Sydney Phillips: Growing up fast set the pattern for a life of entrepreneurship

Sydney Phillips, founder of Zukkuri/Neetish Basnet

Ready or not, life came fast and it came hard on Sydney Phillips.

At age 14, Phillips lost her father. Alongside grief, the sibling-less child was also left behind with the family business that included two grocery stores.

“It was, basically, this real life-altering event that made me grow up from 14 to 40,” Phillips said.

The teenager learned the ropes of business operation, building contacts and relations and making deals. While, on the side, she even went on to win a beauty pageant – USA National Miss Kansas Teen.

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After high school, Phillips decided to enroll at TCU to pursue an entrepreneurship and innovation degree.

Phillips recently completed her graduation, at the end of which she had founded more business ventures than the number of college football games she attended. She had also written a children’s book about the experience of losing a parent, Still With You.

“It taught me self-management and time management because I had to,” Phillips said. “I mean, whenever you only have two hours to study for an entire test that’s worth 30% of your grade, you’re gonna figure it out.”

A year ago, Phillips found herself living in New York City and working for a multinational investment bank. For most young women, the situation would mean satisfaction and a sense of having made it big.

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But not Phillips. Her life experiences prodded her to chase bigger ambitions.

Every workday, she waited for the clock to strike 5. She said she felt the job was not what she was supposed to be doing. Out and about in the city, she roamed around various collaborative workspaces, integrated herself into the startup community and probed other entrepreneurs she interacted with.

Unintended as it may be, Phillips found a repeated theme across the board: most of those startup founders were straight white men.

“And so in the middle of working in New York City, and being absolutely bored to tears with my life, I was like, ‘I’m going to start an investment company of my own. And I’m going to help the underdogs that don’t get the funding,’ ” Phillips said.

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The result is Daring Greatly, a capital firm that invests in entrepreneurial ventures founded by women, LGBTQ and other minorities.

Some of the business ventures Daring Greatly has invested in include a cloud-connected platform for drones, an at-home urine sample analysis service and a company providing fem-care products in the workplace. And there are others.

Return on those investments were “incredible,” Phillips said. Thus, Daring Greatly’s investments are doubling this year.

“I’ve faced discrimination [as a woman],” Phillips said. “But to be honest, I think that that’s really what made me go, ‘Sit back and watch.’ I think that’s really more of a motivator to me than a roadblock.”

Twenty-one-year-old Phillips has a bubbly personality and can give off expressively animated reactions. She talks softly and listens with a big, bright smile.

There’s also another side to her. Phillips, the tech entrepreneur who is aggressive and assertive.

Running a business definitely has its challenges and one has to develop aggression and hunger to succeed, said Phillips. What ups the ante is the fact that Phillips, who calls herself the “jane of all trades,” currently owns and operates different startups – Daring Greatly being only one of them.

One of Phillips’ main focus right now involves rethinking the age-old processes involved in real estate development, as part of her work in Zukkuri.

Zukkuri is a software as a service company that provides interactive 3D conceptualizing tools for real estate developers and clients. The digital tools enable visualization of actual unbuilt properties and projects before they get built.

The idea is that developers will use the technology to input their architectural plans and turn them into a visual representation for presentation. Phillips envisions the technology will substitute the one-dimensional drawings of architectural design plans.

“It’s to streamline the entire commercial real estate developing process with all these stakeholders that aren’t architects, who have to be able to read the architect plan,” Phillips said. “Well, we just abolish the architectural plan and turned it into something that everybody can see.” 

Working on the backend are Zukurri’s two software engineers, who convert any architectural file, like photographic images and scans, to augmented and virtual reality spaces.

Phillips, herself, is learning Python and other programming languages.

“It has gotten to the point where if you’re not adapting, if you hate change, you’re going to be irrelevant pretty quick,” Phillips said. “It’s changing so fast.”

Zukurri has been generating buzz in the Dallas-Fort Worth real estate markets. Several real estate companies are in talks to incorporate Zukurri’s technology and product offering, Phillips said.

The Fort Worth’s startup community has also seen valuable potential in Zukurri.

In the annual pitch battle competition held during November’s Global Entrepreneurship Week Fort Worth, Zukurri outdid 16 other startup counterparts and was declared the top winner. Event organizer Accelerate DFW Foundation, the nonprofit entrepreneurship advocate and incubator in Dallas-Fort Worth, held this year’s pitch battle virtually due to the pandemic.

More than winning, Phillips said that she enjoyed being around other innovators and entrepreneurs at the event, albeit virtually.

“There’s a lot of companies that are struggling to survive, and there are a lot that are thriving right now,” she said. “So the kind of banding together and putting everybody’s brain together to figure out what we need to do is the best. I love being in the startup community. Fort Worth is an amazing startup community.”

Zukurri plans to launch a beta version first on Jan. 8, 2021.

Information about Phillips’ various entrepreneurial ventures can be found on her website: