“This gift is about supporting the next generation of women entrepreneurs,” said Kendra Scott, philanthropist, designer and professor of practice at University of Texas at Austin College of Fine Arts. Since 2019, when Scott first started an institute for women’s leadership in business at the school, she has enjoyed seeing women expand their horizons. “I’ve loved seeing UT create a space where women are inspired and motivated to be leaders in business and to use their knowledge, skills, and energy to keep changing the world and outdated business stereotypes.”
Kendra Scott started her company in 2002, just three months after her first son was born. With $500 and a love for dynamic design and good quality materials, she grew a start-up jewelry business into a company with over 2,000 employees (96% women) and expanded the product line to include home décor and beauty.
“I received a lot of rejections early on in my career,” said Scott, speaking to Philanthropy Women regarding early lessons in life that have informed her outsized success in business. “I think that can be difficult when you’re just starting, but I would tell myself not to let other people’s perceptions of what you can or can’t do hold you back. There will always be people who will doubt you, use that as fuel to prove them wrong.”
In March of 2022, Scott committed $13.25 million in funding to The University of Texas at Austin. This personal and corporate endowment will ensure that Kendra Scott Women’s Entreprenurial Leadership Institute (KS WELI) lives on “in perpetuity” and will expand entrepreneurship education at the school to help more than 24,000 women pursue their business aspirations in the coming decade.
“Kendra’s investment will transform the lives of thousands of future leaders, and all of society will reap the benefits,” said Jay Hartzell, president of UT Austin. “I am thrilled she is expanding her partnership with UT to attract top talent and leverage the strength of our city and university as an engine for entrepreneurship.”
“I’ve been in boardrooms where no one looks like me,” said Scott. “Getting funding and getting taken seriously were significant roadblocks. Those roadblocks may not go away, but I want to help women get over those hurdles.”
The endowment funds will expand KS WELI and allow more students to do specialization in entrepreneurship. To date, KS WELI has supported more than three dozen women-led startups and impacted the lives of over 2,000 women through programming, signature events, and courses.
Scott is committed to seeing more gender equality strategies happening everywhere in society. “I hope gender equality becomes a more widespread movement across all industries in the next ten years and that people from all walks of life recognize that supporting women, in turn, helps communities and businesses thrive.”
As a female founder, Scott has seen firsthand the challenges women often face in the workplace. “For this reason, I have always been passionate about being a mentor to other entrepreneurs – sharing my time and experience and acting as the same helping hand that I was so grateful for in my early days of business.”
With her continuing role as a Professor at the College of Fine Arts, Scott will create more visibility for women’s growing role in business. With her presence at the school, she will be providing support and guidance to other women trying to follow in her footsteps.
“The gravity of this role is not lost on me,” she said, about her expanding imprint on the educational institution she has endowed. “My mission is to show women that success does not always look the way you expect it to.”
A blog post for Women’s History Month from Scott’s company gives a more nuanced sense of how Scott approaches her role as an educator and business mentor. “I so admire all the women shining a light on the things that hold women back: being told ‘no’ in a male-dominated culture and overcoming the stereotypes of what an entrepreneur should look like,” said Scott. “Sometimes, as women, we just need to believe in ourselves and silence that voice in our head that tells us we can’t.”
Scott also has some thoughts on what philanthropy can do to make the world more open and accessible to women. “Philanthropy and funding for women and girls at all levels—from donors, foundations, corporations, etc.— is drastically disproportionate to that of our male counterparts. That must change; we all have to do more.”