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2024 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award recipients: Stella Robertson, Nicole Really, Tracy Irby, Tara Franklin, Tamara Payne, Jenica Oliver, Kirsten Green, Brieanna Lightfoot Smith and (not pictured - Tiffany Jones Louis: TJL Collection)

The DEC Network - a non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses through education, mentorship, and resource access - hosted its 9th annual State of Entrepreneurship presented by Bank of America on Thursday, March 7, at Vouv in Addison.

The State of Entrepreneurship, which kicks off a series of events leading up to Dallas Startup Week sponsored by Capital One in August, has become a tradition for celebrating the people, places and passions that keep the North Texas startup ecosystem thriving.

"The DEC Network was honored to convene the local entrepreneurial community to recognize the best of the best within our ecosystem," said Bill Chinn, CEO, The DEC Network. "All nominees were community-nominated and community-voted, with record-breaking numbers this year."

With votes from more than 4000 community members, the 2024 award recipients are: 

  • Corporate Supporter of the Year, celebrates an organization actively supporting entrepreneurship across DFW through mentoring, funding and resources: Texas Woman's University Center for Women Entrepreneurs
  • Institutional Investor of the Year, which recognizes an investment firm accelerating startups through capital and guidance: The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth
  • Angel Investor of the Year, which honors an angel investor providing critical early capital and connections: Stella Robertson: Cowtown Angels
  • High-Growth Entrepreneur of the Year, honors an established innovator demonstrating impressive expansion for 7+ years: Jenica Oliver: Blueprint Marketing Group & DFW CPG
  • Rising Entrepreneur of the Year, distinguishes an exceptional founder running a startup for less than 7 years: Brieanna Lightfoot Smith: Brands by Brie
  • Student Entrepreneur of the Year, highlights an undergraduate or graduate student running a promising venture: Kirstin Green: Kirstin’s Care, LLC
  • Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, recognizes a woman business leader advancing innovation while empowering others: Tara Franklin: Precious Kargo Academy
  • BIPOC Entrepreneur of the Year 2024, which celebrates a standout Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color founder making strides in the community: Tiffany Jones Lewis: TJL Collection 
  • Startup Evangelist of the Year 2024, which honors an influential champion devoted to community-building among entrepreneurs, mentors and investors: Tamara Payne: Ensemble Coworking & Sparkyard

“We know innovation and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand, and what better place to celebrate accomplishments in both areas than The DEC Network State of Entrepreneurship event. North Texas would not be the economic powerhouse and global business destination that it is without our diverse entrepreneur community,” said Jennifer Chandler, president, Bank of America. “At Bank of America, supporting entrepreneurship and small business is central to the work we do in communities across the country. It is incredible to witness the State of Entrepreneurship grow year after year, and we are energized and inspired to stand beside The DEC Network in support of this event once again. Congratulations to the creative minds who took home and award and to all innovators for fearlessly contributing to our vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Dallas Startup Week sponsored by Capital One is the premiere event for DFW small business owners and entrepreneurs. The five-day celebration, August 11 - 15, 2024, builds momentum and opportunity around entrepreneurship and innovation. DSW began in 2015 with the goal of orchestrating an entire week of entrepreneurial activities that equip, encourage and educate current and aspiring entrepreneurs to start, build and grow their business. Dallas Startup Week was also created to help increase the awareness and impact of the entrepreneurial community across North Texas.

About The DEC Network:

The DEC Network is a non-profit organization that supports entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses through education, mentorship, and resource access. With a mission to foster innovation and economic growth, The DEC Network empowers individuals to turn their ideas into reality and build thriving businesses that positively impact their communities.

For more information, visit



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