A BRAVE NEW WORLD: Alyce Alston’s Big Plans For The DEC
Nearly two months in and the DEC’s CEO Alyce Alston sounds like a woman who has found purchase in the shifting sands underneath her feet.
Getting the Lay of the Land
Her office at Capital Factory + The DEC is likely far more humble than what she had when she spent more than 20 years in media in New York – a minimalistic space she shares with a diverse roster of DEC employees. More often than not, you’ll find Alston in the well-lit and spacious second floor common area where she takes meetings, answers emails and watches members interact.
“Literally, two weeks ago, it felt chaotic,” Alston said. “I couldn’t see the light. And I can’t believe it only takes two weeks later and I’m feeling like I can see the plan.”
Alston’s tenure began during a time of change for the five-year-old organization: founding CEO Bowles announced his departure just as the DEC merged with Capital Factory and moved headquarters to the Centrum Building in Uptown. The changes left some entrepreneurs wondering about the direction and purpose of The DEC.
“I didn’t get it at first, because you have so many stakeholders. Our mission and our vision is to help entrepreneurs start, build, and grow their business. That could mean a lot of different ways to spend your time and energy, strategies, initiatives and plans.”
In defining the “method to her madness,” Alston explains that she never purposefully went in to spur innovation. Instead, she thought about how to do things differently: hire the very best talent and look at various industries for how to approach business. For example, when launching O Magazine, instead of selling individual ad pages, Alston approached selling ads like television “upfronts.” She ended up selling out ad space for a year.
“I wasn’t afraid to set the tone of an idea and go ‘We’ll figure out how to make it happen,’” she stated. “And we did…and it worked.”
The Way Forward
Alston credits “the most collaborative entrepreneurial community” who shared their insights and perspectives to helping her gain insight on what the DEC’s next steps look like.
Deliver on Commitments
She cites some gaps within the organization that need to be filled, which she calls manageable, and pivots to delivering on current commitments: southern Dallas, creating a “rockstar partnership” with Capital Factory, and re-energizing the Addison Treehouse.
Design a Strategic Plan
Not only does Alston plan on creating a strategic plan for the remainder of the year, but she wants to ensure it can be understood, prioritized, and implemented in a way to impact entrepreneurs.
“I want to look at our DNA and really prioritize what we should be doing,” she added.
Under the 2018-2019 plans Alston outlines six initiatives: community (signature events like 1 Million Cups and Startup Week and the Ambassador program); diversity and inclusion (relaunching WEDallas at all locations, programming); women entrepreneurs (creating a program gathering 100 businesswomen from Dallas-Fort Worth); students (including an ongoing partnership with UNT Dallas and Paul Quinn College); technology (focused on programming in partnership with Capital Factory); and advocacy (elevating stories of North Texas entrepreneurs).
In her description of the initiatives, Alston makes statements and revelations that clarify her leadership perspective. She points out that the Red Bird Entrepreneur Center is not “pigeonholed” to fulfill the D&I initiative; diversity must be ”innate in everything we do.” As part of the work in advocacy, she is looking at research on the economic impact of entrepreneurs from sources across the U.S. The status quo will not suffice at the DEC, she seems to be saying, and the culture must shift.
Of her plans, the largest to undertake will be Soar, the program featuring one hundred female business leaders.
“One of the things I feel…about why Dallas is such a great place for entrepreneurs is that Dallas has the corporations, unlike Austin, unlike Silicon Valley,” Alston said. “One of my pillars is to leverage corporations integration with entrepreneurs.”
Soar will feed into this pillar, she continues. The program, set to launch in spring 2019, will match 50 leading female organizational executives with 50 female business owners for mentorships and programming. The relationships will allow business owners to spur innovation for corporations, and corporate executives will impart their knowledge on entrepreneurs.
With so much planned, you begin to wonder what else can Alston and her lean team tackle. She has an answer for that.
“I can’t help [it] because I spend a lot of time and energy on it, but untapped and underserved markets…,” Alston said. “To me, by supporting entrepreneurs and helping them be successful…I am floored at the impact that can change that family, that changes that community, that changes our city.”
She went on to add that she wants to help implement change, but that it has to be sustainable. As we discussed the recent sneak peek at the Red Bird Entrepreneur Center, she applauded the community work partnered with corporate support.
“I think this is one of the ways we can make a sustainable difference,” Alston said. “That took a lot of different players to make that happen. The sponsors who came to the table for us…Capital One, JP Morgan, Frost Bank…Varidesk…that made me feel like when people come together, they can do great things.”