seeds 2 Stem and colleague. Dallas Startup Week sponsored by Capital One Keynote Speaker Jonathan Morris interviewed by Mobolaji Sokunbi from Dell Technologies.


C E L E B R A T E W I T H U S A S W E L O O K B A C K O N O U R H I S T O R Y , R E F L E C T O N T H E P R E S E N T , A N D L O O K T O W A R D S T H E F U T U R E W I T H T H E D E C N E T W O R K R E D B I R D 2 . 0 . T H E D E C . C O | @ T H E D E C N E T W O R K



The Entrepreneur Summit is an annual event offering privately held businesses an opportunity to engage in one-on-one meetings with more than 250 investor groups—including private equity firms, family offices, pension funds, and sovereign wealth funds. These investor groups collectively focus on all industries and investment types and, in aggregate, manage approximately $4 trillion in global assets.

Each year more than 1,300 private business owners, leading investor groups, senior executives, industry specialists, and middle-market M&A professionals join us from across 34 countries. Attendees have an opportunity to learn more about the private equity alternative and receive specific insights from professional investors.

Jamie Lewin, Global Deloitte Private leader, Deloitte Corporate Finance LLC, and founder of The Entrepreneur Summit, shares, “I don’t think there’s another forum where in one day you could develop such a great perspective on the array of options that are presented by the investment community.”

“ One of the most gratifying things we do is help a family-owned or an entrepreneur access capital markets that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. And, that’s our goal.”*
Jamie Lewin, Global Deloitte Private leader, Deloitte Corporate Finance LLC
“ There’s no other event like The Entrepreneur Summit. Without a doubt, the number of business owners, management teams, and investors that descend for this event is unlike anything else that I attend or go to. The scale and the diversity of attendance just sets the Deloitte event apart.”*
*Testimonial may not be representative of the experience of other customers and does not guarantee future performance or success. About Deloitte Corporate Finance LLC Deloitte Corporate Finance LLC (DCF), a broker-dealer registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), is an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP and affiliate of Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP. Investment banking or other services that would require registration as a broker-dealer with the SEC and membership in FINRA would be provided exclusively by DCF. For more information, visit www.investmentbanking.deloitte. com. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. About Deloitte Private Deloitte Private is a global practice committed to serving private enterprises around the world. We deliver a distinctive client experience through service offerings tailored to meet the unique needs of private companies, including family-owned and closely held businesses, and private equity portfolio companies. For more information, visit Deloitte Private Company Services. Copyright © 2023 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved. “This is kind of like our Super Bowl.”
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When you cast off from land in a boat, ideas can hit you like waves. As a sailor in the South Seas, Herman Melville’s thoughts turned to storytelling—and eventually led to “Moby Dick.” For Brandon Cotter and Powell Kinney, being on the water made them realize that while boats are fun, they’re “essentially dumb and dangerous.” That led them to explore bringing Tesla-like electric vehicle and autonomous technology to the $57 billion recreational boating market. After working quietly for a year and a half—and spending countless days bobbing on Grapevine Lake, tapping on their laptops—they emerged from stealth in July 2022 as co-founders of Dallas-based AllOY. In December, they unveiled the design for their first electric-powered, 28-foot catamaran—featuring advanced autonomous tech they hope will make watersports easier and safer for all. —D.S.



The Tech That Comes Next

When it comes to technology, change is coming at us faster than ever. A recent tech trend report from Deloitte noted that technical skills now become outdated every 2.5 years on average. That means it pays off to adapt and adopt when we pinpoint where groundbreaking transformation is taking hold next. We looked to three futurists for their best “crystal ball predictions” on where we’re headed and which technologies have the greatest potential to make life better and more productive in North Texas and around the globe.

Predictions for 2023

George Brody, founder and CEO of IoT solutions company InfoNet of Things and founder and chair of TiE Dallas Angels investment program, has a knack for innovation and trend-spotting honed over decades in the wireless industry at the helm of GlobeRanger and as a leader at Nortel.

Three years ago, we asked IoT expert Brody to look into his crystal ball, and he tagged esports, IoT and 5G networks, blockchain going beyond crypto, and artificial intelligence and machine learning built into a multitude of products and systems as some of the biggest coming trends.

When we caught up with him recently, he said he’s standing by those predictions. In particular, North Texas will continue to grow as an esports mecca, with NFTs, virtual pop-up stores, and cryptocurrencies creating greater opportunities for monetization. Plus, the metaverse has gone mainstream, with virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality enabling “exciting individual and group-based applications and experiences.” Virtual stores created by influencers and brands will be the new trend in luxury merchandise, travel, and other e-commerce sectors.

What else is ahead? Brody sees even more smart use of IoT. Industrial IoT will be pervasive in manufacturing, supply chains, and healthcare applications. He sees a combination of sensors, AI/ ML, blockchain, industrial robots, drones over private 5G, and WiFi-6E-based networks that can offer powerful applications.

Sensor-based IoT can also ensure food safety, higher productivity, and end-to-end visibility in farm-to-fork supply chain networks, he says. In healthcare, those sensors will monitor patients and collect data. “This will create tremendous insights and ability to predict health issues before they happen and allow drug manufacturers to measure the efficacy of certain drugs,” he says.

AI/ML will be embedded in many products and services, Brody says. For example, innovative use of AI/ML and blockchain technologies in fintech and risk management are emerging. “Any enterprise that has not moved itself to an AI-enabled product or service set will be left behind in the dust,” he says.

7 trends shaping our future

Anurag Jain, managing partner of Perot Jain and chairman of Access Healthcare, is vigilant in looking for emerging tech so he can direct investment to the most promising early-stage startups. Jain tags seven trends driving the future of innovation:

1. Human longevity will shape the future. Jain says that technology, personalized medicine, and gene therapy are currently extending life at a rate of four or five years for every year that passes. Living to 100 soon will be common. “Every single year that human life is extended, it has a $38 trillion impact on the economy,” he says.

2. Workforce skills are in a constant state of change. With each generation, the need for switching jobs will accelerate. Our grandparents might have done one thing their whole careers while Gen Xers might have two or three skills they need to change. “The next generation will probably have to learn a new skill every 8 to 10 years,” Jain estimates. “Think about it: If you live 100 years, you’d probably have 10 different jobs during your lifetime.” Education will need to adapt to train people quickly again and again, he says.

3. The mobility market “is going to explode.” Moving people, goods, and data efficiently, cheaply, and safely is a huge trend.

4. How efficient is your supply chain? The pandemic put a spotlight on supply chain disruptions and the difficulties they pose to daily life. “Over the next 10 years, we will spend over a trillion dollars on making supply chains more efficient,” Jain says.

5. Government incubation can make a nation more self-sufficient and resilient. The government can throw more money at problems than businesses alone. “We need to work with our governments to make them better and better at incubating companies,” he says.

6. The “whole real estate ecosystem” is about to transform, according to Jain: “For the first time you’ll see this old—somewhat stodgy—business change.”

7. The nature of work is changing. Jain cites three dimensions: How work is done is shifting more and more to the gig economy. Where work is done is different for many as remote work becomes common. More work will shift to India and Nigeria, where populations are increasing while much of the world is in population decline.


Xtech: Beyond IT

A set of emerging technologies known as “xTech” is expected to have a significant impact on business innovation in the future, according to the futurists at Deloitte. These xTech disciplines, which include SpaceTech, BioTech, EnergyTech, NeuroTech, RobotTech, and ClimateTech, are focused on solving fundamental challenges and constraints in their respective areas and are attracting significant talent and investment.

Mike Bechtel, managing director and the chief futurist with Deloitte Consulting LLP, says these six areas are “hotbeds for patents, startups, and R&D advancements and are easily attracting the most talented professionals, new graduates, and funding.”

A new report from the global tech consultancy suggests that these xTech disciplines will eventually rival traditional IT in their impact on business innovation.

“Humans are experiencing fundamental quality-of-life challenges and constraints that can’t be solved by IT alone,” Bechtel says. “The technologies in the emerging xTech disciplines are capable of addressing many of these problems.”

For example, the developing sector of ClimateTech is offering affordable ways to manage and mitigate climate change risks. And SpaceTech will go beyond impacts to aerospace, defense, and telecommunications to contribute to applications in logistics, the environment, agriculture, entertainment, and more.

And Bechtel sees North Texas as an integral player in creating and advancing xTech solutions.

“Dallas-Fort Worth is among the top 10 markets in North America when it comes to tech talent growth,” he says. “From that talent pool to corporate headquarters to universities, many here see North Texas as a frontier of innovation, and it will continue to flourish, thanks to that spirit.” Sandra


From energy fixes to solutions for drought, these North Texas scientists and researchers are leading the way in promising advancements.


Following the “big freeze” that hit Texas in 2021, exposing problems in the state’s power grid, SMU professor Harsha Gangammanavar is leading a multidisciplinary team to develop algorithms that improve complex energy systems—like the management of the energy grid under intermittent renewable power.


The University of North Texas BioDiscovery Institute’s $1.4 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation is seeding research in sustainable medicine—literally. A first-of-its-kind study could lead to medicines that can be delivered via plant seeds—with no downstream processing.


With mega-droughts drying up lakes out west and “water wars” predicted in the world’s future, having reliable access to water is becoming more and more vital. A team at UT Dallas led by Dr. Xianming “Simon” Dai is doing something about it. They’re working on a water-harvesting platform that could enable anyone to have “an affordable, portable device that could access water anywhere, anytime conceivably using no external energy,” according to the university. “As a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan, I’m excited to see that we’re moving closer to the ‘moisture farms’ of Luke’s youth,” says UTD’s Dr. Joshua Summers. —Q.P.

The next generation will probably have to learn a new skill every 8 to 10 years. Think about it: If you live 100 years, you’d probably have 10 different jobs during your lifetime.”
Texas Instruments Siemens Digital Industries Software Toyota and Google Cloud Flytrex and Brinker Bell Waymo


A once-forlorn piece of land off Stemmons Freeway in Dallas was given new life as Pegasus Park when it opened in 2021. Today, it’s an epicenter for the region’s lifesciences ecosystem. The 23-acre campus was built for collaboration from office to lab space. Now a herd of SMU Mustangs are about to stampede there: The school’s Institute for Computational Biosciences and its researchers will focus on bioscientific discoveries, leveraging tech and computational algorithms.


Putting the Tech in the Bio

Dallas-Fort Worth is known for its technology expertise. Now, a convergence of its tech talent pool with the life science industry is fueling growth in the region’s biotech ecosystem, industry leaders say. With a steady influx of college graduates joining the workforce, DFW’s tech talent is an X factor expected to accelerate the region’s reputation as a prime location for life science. Here are 16 companies that are “putting the tech in bio” to drive breakthroughs—from revolutionary genetic engineering to pioneering ecology restoration.

Evolve Biologics


Evolve, an Ontariobased company, is investing in a state-ofthe-art manufacturing facility in Sachse to produce plasmaderived therapeutics.

Set to open in 2024, Evolve chose DFW for its skilled workforce, central location, and booming pharma sector.

MyndVR Plano

This digital therapeutics company uses virtual reality to improve the quality of life for seniors. MyndVR collaborated with Stanford on research, and in 2022, partnered with Select Rehabilitation—a provider of contract rehabilitation and consulting services in the U.S.



Its machine-learning platform can analyze a human body’s joint-level movement (in real time) for use in sports, healthcare, security, and more. The company’s tech stack reveal and scores movement pattern differences.



This health and life sciences company under Google parentcompany Alphabet opened in Cypress Waters in 2022.

The San Francisco company cited both healthcare and tech capabilities as factors.

The diverse talent pool is also key; it plans to hire up to 115 employees.

Kwivik Therapeutics


The pre-IPO medtech combines two powders to create medical oxygen on demand. Combined with engineering, IoT, and AI technologies, Kwivik wants to disrupt the way several conditions are treated, including asthma, cluster headaches, migraines, and skin care.

Taysha Gene Therapies


Located at life science hub Pegaus Park, Taysha uses machine learning to develop gene therapies for diseases of the central nervous system. The therapy is delivered through an injection in the spinal canal.



The biotech develops patient-specific therapeutics to treat cancer. Its proprietary immunotherapy platform, Vigil, has potential applications across multiple solid tumor types. Gradalis has its own Good Manufacturing Practice, or GMP, facility in the city.



ZipData’s digital solution streamlines the transfer of patients’ electronic health records through use of machine learning algorithms and APIs. The company aims to “eliminate the fax machine and data entry once and for all” for healthcare providers.

Caris Life Sciences


Caris innovated AIpowered algorithms to predict patient responses to treatments such as immunotherapy and chemotherapy, based on their personalized molecular profile. Its database has 275,000plus matched patient records to date.

Neuro Rehab VR

Fort Worth

The female-founded virtual reality healthcare technology helps physical therapists use VR as a game-changing therapy modality for patients of all ages.

Lantern Pharma


Lantern uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to reduce the cost, risk, and time involved in developing cancer therapies. Partnerships in technology and healthcare include cloud computing firms, hospitals, and tissue banks.

Balanced Media Technology


BMT is collaborating with SMU and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest to commercialize technology to fight age-related macular degeneration using a crowdsourced video game to capture data.



The biotech, best known for “rewilding” efforts to bring back the woolly mammoth, is using CRISPR—a gene editing platform—to improve the field of genomics and pioneer ecosystem restoration. It’s garnered the attention of the CIA, which invested through its nonprofit VC arm.



A spinoff of Colossal, this computational life sciences platform uses deep learning AI algorithms and an “intuitive” user interface to manage large datasets, workflows, and results visualization.


Flower Mound

The software company uses a cloud-based technology platform to improve the healthcare credentialing process. Globally, more than 10 thousand healthcare facilities use its product, called SEC³URE Ethos.

Signify Health


Signify’s platform helps both providers and patients evaluate care needs with costs. The company, which uses data analytics, acquired Caravan Health in March.

LinedanceAI Co-Founder Mohamed Elwazer
Lantern Pharma CEO Panna Sharma





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We talked with the leading names in Dallas-Fort Worth artificial intelligence to learn how the technology is swiftly transforming society and business, from the development of virtual assistants and assembly-line robots to advanced chatbots like ChatGPT. While North Texas has long benefited from its central geographic location, these leaders say, it’s now becoming central to the AI revolution as well. Beyond its rich history in hardware and software, DFW’s role as an AI hub has been burnished by its tech workforce, the breadth and diversity of its industries, its thriving startup community, and its wealth of AI-oriented universities and research institutions. Perhaps most important, though, has been the region’s status as a magnet for Fortune 500 companies, many of which are eager to partner with AI’s local pioneers in order to capitalize on this game-changing transformation.

FEATURE 41 DALLASINNOVATES.COM ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
Here’s what the experts have to say.


Addison-based Lone Star, which offers predictive and prescriptive analytics and guided artificial intelligence, helps companies make smart decisions in a variety of business sectors, from aerospace and defense to manufacturing, transportation, logistics, and oil and gas.

For the oil and gas industry—a critical mainstay of the Texas economy—Lone Star provides an advanced, “hybrid AI” solution that analyzes every aspect of the electrical submersible pumps that are used in well drilling, for example. Its so-called Evolved AI analysis, which augments certain raw pump data with specific information that’s already known, helps reduce pump failure and enhances the operator’s productivity.

At one well in the Bakken Shale Play, Lone Star’s cutting-edge, Evolved AI helped the well produce an additional $1.3 million annually, based on 1,000 barrels of oil a day at $50 per barrel.

“Our customers want actionable information, and they want to know what’s going to happen before it happens,” says Steve Roemerman, the company’s chairman and CEO.

Lone Star Analysis, which employs 150, is among a number of Dallas-Fort Worth companies making names for themselves in AI—the mimicking of human intelligence processes by machines, and especially computers, often using robust, real-time datasets. With AI playing an increasingly important role in our society— in everything from assembly-line robots and self-driving cars to virtual assistants and advanced chatbots like ChatGPT—the technology is attracting capital and generating interest among North Texas entrepreneurs with pioneering ideas.

Opportunities in the field are promising just now for startups and investors alike because, in terms of development, “AI now is where the web was in the mid- to late-’90s,” says David Evans, whose Dallas-based Sentiero Ventures VC firm invests in AI-enabled SaaS companies. While much of today’s AI is based on research from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Evans says, the field has accelerated in the last five years because computer “horsepower” has exploded. By 2030, artificial intelligence is expected to balloon global GDP by as much as 14% and add $15.7 trillion to the global economy, according to a study by professional services firm PwC.

“AI has come out of the back office and now it’s in the real world,” says Dave Copps, the co-founder and CEO of Dallas-based spatial AI company Worlds, and

a serial entrepreneur with three successful startup exits to his credit. “It’s the only technology that’s going to affect every industry. We’re at the beginning of a transformation that’s going to take a decade.”

AI “changes how we work, literally,” Copps says. “In industry, it can be working with robots. Inside knowledge companies, it’s interacting with AIs that can do the ‘grunt’ work for you. Everywhere we look, we’re going to be interacting with AIs.”

With 24 Fortune 500 companies based in DFW and the area’s business-friendly climate, acclaimed international airport, high rate of startup formation, and ample supply of tech workers, North Texas is uniquely positioned in AI, experts say— especially when it comes to developing new efficiencies and business opportunities for big enterprises.

“I think the road to startup heaven is littered with companies who have an incredible technology, but have no idea how to sell it or make it solve a real problem,” Copps says. “That’s something we’re really good at here. We have a lot of large industry, and now we have a flourishing startup community. And the biggest problems and most important problems in the world are happening in those large industries.”



Supply chains, so exposed and disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, are one big problem attracting the attention of Copps’ Worlds, an AI-powered startup that launched in 2020 after being spun out of Hypergiant Sensory Sciences. A first-ofits-kind, “extended reality environment” platform that builds live, 4D digital twins (or models) of real-world operations, Worlds helps oil and gas companies, say, identify inefficient or unsafe processes in their models that can then be reimagined and automated in order to unlock unrealized value.

“We call it the industrial metaverse,” Copps says. “The best opportunity for us is the large industrial companies who are having to kind of play in a world of abundance now, since COVID. They’re having to do more than they ever had to do before. And it’s not about doing it with less people—it’s about making the people you have more effective.”

Another young firm helping enterprises solve real-world problems with artificial intelligence is Spacee, which founder/CEO Skip Howard calls a “computer vision AI company” that has just enjoyed a “breakout” year. Its recent breakthrough came about because the Dallas-based company, which started life in 2013 with virtual touch technology, pivoted during the pandemic to offer more sophisticated custom retail experiences using light and motion.

The company has also made a splash with its Deming shelf-mounted supply-chain robot, a cost-efficient, retail inventory device that roves across store shelves, providing data about what’s on the facility’s shelves and what may need to be replenished.

Late last year, Spacee enhanced the robots further by adding live and recorded video feeds.

The robots’ computer vision algorithms interpret what the robot “sees,” Howard says, such as “what product it is, how much of it is left, is it in the right spot?”


Fortunately, DFW’s AI infrastructure is nourishing startups like these and keeping pace with all the new opportunities.

For that, the field’s most prominent players credit the likes of the Center for Applied AI & Machine Learning at the University of Texas at Dallas—UTD was designated a national research university by the state of Texas in 2018— and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Southern Methodist University.

They also praise the work and support of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, the Dallas Regional Chamber, the Richardson Innovation Quarter, companies like Texas Instruments, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the nonprofit Dallas AI Meetup group, which boasts nearly 4,000 members.

One promising new development for the region’s AI infrastructure is occurring between Frankford and Keller Springs roads, just west of the Dallas North Tollway. There, Spacee’s Howard is creating an incubator, called A.I. Center Dallas, for tech companies focused on artificial intelligence.

Spacee has taken the ground floor of the new, 51,000-square-foot building at 17230 Dallas Parkway for its headquarters space and a 2,200-square-foot showroom, while the offices upstairs will be leased to AI-oriented ventures seeking a community of like-minded companies. Tenants will be able to display their products for free in the downstairs showroom, Howard says, and also will have free access to Spacee’s optics experts and hardware like cameras and 3D printers.

“The whole point is not really to make money on a community,” he says. “It’s to build a community.”



The University of Texas at Dallas and the City of Richardson joined forces to launch a cutting-edge economic development initiative, with the opening of a new 27,500-square-foot headquarters for the Richardson Innovation Quarter last year. The IQ serves as a public hub for UT Dallas research centers, where companies in North Texas can access private offices, shared demo lab spaces, conference and meeting rooms, and common-area coworking spaces. The IQ aims to foster collaborations between UT Dallas and corporations, support the region’s startup and entrepreneur community, and advance UTD research. As the home to six research

centers that specialize in a range of disciplines from multiple schools within UT Dallas, these centers provide a platform for startups to test and validate their ideas, and also provide opportunities for collaboration and networking with established companies and researchers in the field.


The Center for Applied AI & Machine Learning (CAIML), partners with companies to apply advanced AI and machine-learning technologies to their products, services, and business processes.

