Is Dallas Becoming a Mobility Hub?

I don’t believe that a city must build a reputation around innovating in a certain sector to create a critical mass of talent and ideas. It’s hard to hold that position when you think great companies can be built anywhere.

However, some cities are naturally more inclined to innovate in certain sectors which can obviously make things easier for entrepreneurs. Atlanta (Fintech), Boulder (energy), Boston (healthcare), and New York (consumer) all come to mind.

I think Dallas could eventually be one of those cities, but the industry I would pick will surprise a lot of people who might not be paying attention: mobility.

That’s right, it seems that our atrocious public transportation options combined with long average commute times and nationally recognized (not in a good way) traffic conditions are finally paying dividends.

Uber Takes Flight

By now, everyone is aware of Uber’s push into Dallas. A new major office in downtown will be home to 3,000 employees with most focused on Uber’s future initiatives.

One such example is Uber Elevate, the helicopter service that opened its first test site in Frisco (a Dallas suburb) in mid-September and promises to get users to downtown Dallas in under 10 minutes.

The service that should come in handy for those who can afford it and want to avoid Dallas’ 25+ minute average commute times.

Toyota…Connected

Much has been made about Toyota relocating its North American headquarters to Plano, but what went under the radar was Toyota’s rapid expansion of the Toyota Connected division in 2017.

Founded in 2016, Toyota Connected was only planned to be a 100 person division of the Japanese auto manufacturer. However, less than a year after starting the division, Toyota literally doubled-down on the division, adding 100 more employees and adding almost 15,000 sq. ft to its lease.

According to Toyota, these positions are almost exclusively data scientists, engineers, and software developers. To me, that sounds like the type of people that eventually join startups or become founders.

OEM’s Join the Ride

With all of these moves made by companies in the public spotlight, the biggest sign yet is one that went under-reported, DENSO a Fortune 500 company with $43.1B in revenue announced a large R&D facility in Plano, a Dallas suburb.

Denso’s biggest customer? Toyota.

This is the biggest positive sign for Dallas’ potential future as a mobility hub. The gravity of a major customer (Toyota) has pulled an OEM to join them in DFW indicating that there is enough revenue incentive to re-locate here.

Mobility and Energy

One last note, Dallas also has a well-known mobility startup: Vinili. Earlier this year, Vinli announced a $13.5M Series B led by European energy utility E.ON.

This might seem like a strange pairing at the outset, but as vehicles become more connected, and electrified at rapidly increasing rates, energy utilities have a heightened interest in the space.

EV’s might strain the grid due to demand at off-peak times, but they are also storage and databases on wheels which can be used in a variety interesting ways.

Could Dallas be finding its innovation niche? Only time will tell, but becoming the hub of a $620B market might be the biggest opportunity Dallas has had since the telecom boom of the 80s and 90s.

Kevin Stevens

Partner @ Intelis Capital investing in the digitization of traditional industries. Previously product lead at KPCB-backed Choose Energy.
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