A look at how Dallas, TX is using ecosystem mapping to level the playing field for its entrepreneurs.
Dallas is one of the largest (and fastest-growing) metro areas in the United States. Its GDP ranks 6th among all major American cities. And compared to cities of similar size, like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the cost of living is roughly 30% more affordable. Combine that with low taxes, business-friendly incentives, and several unique resources to benefit the growth of small businesses, Dallas becomes an attractive home for entrepreneurs.
However, lying within the gaps that bottom line statistics fail to measure, something is glaringly wrong: the inclusiveness of its resources.
While strong overall economic growth is apparent, an in-depth report on Dallas’s small business ecosystem by Next Street found that considerable inequalities still exist among entrepreneurs of color, women, and those from historically low-income areas.
In 2020, The Urban Institute ranked Dallas 272nd out of 274 American cities in economic and racial inclusiveness. Some of the top challenges facing underrepresented groups in Dallas were access to capital, networks, mentors, and knowledge of local resources.
An exclusive report by the WFAA found that 20% of banks in the Dallas area do not extend their services to residents who live south of Interstate 30 without approval from regulators.
Communities south of the highway are primarily Black and Hispanic. The banks’ exclusion of these neighborhoods creates significant barriers for business owners who live in them, as bank lending is still the most common form of financing for small businesses.
Typical alternatives to bank loans include fundraising from friends and families or early-stage capital providers. However, most founders from areas with limited personal wealth do not have connections to either, demonstrating how access to social capital can be just as crucial to success as financial capital. A strong network of peers and mentors helps inexperienced business owners navigate obstacles and achieve growth, a luxury that many do not have.
Without easy access to the resources, entrepreneurs painstakingly search for hours to find what they are looking for. Those who spend more time and effort finding resources are already at a disadvantage to those who have direct access to them, as they have less time to spend operating their business.
Despite the city’s numerous available support organizations for small businesses, challenges were present in the coordination and education of these resources. Nearly 80% of the organizations were located on the northern side of Dallas, creating yet another barrier. If a city’s resources are not easily accessible, they are not fully effective.
Without access to these resources, the chances of survival for new firms suffer.
In Nextstreet’s suggested path forward, mapping Dallas’s ecosystem was the top priority. The City of Dallas, eager to work towards fostering inclusiveness, quickly complied. The city hired EcoMap Technologies to research the region and develop a user-friendly database of resources. As a result of the partnership, Dallas B.U.I.L.D (Broadening Urban Investment to Leverage Dallas) was founded.
The Dallas B.U.I.L.D. ecomap aims to ease entrepreneurs’ access to resources to support their ventures and create a thriving local entrepreneurial ecosystem by consolidating previously fragmented resources and making them easy to find based on individual needs. Many of the resources included apply across industries and sectors — most fall under the categories of Funding, Events, and Spaces. Users can navigate to find ventures focused on founders of color, female founders, and veteran founders to help support underrepresented groups. Finally, a list of over 100 business support organizations can be found on the Dallas B.U.I.L.D. website, helping entrepreneurs find relevant organizations to support their venture.
Generational, societal, and economic issues are complex and multifaceted. Such problems take years of dedicated efforts to resolve. However, results have appeared promising one year since launching the EcoMap powered platform.
Entrepreneurs now have access to over 500 resources, compared to only 80 that were previously identified.
The platform allows users to sort by stage of business and various other needs. Such features have aided entrepreneurs in understanding what stage their business is in and helps them clearly define their needs. Business organizations have used the platform to develop a better understanding of who they serve. Most encouragingly, the city has begun to see resources migrating south of Interstate 30, including banks.
The concise presentation of the data has allowed the city to identify areas in need of improvement. EcoMap’s collection and analysis of the resources found a relatively even distribution of resources among startup stages. However, the majority of the resources first identified were categorized in funding (35%), event (22%), and space (16%). The remaining 27% of resources were divided among four different categories: groups, incubators, mentors, and other.
Since identifying the lack of resources in groups, incubators, and mentors, improvements have been made. Users now have access to 25 networking groups, 17 incubators, and 33 mentorship programs. In all, Dallas B.U.I.L.D has become an invaluable resource for the city and has made its resources more inclusive for thousands of underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Depicted below are examples of data that Dallas may access. Having high-quality and up-to-date data enables the city to more effectively serve its residents and make well-informed decisions.
Inclusiveness in entrepreneurship is a problem not exclusive to Dallas. Many American cities are facing similar challenges, and few are doing enough to rectify it. Chicago, for example, has a large Black population and a surging tech scene. However, the two see very little intersection. In 2018, Black Tech Mecca reportedthat only 2% of tech founders and 9% of tech employees in Chicago were Black. Black technologists in the city have noted how few resources are available for Black entrepreneurs. To address such fragmentation in the Chicago ecosystem, data-driven mapping will be necessary.
To work towards a more inclusive future, cities and organizations must realize that a problem exists. But, merely identifying the issue is not enough. Creating a cohesive digitized platform of the ecosystem is the most actionable step forward. By doing so, Dallas separated itself from many major American cities.
And cities vying to become modern entrepreneurial hubs should take note.