Another center, the Center for Applied AI at the Richardson Innovation Quarter with UT Dallas Expertise

(CAIQUE)—pronounced “cake”—is a multi-disciplinary center that engages experts from UT Dallas and affiliate faculty. The center focuses on advancing fundamental algorithms and data structures in engineering and computer science, developing material point methodologies for 3D-modeling of manufactured parts, innovating around AI-driven business models and customer engagement strategies, AI-driven materials synthesis, and more. Other centers include the Center for Imaging and Surgical Innovation (CISI), the Multi-Scale Integrated Interactive Intelligent Sensing (MINTS) Center, the Center for Smart Mobility (COSMO), and UTDesign.



North Texas is emerging as a hub for AI innovation, thanks in part to the efforts of organizations like Dallas AI Meetup, the largest nonprofit AI forum in the region. With more than 3,800 members, the organization brings together a diverse community of professionals and enthusiasts who are passionate about the technology. Under the leadership of AI executives Aamer Charania, head of applied machine learning at Best Buy and former president of the MIT Club of Dallas, and Babar Bhatti, AI product leader at IBM and former chair of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Dallas, Dallas AI regularly hosts educational talks and workshops. These events feature partnerships with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Google, Microsoft, IBM, Verizon, MIT, the University of Texas, and Southern Methodist University. —Q.P.


As alluded to by Worlds’ Copps, huge enterprises like Lockheed, Walmart, and Toyota are routinely partnering up with third-party, AI-oriented tech companies to solve specific, real-world problems—a process that results in so-called “narrow AI” solutions.

Take Dallas-based AT&T, for instance. Last year, the communications and technology giant said it had teamed with Silicon Valley startup H2O.ai to offer an AI “feature store” to companies and organizations looking to speed development of their own AI projects. AT&T has also partnered with companies including Ericsson, Cisco, and Juniper Networks to use AI to tune its “software-defined network” platform—a more fluid, more efficient way of managing a telecom network that carries many hundreds of petabytes of global data each day.

Previously, engineers would monitor and adjust the network’s signals in response to constantly changing conditions, says David Williams, AT&T’s assistant vice president of automation. But today, “We’re able to use artificial intelligence to do that millions of times a day, where before you had teams of people across the United States manually looking and making these judgment calls to tune the network,” Williams says. “So, it just increases the performance of the network overall.”

While artificial intelligence is also helping the company improve its interaction with business customers over billing and services issues, Williams adds, the network-tuning advancement thanks to AI has the added benefit of cutting AT&T’s costs, giving it

A spirit of cooperation is characteristic of DFW business in general, observers say, and it’s certainly no less true of the artificial intelligence space.
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// FEATURE

more money to plow back into the likes of its fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks.

That’s obviously important, because it’s estimated that at least 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data are being produced every day—a figure that will only increase with time. And harnessing all that data in a smart, actionable way is AI’s driving force. That’s why companies need to ensure the datasets they’re using in AI processes are accurate, consistent, and comprehensive.

“The most valuable naturally occurring resource in the world today is data, and it becomes exponentially more valuable when it’s connected through AI,” says Copps. “Now we can start to build, measure, and understand the world in ways that were never possible before.”

One company that’s doing just that is Cien, a Dallas-based, “AI-first” platform that aims to boost its clients’ sales performance by optimizing their CRM (customer relationship management) data. The six-year-old SaaS company uses AI and machine learning to track salespeople’s performance in real time, providing accurate feedback so that enterprise B2B firms, for instance, can better understand their problems and their potential for growth.

“The issue of smart, efficient growth comes down to analyzing each aspect of the go-to-market process,” says Margot Carter, Cien’s co-founder. “We look at over 20 dimensions and find the areas that are slowing the organization down. For example, it can be how reps are not ramping up fast enough according to industry benchmarks, or generating a poorly qualified pipeline. One of the cool things about AI is that you can measure things that previously you only had a gut feeling about—such as how likely a deal is to close.”



Besides large enterprises like AT&T, AI also has obvious benefits for small and medium-sized companies, according to Sentiero’s Evans, who predicts that AI will be “table stakes” for all firms in the not-so-distant future.

Evans advises companies to “take a small part of their business and optimize it” with AI in order to either make money, save money, or improve their customers’ experience. AI consultants can help, he adds, likening them to attorneys who guide their clients toward a solution once the clients’ problems have been identified.

The problem for some of Spacee’s retail clients, for example, was making their stores more fun, interactive, and profitable.

Spacee’s AI and computer vision solution was its immersive HoverTouch technology—a custom “augmented reality” experience that has customers interacting with 2D and 3D surfaces. The contactless HoverTouch Connect product serves up actionable data while allowing retailers and brands to retain control of their content, device management, and customer experience.

So, what’s up next for Spacee, whose clients include a slew of Fortune 500 companies?

“It has to do with loss prevention,” Howard replies. “Our next big thing is using computer vision to help solve a multifaceted problem where we not just make a dent, but revolutionize loss prevention—while removing friction at the same time—from any kind of commercial application that’s in a physical store.” While revolutionizing loss prevention might seem like a tall order, Copps stresses that industry of every stripe will need to leverage AI eventually.

“If you’re in business today and you plan on being here in 10 years, and if you’re not trying to understand how your business and your people can be augmented through AI, you’re going to fall behind—period,” he says.

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If funding can be a major stumbling block on the road to business success—no matter the venture’s industry or niche—things are looking up on the money front for North Texas tech companies. At the same time, though, challenges persist alongside the new opportunities.

Two things that could hold back DFW’s continued progress in the AI space in particular, experts say, are the tech-preparedness of tomorrow’s workforce (see chart, “AI—Ready or Not?,” on page 52), and lingering funding concerns—especially at the mezzanine-finance level. “It’s what you do when you’ve got to raise $20 million to $50 million,” Copps says. “We’re still reaching out a little bit. But we’re getting better here. I raised $8 million out of $10 million for Worlds here in Texas, which is great, and that wouldn’t have happened five years ago.” Howard agrees. “The investment world is really getting better here,” he says. “It’s just not there yet, in my opinion. You have a few fantastic players, and then a lot more on the way.”

Any list of those “fantastic” funders in DFW will include firms like Evans’ Sentiero Ventures, Perot Jain, Capital Factory, and Cypress Growth Capital, as well as major family offices like Goff Capital, JF2 Capital, and Green Park & Golf Ventures. In 2021, more than $2 billion in investment from all quarters went to early-stage entrepreneurs in North Texas across about 90 funding rounds, according to Trey Bowles, managing director of the Techstars program in Fort Worth. In 2011, by contrast, DFW lured just less than $400 million for 33 early-stage rounds.

One of the new funders “on the way” in North Texas, as Howard put it, is Scott Wisniewski, who not only invested early in Spacee, but purchased the Dallas Parkway building where Howard is creating the AI incubator. Wisniewski, a self-described “finance guy” who splits his time between Addison and San Angelo, in West Texas, says he sold a home-security business and has deployed anywhere from “$100,000 to millions” in deals.

“I’m an opportunity investor, and boy, do I see the opportunity in tech,” he says. “With all the California companies moving here, Dallas has a great opportunity to really carve itself out as a major player.”

In contrast to more risk-averse investors who look for “aces, straights, and flushes” instead of taking big chances with other people’s money, “I’m playing with my own money, so I know what I can afford to risk,” Wisniewski says. “But I’ll expect a nice multiple if we succeed.”

Like the owner of his new Addison space, Howard agrees that North Texas has “a pretty nice role to play” in technology—and especially as an “AI super hub of innovation.”

After all, local companies have been proving it every day.


At Lone Star Analysis in Addison, for example, its proprietary AI helped the company grow its revenue about 30% in 2021 and close to that in 2022 through early November, CEO Roemerman says. Over the next two to three years, “We think our footprint in North Texas will roughly double,” partly on the strength of more international business, he adds.

Lone Star is poised to capitalize further on what the chief executive calls DFW’s “huge concentration of tech workers and big concentration of tech-savvy organizations,” as well as its willingness to adopt pragmatic AI solutions for specific business problems. That’s in stark contrast to other markets, Roemerman says—even California’s Silicon Valley.

“You can’t spill a latte on Sand Hill Road without finding somebody with a pitch deck who downloaded everything free in the Berkeley or Stanford AI library and is trying to package that as an AI platform,” he says, smiling. “You don’t have that here, but there, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of public relations. And while it’s not very pragmatic—most of those [pitches] will fail—it does generate a lot of heat and light. So I think Silicon Valley is going to score more PR points, but Dallas is going to make more money for their shareholders.”

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// FEATURE


Innovations in artificial intelligence are transforming the workplace, and it’s predicted that millions of today’s jobs won’t even exist by 2030. So, how are area universities preparing students for this latest industrial revolution? Here’s a sampling.


Southern Methodist University

Dallas. Private. Founded 1911.

6,908 undergraduate students; 5,477 graduate students (2021).

Texas Christian University Fort Worth. Private. Est. 1873.

10,523 undergraduate students; 1,750 graduate students (2022).

University of North Texas

Denton. Public.

Founded 1890.

32,450 undergraduate students; 9,718 graduate students (2021).

The University of Texas at Arlington

Arlington. Public.

Founded 1895.

27,704 undergraduate students; 11,624 graduate students (2022).

The University of Texas at Dallas

Richardson. Public.

Est. 1969.

22,730 undergraduate students; 8,840 graduate students (2022).

SMU made a major commitment to Al primacy with the addition of a NVIDIA DGX SuperPOD to its high-speed computing ecosystem. Acquisition of the sophisticated Al technology—one of only two SuperPODs at work at a U.S. university—increases SMU’s supercomputer memory tenfold and sets the stage for AI and ML 25 times faster than previous levels. SMU provides Ph.D.-level staff to train faculty and students to use AI/ML in research and is infusing supercomputing with AI capabilities into every level of research across the campus.

Dr. Liran Ma, TCU computer science professor, is planning to develop a series of real-world, story-based, hands-on learning activities hosted on a unified lab platform to promote Al/ML skills acquisition across STEM majors at the undergraduate level. Ma and other TCU researchers have submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation, aiming to make a broad impact in preparing tomorrow’s workforce in AI/ML. (See “Partnerships,” on page 53.)


Offers an online M.S. degree in Data Science with an AI specialization. Offers M.S. degree in Computer Science with core specialization in both AI and ML (Python). Offerings in AI/ ML beyond tech include an undergraduate Data Science major and minor with an ML course requirement targeting students in business and the humanities and social sciences. The SMU Guildhall and Simmons School of Education & Human Development research also incorporate AI/ML elements.

The computer science department offers a B.S. degree in Data Science focusing mostly on AI/ML models and implementations. The department also offers AI/ML directly related courses: Introduction to Data Science; Data Mining and Visualization; Artificial Intelligence; and Deep Learning. Ma and other TCU researchers have submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation.

UNT created Texas’ first standalone M.S. degree in Artificial Intelligence, anchoring a variety of degree programs to leverage data to solve complex problems. From computer science programs to data engineering programs, students are trained to develop models and integrate them into applications and business processes in conjunction with a number of degree programs across all UNT’s colleges.

UTA’s computer science and engineering department offers many courses in Al/ML, including neural networks, data mining, and computer vision. Other departments and schools, including the colleges of Business, Science, and Nursing and Health Innovation, contribute to the Al/ML learning sector as well. Also, UTA has recently created an M.S. degree program in data science that includes many AI/ML courses, and has been reaching out to marginalized communities with annual events focused on computing research. The events are open to high school students.

The computer science department has a strong Al/ML program at both undergraduate and graduate levels. A dozen-plus tenuretrack faculty do research in Al/ML and publish in top journals in the field. The CSRankings.org site places UTD’s computer science program at No. 11 nationally in AI for 2012-2022. Students are exposed to projects using AI and ML for natural language processing, computer vision, cybersecurity and privacy, and human-computer interaction. Graduate and undergraduate students are employed by top tech companies like Meta, Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, and Texas Instruments.

Offers a standalone M.S. degree in Artificial Intelligence in Texas. It also offers a variety of specializations within the degree including autonomous systems, biomedical engineering, and general machine learning. In addition, UNT’s undergraduate AI certificate is specifically designed to engage students outside the College of Engineering, starting with two courses that introduce students across the university to the fundamentals of AI and software development.

Offers graduate certificates in Artificial Intelligence; Big Data Management and Data Science; Cybersecurity and Privacy; Deep Learning; and Embedded Systems. Offers undergraduate certificates in Cybersecurity. Plus, multiple faculty members in the CSE department are engaged in research programs using AI/ML for social good and societal transformation. Examples include mitigation of misinformation and toxic social media messaging and biopsy image analysis for lung cancer patients.

Offers specializations at the graduate level in Intelligent Systems (AI + ML) and Data Science (which includes ML). Undergraduate students can also specialize through various elective courses. The university also offer courses incorporating ML in a variety of disciplines including cognition and neuroscience, business analytics, human development and communication sciences, operations research, physics, and statistics. The School of Arts, Humanities and Technology’s Anechoic Chamber and Transmedia Studio also explore AI.




“Real AI is already all around us,” the Mark Cuban Foundation says: “AI is how TikTok knows what video you’ll love next, how self-driving cars avoid pedestrians, how Alexa understands your sentences.”


SMU’s AT&T Center for Virtualization partners with Al company Pangiam on a new lab aimed at reducing bias in Al systems. Another partnership between the Deason Institute for Cyber Security, Goldman Sachs, and Prairie View A&M focuses on research to detect and defend against cyber threats related to employees working remotely. An AI-focused collaboration between AT&T mentors and SMU’s AT&T Data Science scholars addresses the need for a pipeline of students who are traditionally underrepresented in computer science fields.

Mark Cuban’s way

TCU faculty partnered with Georgia State University for National Science Foundation funding for immersive student learning environments to ensure that every STEM student has access to efficient training in the most current AI methods. In addition, TCU’s new degree in data science covers concepts such as probability, statistics, regression, databases, data visualization, big data and ML in partnership with industry for real world problems, according to the Texas Research Association.

Serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban believes artificial intelligence will prove more impactful than PCs, the internet, and wireless communication. So, in 2019 he founded the Mark Cuban Foundation AI Bootcamps program in Dallas, with a focus on teaching underserved high school students the concepts and skills associated with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

UNT heavily engages high-school-age students to encourage their development in AI, commonly through the Texas Academy of Math and Science program. UNT’s Al program also partners with sponsors on a regular basis for everything from course project ideas to year-long capstone development teams, summer research teams in the UNT AI/CS Summer Research Program, and supporting M.S. or Ph.D. thesis student projects. Plus, UNT reaches nontraditional students with online educational opportunities for undergraduates in the AI College Pathways program through a partnership with AI4ALL, which opens doors to historically excluded students through educational mentorship.

UTA events, such as OurCS@DFW and the Student Computing Research Festival, provide Al/ML learning to high school students. UTA professors visit high schools regularly and are supporting creation of virtual reality trailers showcasing career possibilities in STEM fields. (See “Workforce of Tomorrow,” on page 52.) State Farm recently opened the UTA State Farm Technology Lab, and UTA’s Center for Artificial Intelligence and Big Data is collaborating on data- science tutorials with the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center. In addition, UTA is in the process of discussing collaboration with the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center, including courses and certificates focused on data science that will help retrain working professionals at manufacturing companies.

Today, the program is helmed by Director Yvette Medina (pictured) and delivers that curriculum nationwide. Medina says the program aims to do the “heavy lifting” to recruit students and train employees.

Last year, free bootcamps for 9th- to 12th-graders were hosted in more than 20 U.S. cities. Conducted over four half-day Saturday sessions, the sessions included guest speakers, interactive lessons, and lab exercises supported by host-company mentors.

UTD partners with high schools through its Computer Science Education and Outreach Center, which offers courses including an Artificial Intelligence Hands-On Bootcamp as well as talks and workshops related to Al/ML year-round for K-12 students. It also partners with local companies and governing agencies on AI/ML learning initiatives. The new CS Center for Applied AI & Machine Learning at the Richardson IQ is funded by industry and provides in-house AI/ML training to local industry upon request.

Companies that wish to host a bootcamp in 2023 must have a U.S. office and at least 50 employees. They should also have 16-20 tech-savvy employee-volunteers and be willing to make a contribution of “less than $10,000” to the bootcamp program.

More information can be found at MarkCubanAI.org —G.H.



John Carmack, the iconic Dallas game developer, rocket engineer, and VR pioneer, is taking aim now at solving AGI. If successful, his moonshot effort would be a ‘change-the-world-level’ event.


Tech genius John Carmack has turned to an audacious new challenge: developing artificial general intelligence. The programming innovator believes we’re now half a dozen insights away from achieving AGI, a form of AI that goes beyond mimicking human intelligence to actually understanding things and solving problems. And, there’s a 60% chance the effort will have initial success by 2030, Carmack says. Here’s how, and why, he’s working independently in Dallas to make it happen.

ust off the marble-floored entryway at John Carmack’s multimillion-dollar manse on Highland Park’s Beverly Drive, there’s an archery target with half a dozen arrows stuck in the bullseye at the far end of one room and, up at the other end, a big black Hoyt Grand Prix Carbon 720 bow.

The legendary software engineer, video-game developer, and cultural icon, long known for his reclusive programming genius, has been practicing archery for a while, it turns out. Which seems appropriate, because the 52-year-old Carmack—who co-founded id Software in Mesquite, and started Mesquite-based Armadillo Aerospace, and served as CTO of California’s Oculus VR and later Meta—is taking aim now at his most ambitious target: solving the world’s biggest computer-science problem by developing artificial general intelligence.

AGI is a form of AI whose machines can understand, learn, and perform any intellectual task that humans can do. The quest for the holy grail of AI by Dallas’ best-known tech wizard is a moonshot of epic proportions, with Carmack competing independently against what he calls the “groupthink” of scientists, academics, and big tech companies that are also in the hunt to solve AGI.

In August, Carmack announced that his AGI startup, called Keen Technologies, had raised $20 million in a financing round from multiple high-profile investors. Participants in the round included former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, Cue co-founder Daniel Gross, Shopify founder Tobias Lutke, Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, and VC firms Sequoia Capital and Austin-based Capital Factory.

Carmack stressed that while he could have written a check for $20 million himself, accepting the investors’ money will force him to be more disciplined and determined about the quest for AGI answers.

The house on Beverly is where Carmack is doing the Keen work, which he calls the “fourth major phase” of his career. It follows stints in computers and pioneering video games like Quake and Doom with id (founded in 1991), suborbital space rock-

ets with Armadillo (2000-2013), and virtual reality with Oculus, which Facebook (now rebranded as Meta) acquired for $2 billion in 2014. Carmack stepped down from Oculus’s CTO role in late 2019 to become consulting CTO for the VR venture, proclaiming his intention to focus on AGI. But in December he resigned from Meta to concentrate full-time on Keen.

Bryan Chambers, the president and co-founder of Capital Factory, said the accelerator and VC firm had been actively following Carmack since 2019, when Carmack announced his interest in AGI. “When an opportunity like this comes around with an iconic technologist, it’s shots on goal that matter—you take a shot on goal,” Chambers said, “because opportunities like this don’t happen that frequently.”

Making “total moonshot” investment bets on founders like Carmack—Chambers calls him “one of the biggest, foremost thinkers of our time”— is an important strategy at Capital Factory, Chambers said. That’s because such “outliers” often can create extraordinary value at any stage of their innovation process. Moreover, “any progress building AGI will change everything,” Chambers said. “It will add to other people’s attempts, it will add to the AI community in general. And if it actually is achieved, then we would get to enjoy participating in one of the most significant value creation companies in the history of mankind. That’s what the risk is about.”

To help with his new endeavor at Keen— so-named partly for Commander Keen , Carmack’s first video game collaboration— Carmack has hired Dallas-area engineer Gloria Kennickell and his brother Peter Carmack, who serves as CFO from Kansas City. (One or two more hires are likely to come this year.) Carmack focuses on Keen in an upstairs office, where a yellow tablet with notes sits on a desk beside a conventional desktop PC that’s used mostly for “debugging” development work. “When I set up to

Capital Factory’s Bryan Chambers calls John Carmack
“one of the biggest, foremost thinkers of our time,” and says placing moonshot bets on founders like him is an important strategy at the accelerator and VC firm.

EYES ON THE PRIZE: Dallas tech savant John Carmack is staying independent in his AGI work because he says there’s a surprising “groupthink” among the major players in the quest.


Opposite page, clockwise from top left: At home on Highland Park’s Beverly Drive with Carmack and a VR set, the straw cowboy hat that one of Elon Musk’s people gave him, the technologist’s archery target, a powerful computer in an upstairs office, collections of Marvel books and superhero icons, and the programming wizard in front of many of the books he turns to for inspiration.

test a model, I run it on a larger system, or on cloud resources,” Carmack said. “As we move on to larger work, we’ll have somebody manage a modest-sized cluster set up at another remote vendor.”

