How one tech founder is finding her way in Dallas, of all places

What makes an ideal female tech entrepreneur? A willingness to defy conventional wisdom is almost a requirement; you can’t be easily discouraged by naysayers. Choosing to base a startup accelerator in Dallas, Texas, for example, is a sure sign you’re not concerned with the ‘right’ way to do things.

Gabriella Draney is the founder and CEO of Tech Wildcatters, a startup accelerator that has graduated five classes of startups, seen four exits, and is the only business-focused accelerator in the Forbes Top Ten. So why the hell is it in Dallas?

A year out of business school, Draney decided to hedge her bets. She knew she wanted to work in startups, but wavered between launching companies or funding them. So she tried both. While working as an associate at a venture firm, she also started building a gaming company. As she circulated the Dallas funding scene pitching her startup, she kept hearing the same thing: you have to go to Silicon Valley, the ecosystem just doesn’t exist here. Gabriella, though, was a single mom who didn’t want to move her son away from family. If the ecosystem didn’t exist, she’d create it herself.

gabriella

“I thought, if I can build something in Dallas and be happy here, I can build something anywhere. I basically built a community that I fit into. I wouldn’t have learned as much about myself if I’d done it in the Valley,” she told me in a recent interview.

Four years later, Draney has now added Health Wildcatters to the mix, which just wrapped its second class, and launched the GlobeStart program in partnership with American Airlines, to help companies looking to expand outside their home countries.

How did she do it? A combination of education (an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneurship from SMU), the right experience (a VC background), and a keen eye for spotting trends and seeing where the industry is headed. Tech Wildcatters was a lone ranger on the scene when it started; Dallas now hosts 19 accelerators, four of which started in just the last two years.

Tech Wildcatters has a singular focus on startups generating revenue from business-oriented products and services. In order to be considered for a class, the majority of your revenue should be projected to come from businesses, not consumers.

Its most successful exit has been Key Ring, a shopping app that now has over 10 million users. After completing the Wildcatters class, the company secured Series A funding from Austin Ventures and was acquired by Gannett & Co. in 2012. Other standouts from the first class include:

  • Koupon Media – mobile coupon campaign management that counts Victoria’s Secret and 7-Eleven among its customers and in July, redeemed its 250 millionth digital offer
  • ImageVision – powers image screening for LiveFyre and was a Startup America Quick Pitch winner at SX 2013
  • Nimbix – a leader in cloud-based supercomputing for the oil and gas industries
  • Device Magic – mobile data collection with Lego, Unicef, and Google among its customers

The tech bets Draney and her board are making aren’t necessarily risky ones. They’re backing companies that want to disrupt deeply entrenched industries, mobile forms, shopping apps, supercomputing. Rather than trying to make the world a better place, Dallas startups just want to solve some basic business problems.

“When you’re in a corporation, there’s basically one person that controls your destiny,” said Draney. “A startup is less of a risk than being at somebody else’s whim most of the time. Startups teach you more about yourself. They test you.”

It’s not a new idea that startups test their founders. But Gabriella and the companies she’s helped build focus on revenue and financial success—you know, those pesky basic business traits that seemed to disappear from pitch decks in the late 1990s.

It’s likely a result of the home base she’s chosen. You’d be hard-pressed to find a community that coddles its founders quite as much as Silicon Valley does. Dallas, the land of oil and private equity and utmost consumerism, may just be the perfect place to start a company.