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Empowering Women Entrepreneurs: My Journey with the KS WELI FoundHER Program

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs: My Journey with the KS WELI FoundHER Program

I'm Lauren Fleming, founder of Hem Support Wear, and I'm also a University of Texas at Austin alum. Recently, I was introduced to an amazing opportunity at the university. The Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (KS WELI) has a program called the KS WELI FoundHER Program, which spotlights, empowers, and equips courageous, creative founders each semester. 

In November 2023, I received an email saying I was accepted into KS WELI's FoundHER Program Spring 2024 Cohort. I was so excited when I found out that I was accepted and didn't know much about what to expect. I hoped to be able to further my company and meet other entrepreneurs.

Lauren Stands in front of the Kendra Scott WELI building on the University of Texas campus

About the KS WELI FoundHER Program

The KS WELI FoundHER Program offers amazing opportunities over the course of the semester, including but not limited to: 

  • An orientation so you can meet everyone in the cohort and get cool swag 
  • SHEspeaks Events where a panel of amazing founders and leaders share their stories and advice
  • EmpowHER Hours where noteworthy women speak about a topic they are passionate about 
  • FoundHER Panels where current and former FoundHER cohort members share their knowledge and wisdom about their respective areas of expertise 
  • A Slack channel that connects current and former FoundHERs along with other people affiliated with KS WELI
  • Introductions to opportunities like grant competitions and pitch competitions 
  • A core group for founders either in the startup phase or scaling phase that meets every other week during the semester
  • Instagram takeovers 
  • Founder showcase article on the KS WELI website
  • One-on-one mentor program 

Kicking off My Journey

We received a warm welcome from Shana Rehwald, KS WELI’s Program Coordinator, and Kelsey Knigin, FoundHER Program Associate Intern. Shana is also an entrepreneur and founded a company called Me-est-Me. Shana created the Me-est Me Journal, which is the ultimate workbook for reconnecting with your most authentic self. Shana and Kelsey were so helpful throughout the program. Thank you both! 

We kicked off the program in December with an orientation with all the cohort members.  It was a great chance to meet everyone and hear about their businesses. 

Spring 2024 KS WELI Cohort

In January, we all met at the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute on the UT campus. We picked up our welcome gift and got headshots taken.  

Lauren Fleming, founder of Hem Support Wear

Building Connections & Receiving Support

There were more than a few standout moments for me during the program. In January, I had the opportunity to be a panelist on a panel called Resilience in Action: Problem Solving through Adversity and I was a grant winner for the Jessica Vollman Foundation partnership with KS WELI. The Jessica Vollman Foundation is inspired by Jessica Vollman, who passed away in 2020. The foundation was set up by Jessica’s family to honor her legacy. (You can read more about the partnership here and about the Jessica Vollman Foundation here.) It was an honor to be chosen for this grant and I enjoyed getting to connect with Jessica’s family to learn more about the work they were doing and how Hem Support Wear’s mission is aligned. 

Lauren, Hem Support Wear's founder, and copywriter Alexa

In mid-January, KS WELI hosted a Mentor MixHer event where the cohort members got to briefly meet with mentors we thought might be a good fit plus a few additional people we hadn’t chosen. Think speed dating but for mentor matching. Based on that event, the future mentees and mentors submitted who they thought would be the best fit. Then, matches were made and off we went. 

In February, I was a panelist on a panel called Future Focused: Setting Goals You Can Achieve. It was exciting to share the stage with other cohort members, hear their stories and share my perspective on performance measures and goal setting. 

Lauren and fellow women entrepreneurs
Lauren speaks on a KS WELI panel about entrepreneurship

In March, I had the chance to pitch at The LaunchPad at UT Austin MakerLaunch Pitch Competition and I was the winner! This provided non-dilutive funding for the business which is critical at this stage. It was a wild experience because I showed up thinking I was going to be in a conference room or something similar pitching to judges and a small crowd. It was not that at all. Because the event was taking place during SXSW they instilled that vibe and we pitched outside on a stage at a venue in West Campus. It was a vibe. I always love pitch competitions and getting to hear what all the entrepreneurs are working on. 

Lauren holds her winning check from The LaunchPad at UT Austin Pitch Competition


Gaining New Perspectives & Guidance

I met with my mentor over the course of the semester. I had an amazing mentor who has experience in operations for a skincare company. She also has experience working for apparel and home goods/furnishings companies and has a home staging and organizing business that she is growing on her own. 

We had the opportunity to meet at least monthly. I would come prepared with a list of topics to run through and she would provide feedback and guidance. Being an entrepreneur can be challenging because oftentimes you are making all the decisions. Having mentors through a program like this is invaluable because it helps provide perspectives that you may not have and can guide you on a better path than if you were doing it by yourself. 

One challenge I faced during the program was meeting new people. I am not usually the one to initiate being a go-getter at networking type events. I can turn it on and am good at it when I do, but it is also easy for me to just be a wallflower. During the whole program, my husband was really encouraging for me to take the time to go to the events and put myself out there and talk to people. I am glad that I had that support because I made great connections that I may not have otherwise.

 

The FoundHER program helped reignite the spark to connect with others. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and having kids, it has been easy to focus on my daily grind and not take the time to make new connections. This program gave me the opportunity to make meaningful connections and continue to do that in the future. One thing I love about the KS WELI Program is that you get to stay connected to previous cohorts, your cohort, and future cohorts so you continue to be a part of a thriving entrepreneurial community.

 

A Heartfelt Thanks

If you are considering the KS WELI FoundHER program, I highly encourage you to apply (or nominate someone!). I am so thankful for the resources Kendra Scott has provided to the UT community and the support she provides for women entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is a grueling journey and it is through the support of others that we stand a fighting chance of making it. Thank you, Kendra Scott, and the incredible team at the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute. I sincerely appreciate the opportunities this program provided me. 

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