Roaming elsewhere in the sprawling home, Carmack pointed to a straw cowboy hat hanging on a wall, a gift from “one of Elon’s guys” at Elon Musk’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, in South Texas. Carmack said he’s known Musk ever since the South Africa native started SpaceX, which was about the same time Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace got off the ground. “He and his chief propulsion engineer came down and visited my little shop in Garland, and we’ve stayed in contact over the years,” Carmack said. “I scrambled when he abandoned California to get a few people saying, ‘Hey, you should move to Dallas,’ and we made a good little push at it.”

Carmack, who grew up in Kansas City and moved to North Texas in the early ’90s, has long championed the Lone Star State, and Dallas in particular. “Once we got into Texas, I really liked it here,” he said. “I feel comfortable with a lot of the businessfocused side of things.”

He added that Musk taught him a valuable lesson about the importance of being wholly dedicated to his ventures, after Carmack shuttered Armadillo when the rocket company failed to gain traction. “I was trying to

parallel-track that while I was still working on software,” he said. “One of my big lessons from Elon is that he’s always been ‘all-in’ on his things. I was proud of a number of things that we accomplished at Armadillo—like the early vertical-landing stuff that SpaceX wound up eventually going through—but I wasn’t ‘all-in’ enough.”

That’s not the case with Keen. To stimulate his thinking, he said, he starts each day with a four-mile walk (often listening to audiobooks), devours material on his Kindle, and frequently pulls books and magazines off the floor-to-ceiling library shelves that line the walls in his home. He still has most of the books he’s read since his teenage years, he said, because “I’ve just kind of got a thing where I can’t stand to discard printed materials.” The topics of the books on the many shelves throughout the house are wideranging, from “Power Plant Engineers Guide” and “Java Security” to “A Thousand Brains,” “Play Winning Chess,” and “The Right Stuff” to “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side Gallery.”

“Creativity is usually associating a little bit of this with some of that, viewed through this perspective. All these books in my house are about feeding me the information that kinds of sits, often, just in the shadows and hints of the imprints in my brain,” Carmack said. “Most of the really good ideas are then coming up from saying, ‘Alright, I’m working on this problem right now, and that reminded me of these other things.’ And the chain of recollection kind of draws through all that until it comes on something like, ‘Oh, this is the bright idea, the light bulb, this might be really good.’ Then I try to chase down the consequences of that and ask, how can I rapidly test it?”

John Carmack, far right, with then-id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead and id’s Kevin Cloud and Tim Willits at the “Doom” premiere in L.A. in 2005.
“Some people have raised billions to pursue this. And while that’s interesting in some ways, and there are signs there are extremely powerful things possible now in the narrow machine-learning stuff, it’s not clear those are the necessary steps to get all the way to artificial general intelligence.”

Which led us to the following exclusive interview with North Texas’ resident tech genius, a frank conversation that took Dallas Innovates weeks to arrange. The Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.


What sort of work are you doing now to ‘solve’ artificial general intelligence, John, and why are you taking your particular approach?

I sit here at my computer all the time, thinking up concepts, documenting them, making theories, testing them. That’s the work right now, as nobody really knows the full path all the way to where we want to go. But I think I’ve got as good a shot at it as anyone, for a number of reasons.

Some people have raised billions of dollars to pursue this. And while that’s interesting in some ways, and there are signs that extremely powerful things are possible right now in the narrow machine-learning stuff, it’s not clear that those are the necessary steps to get all the way to artificial general intelligence. For companies that are happy to do that, it’s not a bad bet, because there are plenty of off-ramps where there are valuable things, even if you don’t get all the way. There’s still stuff that’s going to change the world, like the narrow AI.

But it’s a worry that if you just take the first off-ramp and say, ‘Hey, there’s a billion-dollar off-ramp right here’—where we know we can just go take what we understand and revolutionize various industries. That becomes a very tempting thing to do, but it distracts everyone from looking further ahead and focusing on the big far distance stuff. So, I’m in a position where I can be really blunt about what I’m doing, and that is: zero nearterm business opportunities.

What compelled your interest in the topic in the first place?

We’re in the midst of a scientific revolution right now, because 10 years ago, there was not the sense that AI was working. We’ve had these AI ‘winters’—a couple of them over

“So I asked Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist, for a reading list. He gave me a list of like 40 research papers and said, ‘If you really learn all of these, you’ll know 90% of what matters today.’ And I did. I plowed through all those things and it all started sorting out in my head.”

the decades, in fact. It’s funny, because virtual reality also went through this: It had almost been a bad word because it had crashed so bad in the 1990s, people didn’t even want to talk about it.

And artificial intelligence had a couple of those cycles where hype spins up, money flows in, it underperforms, and then it crashes, and nobody wants to talk about it. But this last decade was different, and people who don’t notice how different it is this time aren’t paying attention, because the number of absolutely astounding things that have happened in the last decade with machine learning is really profound.

That was the thing that really pushed me toward saying, ‘All right, it’s probably time to take a serious look at this.’ And it was interesting for me, because I had a technical bystander’s understanding of machine learning and AI, where I had read some of the seminal books even in my teenage years, and I knew about symbolic AI and all those types of things. So, my brain knew a little bit about these things, but I wasn’t following what was going on because I was busy with my work with the games, the aerospace, and the virtual reality.

You get to that point where you recognize, ‘Okay, I think there’s probably something here I need to sort out—what is hype versus what is the reality?’ So I did what I usually do: All of my real abilities have always come from understanding things fundamentally, at the very deepest levels, where there are insights that you only get from knowing how things happen from the very bottom.

So, about four years ago, I went on one of my week-long retreats, where I just take a computer and a stack of reference materials and I spend a week kind of reimplementing the fundamentals of the industry. And getting to the point where it’s like, ‘All right, I understand this well enough to have a serious conversation with a researcher about it.’ And I was pretty excited about getting to that level of understanding.

Then after that, Sam Altman of OpenAI invited me to a conference—the Y Combinator’s YC 120—and, while historically I never go to these types of things (because of my hermit tendencies), this time I decided to attend. It turned out it was really orchestrated by Sam to jump me for a job pitch, because he had Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever of OpenAI come and try to get me to go to OpenAI. I was pretty flattered by that, because I was not a machine learning expert by any means. I was a well-known systems engineer on a lot of this stuff, but I only had this basic baseline knowledge [of AI]. So, the idea that they were the leaders in the field, and they thought I was worth trying to get there, that really planted the seed to make me think about the importance of everything that’s going on and what role I could play in it.

So I asked Ilya, their chief scientist, for a reading list. This is my path, my way of doing things: give me a stack of all the stuff I need to know to actually be relevant in this space. And he gave me a list of like 40 research papers and said, ‘If you really learn all of these, you’ll know 90% of what matters today.’ And I did. I plowed through all those things and it all started sorting out in my head.

You were still with Meta at this time working on virtual reality, right?

Yes, and I was having some real issues at Meta with large-scale strategic directions. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the headlines about how much money they’re spending, and I thought large fractions were really poorly spent. I was having some challenges there, and I was at the end of my five-year buyout contract from when Oculus was acquired. That was when I decided, ‘Okay, I’m going to get more serious about this artificial general intelligence work.’

All the things that I’d done before—in games, rockets, virtual reality—I was aiming for something that wasn’t there yet, but I had a clear line of sight. It’s different for AGI, though, because nobody knows how to do it. It’s not a simple matter of engineering. But there are all these tantalizing clues given what happened in this last decade—it’s like a handful of relatively simple ideas. They’re not these extreme

black-magic mathematical wizardries—a lot of them are relatively simple techniques that make perfect sense to me now that I understand them. And it feels like we are a half-dozen more insights away from having the equivalent of our biological agents.

I made an estimate three or four years ago that I think there’s a 50-50 chance that we’ll have clear signs of life in 2030 of artificial general intelligence. That doesn’t necessarily mean a huge economic impact for anything yet, but just that we have a being that’s running on computers that most people recognize as intelligent and conscious and sort of on the same level of what we humans are doing. And after three years of hardcore research on all this, I haven’t changed my prediction. In fact, I probably even slightly bumped it up to maybe a 60% chance in 2030. And if you go up to, say, 2050, I’ve got it at like a 95% chance.

Many are predicting stupendous, earth-shattering things will result from this, right?

I’m trying not to use the kind of hyperbole of really grand pronouncements, because I am a nuts-and-bolts person. Even with the rocketry stuff, I wasn’t talking about colonizing Mars, I was talking about which bolts I’m using to hold things together. So, I don’t want to do a TED talk going on and on about all the things that might be possible with plausibly cost-effective artificial general intelligence.

But especially the pandemic showed that more things than people thought could be done strictly through a computer interaction stream, where you can communicate over the computer modalities like Zoom, email, chats, Discord, all these things.

A large fraction of the world’s value today can run on that. And if you have an artificial agent that behaves like a human being—even in our narrow AIs today, the world of deep fakes and chat bots and voice synthesis— it’s clear that we can simulate the human modalities there. We do not yet have the learnable stream of consciousnesses of a co-worker in AI, but we do have kind of this oracular amount of knowledge that can be brought forward.

You’ll find people who can wax rhapsodic about the singularity and how everything is going to change with AGI. But if I just look


at it and say, if 10 years from now, we have ‘universal remote employees’ that are artificial general intelligences, run on clouds, and people can just dial up and say, ‘I want five Franks today and 10 Amys, and we’re going to deploy them on these jobs,’ and you could just spin up like you can cloud-access computing resources, if you could cloud-access essentially artificial human resources for things like that—that’s the most prosaic, mundane, most banal use of something like this.

If all we’re doing is making more humanlevel capital and applying it to the things that we’re already doing today, while you could say, ‘I want to make a movie or a comic book or something like that, give me the team that I need to go do that,’ and then run it on the cloud—that’s kind of my vision for it.

Why is it so important to achieve a system that performs tasks that humans can do? What’s wrong with humans doing human tasks?

Well, you can tie that into a lot of questions, like, ‘Is human population a good thing?’ ‘Is immigration a good thing, where we seem to have been able to take advantage of new sources of humanity that are willing to engage in economic activities and be directed by the markets?’

The world is a hugely better place with our 8 billion people than it was when there were 50 million people kind of like living in caves and whatever. So, I am confident that the sum total of value and progress in humanity will accelerate extraordinarily with welcoming artificial beings into our community of working on things. I think there will be enormous value created from all that.

So, how do you see the particular route that will get to achieving AGI?

There’s a path that leads from today’s virtual assistants—your Siris, Alexas, and Google Assistants—to being more and more helpful, taking over more and more tasks. But those are fairly brittle, specialized implementations of things—various knowledge representations, voice synthesis, voice understanding—and that’s probably not the path to a general intelligence that’s flexible for a whole bunch of purposes. They have

thousands of programmers, literally, working right now on adding capabilities to those assistants, and there is near-term value in that. The programming work that’s done to stitch those things together is going to be throw-away programming. But that path doesn’t lead to the general agent that can learn any task that a human can.

The things dealing with perception—like understanding someone’s voice, and even synthesizing voices naturally—those were the things that computers did not do well at all 10 or 15 years ago. The joke in the ‘90s was that you had a computer that could beat the world chess champion handily, but a computer couldn’t do things that a 2-year-old could do: It couldn’t tell a cat from a dog. There was no computer product in the world that could do the simple trivial perception things. Because, it turned out, that’s what our brain actually does: It’s much more about perception and pattern matching. And it was sort of the sophistry of the people then to think instead that it’s about these philosophical symbol manipulation things. And that led AI astray, really, for decades.

There were all these really blind alleys that turned out to be fragile things and not very commercially valuable. It just wasn’t the way things worked. But then came the revolution of this last decade: With deep learning and the deep connectionist approaches, we actually can do all those things that the 2-year-olds can do in terms of perception. And in many of these, we’re at a superhuman level. The thing we don’t yet have is sort of the consciousness, the associative memory, the things that have a life and goals and planning. And there are these brittle, fragile AI systems that can implement any one of those things, but it’s still not the way the human brain or even the animal brain works. I mean, forget human brains; we don’t even have things that can act like a mouse or a cat. But it feels like we are within striking distance of all those things.

I think that, almost certainly, the tools that we’ve got from deep learning in this last decade—we’ll be able to ride those to artificial general intelligence. There are some of the structural things that we don’t understand yet about these other fields, like you have reinforcement learning, supervised learning, unsupervised learning. All of those come together in the way humans think about things, and we don’t have the final synthesis of all that yet.

Is there a critical factor or central idea for getting there?

One of the things I say—and some people don’t like it—is that the source code, the computer programming necessary for artificial general intelligence, is going to be a few tens of thousands of lines of code. Now, a big program is millions of lines of code—the Chrome browser is like 20 to 30 million lines of code.

Elon just mentioned that Twitter runs on like 20 million lines of Scala. These are big programs, and there’s no chance that one person can go and rewrite that. You literally cannot type enough in your remaining life to write all of that code. But it’s my belief that I can really back up that the programming for AGI is going to be something that one person could write.

Now, the smart money still says it’s done by a team of researchers, and it’s cobbled together over all that. But my reasoning on this is: If you take your entire DNA, it’s less than a gigabyte of information. So even your entire human body is not all that much in the instructions, and the brain is this tiny slice of it —like 40 megabytes, and it’s not tightly coded. So, we have our existence proof of humanity: What makes our brain, what makes our intelligence, is not all that much code. Now, it evolves into an extraordinarily complex object, and the numbers that you’ll see tossed around are that the human brain has about 86 billion neurons and maybe up to 100 trillion connections between them. Now, even in computer terms, that’s a big number. When you talk about the big models, like GPT-3 or whatever, you say, ‘Oh, it’s 160 billion parameters’—the parameters being sort of similar to the connections in the brain.


So, you might say that we still have a factor of 500 more or so to go before our computers have as much capability as the brain. But I think there’s also a very good reason to believe that that is an extremely pessimistic estimate, that the estimate should be much smaller, because our brains are doing lots of things that aren’t really that important. They’re really sloppy, they’re really slow, so they probably do not need that many parameters.

But again, it’s a simple program exploited at massive scale, which is exactly what’s happening with the AIs of today. If you took the things that people talk about— GPT-3, Imagen, AlphaFold—the source code for all these in their frameworks is not big. It’s thousands of lines of code, not even tens of thousands. Now, they’re built on top of a big framework of supporting ecosystem stuff, but the core logic is not a big program.

So, I strongly believe that we are within a decade of having reasonably commonly available sufficient hardware for doing this, that it’s going to be a modest amount of code, and that there are enough people working on it. Although in my mind, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t more people in my position doing it, while everybody looks at DeepMind and OpenAI as the leading AGI research labs.

Why do you want to work independently of all these people?

The reason I’m staying independent is that there is this really surprising ‘groupthink’ going on with all the major players. It’s been almost bizarre in the last year to see things like: OpenAI releases an image generator, then Google releases one, then Facebook releases one. So, all of these companies are just within a couple of months of being able to reproduce anybody else’s work, because they all draw from the same academic researcher pool. There’s cross-pollination and an enormous brain trust of super-brilliant people doing all this.

But, because we don’t know where we’re going yet, there is actually a strategy inside machine learning where you need a degree of randomness—where you start with random weights and random locations and sometimes multiple ensemble models. So, I am positioning myself as one of these random test points, where the rest of the industry is going in a direction that’s leading to fabulous places, and they’re doing a great job on that. But, because we do not have that line of sight—we’re not sure that we’re in the local attractor basin where we can just gradient descent down to the solution for this—it’s important to have some people testing other parts of the solution space as well.

And, I have a different background. I’m not from an academic research background—I’m a systems engineer. I’ve got some of these perceptions and systems technology and emergent behavior pieces that are relevant to this, and I’m smart enough to apply the necessary things. So, while I’ve got people that invested $20 million in my company, I’m not telling them that I’m likely to have the breakthrough for artificial general intelligence. Instead, I’m saying there’s a non-negligible chance that I will personally figure out some of the important things that are necessary for this.

Once it’s figured out, what do you think the ramifications will be?

The emergence of artificial general intelligence in a way that can impact the

economy really is a ‘change-the-world-level’ event, where this is something that reshapes almost everything that human beings can do. This is something that is almost the largest scale that you can think about. So, it’s worth some of these bets, like the $20 million on my research directions. It might pan out, it probably won’t. I can say that just flat-out. No, the odds that I will come up with this before everybody working at OpenAI and DeepMind and all the Chinese research labs—it would be incredibly hubristic to say, ‘Yes, I’m confident I’m going to get there first.’

But, I’m not aware of anyone that I think is significantly smarter than I am working on these problems. I think that I am not out of my league playing in this game. And I am taking a different path. I’m in a position where I can say, ‘Yes, I’m going to throw the next decade of my life at this, and it might be this grand spectacular success.’ Or, it could turn out I find two super-clever things and I partner up with somebody else. Maybe there’s an acquisition or something down the road there.

But what I don’t want to do is pick the very first commercial application and say, ‘Okay. I know gaming, I know image generation, I could go do gaming content creation.’ And in fact, my ex-partner from Oculus, Brendan Iribe, was saying, ‘Come do this with me. We’re going to raise a bunch of money, it’ll be great.’ And yes, that’s an almost guaranteed unicorn. And there’s very little doubt we could spin up a billion-dollar company doing that. But the big brass ring—artificial general intelligence—that’s trillions. It’s different orders of magnitude.

I’m lucky enough to be in this position where I’ve got my successes, I’ve got my achievements, I’ve got my financial stability. So I can take this bet and take this risk, and it is extremely risky. But because I’m not worried about ruin, I can say, ‘Okay, if I think I’ve got a couple percent chance of doing this, and it’s worth trillions, that’s not a bad bet.’

“While I’ve got people that invested $20 million in my company, I’m not telling them that I’m likely to have the breakthrough for artificial general intelligence. Instead, I’m saying there’s a non-negligible chance that I will personally figure out some of the important things that are necessary for this.”

I mean, that’s a bad way for most people to think, but I’m in a situation where it’s not a bad thing.

So, how exactly are you placing this ‘bet’ at Keen right now?

It’s research and development, where I’ve got a handful of ideas that are not the mainstream. I follow most of what the mainstream is doing because it’s fabulous, it’s useful. Right now I’m following up on some research papers from last year that I think have more utility for the way I want to apply them than what their original authors were looking at.

There’s valuable things that happened earlier that people aren’t necessarily aware of. There’s some work from like the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s that I actually think might be interesting, because a lot of things happened back then that didn’t pan out, just because they didn’t have enough scale. They were trying to do this on one-megahertz computers, not clusters of GPUs.

And there is this kind of groupthink I mentioned that is really clear, if you look at it, about all these brilliant researchers—they all have similar backgrounds, and they’re all kind of swimming in the same direction. So, there’s a few of these old things back there that I think may be useful. So right now, I’m building experiments, I’m testing things, I’m trying to marry together some of these fields that are distinct, that have what I feel are pieces of the AGI algorithm.

But most of what I do is I run simulations through watching lots of television and playing various video games. And I think that combination of, ‘Here’s how you perceive and internalize a model of the world, and here’s how you act in it with agency in some of these situations,’ I still don’t know how they come together. But I think there are keys there. I think I have my arms around the scope of the problems that need to be solved, and how to push things together.

I still think there’s a half dozen insights that need to happen, but I’ve got a couple of things that are plausible insights that might turn out to be relevant. And one of the things that I trained myself to do a few decades ago is pulling ideas out and pursuing them in a way where I’m excited about them, knowing that most of them don’t pan out in the end. Much earlier in my career, when I’d have a really bright idea that didn’t work out, I was crushed afterwards. But eventually I got to the point where I’m really good at just shoveling ideas through my processing and shooting them down, almost making it a game to say, ‘How quickly can I bust my own idea, rather than protecting it as a pet idea?’

So, I’ve got a few of these candidates right now that I’m in the process of exploring and attacking. But it’s going to be these abstract ideas and techniques and ways to apply things that are similar to the way deep learning is done right now.

So, I’m pushing off scaling it out, because there are a bunch of companies now saying, ‘We need to go raise $100 million, $200 million, because we need to have a warehouse full of GPUs.’ And that’s one path to value, and there’s a little bit of a push toward that. But I’m very much pushing toward saying, ‘No, I want to figure out these six important things before I go waste $100 million of someone’s money.’ I’m actually not spending much money right now. I raised $20 million, but I’m thinking that this is a decade-long task where I don’t want to burn through $20 million in the next two years, then raise another series to get another couple hundred million dollars, because I don’t actually think that’s the smart way to go about things.

My hope is that I can spend several years working through some of these things, building small things that I think point in the right directions. And then, throw some scale at it and push an entire lifetime of information and experience through this and see if it comes out with something that shows that spark. Because again, I don’t expect how to pop out of this.

What I keep saying is that as soon as you’re at the point where you have the equivalent of a toddler—something that is a being, it’s conscious, it’s not Einstein, it can’t even do multiplication—if you’ve got a creature that can learn, you can interact with and teach it things on some level. And at that point you can deploy an army of engineers, developmental psychologists, and scientists to study things.

Because we don’t have that yet, we don’t have the ability to simulate something that’s a being like that. There are tricks and techniques and strategies that the brain is doing that none of our existing models do. But getting to that point doesn’t look out of reach to me.

