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How Plug and Play in Frisco and McKinney Is Connecting DFW to a Global Innovation Circuit

The global innovation platform headquartered in Silicon Valley has launched accelerator programs in North Texas focused on sports tech, fintech and AI.
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An aerial view of McKinney

North Texas’ innovation ecosystem is getting a jolt of energy thanks to a series of startup business accelerator programs. In late March, global innovation platform Plug and Play launched a sports tech accelerator in Sports City USA and an enterprise and AI vertical in McKinney. The two cities are also collaborating on a North Texas fintech accelerator program. 

The move connects both cities—and DFW—into a larger circuit of global connections fostered by Plug and Play. The company, headquartered in Silicon Valley, has programs around the world including in Abu Dhabi, Madrid, Hamburg, Paris, Kyoto, and Shanghai. The platform boasts 66 offices worldwide working in about 25 verticals with over 500 corporate partners. 

The platform’s new presence in North Texas comes as a partnership with the cities’ economic development corporations. Plug and Play’s programs feature cohorts of at least 10 companies and last about three months. The first round of cohorts for the three programs began in the spring, and the second cohort process is slated to start in September. The McKinney and Frisco offices have planned expos for late May that will highlight startups in the programs. 

The accelerator programs will serve as a breeding ground for potential unicorns in two cities that have been luring innovative companies to plant headquarters in the region. Since 2021, 50 percent of jobs created in Frisco were innovation related, according to numbers provided by Frisco’s EDC. Frisco is also home to nearly 400 startups, and that number has been growing by about 100 per year. About 150 of those startups are in sports tech. 

Frisco has a lengthy resume of sports organizations that have planted flags in the city. “And I think a lot of what we’ve seen in the past is that the innovation these guys are looking to organically create are things that could be dual use technologies for any one of these companies or sports teams,” says Jeremiah Anderson, innovation director for the Frisco EDC. Plug and Play will provide the foundation for more collaboration and contribution rather than siloed innovation processes, he says.  

The move also feeds into Frisco’s goal of becoming a global city, says Gloria Salinas, Frisco EDC vice president. “To have a global brand like Plug and Play really wraps the entire economy that we’re looking to create within a global city,” Salinas says. “A diverse portfolio of firms internationally, domestically, as well as a diverse portfolio of founders and innovators within the city are going to create jobs that really solve solutions for the business of sports, corporate innovation, financial companies.”  

It’s a theme that Plug and Play Frisco Director David Steele emphasizes too, noting that the platform will bring a global reach and impact to the city. “As the World Cup comes here in the next two years, the eyes of the international market are going to be on Frisco, Dallas, and Arlington,” Steele says. “And so how do we leverage that not just from a sports tech standpoint, but from an innovation and access to the entire ecosystem of North Texas standpoint?” 

Michael Kowski, president and CEO of the McKinney EDC, says the goal is to have a partnership and shared energy with Frisco. “We think it’s very important that nobody looking into North Texas should see Allen, Frisco, and McKinney as competition,” Kowksi says. “We’re all just carrying the banner of North Texas and what we can do to make it all better.”  

Plug and Play McKinney Director Rick Thompson says the platform will foster collaboration and innovation within McKinney, Collin County and DFW—that means providing mentorship and networking opportunities, as well as access to capital. “Plug and Play’s extensive network of corporate partners will provide startups in McKinney and Collin County with access to capital maybe that might not have been there before, or they didn’t know about before,” Thompson says. 

Thompson lists out multiple reasons for the platform’s interest in McKinney, including its proximity to innovation hubs in DFW, its supportive business environment, the city’s growth as a technology hub and the quality of life. In turn, Plug and Play is slated to drive economic growth by attracting startups, investors and talent to the region. “I think we’ll see an influx of entrepreneurial activity with job creations in the area that will stimulate some business growth and contribute to the overall economic prosperity of McKinney and Collin County, and all of North Texas,” Thompson says. 

McKinney’s EDC historically has had an innovation fund that focused on supporting smaller startups. Now, Kowski said, it’s about building up the other side of the equation by linking corporations in. “We will view success for McKinney based upon how many larger corporations, mid-tier companies and whatnot, will want to move to McKinney because they know that we have a startup system here that can help support their business from the outside,” Kowski says. 

Looking Ahead 

While preliminary cohorts launched last month for the three accelerator programs, Plug and Play is still planting its North Texas roots. Plug and Play McKinney is using coworking space at the home of the McKinney EDC, and plans are to set up residence in McKinney’s District 121 development. “We are open to securing a location elsewhere, but it will be in McKinney,” Thompson says.  

Steele said Plug and Play Frisco is in the process of finalizing and building out its innovation hub, with hopes to be in the facility by the end of the year. The team is currently officing out of Formation at The Star. 

The first Plug and Play program in the state launched in February with a manufacturing-focused center in Cedar Park. The Frisco and McKinney programs mark Plug and Play’s first foray into North Texas. Steele foresees even more growth for the Plug and Play system both in DFW and in the state. 

Salinas said there is a gap in Texas when it comes to funding. “You hear a lot that founders and tech companies who are getting started in Texas have to fly out to coastal cities to find venture capitalists or funding. Educational programming for startups really lags in the state, in addition to the region,” she says. 

The incorporation of Plug and Play will bring educational programming to the local economy, to DFW and to the state, Salinas says. It’ll also bring access to a network and funding. “So being able to find a VC, a global venture firm in your backyard that can also connect you to other VCs who might be interested in investing in your technology or in your company is a critical gap that’s been missing from Frisco’s economy, the DFW economy, as well as the state economy,” she says. “Texas has just lagged in the innovation space and in the venture space for some time. So we’re excited to showcase a new way of doing things and hopefully have private equity, family offices, and venture within Dallas take a look at this model—and be able to provide resources as well.” 

In some ways, Kowski says, the North Texas startup ecosystem is about to galvanize. “For the first time in recent memory, it’s all coming together,” he says. “We’re all pointing at that same focal point. And I think that’s resonating across the country.”

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Audrey Henvey

Audrey Henvey

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