When folks talk about tech accelerators and entrepreneurship, the images that usually spring to mind are of sparkling Silicon Valley campuses or hip downtown live/work lofts.
Michelle Williams is dedicated to bringing that spirit to southern Dallas. She's leading a branch of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center opening soon as part of the re-imagined Red Bird Mall.
Interview Highlights: Michelle Williams...
...On what an entrepreneur center does:
Our mission is to help entrepreneurs start, build and grow their businesses. We have businesses from all industries, and I think that that’s a common misconception that entrepreneur centers are accelerators specifically focused on tech because that’s what's sexy, but we have all type of entrepreneurs.
...On bolstering south Dallas through initiatives like this:
Entrepreneurship does not look any different in southern Dallas than in any other part of Dallas. Most studies show that urban communities, specifically low- and moderate-income communities, are more entrepreneurial — because they have to be. They have to find ways to supplement their income. They have to find ways to ends meet. So you see what we like to call "side hustles." You have your nine-to-five [job] and then afterwards, maybe you fix cars on the side or fix iPhone screens or bake cakes ... a number of different things.
I don’t necessarily see the entrepreneur center as going in and being the savior: "Oh, let's create something that doesn't exist there." It’s more: "Let’s legitimize what we already see happening in the community" and provide ways and outlets for people to grow, expand, get the knowledge that they need, get the resources that they need, maybe think about their businesses in a different way, maybe look at their skill sets, and see how that’s transferable into other ways of bringing income into their families and into their homes.
...On how the center fulfills a need in southern Dallas:
The Entrepreneur Center at Red Bird came because the community asked for it. It wasn’t just a wild idea that somebody had. When you build something that is a direct response of the community, you then fulfill what the vision of Grow South is. The vision of Grow South is to essentially stop ignoring the southern sector.
In order to stop ignoring the southern sector, it does not come from us bringing our good ideas and plopping them into the southern sector. It comes from actually exalting and listening to and empowering the people that know what they need in their communities, and responding to that. So I see this as a project that is doing just that.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.