Can you see yet how to arrive at that out-of-reach point?

I see the destination. I know it’s there, but no, it’s murky and cloudy in between here and there. Nobody knows how to get there. But I’m looking at that path saying I don’t know what’s in there, but I think I can get through there—or at least I think somebody will. And I think it’s very likely that this is going to happen in the 2030s.

I do consider it essentially inevitable. But so much of what I’ve been good at is bringing something that might be inevitable forward in time. I feel like the 3D video gaming stuff that I did, it probably always would have happened, but it would have happened years later if I hadn’t made it happen earlier.

“My hope is that I can spend several years working through some of these things, building small things that I think point in the right directions. And then, throw some scale at it and push an entire lifetime of information and experience through this and see if it comes out with something that shows that spark.”


In its simplest form, what is innovation to you?

Innovation is how you earn the right to compete every day. Sensing and responding to change have become critical competencies for all organizations, regardless of industry, size, or geography.

What is the newest program from TCU Neeley that entrepreneurialminded leaders need to know about?

Our Horned Frog Investment Network is a member-led group that brings together entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investment professionals to source, evaluate, and invest in unique opportunities. It also supports would-be entrepreneurs who need access to capital. The network helps remove barriers for investors to source compelling deals while building an accessible infrastructure for local innovators. Essentially, we’re playing a big role in catalyzing entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Tell us about your company’s products or services.

The TCU Neeley School of Business

provides world-class education to leaders in Texas and beyond. High-impact degree programs are designed and delivered at the undergraduate, graduate and executive levels, alongside certificate and executive education curriculum to deliver learning for a lifetime.

How does your company differentiate itself from others in the region?

Built in conjunction with input from our industry partners, our curriculum is harmonized with the latest thinking on the global practice of business. Students at every level are given the opportunity to apply key concepts in an experiential way that intentionally prepares them with modern skills workforce leaders need right away

from new hires on day one.

How does your company leadership grow, enhance, or support the industry in which it serves?

We stay connected to other great business schools and top private firms to ensure we educate our students to be the leaders needed for our future.

North Texas is home to some of the most cutting-edge and innovative companies in the country.

In your own words, what can this be attributed to?

Historically, North Texas has led with an entrepreneurial spirit while celebrating those innovators that have built the foundation of both the economy and this community. The Horned Frog Investment Network

is one way we connect investors, innovators, students, and community to elevate innovative opportunities.

How does the region’s access to resources, such as higher education and/or access to capital, impact your ability to compete?

Having the right recipe of capital, talent, technology, and community support allows innovative ideas to go as far as possible. North Texas shines in each of these respects.

What’s next for your organization?

The TCU Neeley School is moving at the speed of business. We operate at the intersection of academia and industry in a way that propels careers and lives in an increasing digital world.

Daniel Pullin, John V. Roach Dean of the TCU Neeley School of Business and incoming President of TCU beginning February 1, 2023


For 150 years, TCU has been championing big ideas that make an impact in the ever-evolving business world.

The Horned Frog Investment Network, launched by the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Neeley School of Business, aims to connect high-quality, vetted investment opportunities across the country with investors.

Since its launch in spring 2022, the member-led network has invested in six early-stage deals and distributed more than $2.5 million in capital. The network also provides experiential learning opportunities for students, entrepreneurs and investors.

Join the Horned Frog Investment Network and make an impact today.



In its simplest form, what is innovation to you?

Innovation is the drive to create something that will disrupt the status quo. It’s the ability to recognize an obstacle and not only chart a path around it, but eliminate that obstacle for others, too. Innovation is bigger than an individual; it should impact entire communities.

How does UTA’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Innovation (CEEI) enhance entrepreneurship in North Texas?

The mission of the center is to foster a vibrant and supportive atmosphere where innovators and creative thinkers can receive the tools and guidance they need to pioneer new companies and technologies that will impact North Texas and beyond. Through local and national networks, we partner with a range of experts to offer mentorship and hands-on training in areas where emerging entrepreneurs need the most help. Although we offer support to the entire North Texas community, our greatest contribution to the region is our students. Every day, we invest time and talent into UTA’s Maverick

entrepreneurs, and the returns have been exponential. For fiscal year 2020, the top 30 businesses started by UT Arlington alumni represented $181 million in annual revenue.

What opportunities exist for innovative thinkers who would like to connect with the CEEI?

UT Arlington is home to a robust innovation ecosystem. No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, there is a way for you to get involved with the CEEI and its Blackstone LaunchPad.

If you’re looking for guidance on customer discovery or your first patent application, you can attend one of our free workshops. If you have an idea for a

new technology but need help with the research and development, we can connect you to expert research scientists. If you’re passionate about nurturing young entrepreneurs, you can volunteer to be a mentor to our students. If you’re looking for interns to help your business through a period of growth, we know students who would love to learn from you.

Dr. Xoriunstance Brown, Operations Director of the UTA Center for Entrepreneurship


Designated a Texas Tier One and a Carnegie R-1 University, signifying our record of established excellence in research and innovation.

UTA is ranked No. 68 nationally for innovation.

(U.S. News & World Report, 2023)

Around 46,000 students enrolled for fall 2021, the future of the workforce in North Texas and beyond.

Ranked the 5th most diverse university in the nation, UTA is a HispanicServing and an Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. In 2022, UTA was one of just six to earn the Seal of Excelencia certification.

Of UTA’s 250,000+ alumni, approximately 65% live in North Texas. Their presence helps the University create an annual economic impact of almost $17.1 billion in the region.



Explore the campaign: utd.link/made-at-utd



In this special feature, we present our editors’ picks for the Future 50, a selection of the most inspiring and forwardthinking innovators in the region. Our picks, from a wide range of fields including startups, enterprises, education, invention, and more, are making a difference in their communities and driving progress. These are the people who are minting our future with their ideas, creativity, and leadership.

NORTH TEXAS’ STANDOUT INNOVATORS SHAPING THE FUTURE By Quincy Preston, David Seeley, Glenn Hunter, Sandra Engelland, Lance Murray, MaroofAhmed, and Leslie Barker
Mark Cuban
Alex Oshmyansky


The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company is the only venture the Dallas billionaire has ever put his name on. That’s because its mission isn’t so much making money as it is achieving a loftier goal: disrupting the pharmaceutical industry by lowering what Cuban calls the “ridiculous prices” consumers pay for prescription drugs

Together with Alex Oshmyansky, Cost Plus’s founder and CEO, the serial entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner launched the cash-only, online pharmacy last year to sell generic drugs for everything from acid reflux to Crohn’s disease for a fraction of the typical cost.

It’s able to do so because it negotiates directly with drug manufacturers, sidestepping the myriad “pharmacy benefit manager” middlemen who typically control costs by setting prices at whatever the market will bear. That’s often a whole lot.

In contrast, Cost Plus aims to sell for the cost of manufacturing the drug and a 15% markup, plus a pharmacy fee and shipping costs. It’s currently offering about 1,000 generic medications—a small percentage of all drugs available—from its headquarters in Dallas, where it’s also building a 22,000-square-foot facility to fill and seal prescription bottles in a sterile environment.

In June, researchers at Harvard Medical School published a study showing that Medicare could have saved a whopping $3.6 billion in 2020 if it had purchased its generic drugs from Cost Plus.

The venture backed by Cuban began life operating in the direct-to-consumer market. But late last year, it signed deals with two pharmacy benefit managers and a health insurance company in hopes of accelerating its impact on the industry. —G.H.

She grew up with degenerative retinal disease in her family.

Now Bhattacharya has a mission to restore sight in patients who have it. After joining Nanoscope as co-founder in 2013— and with $25 million in total funding and grants to date—she’s seen her company make striking progress lately. Last October, the FDA granted fast-track designation for Nanoscope’s MCO-010 ambientlight activatable gene therapy, which aims to restore vision in retinitis pigmentosa patients via a single injection in the eye. Co-founder Samarendra Mohanty invented the technology, which has been shown in trials to restore “clinically meaningful vision” in patients.

“Their quality of life improves significantly,” Bhattacharya says. Other gene therapies are now in trials, aiming to treat age-related macular degeneration as well as Stargardt disease and other inherited retinal diseases. — D.S.

Dak Prescott and other Dallas Cowboys have joined pro golfer Dustin Johnson and the L.A. Rams’ Jalen Ramsey as investors in Shanableh’s Plano-based startup, which has raised more than $35 million as of last May. Combining AI and advanced robotics, OxeFit’s all-in-one “smart gyms” offer real-time feedback and deep learning analysis. Shanableh first targeted pro athletes, sports teams, and performance centers with the launch of XP1 in April 2021. He followed that up later that year with the at-home, consumer-focused XS1 model. “Working out is no longer just for the athletes—it’s for everybody,” he says. “Everybody wants to stay healthy. It’s a huge market, and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.” With a tech career spanning 25 years, Shanableh previously co-founded Affirmed Networks, an industry leader in virtualization and 5G which was acquired by Microsoft in 2020. He brought all his experience to the launch of OxeFit, whose workout video content is backed by software that tracks user motions, customizing training with different strength and cardio workout options. Prescott is more than an investor; he’s a face of the brand—showing how OxeFit analyzed his gravitational force in rehab, helping him recover from his devastating 2020 ankle injury so well, he threw 37 touchdowns and had 4,449 passing yards just one season later. — D.S.



Perry started thinking about revolutionizing homebuilding with 3D concrete printing when he was just 17 years old. In 2021, the architecture student at UT Arlington teamed up with Sebin Joseph to launch Von Perry, a tech-habitat company that specializes in building affordable, sustainable homes utilizing digital and prefab construction and 3D printing.

Perry, 22, and CTO Joseph, 28, now are 3D concrete printing their first home—a 1,700-square-foot, three-bedroom house in the small Collin County town of Nevada.

Perry considers 3DCP houses—which typically use 3D printing technologies like a large robotic arm that moves around and extrudes or “prints” concrete one layer at a time—as “next-gen housing” that could be a good solution to the affordable housing crisis.

A crew as small as just three people can run the printer, putting up a home’s walls quickly at a rate of 20 to 30 “pancake” layers of geopolymer concrete—each about a foot tall—per day, depending on the weather. (Adding a roof, plumbing, electrical, windows, and doors takes longer.) Once built, the walls can withstand tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires.

“I think it will still take some time for 3DCP to be more mainstream, but I think the process will be normal to see by the end of the decade,” Perry says.

Next up for Perry: launching a fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding platform StartEngine, and a new line of designs tailored to first-time homebuyers. “We plan to make history in our industry in the upcoming year,” Perry says. —S.E.

After co-founding Teladoc Health, which disrupted the healthcare industry in the early 2000s by connecting physicians and patients virtually, Gorton and several other Teladoc leaders pivoted in 2021 to start Recuro Health, an integrated digital healthcare company the CEO calls “proactive” and “holistic.” Among the core offerings of the Richardson company’s benefitsagnostic, virtual platform, dubbed Digital Medical Home, are primary and urgent care, behavioral health, at-home lab testing, and chronic condition management. “On-demand access to these in-demand health services is enabled through a computer or smartphone and across multiple communication channels, including real-time video, mobile, and secure messaging,” Gorton says. One optional benefit Recuro offers is genomics-powered genetic testing, which can identify a patient’s hereditary health risks early on. “Medicine is embracing genomic tools to enable more precise prediction and treatment of disease.” Recuro has grown quickly via funding and acquisitions. Not long after its launch with a $2.9 million oversubscribed funding round, the company pulled in $15 million more in Series A financing. It snapped up SupDoc and MyLifeIQ in 2021 and WellVia and Competitive Health in 2022. — S.E



Harness’ Dallas-based, real estate-feasibility software company is literally disrupting the property-development industry. Founded in 2016 by Harness and co-founder Ryan Griege, TestFit offers a proprietary, AI-powered building configurator that provides continually updated insights into cost, asset design, and constructability for architects, developers, and general contractors. The platform’s algorithms lets companies quickly “de-risk decisions,” saving them money and cutting from weeks to minutes the time spent mulling whether to put up or modify “commodity” real estate like multifamily, industrial, mixed-use, and single-family buildings. To date, Harness has racked up $22 million in funding and reeled in about 200 commercial customers. Says one: “In the past 18 months, we have underwritten over 300 development opportunities and could not have done it without TestFit.” Harness told The Dallas Morning News he was inspired to innovate in the space after working for a firm where email was a cutting-edge technology. “From 2017 to 2021 my focus was building a revolutionary product for building feasibility,” he says. “Starting in 2022, my focus shifted to building a corporation that could execute our larger-than-life vision for the future of commodity buildings. The future is so much brighter than the present, and bringing innovation to [the architecture, engineering, and construction industry] has been the joy of my short career. We’re just getting started.” —G.H.

Co-founder and CEO TestFit PROPTECH PIONEER

Fodil’s Taubyte has developed an edgebased smart-computing platform that’s based on Web 3.0 and targets IoT developers building applications and protocols. Fodil came up with the offering by scaling software to global infrastructure using 5G and IoT. The company’s Distributed Edge Computing platform eliminates software development, deployment, and routing complexity at the edge, allowing individuals and organizations to focus on product features, reducing both costs and time to market. Taubyte users own their own decentralized, serverless cloud—the company calls them “Web 3.0 Cloud” or “Cloud3”— in contrast to the company’s competitors, most of whom still run clouds based on Web 2.0,

Fodil says. The Taubyte platform’s stack, or core component, operates on edge computer servers at data centers in major metros and strategic markets, and can be present on any connected device. “We had a lot of naysayers throughout the build process, which took almost three years,”

Fodil says. “I’m very proud that we were able to achieve 8 to 10 times the performance of Amazon’s Lambdabased Web Services.”

As for the company’s future, “Edge computing is growing in importance every day as the number of users and devices connected to the internet grows,” Fodil says. “The shift to distributed computing will become more apparent, leading to mass adoption of solutions like ours.”



Before she co-founded Neuro Rehab VR in 2017, Somareddy once dreamed of being a hacker and fortified her computer science degree with endless hours of playing Doom, Age of Empires, and other PC games.

A native of India, she moved to the U.S. in 2012 and earned a master’s degree in game design and development. Now that the world’s edging closer to the metaverse, Somareddy is ahead of the curve. Her company uses virtual and augmented reality for a new era of physical therapy—where patients wear headsets for tailored exercises and game-like experiences. Patients get two big benefits: a motivating kick for what can traditionally be boring sessions, and the ability to perform PT right in their own homes.

“We created engaging, fun, motivating, and customized VR/AR therapy exercises tailored to each patient’s need based on their diagnosis,” Somareddy says. “We brought down the costs of therapy and made it more efficient and within the reach of anyone who needs it.”

There’s also a mind-body benefit. “Our training modules help the patient work on their cognitive as well as physical therapy at the same time, instead of doing each in isolation,” she says. “By providing functional goals and feedback with real-time progress reports, we aim to achieve better and faster recovery.”


SAMY FODIL CEO and President Taubyte WEB 3.0 GURU

A West Point graduate and former U.S. Army captain, Beard received an MBA from Columbia University before taking on highprofile investment banking posts and spending five years as a venture capitalist at Perot Jain. In 2021, he launched CollateralEdge with Co-Founder and President Joel Radtke. Their fintech platform is designed to give community and regional banks a competitive edge in commercial lending with an innovative “collateral coverage” solution. That helps banks expedite committee approval and meet borrowers’ credit needs while adhering to the bank’s underwriting standards, Beard says. “The result: less time and resources wasted for both banks and their borrowers,” he adds. Beard believes CollateralEdge has found its moment.

“The last few years have taught us that banks must transform faster than ever. I believe the same technology shift that has transformed the consumer banking business will be required to meet the needs of commercial bank customers as well.” His team has designed their platform to be simple. “We can provide a term sheet for collateral coverage on a bank deal in less than five minutes.” Adds Beard, “We’re also really excited about the upcoming release of our commercial real estate solution.”



Cooksey and DUKE.ai aim to do for truck owner-operators what rideshare apps do for their drivers: get them paid immediately. Like many entrepreneurs, Cooksey launched his startup out of frustration. In 2015, he founded a trucking company but was disappointed in the software tools available to manage the company’s finances. Then there was the constant issue of cash flow, with payments often lagging far behind deliveries. That’s when the former Texas Instruments software engineer decided to create software solutions for truckers with DUKE.ai. Founded in 2018, the Dallas-based company offers an app featuring automated accounting software, a rapid payment method, tracking for taxes, and a system for detecting fraud and errors—all geared

toward users in trucking and transportation.

“Trucking companies are in need of consistent cash flow similar to taxi companies or rideshare drivers,” Cooksey says. “This opens a $1.7 billion opportunity for DUKE.ai’s virtual bot to automatically generate invoices, detect fraud and errors, and facilitate the payment process for financial institutions while introducing a radical payment model for transportation.” With DUKE.ai’s automated bookkeeping software priced at $99 a year, the startup offers add-on services for reviewing and managing assets, expenses, and providing monthly income statements. The company currently has four patents for its tech and is aiming for a 35% market share in mobile applications for truckers over the next two to three years. —S.E.


Just two years after co-founding Firehawk Aeospace in 2019, Edwards made Forbes’ “30 Under 30” manufacturing and industry list for putting the company on the launching pad.

Firehawk develops high-performance hybrid rocket engines and 3D-printed solid rocket fuel to provide a safer, more cost-effective approach to launching payloads. Edwards says that hybrid rocket engines “will make traditional solid-rocket motors obsolete” in many cases, and that 3D printing rocket fuel is “the solution to making hybrid rocket engines work reliably.”

Following the company’s founding in Florida, Firehawk’s critical technology was working, but raising money was difficult. “This is why we moved to Texas,” Edwards says.

“We knew there are investors and organizations here who wouldn’t shy away from investing in defense-oriented hardware companies.” Now, with five issued patents and $22 million raised to date, Firehawk plans a 2023 HQ move from Carrollton to Addison and is building a test facility in Midland.

Having Raytheon Missiles & Defense as an investor is one success, Edwards says, but he’s most proud of the team he’s built. “Firehawk is attracting some serious engineering talent from the most premier companies in our industry” and bringing them to Dallas-Fort Worth, he says, bolstering innovation in the field, especially among smaller players.

Due to consolidation two companies now “control the entire industry,” but that won’t be the case in the next 10 years, he says, adding that Firehawk aims to keep growing.

“Due to the capabilities of our engines, our extensive IP portfolio, key partners, and the need in the market, Firehawk has the opportunity to become what is considered a new ‘industry prime,’” Edwards says. “We now have the chance to provide new capabilities for both defense and space systems that weren’t possible before.” —D.S.




Apsangi and Pathak came up with a solution that proactively predicts a building’s HVAC- and/ or refrigeration-system failure using a patented device that intelligently monitors the system. The smart device uses algorithms as well as AI and ML to conduct a multi-point analysis to gather data over time. The data then helps the device foretell any upcoming failures.

“HVAC/R has become a core necessity, yet it is a legacy industry that lacks or has a slow adoption of the latest technological advancements,” Apsangi says. The industry is ripe for disruption, he adds, with “numerous gaps in the process of sensing to servicing” that can lead to significant business interruptions— to the tune of $10,000 to $250,000 per day. MechaSense is designed to help “avoid unplanned downtimes, expensive emergency repairs, and unwanted additional stress to facility managers and staff.”

The company, founded in 2020, has advanced its data collection capabilities within a short span of 10 months, Pathak says. Its analysis can now provide tangible insights like when the AC system is low on charge, or when the liquid line filter drier is blocked. —M.A.


Max-IR Labs is working with commercial and public-sector partners to adopt its patented ISMIR water-quality sensor technology to help assure safe drinking water and efficient wastewater treatment as well as safeguard the environment. Roodenko founded Dallas-based Max-IR Labs in 2017 to develop infrared solutions for industrial process control, medical diagnostics, and biochemical analysis. She has over 20 years of academic, industrial, and entrepreneurial experience in the development of infrared technology for civil and defense applications. The startup’s hard work is paying off. In 2021, Max-IR was awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant of $750,000 by the National Science Foundation to develop the ISMIR technology for the real-time monitoring of nitrogen pollutants including nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia in municipal wastewater. And last year, Max-IR was awarded a Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer award of $260,000 by the National Institutes of Health to develop a sensor for monitoring toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water to improve access to safe and affordable drinking water for all Americans. —L.M.



Walsh co-founded Cariloop in 2012, aiming to create an app to help people find suitable nursing homes or senior living facilities for their loved ones. That goal came out of experiences he and co-founder Steven Theesfeld had early on. “Steven’s future fatherin-law was diagnosed with cancer while we were in college, and then my grandfather had significant health issues right after we graduated,” Walsh says. After navigating the “very real challenges” of a complicated healthcare system, they decided “to ensure that no caregiver ever has to experience this process alone.”

Now, about a decade later, Richardson-based Cariloop has grown to pursue its vision of creating “the global standard for the way we support caregivers, families, and each other.”

