Kendra Scott Unveils the New Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at UT Austin

Kendra Scott unveiling her new Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at UT Austin

The introduction of the new Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at the University of Texas at Austin had all the trappings of Hollywood with bright lights, lively music and dramatic backdrops.

UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves took to the stage at the Bass Concert Hall with orange lights illuminating his way and a backdrop of the UT Tower as he introduced one of UT’s most famous alumni, Kendra Scott. She has built from scratch an Austin-based fashion brand now valued at more than $1 billion.

“Kendra is dynamic, creative, inspirational and entrepreneurial,” Fenves said.

“She started a business right here in Austin from the ground up and built it into a worldwide icon,” Fenves said. “The institute is a reflection of Kendra’s spirit and her story and it will empower women students at UT for years to come.”

UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves

Then Fenves showed a short video of Scott at UT with information about the WEL institute and definitions of what leadership means from many graduates of UT who now work at Kendra Scott’s jewelry business.

Next, amid a lot of fanfare, Scott took the stage and talked briefly about her entrepreneurial journey and how an institute like the one she is spearheading would have helped her. Scott started her business 18 years ago in a spare bedroom of her house with a newborn baby. At that time, she was thinking of so many obstacles she was facing and being told no day in and day out.

“Being told we weren’t good enough or I wasn’t smart enough or I didn’t have enough experience or that you couldn’t be a real fashion brand out of Texas,” Scott said. “Oh boy, were they wrong.”

With over 2,000 employees, Kendra Scott has over 100 standalone stores across the US and is sold in premiere retailers including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and 600 specialty boutiques worldwide and boasts a thriving web business.

“Here we are today, making the impossible, possible,” Scott said.

“I believe that every woman, every person, has the ability to become a leader,” Scott said.

The Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute, known as the WEL Institute, will open to all students in Spring of 2020 and will address the challenges women often face in business. It will create a bridge and allow people to have access to the things they need to be successful, Scott said. It will be based on campus of the College of Fine Arts. Dell Technologies is also a sponsor of the WEL Institute, Scott said.

A packed house of mostly UT students and Austin startup community members attended the event which included appearances from actress Freida Pinto, television personality Rachel Lindsay and country music singer Cam.

The new institute will feature a women’s leadership workshop series with industry leaders, presented by Blackstone LaunchPad at UT Austin and the College of Fine Art’s School of Design and Integrated Technologies.

The WEL will also host a women’s leadership summit featuring a pitch competition as well as entrepreneurs and other speakers.

UT’s McCombs School of Business will offer a Kendra Scott Consumer Products Entrepreneurship Practicum and UT’s College of Natural Sciences will offer an experiential accessories design and merchandising course.

UT’s College of Fine Arts will offer the Kendra Scott Studio Partnership, featuring a three-hour seminar course hosted at the Kendra Scott headquarters and centered around the Kendra Scott Design process.

The WEL Institute will also offer an internship program, leadership training and mentoring, speaker series featuring industry leaders and campus wide venture funding opportunities.

“UT’s Kendra Scott WEL Institute seeks to establish a community of diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment,” according to a news release. “By increasing engagement and support for female entrepreneurs on campus, the WEL Institute aims to boost the number of women-owned and women-led businesses.”

During a panel discussion with Freida Pinto, television personality Rachel Lindsay, Scott talked about how she learned many lessons from her failures as well as her successes. She had a hat business before she launched her jewelry business and she had dreams of expanding nationwide. But the hat business failed, and she had to shut it down.

“But what it did do is instill in me that I wanted to be in fashion,” Scott said. “ And I wanted to do something good.”

That failure led her to found Kendra Scott jewelry.

“If I hadn’t gone through that hard time, that tough time, I could never have built the business that we built today,” she said. “And I think that is such an important lesson for everyone that there will be struggles. There will be things in the road that you think I can’t go through. But that entrepreneurial mindset of perseverance, of picking yourself up and dusting your knees off, of taking a breath and saying ok I’m going to stay focused on what the future may hold. That’s the best lesson I learned.”

Scott faced a lot of obstacles along the way. She said she wasn’t taken seriously when asking for funding or investment capital. The obstacles are not going to go completely away, she said.

“But we want to do something that will allow any of these women to jump over those hurdles,” Scott said.