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SMU to Launch Incubator for DFW Startups

The new program is designed to aid the development of entrepreneurs and is expected to be up and running this summer.

Southern Methodist University soon will have its own incubator for tech-based startups as it aims to boost the local economy.

The incubator, which SMU announced Wednesday morning, is expected to occupy  5,000 square feet on the first floor of The Foundry Club, a 25,000-square-foot entrepreneurial club, at Mockingbird Station this summer. SMU, which is investing $150,000 to $200,000 a year in the incubator, will consider applicants who are students, faculty, and staff to participate in the program.

The incubator will be part of SMU’s Engaged Learning curriculum, which falls under the leadership of executive director Susan Kress and James Quick, associate vice president for research and dean of graduate studies. The directors of entrepreneurship across the different schools at SMU will also serve roles at the incubator. Startups that win SMU’s annual Big iDeas Business Plan Competition or MBA Business Plan Competition will gain automatic membership and will be funded by the winnings from their respective competitions. SMU expects between five and nine new teams from these competitions will enter the incubator annually.

Matthew Myers, dean of SMU’s Cox School of Business, said that the incubator will help build the pipeline of entrepreneurial talent, create collaboration between entrepreneurs within the school and the community, and help commercialize research.

“This is something that is long overdue for us,” he said. “It’s something that can really bring private money inside Dallas-Fort Worth and the research of SMU together in a way that’s going to be beneficial for the economy at large.”

The university also aims to leverage the incubator to attract more venture capital to the region. And that could mean linking its companies with local investors or those outside of Texas, Myers said. Details regarding how the community would work with venture capitalists are still being worked out, he added.

With the launch of its incubator, SMU joins schools like Rice University; New York University; University of California, Berkeley; Northwestern University; Cornell University; and Stanford University, all of which have their own incubators or accelerators.

“This is something that is almost de rigueur for campuses that are making a greater impact on their economies,” Myers said. “One of the things that always haunts me is that there are so many wonderful ideas and great research opportunities from the standpoint of commercialization that go unrecognized because of a lack of opportunity for those ideas … to become recognized by the public.”

Myers said that one of the challenges for the region is that the startup community is fragmented. Duane Dankesreiter, Dallas Regional Chamber senior vice president of business innovation and research, added that it would likely continue to be fragmented due to the region’s geography. But Myers believes the new incubator could aid in the solution. He said SMU will likely use the incubator to start the conversation with other local universities on how they can work together.

“We have a lot of opportunities to complement each other’s talents,” he said.

The incubator is just the latest step for the university, which has a long history of supporting entrepreneurship. SMU was arguably one of the first universities to have its own entrepreneurship center in its Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship, which launched in 1970. The university also meets once a year with entrepreneurship centers and educators from universities across the state for a consortium called the Texas University Network for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The consortium explores how to enhance entrepreneurship within the state.

“We’re the only state that does that,” said Simon Mak, SMU Cox associate director at the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship. SMU also annually hosts the Dallas 100, an awards program honoring the top 100 fastest-growing privately held companies in North Texas.

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