In 2022 alone, Cariloop became a Certified B Corporation, made the Inc. 5000 list for the first time, and released its first annual impact report, all while continuing to build a coalition of employers and partner organizations. It also recently launched an Education Support service line, Walsh says, creating “the same incredible experience we create for caregivers navigating the healthcare system for a loved one, but instead for parents navigating the education system for their child.” —D.S.



Srinivasan and Co-Founder/President Suresh Dakshina started Chargeback Gurus after experiencing chargeback challenges themselves in their previous business operating an international call center.

Working through the problems they discovered there wasn’t any available guidance for dealing successfully with chargebacks, which are reversals of funds after a consumer disputes a credit or debit transaction with the bank that issued their card.

The co-founders took what they learned and began helping other businesses recover money lost to chargebacks, launching Chargeback Gurus in 2014. The company since has recovered about 70% of its clients’ chargebacks, which adds up to a whopping $2 billion-plus in recovered revenue.

McKinney-based Chargeback Gurus, which specializes in AI-based on-demand analytics for companies including “large enterprise merchants,” also focuses on risk management and e-commerce fraud prevention.

“Every chargeback tells a story, and we need data science to understand these stories to make meaningful business decisions that impact our clients,” Srinivasan says.

The company’s offerings can prevent future chargebacks by providing predictive and prescriptive analytics, detecting trends and anomalies, and helping merchants track and understand the root causes of their chargebacks, she says, adding, “We operate by the axiom ‘Prevent what you can and fight what you can’t.’”

The company grew rapidly during the pandemic, when more people shopped online, and in 2022 was ranked No. 961 on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies. It’s aiming now to expand into new international markets including Europe, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region. —S.E.

With 30 years of experience, Austin leads the fundamental transformation of how Oncor shares information with roughly 10 million customers. Part of the solution? An analytics platform—Grid Echo— designed and built by a cross-functional team “replays” outage events to help improve future response and understand grid distribution. Reviews are visualized in a map view or a schematic—all with an aim to slash time for post-event analysis from days to mere minutes. One stakeholder says Grid Echo could “move the needle” for Oncor’s distribution operations in the future, noting that the company has identified another 25 use cases for the platform so far. —G.H.

There’s something compelling about a company that starts out life as the personal mission of its founder. Consider, for example, Take Command Health—a tech-enabled, consumercentric healthcare service that Hooper started after his wife became pregnant with twins. Amid all the excitement of the impending birth loomed a big question: How much would the pregnancy, the delivery, and her hospitalization cost? While Hooper’s situation was a positive one (two babies!), he was keenly aware that many people face an abundance of frightening and expensive medical conditions—as well as confusing payment and insurance choices. And though the Affordable Care Act had just started offering insurance to those who couldn’t previously afford it, Hooper wondered, “What good is a market if no one understands it?” So, he set out to provide less expensive, more understandable options for

health benefits that are more tailored to individuals—via Health Reimbursement Arrangements—than traditional, one-size-fitsall group health plans are. HRAs are tax-advantaged, employer-based plans that reimburse employees for their qualified medical expenses. About eight years after its founding, Hooper’s Dallas-based company now employs 100 people and offers its services in all 50 states. He says Take Command has become a recognized leader in Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement administration for small employers, launched the first-to-market Individual Coverage HRA platform, and is the only HRA administrator to also offer full-service, in-house, individual enrollment support. “Our products are the 401(k) of healthcare,” Hooper says. “Employers get to set a budget, and employees get more choice to pick a plan that fits them. Everyone is better off.”


From left: Ahmed Qureshi and Nate Henderson


BILT aims to do to paper instructions what Google Maps did to paper maps. With its interactive 3D instructions, it’s well on its way to removing the dread many of us feel when we encounter the words “Some assembly required.” Instead of trying to follow a printed manual with text and illustrations, or a video that just captures the camera’s perspective, the BILT app provides users with animated instructions allowing them to manipulate 3D images to view steps from any angle. “They can zoom in and tap on a part or tool,” Henderson says. “The steps are play/ pause—which allow users to work at their own pace—and include voice and text guidance.” Grapevine-based BILT has experienced triple-digit growth every year for the past three years, landing a spot on the Inc. 5000 list from 2020 to 2022. Its app now is available in 10 languages in more than 170 countries and has millions of users. BILT clients include Weber Grills, Home Depot, NordicTrack, and, more recently, the U.S. Navy and Air Force. “In the federal space, BILT increases readiness by enhancing standardized training,” Qureshi says. “It helps personnel learn their jobs quickly, safely, and correctly while providing data insights to track compliance, increase competency, and generate feedback.” BILT’s app-based instructions aren’t just easier to follow, they’re better for the environment, too. “We also want to help brands recognize the opportunity to be better stewards of the planet by dramatically reducing paper waste,” Henderson says. —S.E.

Tang is the “first ‘boots on the ground’ in America” for Swiss-based ORCA AG, a software and services company targeting wealth and asset managers with its intelligent administration tool. “ORCA is forever transforming global wealth and asset management,” Tang says. “Everything from how wealth and asset owners and advisors store, analyze, share, and communicate information; to how wealth structuring, asset management, tax, compliance, and succession planning are done, and beyond.” The company is funded by nine “founding families”—including some from the U.S.—who are also among its first clients. Her No. 1 focus now? Growing the firm’s U.S. presence five years after its 2017 launch.

“ORCA has spent most of its existence in stealth mode,” she says. “What started as 20 beta clients dedicated to experimenting with new

ways of organizing data and documents for ownership structures has turned into a tried-and-true solution for helping hundreds of clients across nearly 20 countries.” The uncertain economy hasn’t dampened her bullish outlook. “I believe that history has shown that the innovation and discoveries are born during tumultuous, disruptive times,” she says, citing how the Dark Ages led to the Renaissance.

Tang points to macro trends supporting the success of the rollout. These include the increasing complexity of the business world, driven by globalization and the growth of the private markets; the growing focus on compliance and governance; the ongoing transition of wealth to the next generation; the exponential growth of the global private markets and deals; and the increasing digitization of services.

“We’re ready to make some noise,” she says. —Q.P.


The world’s largest airline is using data science and advanced analytics to make air travel safer and more efficient and sustainable, according to Niznik. The Fort Worthbased company, which carries an average of more than half a million passengers each day, is applying artificial intelligence and machinelearning models to better understand and adapt to severe weather conditions, for example. It’s also using ML to help prevent cyber fraud and to track aircraft sensor data, resulting in timely repairs. In addition, American is saving jet fuel and reducing CO2₂ emissions with smartgating technology at its DFW, Charlotte, and Miami hubs. “This new technology uses advanced data analytics and optimization modeling to track the runways where aircraft are scheduled to arrive and depart, and then automatically assigns arriving flights to the nearest available gate,” Niznik says. DFW alone has saved more than 15 hours of aircraft taxi time a day, which translates to around 870,000 gallons of fuel and 8,300 metric tons of CO2 annually. It’s also reduced instances of arriving aircraft having to wait for a gate by more than 50%. A new strategic partnership with Microsoft is accelerating American’s move to the cloud, allowing for greater access to data by scaling up AI/ML across the organization.



Shane, who helps lead the urbanism and transportation planning group at AECOM, a Dallas-based infrastructure consulting firm, is on the front lines of the movement using technology to build smarter cities. One of the biggest challenges of the movement, he says, is figuring out what communities—and those providing services to the communities—really want from smart-cities tech.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution for communities to use technology to increase efficiencies, improve safety, provide equity, and increase quality of life,” he says.

But the effort’s benefits can be enormous, he adds, not least by identifying and closing internet connectivity gaps. “Ultimately, a cascading benefit of implementing smart-cities tech is bridging the digital divide by providing equitable access to high-speed broadband/ Wi-Fi to areas which may have been historically underserved.”

Another way to enhance urban areas by making them better places to live is to connect development and public transportation, Shane says. As a result, he’s been involved with AECOM’s transit-oriented development at Arapaho Station in Richardson, for example. The city reduced parking requirements there, freeing up land for live/ work units and amenities to draw people to the area. “Agencies are maximizing the value of the land by working with cities and developers to redevelop empty parking lots and outdated transit centers into modern urban developments, which can catalyze sleepy transit station areas into vibrant communities,” Shane says. —S.E.

Kang and his team of data scientists, product managers, software engineers, and machine-learning experts build solutions to democratize ML for the business community. At Capital One, Kang’s group in the Plano-based Financial Services division built an internal ML platform for non-data scientists. He’s also led teams using AI and ML to personalize digital channels and bring digital marketing in-house in the company’s consumer auto division. An active member of Origins, the Asian and Pacific Islander Business Resource Group, he also runs development workshops and mentoring sessions to help Pacific Islanders “break the bamboo ceiling” to advance in their careers. —Q.P.


Avalokita is vice president and operations leader for North Texas and Oklahoma at Jacobs, a global business consulting and services enterprise that relocated its headquarters from Pasadena, California, to Dallas in 2016. In her role as leader of Jacobs’ People & Places Solutions line of business in those geographic areas, Avalokita says she aims to deliver on the company’s commitments to its clients, creating an environment that supports the workforce and partnering with sales and leadership to build a pipeline of projects. A champion for Jacobs’ brand, Avalokita joined the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas program and cites courage, being genuine, and leading by example as key attributes of good leaders. One Jacobs employee who was mentored by Avalokita praised her on LinkedIn: “She has gone above and

beyond to allow me to leverage my skills to bring value to our business and most importantly positioned me to grow as a leader. Her commitment to our people and their success is extremely inspiring.” A native of India, Avalokita is a twodecade veteran with Jacobs, having previously worked in areas including finance and project control and as a civil and transportation engineer. Jacobs, which boasts about 60,000 employees across 50 countries, shifted its brand focus in 2019 from construction and engineering to becoming what it called a “technology-focused solutions” company. Today it’s aiming to create a more connected, sustainable world, the company says, from intelligence and infrastructure to space exploration. —


SMU faculty member

J.-C. Chiao is developing batteryless, wireless medical devices that can be implanted during an outpatient procedure.

Typical devices in use today are huge, require major surgery, and last a maximum of nine years at best, he says. Chiao’s miniature implant lets patients manage their pain and records their vital signs, which can be accessed and monitored wirelessly by doctors viewing the entire record, opening the door to long-term patient monitoring. The professor, who holds 20 patents and has nine more pending, is using the same technology for miniature gastro-stimulators in patients who can’t digest their food properly due to stomach motility diseases. In the future, Chiao adds, “I am hoping to develop ubiquitous, cheap, convenient, and comfortable wearables that can provide real-time vital sign monitoring to empower everyone for their personalized health care.” —M.A.



Aslam’s companies got their names after he redeveloped the Sinclair Hotel in downtown Fort Worth—turning an art deco icon into a striking tech-forward Marriott Autograph Collection property. Guests of the “world’s first all-digital” hotel can enjoy 164 boutique rooms and suites with “razor’s-edge” amenities including digital showers, LG 8K wallpaper-thin televisions, smart mirrors, and in-room presence sensors—powered by low-voltage PoE, or Power over Ethernet, technology.

Now Aslam’s company Sinclair Digital aims to help make buildings everywhere more intelligent and sustainable, with a focus on battery energy storage systems and advanced software controls. “Products that go into buildings have been undergoing major changes in the past few decades that have inherently changed the way that they use energy,” Aslam says, pointing out that LEDs, renewable energy sources, motors, and electronics are run and powered internally by direct current (DC), for example. “But the buildings we construct today are still being built with an all high-voltage AC (alternating current) infrastructure. Sinclair Digital is focused on designing and building structures with DC infrastructure that is much safer to deploy, uses 80% less copper, and reduces the overall energy consumption by minimizing AC to DC energy conversions.”

To change the way buildings are powered, Aslam and his company are “constantly fighting through” barriers to show clients these systems are actually tried-and-true, widely adopted technologies. “We are big advocates for educating architects, electrical designers, and contractors by participating on boards, presenting at conferences, and freely giving tours and studies around our completed projects,” he says. And they’re making progress. “Sinclair Digital worked hand-in-hand with LG to create and deploy the very first UL924-rated, large-scale battery system that eliminated a diesel generator” at the Sinclair Hotel, he says, and the system is now commercially available.

Aslam says the fruits of their labor benefit their own buildings, “but can be the key to eliminating the reliance of fossil fuels from all buildings in the future.” Sinclair Digital even participated in the nation’s first net-zero-energy hotel—Hotel Marcel in New Haven, Connecticut. Now it’s working with manufacturers to tackle every electrically powered device in a building. Aslam says you’ll soon see DC solutions for HVAC, and other traditionally AC devices moving to DC. “The world is definitely heading this direction, and we want to be there to propel it even more quickly by creating not only sustainable, but cost-effective solutions for every industry,” he says. —D.S.



Many current cancer drugs can be so toxic, their effectiveness is limited in treating tumors found in the pancreas, bladder, ovaries, lungs, and prostate, for example. So, an advanced, tech-based treatment based on nanoparticles that are injected directly into tumors is offering cancer patients new hope. The tiny particles remain in the tumor and are slowly released over time, possibly making the treatment more effective than traditional chemotherapy. The promising development is the work of a Fort Worth company called NanOlogy, which was formed in 2015 by H. Paul Dorman’s DFB Pharmaceuticals firm in collaboration with CritiTech and US Biotest. In November, NanOlogy said it enrolled patients in a Phase 2a test of its proprietary nanoscale treatment for lung cancer, which it called the most lethal form of cancer with the highest mortality rate. Preliminary reports are encouraging, it added. Dorman’s role in the advanced biotech isn’t surprising. He’s been a leader in the area pharmaceutical scene for three decades, having co-founded holding company DFB in 1990 with the acquisition of DPT Laboratories from Alcon. He grew DFB into a portfolio of healthcare companies with operations in Texas, New Jersey, Germany, and Canada. Besides continuing to lead DFB, Dorman is involved in many philanthropic efforts. Perhaps most notably, in 2019 he gifted first-year tuition to 60 students in the inaugural class of the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine in Fort Worth. —G.H.

Chairman and CEO

Lary’s focus is on keeping people—such as those venturing into unknown environs like a disaster area—out of harm’s way. And the applied physics data scientist is doing just that with his work at The University of Texas at Dallas and his lab at the new IQHQ in Richardson. Lary, the founding director of UTD’s Center for Multi-Scale Integrated Intelligent Interactive Sensing, or MINTS, concentrates on remote sensing. That includes nine “sentinel types” from satellites to wearables, to autonomous robotic teams, to sensors deployed across dense urban environments. For example, Lary helps stakeholders deploy autonomous robots and sensors into an area to survey it for any kind of danger. “This can be of particular value when we have a contaminated environment,” he says. Recently, Lary and his team were invited by U.S. special operations forces to demonstrate their autonomous technology at Ft. Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“The demonstration task at this particular event was related to disarming chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear devices,” he says.

“For them to acknowledge that we were the only people doing this type of extensive operation was really quite gratifying and surprising, because we’ve done all of this on a miniscule budget.” Other uses for the sensing tech, Lary adds, include helping schoolchildren avoid absenteeism, providing information in the event of a terrorist attack, and assisting public entities dealing with drought conditions. —M.A.



Baloul is the legal brain helping protect and advance the transformative products coming these days out of Spacee, the Dallas-based computer vision- and AI-powered startup for retailers and consumer brands. A former patent attorney, senior counsel, and global strategy manager at Texas Instruments, the Spacee president often travels the world touting the company’s interactive HoverTouch systems and Deming shelf-mounted robot, which provides stores with precise supply-chain data. She describes the latter as “bleeding-edge technology that is basically revolutionizing retail,” potentially

saving customers billions of dollars that are lost in poorly tracked or out-of-stock inventory. Spacee currently boasts 14 “patent families,” equating to about 60 to 70 patent applications worldwide, as it looks to defend its devices at every stage of development, she says. After meeting Spacee founder and CEO Skip Howard when she was giving an IP presentation to his computer vision team, Baloul says she found it “next to impossible” not to join the company herself.

“It’s always exciting to walk in the office and see what’s going on today, and see all the wonderful things,” she says. —Q.P.

Crossno’s OnAsset Intelligence is a pacesetter in real-time logistics. Founded in 2005, the company came up with supply-chain tracking and management solutions even before Apple unveiled its first smartphone—and long before supply-chain management issues became headline news. Today the Irving-based company leverages AI and ML to enable real-time tracking of shipments, minimizing supply-chain hassles for its customers. “We were one of the first to focus on tracking and monitoring individual shipments regardless of the truck or container they were in,” Crossno says. OnAsset was also the first to gain FAA approval for an active tracking device for air cargo and assisted in the rollout of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. “The future is all about using real-time data to make extremely fast business decisions and deliver new layers of service and visibility to end customers,” says Crossno. —M.A.

A force in telecom and a prolific inventor, Silver received his 100th patent in late 2021—many related to Tango’s work giving businesses control over mobile voice, messaging, and data in a “work-from-anywhere world.” Then, in 2022, he helped Tango hit the same milestone with its 100th patent. Based in Frisco and Leeds, England, Tango launched a service last August that provides mobile communications to frontline and deskless workers—such as delivery and in-home services people—turning any “bring your own device” phone into a fully featured business line. When he’s not bagging patents, Silver is speaking at industry forums and serving on the board of the IEEE Dallas Communications & Vehicular Technology Society. Oh, and did we mention he’s a helicopter pilot? That’s what we call taking off. — D.S.

Since launching in March 2022 with 37,000 square feet of coworking lab and office facilities, BioLabs at Pegasus Park has helped boost the North Texas region’s growing status as a biotech center. Everett notes that the cost of doing science—particularly life science—“is pretty high,” with companies easily spending $2 million to $3 million “before doing a single experiment.”

Coworking spaces like BioLabs “help de-risk the science,” she says, and lab coworking space is “ideal for advancing breakthroughs.” By locating at BioLabs, companies can put their investment dollars toward science and talent rather than space and equipment, Everett says, lowering the barriers to entry. “BioLabs also provides startups with a supportive network of fellow entrepreneurs and industry connections to get them on the right path sooner,” creating a “highway to get gamechanging treatments to trials quicker,” she says. That’s led to fast growth, meeting four-year projections just six months after launch. Lauding Texas’ collaborative spirit, she says BioLabs works closely with partners in the ecosystem—from corporate sponsors and universities to accelerators and venture firms. — D.S.

MIRNA ABYAD BALOUL President, COO, and Secretary of the Board Spacee ADAM CROSSNO ANDREW SILVER GABBY EVERETT Founder and CEO OnAsset Intelligence Co-Founder and CTO/CISO Tango Networks Director of Business Operations & Strategy and Site Head BioLabs at Pegasus Park


When is a robot better than a human at teaching students social, emotional, and behavioral skills? When the student requires many repetitions of the same lesson and finds it easier to connect with a robot than a person.

That’s the premise behind RoboKind, a Dallas-based, education technology company that designs and builds facially expressive robots that facilitate learning for individuals with autism.

“Robots are consistent, nonjudgmental, and more patient than any human could ever be,” says Margolin, who founded the company in 2011. “When a student needs to run the same lesson more than 500 times over the course of years to acquire a skill, the robot has no problem with that.”

Research from the University of Texas at Dallas Collier Center shows that students on the autism spectrum engage with RoboKind’s robots 87.5% of the time, versus 2% to 3% of the time with a human therapist alone.

RoboKind provides its friendly robots Milo, Veda, Carver, and Jemi to school districts across the country, and now incorporates in-platform goal tracking to help educators track the progress of neurodiverse students as they master new skills.

Margolin, who’s doubled the company’s revenue and headcount since taking over as CEO in 2021, says its assistive robotic technology aims to make life easier for special-education teachers, not replace them. “Our mission at RoboKind is to use robots to bring people closer together,” he adds. “Robots will never replace the need for human teachers.” —S.E.



Board Member and Outgoing President Dallas Makerspace

Henningson first got involved with Dallas Makerspace when he needed to wire up a prototype for his day job. The Dallas venue, which is actually located in Carrollton, is billed as the largest public, member-driven makerspace in the country. Makerspaces, where invention and collaborative learning take place, have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. The nonprofit makerspace boasts 1,400 members and 18 labs in 36,000 square feet. It offers tools and teachers for traditional crafts like woodshop and metalwork as well as modern technology, from electronics and robotics to 3D fabrication. The venture is “100% driven by member initiative” and aims to support the maker community throughout the U.S., Henningson says: “We are well on our way with the work we are doing locally.” —S.E.


Magill’s goal is to generate equitable economic opportunities in Dallas County by preparing Dallas College students for jobs now and in the future. The school’s Labor Market Intelligence Center assesses current jobs and near-term trends to align its programs with available employment and work with companies to fill jobs. Last summer, Magill and his team led the effort to land an $8.8 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Good Job Challenge. “Our mission over the next three years is to help people in underrepresented communities and neighborhoods land an entry-level job in the emerging biotech/ life sciences industry in North Texas,” Magill says. — S.E.

