Dallas Entrepreneur Center helps turn Big D’s big ideas into big business

DALLAS -- We've all seen a product or a business and thought, "I wish I came up with that!"  Well, if you do have a great idea but you don't know what to do about it, there's an organization based in Dallas that wants to provide you with education, mentorship, and connections to investors--for free!

Welcome to the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.  Self-proclaimed "serial entrepreneur" Trey Bowles started the operation five years ago to give back to the Dallas community and help people get their business ideas off the ground.

"When you're around other people who are going through the same thing or have gone through the same things, it's extremely empowering to know that you're really no different than anyone else," says Bowles.  "Mark Cuban, who's seen great success, at some point didn't know what he was doing, but he's learned and he's grown."

The Dallas Entrepreneur Center is based in downtown Dallas' Historic West End and offers a free communal workspace and rentable office space for those looking for a more in-depth experience (it has also spread to multiple other locations in and around the city as demand for its services has increased).  Most of the DEC's weekly and monthly programs are free, including a weekly event called "One Million Cups" at which people can pitch their ideas to a crowd and get positive feedback, like a no-pressure version of the television show "Shark Tank."

"The best way to get involved is just to come in and throw yourself into it," recommends Bowles.

Gouzia Sivarajah recently took that advice.

When she was 12 years old she saw a blind person hit his head on a tree branch, causing her to wonder why, in this age of technological advancement, blind people still had to use canes to get around.  That led her to develop a system of wearable sensors she calls "Movement Aid for the Visually Impaired," or MAVI, for a science fair.  Now at the ripe old age of 15, she has created a company to sell the product (with a portion of each sale going to charity) and is looking for funding to add features like facial recognition and mass-produce it.  She attended a One Million Cups event to get feedback and start making connections, and she's happy she did.

"It's very helpful," says the Frisco Heritage student.  "You can bounce ideas off of each other, and it's very welcoming."

When Bowles boasts about bringing in big guns to help people, he's not exaggerating.  The DEC recently hosted Steve Case, who co-founded America Online and currently runs Revolution, a company that invests in startups to try to build the next big thing.  Case says it's great when cities can reel in big existing companies, like DFW is trying to do with Amazon's proposed second headquarters, but developing home-grown ideas is just as important if not more so.

"We need to back these entrepreneurs with venture capital and help them establish partners to take that idea and really help scale it into a significant business that creates a lot of jobs," advises Case.

Hopefully the MAVI can be one of the next big things that makes Big D proud!