Innovation Awards

Meet the Finalists: Leaders From Dallas Regional Chamber, McKinney Economic Development Corp., and Health Wildcatters

Winners of The Innovation Awards, presented by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, will be revealed at an exclusive virtual event on Jan. 21.

Leading up to our second annual Innovation Awards event on Jan. 21, we’re sharing excerpts from interview Q&As with the 51 finalists, one category at a time. Today, we feature the four Innovation Advocate of the Year honorees.

For information on the virtual awards event, presented in partnership by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, click here. Tickets are just $20.


Danny Chavez

Danny Chavez

Senior vice president, McKinney Economic Development Corp. 

ON INNOVATION:Innovation is being able to take something outdated or complex and make it easier to use or simpler to understand.” 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS:Our greatest achievement this year is the scalability of our Innovation Fund’s platform and streamlining outdated processes in our industry. Over ten months, we have seen the capability reach an international audience, close deals in targeted industries, and cultivate growth with a high conversion rate of success during a global pandemic. The results this year have been incredible and have showcased our fund’s potential moving forward into less unpredictable years to come, which is complementary and exciting for innovation already occurring in North Texas. 

LESSON LEARNED: “The best lessons I’ve learned in my career are that effective, hard work rarely goes unnoticed, a good reputation is more valuable than money, and those who seldom make mistakes seldom stumble upon innovation. If you work hard for the right things, are reliable, and can learn from failure, you can pretty much accomplish anything you set out to achieve. 

RATING DFW: “[DFW is] one of the most exciting markets to watch in the world. I think we are at the center of the universe for possibility here in North Texas. The environment for spurring innovation, local assets, and scaling growth within the innovation economyfew better places come to mind that can compete. 

LOOKING HEAD:I am excited to see what the future of the DFW startup ecosystem is. I think we’ll continue to see innovative ways through which our region and individual communities look to attract companies who will create the next generation of jobs. Our region’s ability to create that type of startup environment is exciting and I think the future is nothing but bright.


Duane Dankesreiter

Duane Dankereiter

Senior VP of research and innovation, Dallas Regional Chamber 

ON INNOVATION:Innovation is disrupting the status quo. It’s not always about tech either. It’s the people who think and see things differently and who push the boundaries of what’s possible.” 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “The Dallas Regional Chamber is an advocate and connector for innovators in the Dallas region. Our achievements are the successes of those companies and people who are creating the next great thing or big idea. I am proud of our collaborations to better the region. Working with our many partners at Dallas Innovates, Venture Dallas, Dallas Thrives, and the Texas Research Alliance, we are having real impact. I am also proud of the DRC’s newest research and publication that we released this yearthe DFW Higher Education Reviewin which we planted the flag that DFW is the Intellectual Capital of Texas. 

LESSON LEARNED:Be present and listen, then act. 

RATING DFW: “We have so many people and organizations that care about growing innovation and entrepreneurship in Dallas-Fort Worth. And, while we are a big region with many epicenters of innovation, we are well connected and are always ready jump in and ask, ‘How can I help?’” 

LOOKING AHEAD:I am excited about the buzz and momentum we have right now as a region. We are seeing a convergence of emerging technologies that aligns well with industry diversity. That puts us in the position to be one of the most innovative places in the country.


Hubert Zajicek

Hubert Zajicek

Co-founder and CEO, Health Wildcatters 

ON INNOVATION: “Innovation is when I see something and say to myself, ‘Wow, I wish I were smart enough to have come up with that! It is the engine that keeps our nation at the forefront, because I believe the US is unique in its ability to enable innovators to execute on these innovative ideas.”

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: In this cohort alone, we have nine incredibly smart new innovations that are going to have a huge impact on our healthcare landscape. On the Health Wildcatters side, it is more modest: We had our first fully virtual MedVentures Investment Conference, and I founded the Health Hacking Crisis Network, which was born out of a need for a rapid reaction force that could help our region possibly MacGyver its way out of a tough spot should COVID have overwhelmed us. 

LESSON LEARNED: “[I have learned] to relax and let things go wrong,’ because as it turns out, they weren’t wrong, just different from what I expected.  I could never have dreamed of the path I now have behind me. On the other hand, I am now applying that knowledge and don’t expect that everything needs to turn out a certain way for me to be happy.” 

RATING DFW: North Texas has a very welcoming atmosphere for startup entrepreneurs and many self-made entrepreneurs who now engage in investing in startups or supporting them through mentorship. It is very rewarding to watch. And no, we aren’t even remotely finished growing that support system! 

LOOKING AHEAD: In healthcare, there is no goal too bold to be excited about. The innovation I see in digital health, even applied to pharma or medical devices, simply is stunning. To see suffering reduced is one of the most rewarding payoffs anyone could ask for. I hope we will get to play a bigger role in sharing our abundance of innovation with developing nations in years to come.


Click here for more information on The Innovation Awards.

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