Dudley—a former principal, district leader, and teacher with a PhD in education—is uniquely qualified to drive the mission of the Principal Impact Collaborative: Known as PIC, the UNT Dallas organization aims to improve public school outcomes and address high rates of principal turnover in Dallas-Fort Worth. In November, PIC received “six-figure” grants from two local foundations, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and The Sid Richardson Foundation, to support two of its professional learning programs: The Principal Fellowship and Leadership Lab. According to PIC, its principals are “more visionary, innovative, and resilient”—and prepared to put “big ideas” into action. —Q.P.

Where can you train students and healthcare professionals in medical procedures using cuttingedge techniques? At the new and improved HSC Regional Simulation Center at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. There, students and professionals use virtual and augmented reality headsets, immersive projection technology, 3D visualizations, and lifelike manikins that bleed, speak, and even “give birth.” “We train all types of clinical scenarios and skills from basic to advanced,” says Meadows, the center’s director. “We strive to make patient care safer by providing a space for learners to try out new procedures, perfect their skills, and improve teamwork and communication.” The center, which tripled in size to 16,000 square feet when an expansion was completed last summer, is one of the few facilities in the country—and the first in Texas—to offer simulation rooms with 3D projection on all four walls. The center is used primarily by HSC students and faculty, but community healthcare providers also can book space. As the metaverse becomes more defined and artificial intelligence influences best care practices, Meadows expects healthcare education to change rapidly, with more telehealth applications and wearable tech, for example. But human-to-human interaction will remain all-important, she says. “While we can learn in cyberspace, we will still need to stay grounded in the basic foundations of communication, teamwork, and human connection.” — S.E.

MAKERSPACE MASTER MANIKIN MASTER BEN MAGILL AMANDA DUDLEY Associate Vice Chancellor, Economic Opportunity Dallas College Executive Director Principal Impact Collaborative

Mental health issues in the U.S. are worsening, including on college campuses. According to Fort Worth-based TimelyMD, which specializes in free, ondemand, virtual medical and mental healthcare for higher education, nine out of 10 college students reported a “full-blown mental health crisis on their campus.” Prepandemic, just 10% of TimelyMD’s virtual visits were for mental health reasons; these days, 80% are. And in a recent survey, 81% reported that mental or emotional health concerns had impacted their academic performance. Thanks to TimelyMD, however, students may be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. One and a half million students on nearly 250 college and university campuses across the country are now able to reach a telehealth provider from TimelyMD in under five minutes, on average. The company, cofounded by Hejl five years ago, works in collaboration with on-campus health centers through its awardwinning proprietary platform, called TimelyCare. TimelyMD now has 175 employees and made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing U.S. companies in 2022. It also became the first virtual care company in the higher-ed sector to receive accreditation from URAC, the nation’s largest independent healthcare accreditation group. —L.B.


Often described as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” Lee lobbied for decades to get June 19 declared a national holiday before President Joe Biden signed a congressional bill into law last June. For years the retired educator, now 96, would walk 2.5 miles each June 19 to publicize the effort. The walk’s length symbolized the 2.5 years it took for black Texans in Galveston to receive the news in June 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, abolishing slavery. In 2016, Lee trekked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., to press the case for an official federal holiday to Congress and thenPresident Barack Obama. In 2021, with success at last, Lee told CBS DFW that the new holiday is “not a Texas thing or a Black thing. It’s an American thing.” Lee, who was born in Marshall and moved to Cowtown in the 1930s, was a nominee for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for her Juneteenth crusade. What made it especially personal: On June 19, 1939, 500 rioters burned down her family’s home in a mostly white area of Fort Worth. Today, plans have been drawn up for a National Juneteenth Museum to be built on Fort Worth’s Historic Southside, where the intrepid Lee operated a small Juneteenth Museum for years. The $70 million project will help empower neighborhood residents with the likes of storefronts, residences, and an incubator for small business. It’s projected to open on Juneteenth 2024. —G.H.



Teachers are fleeing the profession, online learning has been a challenge for many students, and K-12 math and science scores are lackluster at best, threatening the preparedness of tomorrow’s workforce. But a gamebased, “educational metaverse” developed by Shead’s company is aiming to help reverse these trends as it rewards students for learning and helps teachers track the progress. With STEMuli’s unique, 3D-gamified schooling platform, students select a cool customized avatar and then navigate through virtual learning classrooms. The metaverse rewards students with digital incentives—just like video games do— for attending classes and completing assignments. “Today, 21st-century kids are being taught by 20th-century adults using the 19th-century curriculum on an 18th-century calendar,” Shead says. “Our gamified learning environment will bring the entire education system into the next century, accelerate the rate at which students learn, and transform how they learn.” The company’s platform launched in 2020 in Dallas ISD at Dallas Hybrid Preparatory at Stephen J. Hay in Oak Lawn. Now, after receiving $3.25 million in seed funding in May—when Shead became only the 94th black woman in history to raise more than $1 million—STEMuli is looking to expand its reach to New York, California, Illinois, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. “As the world of education continues to evolve, technology is the driving force behind innovation,” Shead says. The company’s ultimate goal is enabling all learners to have equal opportunity to “earn high salary income in the thousands of new jobs” that progress will bring, she adds. —S.E.

Tang wants to prepare all Texas students to graduate from high school ready for college, career, and life. After returning to Dallas from the East Coast in 2009, Tang focused on challenges and gaps in the education system, particularly the “opportunity gap” that exists from income disparity. This led him to join CFT’s inititiative, Educate Texas, where he could merge his entrepreneurial passion with his desire to help all students succeed. —Q.P.


When Hill became one of five recipients last year of the prestigious Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy—alongside Dolly Parton, no less!—the national recognition seemed fitting, and maybe even overdue. After all, the Dallas investor and philanthropist has led the way for years in supporting a variety of groundbreaking causes, from urban greenspace and life sciences like cancer research to food safety and motivating women and girls in STEM fields. Hill aimed to promote Dallas-Fort Worth’s life sciences ecosystem, for example, by helping develop the 23-acre, biotechoriented Pegasus Park office development. The campus includes a social impact hub called the Water Cooler, which offers flex space to high-impact nonprofits for collaboration and is the biggest shared nonprofit space in Texas.

The daughter of Al Hill Sr. and Margaret Hunt Hill and the granddaughter of H.L. Hunt, the legendary Dallas oil billionaire, Hill became a member of The Giving Pledge in 2010. The pledge, created by Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, commits those taking it to leave the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. Hill went a step further, pledging to donate the entirety of her fortune to charity. Hill, a breast cancer survivor, gave $50 million to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, for instance, and was an early donor to research leading to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine through her Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Other causes benefiting from Hill’s vision and generosity include Klyde Warren Park, the Center for BrainHealth, and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. — G.H.




Founder and CEO

MilkSpace LLC

Following the birth of her second daughter in 2014, Mumphrey, a U.S. Navy veteran, had a hard time finding places to nurse her baby or pump breast milk while out and about.

MilkSpace LLC, a popup company founded in 2018, was born out of her frustration. Initially the Dallas-based venture offered a 10-by-10-foot tent that provided women attending events with breastfeeding essentials. After landing support from such North Texas organizations as Impact Ventures and the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center, Mumphrey was able to up her game. Today the company boasts an 18foot climate-controlled trailer with a “lay space” for mothers to breastfeed and pump and store breast milk during events.

Convincing event planners to include her service in their budgets is still a challenge. She points out to them that some women resort to breastfeeding and pumping in public restrooms and asks: Would you eat your food knowing it was prepared in a public restroom? She’s also committed to providing her service on an in-kind basis at events in predominately black communities, where fewer mothers breastfeed than the national average.

“Ultimately, my goal is to develop a Mobile MilkSpace fleet with regional offices enabling events to be serviced throughout the nation,” she says. —S.E.




Something’s buzzing, flapping, and fluttering in Big D—and it’s all part of a new venture to save pollinators. Burrows, whose first job was with Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com, also worked at Yahoo before launching several Dallas-area startups. When the pandemic hit, he and his wife, Margaret, decided to get buzzed—in the best sense. “We wanted to do something meaningful,” he says. Burrows had been helping a friend bring a nonprofit that was researching bees and hive collabs from the Netherlands to Texas. “So I said, ‘What if we did our own foundation? We can create something to help save honeybees, but also butterflies and bats.’ All the pollinators.” That led to the launch of ArkEarth, a nonprofit with a mission to save bees and pollinators while helping to increase crop output in food deserts as much as 30%. ArkEarth’s first project was with Restorative Farms, a nonprofit that’s partnering with DART to create an “agrisystem” in South Dallas through community gardens and urban farms. ArkEarth put beehives in the one-acre Hatcher Station Farm and will fill them with honeybees this spring. It’s also branching out to bumblebees for a large greenhouse project with Profound Farms near McKinney. “Honeybees constantly fly to the top and get trapped,” Burrows says. For other pollination accelerators, ArkEarth offers butterfly enclosures and bathouses from the “Shark Tank” startup BatBnB. “Bats pollinate at night, so they’re the night crew of the pollination group,” Burrows says. More buzz is brewing with ArkEarth’s new e-commerce site; projects with the Fairmont Hotel and a tiny-house development in Sherman; and two other startups: Hivessence, an organic honey-infused selfcare brand, and Hiveshine, which will offer honey-infused liquors and more. —Q.P.


You’d think going blind shortly after starting a company would be enough to force the founder to simply close its doors. But not Martin. Losing her sight to diabetic retinopathy at age 28 only fortified her determination to make a go of her digital marketing startup JancynCo. It did even more: It inspired her to create a JancynCo subsidiary called VisioTech. The social impact company educates companies and organizations on ways to advance technology inclusion for people with disabilities. That includes building accessible websites across both desktop and mobile applications and providing workplace sensitivity training. The “eureka moment” leading to VisioTech’s founding came when Martin had to

relearn hardware and software to keep JancynCo afloat after losing her sight. It wasn’t easy, and it made her realize many more people were facing similar difficulties. Roughly six years after starting JancynCo, Martin now is motivated to hire more people with disabilities for the company and to place them in creative roles. At VisioTech, her focus is hiring consultants within the digital tech space to help pivot or jump-start careers. As tough as the pandemic was overall, Martin notes that it also “forced the entire global workplace into a new way of working.” That served to level the playing field and enable those with disabilities who are confined to their households to work remotely now. —S.E.

Patel and HermTac are keenly aware that suicides among active-duty military personnel and post-9/11 veterans are four times as high as deaths that occur during combat. As a result, the company has made doing something about that alarming statistic its latest mission. Housed at the UT Dallas Venture Development Center Research Office, HermTac is creating “bespoke precision mental health programs” to tackle the veteran suicide crisis. Patel spent a month last fall in rural Alaska, where suicide rates among Alaska Native vets are especially high, for example. The company’s programs there have included helping promote the new three-digit 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, deploying an AI-based audio “mood ring” visualization to enhance training for 988 staffers, and developing free micro-credentialing certifications to equip more people to help in mental health crisis situations. HermTac started life rapidly producing masks and face shields for VA hospitals and first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. From there it shifted to providing portable, in-home “communications cases” so that thousands of rural veterans could access telemedicine, which led to its latest iteration. In September, the company was one of 30 finalists—out of more than 1,300 submissions—in Phase 1 of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Mission Daybreak, a $20 million “grand challenge” to reduce veteran suicides. It previously picked up three national innovation award wins in the VA COVID-19 Maker Challenges from the Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem and the Challenge America nonprofit. So, what’s next for HermTac? “More making for the public good,” Patel says. —S.E.



Ozgur believes multicultural storytelling can spark awareness in Dallas communities. She brings this to life through Artstillery, which uses advanced technology to uplift marginalized voices with immersive arts experiences—pushing the boundaries of what performance looks like. “Our first production in the summer of 2016 was a grassroots production of ‘Family Dollar,’” Ozgur says. “We had no marketing plan—it was all word of mouth and one short media clip. Our friends at Junk Kings grilled hot dogs

and served canned beers and sodas to support us.” Artstillery has seen even Ozgur volunteer her time since 2016. But operational funding from Santander USA has enabled Ozgur to devote full-time focus for 2022-23. “When we first started advocating for Artstillery, no one really understood what we were doing,” Ozgur says. “We never intended to be in a category with everyone else—we just wanted to be really great storytellers and have the best time doing it.” Coming next: “nolongerland,” a production that will travel DFW, and “Flamenco y Frida.” —D.S.


OpTic’s esports team The Dallas Fuel won the 2022 Overwatch League world championship late last year. That’s just the latest win for Rodriguez, who founded Frisco-based OpTic in 2009 and later merged with Dallas-based Envy Gaming in 2021. Rodriguez says OpTic is transforming the industry by creating relationships “at a one-on-one level in 90 countries and from all 50 states” with experiences that “wow” beyond fans’ expectations. That’s just one reason why OpTic—which operates its own showplace at Esports Stadium Arlington—was named Esports Organization of the Year at Esports Awards 2022. — D.S.

What’s it like to be on a “rocket ride,” as Lerma describes the goings-on at his branding and advertising agency Lerma/? Start with exhilarating and exciting, multicultural and magical, and you get a hint of how things are at Lerma’s agency these days.

For starters, last July Ad Age named the firm its Gold Small Agency of the Year. Team members, linked by talent, energy, and chemistry, recently passed the 100-member milestone. And new business, including three Super Bowl ads, abounds. In sync with what Lerma calls a “societal evolution toward more multiculturalism,” his firm produced a Home Depot commercial in Spanish that exudes joy and celebrates family.

Recognizing that many clients need guidance on how to be more representative of today’s marketplace, the agency launched Inclusivista, a “next-generation” consultancy focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Along with RO2 Media CEO Rodrigo Vallejo, Lerma also founded YouNite Media at Lerma/’s offices at the Luminary Building in downtown Dallas’ West End Innovation District.

YouNite, a minority-owned, automated, demandside media platform, gives advertisers the ability to reach 250 million general market, Hispanic, Black, Asian, and LGBTQ members of the population.

The goal: forging meaningful connections between brands and consumers while helping brands meet their supplier diversity investment goals. “We make commitments on what we can deliver,” Lerma says, “and we work hard to ensure we live up to those promises and that we exceed expectations.” —L.B.




Can you run faster than Patrick Mahomes, quarterback for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs?

Can you outrun Moriah Jefferson, a guard for the WNBA’s Dallas Wings?

Or how about a cheetah, maybe? In all probability, no, no, and no. But you can certainly give it a try, thanks to the interactive expertise of Steve Deitz and his crew at 900lbs. They’re the wizards behind the Speed Wall in the Lamar Hunt Family Sports Hall at Dallas’ Perot Museum of Nature and Science, where patrons can pit their own paces against these speedsters. The Speed Wall is just one of many projects— including an augmentedreality Vespa experience and digital scorecards for mini-golf—that Dietz’s tech-driven, interactive design agency has created for clients ranging from Amazon Web Services and the Dallas Cowboys to Red Bull, Volvo, and Pepsico. Deitz cites communication—with employees, clients, and players in the market—as key to the success of Dallasbased 900lbs, founded in 2008. All-team meetings discuss business results and the social impact of its work through the eyes of clients, he says. 900lbs isn’t just about temporary “Wow!” moments and leveraging cool new tech. It’s more about achieving “results that can drive digital transformation and more subtle kinds of incremental social impact.” —L.B.



If you’ve dined at FB Society’s long list of experiential restaurants, you must be full. And Gibbons hopes you’re satisfied—because they’re all concepts he’s either co-founded, incubated, or overseen in his 12 years at the Irving-based eatery innovator. How do he and his team come up with the concepts? “It all begins with an idea,” Gibbons says, “oftentimes ideas that are born from travel around the world.” The goal: creating “experiences never imagined” and bringing them to life. “Innovation is the heartbeat of our business,” he says, and the beating pulse is in the FB Lab, where soon-to-be concepts and futuristic fantasies are “baked” and tested until they’re ready for launch. “We’re always in discovery mode,” Gibbons says. “We innovate in every way imaginable.” That’s led to “sustainable sipping” at 60 Vines, where the wine tap system alone saves over 100,000 wine bottles, corks, and labels from landfills each year, and where used corks donated by guests are recycled into art works, wine totes, and more. With Son of a Butcher named one of QSR Magazine’s “America’s Hottest Startup Fast Casuals” for 2022—and with $88,000 raised so far to help rebuild restaurants damaged by war in Ukraine—FB Society is poised for growth. “We have as much fun as the work we do,” Gibbons says. “We believe there is no idea ‘too big.’” — D.S.


FB Society concepts include:

60 Vines

Whiskey Cake

Kitchen & Bar

Mexican Sugar

Ida Claire

Velvet Taco

The Keeper


Twin Peaks

Son of a Butcher

The Ranch at Las Colinas

FB Society’s subsidiary

The Food Hall Co.:

Legacy Hall

Assembly Food Hall

1 402 CORINTH STRE ET | DALLAS, TX 7 5215 Collectively, We Help Small Businesses Innovate, Grow and Thrive 1 402 CORINTH STRE ET | DALLAS, TX 7 5215 Collectively, We Help Small Businesses Innovate, Grow and Thrive Bill J. Priest Center Discover the Bill J. Priest Center, a one-stop-shop for small business innovation, growth and economic development. At one location, our partners share a vision and collectively provide a wide array of services tailored to entrepreneurs and small businesses — from start up and launch to growth and expansion. Let us help make your business dreams a reality.


at Paycom. This technology is solving real problems, including something that impacts us all: our payroll.

Beti creates a true disruption in the industry for the better.

Growth also inspires me.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist at a technology conference. Someone asked what I remain passionate about in my job after so many years at Paycom. My answer was simple: My continued ability to positively impact the lives of others through the technology we build

Paycom recently worked with Morning Consult on a survey to see how people are impacted by payroll errors. According to the poll, 1 out of 5 Americans have experienced at least one payroll error in the last year, and 80% were forced to act. This created difficult decisions such as skipping utility bill payments, overdrawing checking accounts, forgoing groceries, or missing rent.

We’re combating those errors through Beti®. Beti allows employees to find and fix errors before payroll submission—right in the Paycom app.

Since we opened our 150,000square-foot operations center in Grapevine in 2022, we’ve added many talented members to our team. Our Grapevine office is our largest workspace outside our Oklahoma City headquarters.

We know to spur innovation, we need to grow more than our offices; we need to grow our people. This has been a fundamental pillar of Paycom’s success since it was founded by our CEO, Chad Richison, in 1998. I started at Paycom in 2005, and I’ve witnessed tremendous growth not only in our IT and tech departments, but across the

company. We like to say Paycom is a career accelerator, and I’ve seen many talented colleagues take their careers to new heights.

One reason growth comes naturally is our learning, upskilling, recognition, and leadership development programs are second to none. In our IT department, for example, events like Codeathon (a marathon technology weekend that helps our teams bond through shared problem-solving and competition) promotes a culture of connection, which fosters innovation. We’re building software that enhances lives and creating a culture where people can thrive. Now that’s inspiring.



How should companies be thinking about building towards the future? How does your company stretch the boundaries of what’s been done, or reinvent itself within your industry?

Deloitte provides a wide variety of services to our clients across the globe. In each of our businesses, we are constantly looking at how we can improve the value we bring through technology. In recent years, Digital Disruptors have not only impacted our clients, but also, how Deloitte serves our clients. Whether it’s using new cloud-based capabilities, Machine Learning, or Artificial Intelligence, Deloitte is leveraging new capabilities to impact the North Texas market. We are partnering with companies in North Texas to bring new business insights, to drive collaboration, to generate operational efficiencies, and to drive down costs.

What’s important to further drive AI and innovation in North Texas?

Artificial Intelligence has a unique and powerful role to play in meeting many of the challenges presented to North Texas organizations today. As we have watched rapid shifts occur lately, we see the opportunities in present chal-

lenges. And yet, we have also seen how many business leaders set their sights too low of the enormous potential AI presents to us.

The most successful companies are using AI to improve the customer experience, vendor relationship, and supply chain as a few examples. Many are also realizing that AI and Machine Learning is a journey, requiring to grow the capability over time, and that the part-

nership between IT and the business is essential. However, not everyone in IT, the data organization, and the business may be ready for the journey. You have to take them on the journey and in some cases, bring in new skill sets. It’s the journey that’s so important—getting people onboard with common business challenges first.

Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise report offers four key actions

business leaders and organizations can use as a starting point for considering AI in their business model.

North Texas continues to be a diverse economy with a range of companies, industries, and threshold for innovation and engaging with new technologies. AI is one in which I see great potential to help organizations transform and thrive going into 2023 and beyond.


Fueling the AI transformation journey

AI is still an emerging technology. Where is your organization in the journey? Maybe you’re just starting to deploy it, or maybe you’re applying it more broadly. Not everyone in your organization may be ready though for the journey. It’s more about growing the capability over time.


Copyright © 2023 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2023 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.


Gloria Salinas, Vice President, Frisco Economic Development Corporation

In its simplest form, what is innovation to you?

In Frisco, we consider the city an innovation lab where we work alongside entrepreneurs and tech companies to pilot and test their latest technologies. For Frisco, innovation means implementing the latest, cutting-edge technologies that maximize human potential and improve the quality of life for Frisco residents, visitors, and businesses.

