Stoke is a co-working and entrepreneurial center in Denton, TX that plays host to a hotbed of some of Denton's most creative folks working in the tech scene. In this new series, we will talk with some of they key people that put in work at Stoke. For the first in our collaboration with Stoke, we spoke with Kyle Taylor. Taylor is Senior Drupal Developer at LevelTen and President of TechMill, a non-profit organization led by a group of entrepreneurs, techies and software developers in Denton with a mission to develop and promote the city as a startup hub in North Texas. We wanted to pick his brain to learn a bit more about TechMill, the startup scene in Denton, and - of course - his favorite lunch spot. Read on for more!
WDDI: Can you tell us a bit about TechMill?
Taylor: TechMill is a non-profit focused on supporting the local tech and startup community through educational workshops, regular meetups, and annual mixers. Our goal is to build the density of the community through collaboration and camaraderie, instilling a "Give First" mentality to encourage contribution and participation in all of our events.
How did it start?
A few of the first co-founders knew each other through various circles. Clarissa [Redwine] and I were at UNT and were writing the Startup Digest for Dallas, Marshall [Culpepper] and Dave [Sims] were working remotely out of coffee shops and running Denton Jelly (like ad-hoc co-working). At a community mixer Kevin Roden put on when I pitched the concept of Open Denton, I met Daniel [Abasolo] who offered help figuring out legality of releasing data. We all ended up meeting at Startup Weekend Denton that I hosted in January 2014 and talked about what we were working on. Everyone was doing something different, so we thought - why not do it all together as a group?
Does TechMill have any big goals or dreams on the horizon?
There are a few things we've always had on our minds, like BootConf, which was our idea for a one-day conference to preach about lean startups and how to bootstrap your company using the resources available to you. In addition to that, eventually we'd like to start having more conversations about starting an accelerator program in Denton. That has it's own challenges in itself, but now that we have a place like Stoke, it makes more sense and is a lot more feasible than before.
You have a full time job as a developer for an agency in Dallas, so why do you choose to work at Stoke?
There's a short and long answer here. In short, I-35. I don't think I need to go into much detail there. The longer answer is, honestly I just like being around people who either A) I can help mentor in the community, and B) learn from myself.
When working remotely it's easy to stay at home for days at a time, potentially not bathe, and have conversations with your cats. But it's great to be "part" of a community, make new friends (especially those in the same industry as you, and even not!), and feel like it's your place to be.
Has the startup community in Denton changed since the inception of TechMill?
Definitely. We made a lot of progress the first year we started. It was new, fresh, and garnered a lot of new attention around this "startup" thing. After starting the coworking space, we started becoming the group that new entrepreneurs came to with questions. I'll be honest, we didn't always know how to answer them - but we were always able to point them in the right direction. Becoming partners in other initiatives around the region, even economic development and city council put money towards this community with the $220k grant for Stoke. With that, Denton's startup community was recognized at the State of Entrepreneurship event in Dallas as a hot theme for 2014.
How does being in Denton inspire you?
With all of the work we put into running events, making connections, and volunteering what seems an endless amount of hours to our mission, it truly and genuinely warms my heart when I see other companies and organizations who are inspired by our work and actively start contributing back to the community. Like the people at GSATi, Pan Ector, Square205, Ready Rosie, and so many other tech companies who also want to see this community thrive. It really is a high tide raises all ships scenario here in Denton, and it makes me tear up thinking how all it took was a scrappy group of people to inspire others, which then makes me want to work even harder to continue making this the best damn community in North Texas.
Wired recently called coding "the next big blue collar job." Is this prediction correct in your estimation?
This sector is so interesting because it's so incredibly diverse, that the answer depends on the environment. If you work in a corporate environment, then yea, it's the next blue collar job. 9-5, time in time out, 5 days a week, etc. You also have developers working at startups, maybe in the office 3-5 days a week, but could also be working 60+ at the same time. Then you have freelancers who create their own schedule, working remotely, taking advantage of modern communication technology and participating in the rise of the sharing economy.
At the end of the day, we're all just putting letters into a box - it just depends on how you want to do it. Do you want to be the next blue collar job, or do you want to be collar-less?
What advice would you give to a Dentonite looking to get involved with the local tech scene or Stoke?
I used to get asked the question all the time, "How do I get involved?" It usually entailed, signing up for this newsletter, going to these events, talking to these people - but that took a lot of time to explain. When you look at the bigger picture, it's actually a very simple answer.
"Just show up."
Half the battle is just being there, waiting for that serendipitous moment when you might meet your next co-founder, client, or new best friend. The outcomes people in our community have had just by showing up and meeting someone new would surprise you.
What do you want to see more of in the Denton tech scene?
Honestly, I would love to see our community be as thriving and active as Dallas, Chicago, Tampa, etc. We don't want people to be afraid or nervous to participate - we want them to be excited to meet other people who are also trying to start a business, learning a new programming language, or building a portfolio. We've worked really hard to make this community open and inclusive with no barrier to entry, so definitely attend our Meetup group, or jump in our Slack group and join the conversation!
What's your favorite lunch to grab when you're telecommuting from Denton?
I'll never turn down tacos from Boca 31, but if I'm a huge fan of vermicelli bowls from Viet Bites or The Pickled Carrot at Austin St Truck Stop.
What project are you currently "stoked" about?
TechMill is helping the Denton Chamber of Commerce set up some panels for a startup / tech track during their Thrive Denton summit this summer, so we're pretty stoked with that. And as a veteran Startup Weekend organizer, I'm also pretty excited to bring back Startup Weekend Denton for 2017!