Joe Cecala of Dream Exchange

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Joe Cecala (founder and CEO) of Dream Exchange, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Dream Exchange – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

In 2015, I began to formulate ideas for legislation based upon the U.S. Treasury Department’s task force on IPOs (initial public offerings) to address the decade-long declining IPO marketplace. My research found that a significant reason for the IPO market decline was the development of high-frequency, electronic trading that made small IPOs less profitable for large investment banks and stock exchanges. The solution to this problem was to create legislation to alter the stock exchange market structure and invent a new type of stock exchange. These new exchanges are specifically designed for small-to-mid-sized businesses and are called venture exchanges.

In 2018, I started the Dream Exchange with the goal of becoming the first company to operate a venture exchange. The Dream Exchange research also showed that many underserved entrepreneurial communities do not have access to public capital markets. To help address this lack of representation, in 2019, I expanded the direction of the Dream Exchange to not only create the first venture stock exchange, but also to start a national market system exchange in partnership with a minority-led capital group, making Dream Exchange the first majority black-owned stock exchange in the history of the United States. The Dream Exchange plans to open both stock exchanges during the coming year.

The genesis of the Dream Exchange includes an aggregate of experiences from my career. Those experiences include serving as a U.S. Army Cavalry Officer, a civil rights lawyer, securities lawyer, and CPA. A significant influence on the Dream Exchange comes from the 1990s when I was legal counsel for the team that created Archipelago, the first company to carry electronic securities trading over the internet. Archipelago grew to eventually become the electronic infrastructure of the NYSE and is known today as NYSE Arca, the second-largest stock exchange in the US. Also during my career, I helped conduct over 100 successful capital events, working closely with small entrepreneurial business owners.

Combining these experiences, most recently, I contributed significant authorship to the Main Street Growth Act, the legislation creating venture exchanges, and my research has been submitted to the Congressional Record on the need for venture stock exchanges. The Main Street Growth Act is pending in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, and it has previously garnered unanimous support in Congress multiple times from 2018 to 2021. The Dream Exchange has been created from more than 30 years of continuous efforts to help US capital markets become a fair marketplace where all communities and people come to achieve the goal of making the world a better place by funding the future of great ideas and inventions.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

There have been many hurdles over time. The biggest hurdle has been creating an understanding of something new and in an industry that has been operating for 80 years. We are creating a new law, a new type of security, and a new philosophy for how stock markets should operate. Once stakeholders understand what we are doing, the hurdle disappears. The educational time to increase the understanding of our ideas has been the primary hurdle. All of the ordinary hurdles for a startup company exist, as one might expect, like hiring staff, raising capital, and establishing strategy and alliances. The added time from introducing “the new” in all areas has raised the hurdle for us.

What does the future hold for Dream Exchange?

The future is bright. We have successfully introduced new legislation to the US Congress and received unanimous consent to the idea. As the pioneers in a new industry, the possibilities are endless. We hope to open our doors in the next year and begin to use the years of creation to benefit our world. The future for DreamEx includes becoming a household name for helping small businesses and investors as the “gold standard” of the market.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Clearwater?

Clearwater is an exciting area for us. The talented people and business climate seem to have an energy that will last. Major startups have “made it big” located right in the downtown area and, along with the entire region of Tampa, Clearwater seems to be a long-term location for creating a “hub” where technology and innovation can thrive. Starting up is challenging anywhere but proximity to like-minded companies and people, like we have here in Clearwater, will help the startups prosper locally.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Never quit. People generally can be cautious about starting something new – both entrepreneurs and supporters of startups. Many entrepreneurs become discouraged and give up. My advice is don’t quit. Concentrate on your wins and your successes. Often, a few failures pile up, and the doubt over whether or when you may be a success haunts an entrepreneur’s thoughts. Ignore the doubts. See each pause as part of the journey and enjoy the problems of progress. You are already a success if you enjoy the ride. You define yourself and your success – no one else. Lastly, be kind and compassionate to everyone, even those who belittle and doubt you. The dog-eat-dog mentality in business does not work. What does work is staying true to your own goals, being driven by purpose and intention, and flourishing and prospering – that is the winning attitude!


For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series