How does the region’s access to resources, such as higher education and/or access to capital, impact your ability to compete?

Frisco’s location, just 30 minutes north of Dallas along the Dallas North Tollway, gives it great access to all the region’s wonderful assets from the airports to the diversity of educational offerings. Frisco is the tech talent corridor of North Texas with two times the national average of tech workers, making us the ideal place for businesses looking to scale operations and build skilled teams. Frisco has made a name for itself among top Smart Cities by being a

leader in deploying new technology, which has also contributed to Frisco securing other top rankings such as The Safest City in America. Frisco’s access to qualified talent, high quality of living, world-renowned public education system, speed-tomarket, pro-business leadership, and many other factors are creating an organic draw of innovative and high-tech companies choosing to call Frisco home. We also have the only Tier-One Research Institute in Collin County. Then of course,

regionally, there is outstanding access to capital, and Texas remains one of the most affordable states to do business in the nation.

How does your company leadership grow, enhance, or support the industry in which it serves?

Frisco continues to invest in its innovation leaders. The city of Frisco’s Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Jason Cooley leads and develops Smart Cities technologies in partnership with Frisco EDC’s Director of Inno -

vation Jasmin Brand, who leads the attraction of high-tech high-growth tech companies and the continued development and growth of the startup and investment communities in Frisco. It’s investments like these that have driven the successes we are seeing today. Frisco is a first choice for high-growth startups and tech-focused corporations looking to accelerate the growth of their businesses and relocate to a dynamic city with all the necessary assets for success.

A new office tower at The Star in Frisco, located at 17 Cowboys Way, is scheduled to be completed in February 2023. The tower will be home to three tech companies new to Frisco— and counting. The building is one of several new office towers currently under construction in the city.


What types of opportunities exist for innovative thinkers looking to join Capital One?

We work to foster an open, inclusive culture where teams are empowered to innovate, continuous learning is encouraged, and innovation is championed. This means tapping into the power of a diverse workforce and creating a culture where every individual is respected, heard, and feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to the workplace. We also look for change agents who drive teams and others to adopt technological best practices and talent magnets who can recruit other talent and leadership around technical skill development.

How does Capital One differentiate itself from others in the region?

As part of Capital One’s mission to change banking for good, we launched the Impact Initiative (https://www. capitalone.com/about/newsroom/ impact-initiative-announcement/), an investment in communities where we live and work, to help people thrive. This commitment supports growth in underserved communities and advances socioeconomic mobility by closing gaps in equity and opportunity. We partnered IgnITe with DFW*Alliance of Technology

and Women’s upskilling and reskilling program. This program trains women in various cloud technologies in collaboration with various corporate partners.

How does Dallas continue to lead the way in innovation?

Dallas has a unique opportunity to become a leading innovation hub across STEM domains—especially technology. Leveraging the power of private enterprise and university partnerships, Dallas has the ingredients to elevate its technology ecosystem. As this city moves further along the innovation curve, women and underrepresented groups must play an integral role in bringing this reality to life.

How is Capital One broadening diversity in tech?

We invest in important local and national initiatives and partnerships to help underrepresented technologists at all stages of the pipeline. We’ve formed deep partnerships with several external groups, including DFW*Alliance of Technology and Women, the National Society of Black Engineers, Per Scholas and Year Up in the Dallas Ft. Worth metroplex, and Women Who Code, Black Girls Who Code, Anita Borg Institute, IT Senior Management Forum (ITSMF), Hispanic IT Executive Council, and others, supporting their work to increase representation and develop

underrepresented minorities in the industry. Internally, Capital One established a Women in Tech program in 2015, focused on helping elevate and support women technologists through mentoring, speaker training, skill building, and community partnerships. We also launched Blacks in Tech and Hispanics in Tech initiatives as well as an Equality Allies program. In 2017, we launched the Capital One Developer Academy (CODA), a six-month, intensive coding training program. The program focuses on graduates who have analytical skills and a passion for pursuing a technology career but lack a traditional Computer Science or Computer Engineering degree.


Innovation powers our thinking and your career.

Innovation powers our thinking and your

Big ideas. Small ideas. Ideas that change the world. And ideas that make things just that little bit better—for everyone. We like them all at Capital One. We like the people that come up with them, too. That’s why, when you join our tech team and start sharing your eureka moments with us, we’ll make sure you get the flexibility, growth opportunities and support you need to succeed. Innovation every day?


Big ideas. Small ideas. Ideas that change the world. And ideas better—for everyone. We like them all at Capital One. We like That’s why, when you join our tech team and start sharing your you get the flexibility, growth opportunities and support you

That’s Life at Capital

That’s Life at Capital One.

Learn more about careers at Capital One

Scan the code to visit Capitalonecareers.com

Learn more about careers at Capital One

Scan the code to visit Capitalonecareers.com

EOE: race/color/religion/sex/sexual orientation/gender identity/national

EOE: race/color/religion/sex/sexual orientation/gender identity/national origin/disability/veteran



Tell us about The Dallas Foundation. The Dallas Foundation is a public charity dedicated to improving the lives of people in Dallas. We bring together people, ideas, and investments in Greater Dallas so individuals and families can reach their full potential. For nearly a century, the Foundation has helped improve lives and make progress throughout North Texas. Over the course of that history and in partnership with families, fundholders, and businesses who care deeply for Dallas, we’ve granted over $1B to the full spectrum of community-centered causes—from those that align with our donors’ charitable passions to others which our board has prioritized for the benefit of Greater Dallas. Some of these investments can be seen in the skyline of Dallas, others are visible in the upward trajectory of test scores for third graders across Dallas ISD, still others won’t be seen for several years.

How would you define the Foundation’s role in our region’s growth?

Tomorrow’s Dallas requires us to innovate today. The Dallas Foundation takes an active and focused role in driving impact on key community issues, primarily to reduce intergenerational poverty. Specifically, we support programs that benefit children ages birth to 3, advance equity and inclusion, ensure community and economic resilience, and enhance our community’s nonprofit ecosys-

tem, prioritizing partnerships that position Greater Dallas for a brighter tomorrow.

How can individuals, families, or businesses who want to make a positive impact on our region partner with The Dallas Foundation? Deciding when and how to use one’s charitable dollars looks different for everyone. For some, it’s a life-changing event, such as the sale of a business or wanting to honor a loved one. For others, it’s a suggestion from a

financial advisor or estate planning attorney. And for those in positions of leadership, it may be a desire to amplify the effectiveness of a corporation’s community investments.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a decision to give back, The Dallas Foundation can serve as a knowledgeable thought partner and a steward of charitable resources, allowing innovation-focused donors the opportunity to collaborate and move the needle on Dallas’ most pressing issues.


Invest in tomorrow’s Dallas.

Join us in creating a brighter and more equitable future for Greater Dallas.

Since 1929, The Dallas Foundation has connected people to the causes they care about—improving and making progress you can see across North Texas. Through our Community Impact Fund, we support innovative and scalable solutions to our community’s biggest challenges.

But we cannot do this work alone. Generous, forward-thinking individuals like you know that a gift made today can create meaningful change for generations to come. Together, we can be here for good.

Donate to the Community Impact Fund today.



What is innovation to you? Innovation is the driving force behind the evolution of how we live, work, play, and engage in society.

Tell us about your company’s products or services.

As an advisory CPA firm, we’re investing heavily in innovation for our own service delivery model, finding ways to automate certain functions. This allows us to focus more intently on advisory opportunities and to be a value architect for our clients. So, we’re leveraging innovation internally, which allows us to support the innovation ecosystem externally.

How does your company differentiate itself from others in the North Texas region?

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is ripe with the essential combination of talent, capital, large institutional adopters, and a strong economic climate. We consider Baker Tilly as the advisory CPA firm of the future, today. This is borne out by the passion and investment we make in the innovation ecosystem in Dallas and across the state of Texas with organizations like Venture Dallas, the DEC, the UTD Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, among others.

How is technology impacting the needs of your business or those of your clients?

Technology impacts everyone, and the pandemic accelerated that reality. Baker Tilly is in many ways a tech company ourselves because almost everything we do leverages technology, from how we manage data and information internally to how we engage with our clients. We help all our clients embrace the evolu-

tion of technology and innovation and deploy them to create a better outcome.

How will the DFW region compete nationally for top talent over the next three years?

The DFW region is one of the fastest growing and most business-friendly markets in the country. The combination of talent, cost of living, quality of life, and low taxes are catalyzing people

to move here. The biggest challenge to the innovation ecosystem in Dallas is taking advantage of all the great resources in an area that is much less dense than other innovation hubs like Silicon Valley.

What’s next for your organization?

Baker Tilly is going “all-in” to support innovators and startups, and excited about what the future holds for all.


This is not a server.

Cold and lifeless, built solely to store brontobytes of data. This is what gives the visionaries among us the ability to bring brontobytes of data to life. To see what’s coming next, plan for what happens if, and predict what might happen when. This is tomorrow, today. And those who have the foresight to trust their insight, will be the ones who deliver what the world is always waiting for: the next big thing.

Go there. Start here.

advisory | tax | assurance



Launching an AI startup can be a good way to attract money. But a really smart AI idea can land a lot of zeros. That’s what happened recently to Inbenta. The Dallas-based startup helps companies automate customer interactions with its intelligent, conversational AI platform—requiring “virtually zero data training” and achieving a 90% correct answer rate. Earlier this month, Inbenta announced it had closed a $40 million investment led by Tritium Partners to fund future product innovation and expansion into new markets. “Inbenta’s conversational AI is a game changer for any business that has to handle customer inquiries, whether simple questions or more complicated tasks,” said CEO Melissa Solis. “Inbenta’s advantage is driven by its proprietary Natural Language Processing and Neuro-Symbolic AI technology and its versatility, on top of its already global footprint and ability to connect with customers across languages and lexicons.” The company says it’s “perpetually advancing” through billions of customer interactions across 35 languages, aiming to “deliver on features never before imagined.” —D.S.


How Family Offices Are Shaping the Venture Landscape

As more families in North Texas look to diversify their portfolios and invest in promising startups, the new investment opportunities are being given more scrutiny than ever before. For founders, family offices are proving to be attractive partners with their flexibility and longer-term investment horizons. But how are the family offices themselves finding success in the venture landscape?

ltra-wealthy families are taking a more active interest in venture capital, often compelled by the potential for higher returns and the opportunity to invest in innovative and disruptive technologies. It’s a trend being driven by family offices—the financial advisory firms that manage these families’ wealth and assets.

While the trend of family offices investing in venture capital by no means is exclusive to North Texas, Aaron Pierce thinks Dallas in particular is an interesting place to explore it. “We’ve got so many family offices,” the Perot Jain partner and Venture Dallas chair says. “There are so many companies that are looking to grow here, and families are where they turn.”

As more and more family offices seek these opportunities, it’s become increasingly important to understand their strategies for finding success in the venture landscape.

Pierce, who has a background in the family office space, was ideally suited to lead a discussion on the topic at Venture Dallas’ recent annual conference in November. He previously was managing director at JF2 Capital Partners, a family office venture capital firm. Before that, he worked at J.P. Morgan Chase advising large family offices, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives on investment management and portfolio construction.

At Venture Dallas, Pierce talked with Allie Laborde, principal of the Stephens Group; David Luttrell, chief investment officer with LCM Group; and Sam Weatherford, partner with Weatherford Capital, about their perspectives. Here are some key takeaways from their illuminating conversation.

‘You’ve got to know yourself’

Venture capital is taking root in Dallas, according to Sam Weatherford, a partner at Weatherford Capital who has some 20 years of experience in the industry. Weatherford expressed excitement about the potential of the area and its growing venture ecosystem. The investor, who relocated to North Texas, previously

lived and worked for eight years in China, where he was involved in venture capital investments for an American family.

His family-owned private investment firm, Weatherford Capital, was started in 2015 with a focus on investing in companies that the family knew, in industries they understood and could “add value” to, he said.

“We started off early on as private equity,” he said. “Then we went to venture capital. Now we’ve settled on the growth equity space. A lot of times people view what we do as venture.”

In reviewing the last 10 deals the firm has done over the past three years, Weatherford found the average check size was $30 million. He said the firm has found success in niche areas such as government, technology, and insurance technology, due in part to its family background.

Venture capital is an area that more families should be investing in, Weatherford said, the current tenuous economy aside.

“If you’re scared of venture ... you might be more scared now than you ever were when you see this market turnover,” he said. “But as a smart investor, you recognize that now is actually the

best time to be allocating capital to venture. This is going to be the best time in the next 15, maybe 20 years to be deploying capital.”

Weatherford suggests that families should consider investing in venture capital through REITs or with a “fund of funds” approach, rather than trying to run their own venture capital team inhouse. He advises families to consider their own competencies and investment theses when deciding how to invest in VC.

“I think if your family has a very specific core competency, whether it’s real estate or a particular operating business, there’s an opportunity to understand that and figure out where technology is playing a role in that industry, where the trend line is going, and ride that wave,” he said. “Or it could be a past industry that you were involved in, and you really have a strong thesis in regards to where that’s going, and you want to build out a team in-house to go after that thesis because you have a really strong conviction of where the industry is headed … and you like to be in the lead.”

For families without a core competency or a strong investment thesis, Weatherford suggested that a “fund of funds” may

Partner and Venture Dallas Chair Aaron Pierce sat down with three family investors at Venture Dallas’ recent annual conference to find out.

be a good place to start. “Because part of running a team in-house is really hard,” he said. “It’s really hard to recruit and retain a top-brass team that’s going to get incredible deal flow, be able to do the due diligence that you need, to add value when there’s other venture growth equity shops out there looking to recruit them and give them large salaries, participate in a substantial equity upside.

“The family office structure oftentimes doesn’t compete as well as the private markets,” he added. “And so you’ve got to know yourself, kind of understand exactly where you think the world should be, and then figure out where you want your pieces to be on the board.”

A nimble approach

Allie Laborde, principal of the Stephens Group, works for the Stephens family, a well-known name in private business investing and a prominent player in the tech industry for more than 90 years. Based in Little Rock, the Stephens family office has a senior associate in Dallas, Callie Blankenau.

The family has a diverse portfolio that has evolved over time, with a “lot of time” in fintech as well as communications, infrastructure, and technology in general, Laborde said. However, as more infrastructure funds entered the market with “different return thresholds,” the Stephens family shifted its focus toward the software side, she said.

Today, the family invests mainly in growth equity, with a focus on Series B, Series C, and later rounds of funding. “We write checks typically of $10 million to $30 million, but can write up to $150 million,” Laborde said.

One of the key advantages of being a family office is the flexibility of the investment mandate, according to Laborde. “As the market evolves, the Stephens family is able to adapt

Advice for startups

their strategy and invest in what makes sense in the current environment,” she said. “This nimble approach has served them well, and they continue to use it in their investment decisions today.”

Venture and tech make up about 40% of the family’s portfolio, with the remainder consisting of more traditional buyouts and industrials, Laborde said. The family office has close to $2 billion in private equity assets under management, covering a wide range of classes such as venture and growth.

The Stephens family’s approach of partnering with other companies and being flexible in its investment strategy has been a key factor in its success over the years, with a portfolio spanning over 200 companies since the 1930s, Laborde said. While the family has had a number of big cash-flow generators, she added, its success is largely due to its partnerships with other families and businesses.

Examples include its investment in West Rock Coffee, a coffee business, and the Ford family, with whom it’s invested since the 1960s. The latter began


But, he said, “I don’t think we’ve seen the valuations actually reflect what you see in the public markets.”

So, what should entrepreneurs be doing in the current environment—and how can they work better with investors?

Sam Weatherford advises entrepreneurs to focus on quality. That includes doing “everything you can to build a quality team, because the

only thing … where you can always get an opportunity for a greater-than-10-times return is not just technology, it’s the people that you surround yourself with—the people that you invest into, the people that you partner with,” he says. That applies to putting together a deck, too: Think “quality, quality, quality,”

Allie Laborde suggests that entrepreneurs refine their message when approaching investors. “When you’re approaching someone and asking for capital, have a clear, tailored message: ‘I reached out to you because you have

a background in insurtech,’ or whatever it may be, or ‘I saw that the family has invested in this 30 years ago,’” she counsels. “Make it clear it’s not just a blanket email that went out to 50 people.”

David Luttrell advises founders to engage and utilize their investors after acquiring them. “Once you have acquired an investor, too many entrepreneurs or funds then do a poor job of utilizing them. You’ve already captured a customer—you already have your investor.”

But like everything in family offices, there’s not a

one-size-fits-all approach, he says. “It’s probably ‘one-sizefits-one.’ Transparency and the ability to communicate effectively are important. That doesn’t mean showing up with ‘This is a huge problem that we’ve had for the last six months,’ or, ‘Can you fund us in the next 10 days?’”

It’s important to know who your investor is, to involve them in problem-solving, and to make them part of your team, Luttrell says. “There’s an authenticity in the way we evaluate all investments at our family offices: People. Asset. Deal.” —Q.P.

Aaron Pierce Perot Jain Partner and Venture Dallas Chair

These investors at Venture Dallas’ recent annual conference offered their expert opinions on the role of family offices in venture investing.
Sam Weatherford Partner Weatherford Capital MONEY
Good companies are out there raising money, Aaron Pierce said in November, adding that he was seeing more deals than ever.

as a communications infrastructure investment but has evolved “several times over,” she said.

Returns in venture investing tend to be more volatile, which makes a portfolio necessary for managing risk, Laborde said. However, Laborde’s firm, unlike more traditional private equity funds, prefers to do direct investing itself, focusing on slightly later-stage companies.

The firm also allocates a small portion of its fund to co-invest with larger funds that invest in bigger businesses. While the firm has an in-house operations team, she added, it can’t compete with some of the “big powerhouses” due to the difference in team size and velocity.

Getting to a ‘sweet spot’

David Luttrell, a representative of the single-family-office LCM Group, described how his family office might differ from others.

He said his father, the patriarch of the firm, is a calculated risk-taker who launched a hedge fund in the early 1980s, when that was a nascent asset class. “He’s humble in saying, ‘Right time, right place. It was easy to make money for 20 years,’ ” Luttrell said.

The family office was started after his dad reached a point “where venture seemed to fit the bill,” and he wanted to “get out there on the long-term equity risk-taking spectrum,” he added.

Luttrell, who has a background in business and worked on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, took over the family office about five years ago. He said he looks for the potential in investments to “touch human flourishing,” viewing venture investing as a way to contribute to high-impact outcomes while also generating returns for the family. “Venture can sometimes get us in a sweet spot in between where we feel like we can actually contribute to some high-impact outcomes,” he said.

As an economist and speechwriter for former Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher, Luttrell approaches the subject of building an in-house team with a balanced perspective, noting that venture investing is one area where LCM chooses to outsource. The

firm typically insources most of its investment activities, he said, hiring managers who have the expertise and ability to build a portfolio. “And ironically, because of the payload, we don’t invest in funds today,” he added.

However, Luttrell said, the co-investment access that can sometimes come with VC managers “is a great way to learn.”

He also noted the importance of starting simple and learning from experience, saying, “Sometimes, the best plan is having one, so I go with the ‘start simply/ simply start’ method.” His office, which has been around for 34 years, has been involved with startups from pitch and ideation to a publicly traded company, with his father serving on the audit committee—and helping with strategic takebacks. “We call it the wheel of fun,” he said.

Luttrell stressed the importance of identifying the areas where innovation is likely to

The role of families in venture capital

Aaron Pierce sees more and more families are getting involved in venture capital. The Perot Jain partner, who has a unique vantage point on the trend, having worked with a number of families who were “dipping their toe in” venture investment during his time at J.P. Morgan, sees this as a positive development.

“I think there’s so much value that [families] can add because, oftentimes, they had operating businesses where they gain deep expertise in certain industries that allow them to be a value-add investor,” said Pierce.

The percentage of value in the S&P index attributed to tech stocks rose from less than 1% in 1980 to around 32% in November, Sam Weatherford said, adding, “Technology is not going anywhere.”

It’s a shift that’s led many investors—particularly baby boomers managing family capital—to question what’s the appropriate allocation of venture capital within their portfolios.

The younger generation is shaping the future, and there’s a growing sense of optimism in the VC

community, Weatherford said. The convergence of diverse industries within places like Dallas is seen as a potential driver of value creation through the involvement of wealthy families with unique insights and experience in specific industries, he added.

Pierce sees the increasing participation of secondgeneration family members in the tech sector as a positive development. “It’s exciting to see the second generation start to get involved in the tech,” he said. “Maybe it was the father or mother that created wealth.... I think that’s

ocur,and the role of startups in driving that innovation.

“If you want to pick your spots on where innovation is going to occur, I mean, a lot of us probably in the room know the startup founder that made my shirt, the socks I’m wearing, the boots I have on—these are people we appreciate and respect,” he said. “And while we don’t do a lot of consumer-oriented venture investing, it touches our lives in such a tangible way–the products we use, the services our businesses are engaged in. Startup is where the innovation happens.

