Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jessica Shortall talks about Texas Competes and LGBT Issues in Entrepreneurship

Jessica Shortall talks about Texas Competes and LGBT Issues in Entrepreneurship

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in northern New Jersey, in a tiny town called Chester.

What university did you go to?

I did my undergraduate degree in art history at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, and my MBA at Oxford University in the UK, with a focus on social entrepreneurship.

What brought you to North Texas?

Family and opportunity. My husband and I spent six years in Austin. We moved to Dallas in 2014 to bring our family (we have two small children) closer to his family. We also wanted a bigger market for him to grow his architectural practice.

What is your group’s mission?

Texas Competes is the first statewide coalition making the economic case for Texas to become welcoming and inclusive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. We exist to give voice to the competitive interests of businesses and economic development leaders in the areas of talent, entrepreneurship, corporate relocation, and travel and tourism. All of these pillars of economic competitiveness are being influenced by state brands on LGBT issue.

What need does it fulfill?

In 2015 and beyond, we are seeing talented workers, entrepreneurs, corporations, and conventions make decisions – decisions that have real economic impact – based on how states, municipalities, and workplaces treat LGBT people. We’ve seen it play out in Indiana and Arizona and Louisiana, where anti-LGBT legislation resulted in economic fallout to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We hear it from HR leaders – that they feel a competitive disadvantage for the best talent, because Millennials in particular – gay and straight – are making decisions about where to live and work in part based on how LGBT people are treated. We see the data, too. As just one example: Millennials will be 75% of the American workforce by 2030, and 79% of non-LGBT Millennials want employment non-discrimination for LGBT workers. More than 70% of them favor marriage equality. The Detroit Chamber of Commerce found that 40% of Michigan college grads are leaving the state, and 38% of this “brain drain” is going to more LGBT-friendly areas. This group of people is making real economic decisions based on how LGBT people are treated, and that decision-making process matters to business competitiveness.

There is real, data-driven economic interest here, and it has too often gotten lost in the very emotional language more typical to LGBT issues. Businesses have the right and responsibility to protect their own competitive advantage. The Texas Competes pledge, which does not cost anything and does not require businesses to actively lobby, creates a unified business voice on this topic. As of June 2015, more than 320 Texas businesses, including 18 Fortune 500 companies, dozens of start-ups and venture-backed firms, and several chambers of commerce have signed the pledge.

What exactly does it bring to startups?

The Texas Competes pledge provides entrepreneurs with a voice to protect their own competitiveness in the war for talent and resources. When businesses large and small speak up on this issue in terms of economic growth, lawmakers pay attention. We saw more than 20 anti-LGBT bills die in the 2015 Texas legislative session – more than in any session in any state in U.S. history. Most lege-watchers credit the business voices on LGBT issues for this historic shift – examples in the press include and Businesses have the power to shift Texas’ brand on this issue – and that will translate directly into greater competitiveness to lure the very best people to the state.

What type of startup would benefit from your group?

Any startup that wants to be able to recruit the best talent to live and work in the state would benefit from adding its voice to the Texas Competes coalition, via our pledge at It’s free. It takes about a minute. And it is changing the way LGBT issues are viewed in this state, in a massive way.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?

The most challenging aspect of getting going was the “this is Texas” perception. Our core group of entrepreneurs and business executives, who drafted the pledge, were told again and again that “this is Texas” and such an initiative would never get off the ground. What we found, in fact, was a deep and wide desire to speak up on this issue, and many concerns that Texas’ anti-LGBT brand would be a competitive risk going forward. We have seen incredible appetite from among the business community!

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

I have always defined entrepreneurship as punching above one’s weight: figuring out how to leverage limited resources into much bigger aims, appearing bigger than one is (also known as “fake it till you make it”), and laying intelligent groundwork, systems, and operations for the toughest challenge of all: growth beyond one’s wildest expectations.

What local-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

Our Texas Competes mission and pledge have traveled the fastest and widest via nodes and networks. Chambers of Commerce sharing what we do with their membership, incubators and investors sharing with their startups, individual business leaders sharing with their industry or business associations. We would welcome your readers doing the same – sharing with nodes and networks that can exponentially increase the awareness of this opportunity in every corner of the state. You can also find us on social at and @txcompetes on twitter!

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