Boulder Startup Founder Seeks to Build Stronger Ecosystem in Dallas

9/26/13Follow @angelashah

Michael Sitarzewski wants to bring a little bit of Denver to Dallas.

After seven years in the Mile High City, the founder and CEO of Epic Playground recently returned to Dallas, where he has become the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

“In Denver, a lot of my time outside of my company was spent building the community,” he says. “That’s what they have at heart here at the DEC, the mission of this place.”

One of the biggest lessons Sitarzewski says he learned from his time in Denver was how important an entrepreneurial ecosystem is for startups to succeed.

“In looking at Dallas ecosystem, you see where some of the holes are. It’s also opportunity,” he says.

While Dallas is known for many startups that went on to become giant corporations—Southwest Airlines, Mary Kay Cosmetics—those businesses aren’t directly involved in building up today’s entrepreneurs, something Sitarzewski wants to change.

In 2009, he founded what would become Epic Playground. Its product, MediaGauge, builds audience engagement and analysis tools for online media. Epic Playground still spent time in Texas, though, at TechStars Cloud in San Antonio last year.

Sitarzewski started the Denver Open Coffee Club, an informal gathering of entrepreneurs that meets every other Tuesday, after he noticed that many in the Denver community would travel to Boulder for the coffee club held there.

Sitarzewski has started a similar event in Dallas, and hopes to work with others in North Texas who want to boost the profile of local startups. A recent tech cocktail event drew 300 people with only a month’s notice.

“We’re trying everything to see what sticks,” he says. “The people are there. They want to support us.”

Sitarzewski and I spoke recently about entrepreneurship in North Texas, its opportunities and challenges, and his hopes to start a Dallas Startup Week. An edited version of our conversation follows:

Xconomy: What do you consider the biggest challenge in creating a robust startup ecosystem in North Texas?

Michael Sitarzewski: We have a lot of great people doing things that they believe are helping the community. The problem is that they are not necessarily working together.

Size plays a big role. Among the challenges is that you have rush hour, which is hectic and crazy. And the events are all at rush hour. In Boulder and Denver, we have rush hour, but compared to North Texas, it’s pretty minimal. Boulder is a town of 90,000 people; Denver has 2.1 million. It’s a drastic jump from the entire state of Colorado, which has 5.1 million people, to [the Dallas-Fort Worth region], which has 6.8 million by itself.

Dallas is a huge, huge city. Getting people from down here in Uptown Dallas to acknowledge and interact with the audience up north is the biggest challenge. So, we’ve recognized that there are different pieces of the community.

X: What can Dallas learn from Denver?

MS: Look at the success of Boulder Startup Week … Next Page »

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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