“That economist training of Joseph Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’—there’s something about the innovative engine of being involved with startups that I think every family office should be evaluating,” he said. “How we play it is something to figure out, but let’s start with a macro view of what we think is happening in the next decade.”

going to rise the tide and will lift all boats.”

Weatherford noted that while many baby boomers aren’t “classic tech guys,” they’re interested in tech and made a lot of money, and they’re the ones managing the capital that they’ve produced.

Allie Laborde added that family offices are often overlooked as potential partners for entrepreneurs but can be valuable assets. They have a flexible mandate and can offer support in terms of structure and timing, something an entrepreneur might need during a rough

patch. She emphasized the importance of truly understanding the family office landscape, as it can be difficult to navigate.

“There’s a lot of family offices out there, and a lot of them kind of fly under the radar, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not,” Laborde said. But “they can be a really interesting partner for an entrepreneur or a company.

“lf something’s going really well, they can stay in longer,” she said. “If something’s not going really well, they can stay in longer.” —Q.P.

“That economist training of Joseph Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’— there’s something about the innovative engine of being involved with startups.”
— David Luttrell, Chief Investment Officer with LCM Group


From seasoned venture capitalists to up-and-coming angels, investors are setting their sights on North Texas. Many now call the region home. Here are six new North Texans who want to use their investment dollars to take big swings and make an impact.

GSV seeks out what Moe calls “the Stars of Tomorrow” and has a portfolio that includes Facebook, Twitter, Lyft, and Spotify. The firm’s focus is on “dynamic growth companies,” Moe says, with a special focus on digital learning companies. The investor, who lived in the Valley for 25 years, moved to Dallas “because it feels like the future—much like Silicon Valley did when we first moved there,” he says, noting the “great culture and ‘can do’ spirit” in the region and the central location as a hub to innovaton and entrepreneurship.

Promise Phelon Founder/Managing Partner Growth Warrior Capital

Phelon describes herself as a serial entrepreneur who has raised more than $100 million. Her company, Growth Warrior Capital, focuses on diverse and female founders at Seed and Series A stages, while building equitable solutions in AI/ML, fintech, and the future of work. The company portfolio includes Forcemetrics, which aims to improve law enforcement and community interactions using data-driven insights. The former Silicon Valley resident recently returned to Dallas, where she double majored in business and religion at SMU.

Power To Pitch

Last year, Weaver successfully sold and exited Locker Lifestyle, which offers wearable workout accessories where you can stash valuables. Because of her success winning 22 of 23 pitch competitions she entered, she started Power To Pitch to help founders build a winning pitch deck and fundraising strategy. Weaver is on a mission to helping pre-seed to seed founders get funded faster through support and resources. Weaver also is a NextGen Advisory Board Member for WBENC to help young women entrepreneurs. She moved to North Texas from the Chicago area.

Pialy Aditya


Strategy Officer


Aditya, an innovation-driven exec with years of early-stage investment experience, is CSO at Republic, an investing platform comprised of global private companies, which are seed and stage agnostic. Its private capital division operates select funds in areas like: deep-tech, fin-tech, climate-tech, and blockchain technologies. Realm Metaverse Real Estate, Aptera Motors, and NeXtGen Biologics are a few examples of investment opportunities with Republic. The platform now invests in alternative asset classes, such as art, wine, and whiskey. Aditya and her husband, artist JM Rizzi, moved to Dallas in 2020.

True Ventures

Bethea started Upsie, an insurtech venture, almost seven years ago to address the problem of predatory warranties. Now he’s an angel investor with True Ventures, which is industry agnostic but focused on seed-stage companies. “We look for founders who want to change the world,” he says. Clarence and his family moved to Dallas in August 2021 from Minnesota because of North Texas’ diversity. True Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based VC for early-stage tech startups, has a portfolio that includes Peloton, Fitbit, and Ring.

Allison Ball


Hanover Technology Investment Management

Ball supports tech entrepreneurs at Hanover, helping them maximize customer impact and achieve ambitious growth goals. The firm, which focuses on security and intelligence, enterprise sales and marketing, mortgage origination, payroll, software development, cybersecurity, energy, and advertising sectors, has a portfolio that includes supply chain platform Kargo and Flatfile, a cloud data services company. Ball, an Austin native who got her start at Goldman Sachs and led multiple teams at Facebook, recently moved to Dallas after living in the San Francisco Bay area. —Sandra Engelland

Michael Moe Founder and CEO GSV Holdings Clarence Bethea Angel Investor and Venture Scout Kat Weaver CEO


At the 2022 Venture Dallas conference in November, more than 300 VCs, angel investors, startups, and business leaders gathered for a showcase of North Texas’ entrepreneurial and venture ecosystem. The annual event was hosted at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the SMU campus, and a private reception at Ross Perot Jr.’s Circle T Ranch in Fort Worth kicked off the event. Here’s a visual look at the highlights.

To stay up to date on Venture Dallas 2023, please visit the website at www.venturedallas.org.



2023 is off to a promising start for business funding in Dallas-Fort Worth, with at least three companies— ShiftKey, Inbenta, and Worlds—snagging significant investments in January. But 2022 was no slouch for moneyraising, either. From Deposits’ $5 million in funding to Recode Therapeutic’s $120 million extension to a Series B, local startups and established businesses alike attracted welcome capital. Check out the following notable deals.


Irving-based ShiftKey— whose proprietary tech connects healthcare professionals with facilities that have immediate shift vacancies—became North Texas’ newest double unicorn in January. ShiftKey , which was founded in 2016 by entrepreneurs Tom Ellis and Matt Creason, closed a $300M funding round sponsored by majority investor Lorient Capital, valuing it in excess of $2B.

In December, proptech startup Stellar announced $20M in Series B growth equity financing in a round led by new investor Weatherford Capital and supported by existing investors Brick & Mortar Ventures, S3 Ventures, Alerion Ventures, and Navigate Ventures.

Founded in 2016 by Dustin Marx, Dallas-based Stellar is a venture-backed, techdriven marketplace that aims to solve maintenance at scale for the single-family rental market.

Last year, Island emerged from stealth, achieved unicorn status, and landed four separate investments despite the tough market, for a total of $285M. In November, the startup extended a Series B round with a $60M investment.

Founded in 2020, Dallasbased Island—recently listed by Crunchbase among a handful of “novel” companies doing something different enough to stand out—aims to reshape the future of work by redefining the role of the browser for the enterprise.

Actuate Therapeutics

The clinical stage biopharmaceutical company focused on fighting cancer raised more than $19.3M in an October financing round. Founded in 2015 in Fort Worth, Actuate is developing a therapy that “has shown tremendous potential in the treatment of many different cancers when used alone or in combination with other types of cancer therapies,” according to the company website.

Recode Therapeutics

Founded in 2012, the Dallas biopharmaceutical startup using a nonviral lipid nanoparticle delivery platform for gene therapies closed a $120M extension to a Series B round raised in 2021 to help bring lead programs to human trials and target new diseases. With the extension, co-led by Bayer AG’s impact investment arm Leaps by Bayer and AyurMaya, Recode raised $200M in its Series B.


In September, Coppellbased Neurolens, which designs prescription lenses that add a contoured prism to bring the eyes into alignment, announced $67M in financing led by MVM Partners, with participation from Falcon Vision/KKR, Marshall Wace, and Bluestem Capital. The company, which was founded in 2012, will use the funds for product innovation and growth initiatives, further accelerating the adoption of Neurolens.

In August, the Dallas-based software solutions company focused on the moving services business announced a $41.5M investment from Austin- and San Francisco-based growth equity firm Mainsail Partners.

Founded in 2018 by Tobe Thompson, SmartMoving’s business management platform helps to automate the entire operations process for moving services, including tools that help provide estimates, send out crews, and provide storage.

Firehawk Aerospace

Firehawk Aerospace, founded in 2020, closed on $18M in Series B funding. Focused on cost-effective rocket engines and a safer 3D-printed solid rocket fuel, Firehawk is relocating from Carrollton to Addison. Participating in the round were Capital Factory, Cathexis Ventures, Draper Associates, Echo Investments, Goff Capital, Hemisphere Ventures, Plains Venture Partners, Raytheon, Star Castle VC, Stellar Asset Management, and Victorum Capital.

Linear Labs

Island SmartMoving Nacuity Pharmaceuticals

Electric motor maker Linear Labs, founded in Fort Worth in 2017, closed on $17M in Series A funding to support manufacturing capabilities, including supply chain infrastructure and logistics, advanced automation, and robotics engineering. It was led by THRC Investments and Folsom Point Equity, with existing investors Lowercarbon Capital, Kindred Ventures, Saltwater Capital, Champion Hill Ventures, OzoneX Ventures, and Capital Factory.

Founded in 2016 by veterans of Alcon Laboratories, Nacuity Pharmaceuticals is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing treatments for retinitis pigmentosa, cataracts, and other ocular diseases caused by oxidative stress. The Fort Worth startup closed a $16.5M Series B round in June led by Foundation Fighting Blindness and its venture arm, RD Fund, which will support clinical trials.




Dallas-based Island emerged from stealth in February 2022 with nearly $100 million in funding for its enterprise browser platform. With a $1.3 billion valuation in March, it became the region’s newest unicorn. Then, in November, the startup launched by Fey and CTO Dan Amiga extended its Series B round with a $60 million investment. Fey aims to redefine the very role of an enterprise browser: By embedding the core needs of an organization in the browser itself, companies can gain control over the “last mile” of user interactions with SaaS tools and internal web apps for a simpler, safer, and more productive experience. —Quincy Preston—QP

Worlds Inbenta

Inbenta closed a $40M investment led by Tritium Partners that will fund future product innovation and expansion into new markets. Inbenta is a conversational AI platform that automates customer interactions with intelligent conversational AI. Inbenta’s solutions are fully configurable, deployable within seconds, interoperable across multiple platforms, and perpetually advancing through billions of customer interactions across 35 languages.

Worlds Enterprises, creators of a 4D infrastructure for building the industrial metaverse, completed a $21.2M Series A1 round led by Moneta Ventures with participation from existing investors Align Capital, Green Park & Golf Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Piva Capital, Perot Jain, and Capital Factory. The Worlds Industrial Metaverse platform brings AI-based automation directly into the groundfloor operations of large industrial companies.

“Being able to further validate our valuation, even with the headwinds facing the broader market, is an honor,” Island co-founder and CEO Mike Fey says.

Krista Software, a provider of the AI-led “intelligent automation” platform Krista, was founded in 2016 and raised $15M in funding led by Grotech Ventures. The funds will help the Dallas-based tech company continue to expand partnerships and strengthen its position for intelligent automation. Other investors participating in the round included Rally Ventures and iGrafx. The funds will help accelerate the company’s growth.

In August, VRGL announced a $15M Series A round. Founded in 2021, the Dallas startup helmed by CEO and Co-Founder Josh Smith provides an automated data and analytics platform to help wealth management firms streamline the client acquisition, proposal management, and retention process. VRGL enables advisers to quickly demonstrate how and why they add value by scoring a client’s portfolio across five pillars: performance, risk, diversification, taxes, and fees.

Krista Software VRGL



1. Plantswitch $3.25 million

The Dallas biodegradable straws and cutlery startup offers products made from a resin of leftover agave fibers in the tequila-making process

2. Sirge $2.5 million

The Fort Worth-based consumer data and ROI tracking platform was founded in 2021.

3. Qualia Oto $1.64 million

The Richardson-based startup, founded in 2017, is developing next-gen cochlear implants

4. Spatial Laser $1.6 million

The McKinney proptech startup uses analytics to find the best places to buy single-family homes

5. Digital Seat Media $1.5 million

This Fort Worth startup was founded in 2018 to give teams, artists, and brands the ability to reach fans on any device through QR codes on seats

Tom Ellis


Even before the pandemic added new burnout concerns, the U.S. healthcare industry was slammed with a staffing shortage. Then, along came ShiftKey to meet the moment with a proprietary tech platform connecting licensed health professionals to healthcare facilities with per-diem shift vacancies. The result: an expedited shift-scheduling process—and a double-unicorn valuation for Irving-based ShiftKey.

Co-founded in 2016 by entrepreneurs Tom Ellis and Matt Creason, ShiftKey in early 2023 announced its closing on a funding round sponsored by majority investor Lorient Capital that valued the company at more than $2 billion. Axios reported exclusively that the new round amounted to $300 million. Lorient’s investment came through a “continuation vehicle” led by the Ares Management

Skyven Technologies

Energy-as-a-service provider Skyven Technologies, founded in 2013, announced an oversubscribed $4M institutional seed funding round led by VoLo Earth Ventures, along with Global Founders Capital and the SWAN Impact Network. Richardson-based Skyven also received California Energy Commission grant awards bringing new capital to $6.5M. The grants back industrial emissions reductions by funding and de-risking capital projects that reduce carbon emissions.

Secondaries funds and Pantheon. Other investors included Clearlake Capital and Health Velocity Capital. Its double-unicorn status was only the latest bit of good news for ShiftKey. In June, Ellis was one of 11 winners of EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Central Plains Award. And in November, ShiftKey was named Dallas’ fastest-growing private company in 2022 by the SMU Cox

Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship.

ShiftKey’s software, used by hundreds of thousands of independent professionals across more than 10,000 healthcare facilities, allows workers to work where— and as much or as little as—they want. That’s bringing more professionals back into the workforce, the company says, helping solve the industry’s labor shortage.

Grata Ruckus Games

Tech-enabled recognition platform Grata raised $6M in seed funding to fuel its next phase of growth in December. The Dallas startup, founded in 2019 by Mark Bunting, lets customers deliver recognition directly to a brand’s frontline employees in real time. Investors include Capital Factory, Hall Group, and Perot Jain. It also named an executive team of startup veterans and industry experts including CEO Patrick Brandt, along with Wesley Bryan, Allison Swope, and John Rabara.

Ruckus Games raised $5.5M in a seed funding round to fuel development of a new cross-platform, co-op title. The funding round was led by Transcend, with participation from Bitkraft Venture s. The Frisco studio was founded in 2021 by developers from Gearbox Software and Riot Games and is led by CEO and game director Paul Sage, formerly creative director on Borderlands 3


Preciate Nada

Preciate, founded in 2017, offers a virtual socializing and recognition platform for businesses and teams. According to Crunchbase, total funding for the Dallas company is $13.9M after announcing in December it raised another $8.4M. Preciate Recognition is an enterprise-class peer-topeer recognition platform available as a web app, as well as an iOS or Android app, and is also integrated with Slack and Microsoft Teams.


Deposits, the Dallas startup led by Joseph Akintolayo which offers plug-andplay banking features for community banks, credit unions, and other financial brands, landed $5M in funding led by ATX Venture Partners. Founded in 2019, Deposits is seeking to level the playing field by making it easier for organizations to offer the common financial services customers are looking for.

Founded in 2018, Nada is unlocking the $26 trillion home equity market for retail investors and homeowners. The platform, helmed by CEO and Co-Founder John Green, enables investors to buy and sell fractions of a city’s real estate market and for homeowners to unlock home equity, without taking on debt, to spend on a debit card. The Dallas fintech’s $8.1M seed round is led by LiveOak Venture Partners.

Music Audience Exchange

Frisco-based Music Audience Exchange, or MAX, raised $4.08M from Interlock Partners to help develop SET.Live, a new platform that lets artists engage with fans at live shows while creating unique sponsorable assets for corporations.

CEO Nathan Hanks, who founded the company in 2014, says the investment will help “automate and digitize artist sponsorships and create a new marketplace for the creator economy.”


Danyel Surrency Jones


Danyel Surrency Jones, along with co-founder Darnell Jones, began their startup journey like many others: working tirelessly to establish their global athletic training and fitness product tech platform, POWERHANDZ. “We were the CEO, COO, customer experience team, fulfillment center, and social team,” she says.

The co-founders shipped the first DibbleSleeve and Anti-Grip Weighted Basketball Gloves out of their garage while juggling newlywed life with a newborn. Now, eight years later, the double minority-owned company has hit a succession of milestones. As CEO, Surrency Jones led a strategic merger with PH Innovation Holdings in 2021, a “multimillion-dollar capital injection” from Vanguard Holdings Group in 2022, and the closing of a private tender offer to purchase outstanding shares from the minority shareholders in PHI.

Late last year, she handed the CEO reins to Darnell Jones to run the company in the interim as it searches for its next CEO. Surrency Jones will remain on the board as chair and president of the firm’s nonprofit entity, Power to Give Foundation. —QP

“I now understand our greatest struggles give birth to our greatest purpose,” Danyel Surrency Jones says.



North Texas saw hundreds of exits in the last year, from IPOs to M&As. Southlake’s HeartSciences and Dallas’ Applied Blockchain both went public, while Dallas-based FB Flurry was bought by Cart.com. But the sweetest deal may have been McKinney-based Nature Nate’s—the nation’s largest honey brand—which sold to honey-packer Sweet Harvest Foods. Here are 10 other notable deals.

Common Desk

Dallas-based coworking and flexible office space startup Common Desk was acquired by WeWork in March 2022 in a $22.9M deal, per Marketscreener. The deal was New York-based WeWork’s first acquisition as a public company—and the first for CEO Sandeep Mathrani, who took over for Adam Neumann. Common Desk, which had 23 locations in 13 cities at the time, now operates under the name “Common Desk, a WeWork Company.” Common Desk was founded by its current CEO, Nick Clark, in 2012.

Boss Fight

Streaming giant Netflix acquired Allen-based Boss Fight Entertainment—its third gaming acquisition—as part of its push into the ad-free gaming space. Boss Fight is the developer of the mobile fantasy role-playing game Dungeon Boss Financial terms of the deal, announced in March 2022, were not disclosed. Boss Fight was founded in 2013 by David Rippy, Scott Winsett, and Bill Jackson after the closure of social game developer Zynga.


PlayersTV—the streaming division of Dallas sportsfocused media and entertainment firm Players Media Group—landed a “seven-figure investment” from ReachTV in early 2022. PlayersTV will get access to over 2,500 airport screens and 1 million hotel rooms via ReachTV. Initial focus is on the U.S. footprint, serving as a “pilot program” for possible global expansion. The size of the stake wasn’t disclosed, but an announcement said the partnership is expected to generate $20M in annual revenue.


In an all-Dallas deal, parking tech provider ParkHub bought payment processing integrator Fuzse in June 2022 for an undisclosed amount. The deal strengthens ParkHub as a “driver of customer insights,” it said. ParkHub was founded in 2010 by CEO George Baker Sr. to manage parking operations and payments. Fuzse was launched in 2016 by Lane Conner, who joined ParkHub as president of payments.

Delivery Solutions

Plano-based Delivery Solutions was acquired by logistics giant UPS for an undisclosed amount. In May 2022, UPS said the deal will speed up deliveries for its customers and that Delivery Solutions would continue to operate independently under its current leadership. The SaaS delivery provider’s tech combined with UPS’ capabilities “will create new solutions to speed up growth for our customers by improving end-to-end online shopping experiences,” the shipping giant said.

Two Texas career-planning platforms backed by PSG— Frisco-based Nepris and Austin-based Virtual Job Shadow—merged to create a new platform in August 2022: Plano-based Pathful. The new company provides college and career readiness resources for educators and their students. No terms of the deal were disclosed. Nepris CEO and Co-Founder Sabari Raja is a board member and CSO of Pathful.


IBM announced the acquisition of Dallas-based Dialexa late last summer. It was IBM’s sixth acquisition in 2022—and the first by IBM Consulting in the digital product engineering services market. Digital Product Engineering is now viewed as a $700B market, said Dialexa CEO Scott Harper, who co-founded the company in 2010 with Mark Haidar. IBM and Dialexa’s shared vision for delivering industrydefining digital products “could be a game changer,” he said.


Frisco-based OpTic Gaming, one of the world’s largest esports and entertainment organizations, said it “fully acquired” Dallas-based streamer tool startup Botisimo in July 2022. Botisimo’s multiplatform chatbot tools reach more than 36 million unique viewers each month for 30,000+ streamers including Snoop Dogg, Monstercat, and Dude Perfect. No terms were disclosed, but the deal marked Botisimo’s exit less than two years after launch.


Dallas-based cybersecurity firm Zimperium got a new owner in May 2022—a private equity firm run by former Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin. The mobile security platform was acquired by Liberty Strategic Capital in a $525M deal. The investment represents a controlling interest in the 250-person company. SoftBank will remain a minority owner after investing $15M in Zimperium in 2017. “It’s clear that mobile is the new front line for cybersecurity,” said Mnuchin.

Signify Health

Beating other big-name contenders in a bidding fight last summer, CVS Health announced plans to acquire Dallas’ Signify Health in September 2022. The national pharmacy chain announced an agreement to buy the tech-enabled home health services company in a deal valued at about $8B. Signify Health, a public company with a large network of clinicians, physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, is a leader in health risk assessments.

Nepris Co-Founder and CEO Sabari Raja PlayersTV Co-Founder Deron Guidrey Common Desk Founder and CEO Nick Clark Dialexa Co-Founder and CEO Scott Harper Delivery Solutions Co-Founder Arshaad Mirza
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