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What Makes Texas Bigger... and Better, for Startups

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Last Friday, as a couple hundred people descended upon the world-famous Cowboys Stadium (referred to by many as Jerry World, after famed owner and innovator Jerry Jones), the anticipation was palpable. They were about to witness a pitch contest featuring Texas-based startups, but no one had ever held a "pitch contest" in such a large and extraordinary space. Normally the home to 108,000 football fans on Sundays, on Friday the Stadium was to be a hub for innovation, ideas, and dreams. All played out on a 600 ton JumboTron hanging 90 feet above the field.

Attendees weren't quite sure what to expect, only that like all good things in Texas, it would be BIG. Hosted by Startup Texas, a region of the Startup America Partnership, this pitch contest, affectionately titled the "Startup Texas: 2 Minute Drill" was created to feature some of the brightest startups from across the state. With eight young companies from Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, the event was an opportunity to showcase the amazing innovation taking place all over our huge state.

But this was no ordinary pitch day. The audience was filled with what we call "super entrepreneurs" like Steve Case (co-founder of AOL and Chairman of Startup America), Scott Case (founding CTO of Priceline.com and CEO of Startup America), Jean Case (CEO of the Case Foundation), Nina Vaca (founder and CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources), Lynn Jurich (founder of SunRun), Pam Contag (CEO of Cygnet Biofuels), Carl Sparks (CEO of Travelocity) and many more. In addition to these great visionaries we had leaders from major corporations including Dell, Microsoft, American Airlines, Intuit, NYSE Euronext, Jones Lang LaSalle, and others, who were all wondering whether or not the startups in Texas live up to the "bigger and better" moniker that Texans so often claim on the national stage.

After opening words from Steve Case and myself, the pitch contest was off to the races. Each company had two minutes to pitch and convince the panel of judges why they should be named the best Startup in Texas. Leading off was Josh Huck, CEO of Austin's Heyride, whose airbnb-like carpooling service boasted over 1300 customers in Austin already and determined to change the way we use our cars. Next was David Johnston, CEO of Engine, which was committed to find a way to remove clutter from the email box and ensure that the most important messages were seen and responded to first.

Next up was Houston's representation through Recycle Match, whose CEO Brooke Farrell explained that her organization was not interested in every day recyclables, but rather helping companies find a way to safely and responsibly address the massive issue of waste and recycling in their own companies. Hurl then demoed a revolutionary product that allows users to stream a video on your smart phone and literally "hurl" that video onto any screen, anywhere, at anytime, regardless of size or location. Which proved true when CEO Lawrence Johnson finished his passionate presentation by "hurling" the internet sensation Gangnam Style onto the massive JumboTron behind him -- a first for Cowboys Stadium we believe.

We then had a brilliant story of teamwork and focus through Magaly Chocano whose company Sweb Development is quickly becoming a major force across Texas and the rest of the country in how to think about and execute web development projects. Finally, we had three pitches from Dallas including Pay Tap, Ilumi Solutions and Socialyzer. Pay Tap is working to change the way we as consumers can handle shared payments. Ilumi has developed an app-based technology along with a new light product that allows you to control the color, wattage, and amount of light that can be seen through their bulbs, all with a touch of a finger. Socialyzer, headed by Bradley Joyce (recent graduate of Dallas based accelerator Tech Wildcatters), demonstrated how his technology would allow brands to amplify their message and engage a social audience more effectively.

All of these startups, focused on totally different industries and verticals, had great pitches, making the final decision for the judges very difficult. After much deliberation, the votes were tallied and the winner was announced: Heyride took it home. In keeping with Startup America's belief that connectivity and a solid support network are the most important things for startups to succeed, the prize was a very unique one. CEO Huck was asked to select any three living people in the country that they would want to meet with in order to get advice on their business. He chose a very varied yet impressive list of names: Vice President Joe Biden, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and Dallas' own billionaire entrepreneur, Dallas Mavericks owner, and Shark Tank judge Mark Cuban. Startup America has already reached out to make at least one of those introductions a reality for HeyRide.

The event was a great success from all perspectives: Startup Texas successfully illustrated that our state is a startup powerhouse to be reckoned with, the startups made invaluable connections, and our super entrepreneurs and corporate execs got to get out of their daily grind for a bit of inspiration. We also received some great media buzz from outlets such as CNBC's Power Lunch, the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Business Journal, Silicon Hills News and others.

The whole day was a fun exercise in healthy competition and a great chance to showcase the talent and entrepreneurial mindset of Texas startup companies. But more importantly, it was a real world demonstration on the importance of collaboration by startup communities. In this case, Startup Texas is working to build a collaborative ecosystem from startups across the entire state of Texas. If you have ever looked at Texas on a map, you can imagine how daunting of a task that may be. But at the very heart of Texas entrepreneurs is this desire for and commitment to making all startups across Texas... better. You see, here in Texas, we believe that a rising tide will raise all ships. That an ecosystem is not made up of one accelerator, or one incubator or even one city. But that by working together and combining efforts across the state, we can be sure that when the next Texan has a great idea for a startup, they only need to look to their backyard for the support they'll need to succeed.

Harry S. Truman once said, "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." In Texas, we believe this and are working towards building an ecosystem full of startups that help one another, that spur each other onto greater innovation, and that will continue to make Texas not only bigger... but also better place for startups to launch, grow and succeed.