“Be Vulnerable, With Confidence,” Keeton Advises Women Entrepreneurs

Houston—Among the best ways to encourage women entrepreneurs? Plug the confidence gap in young girls.

So said Emily Keeton, a Houston entrepreneur—she co-founded the co-working space Station Houston earlier this year—at a Startup Grind Houston event Wednesday. She pointed to the example of a 12-year-old named Rosemary, who participated in the most recent Lemonade Day held May 1, an event in which kids are taught entrepreneurship by setting up and running their own lemonade stands. Keeton took over in March as national president of the Lemonade Day associatio that promotes entrepreneurship in children.

Rosemary, she said, was unsure of herself and didn’t know whether she was up to the work of manning her kiosk and selling lemonade. Keeton encouraged her to persevere, and she did.

In the end, Keeton said she asked Rosemary what she had learned from the experience. “She didn’t say, ‘I learned to make money,’ ” Keeton said. “She said, ‘I learned how to talk to people.’ ”

Rosemary’s hesitation speaks directly to the confidence gap that tends to develop in girls around the ages of 10 to 12. The lesson, Keeton believes, is not to lose your sense of self but “the idea is be vulnerable, with confidence.”

Keeton was the featured speaker at Startup Grind’s May meeting, which was featuring women entrepreneurs. During the hourlong discussion, Michele Price, a Houston marketing executive who also hosts a radio program geared toward entrepreneurs, asked Keeton about her “inner game” as an entrepreneur and how technology is creating a mobile workplace that is redefining what work means.

For Keeton, the road to entrepreneurship was on the backburner for much of her adult career, in which, after earning her undergraduate degree at Columbia University in New York and an MBA at Harvard, she was an investment banker for 15 years.

But, even in those corporate environments, she said she found mentors, fellow women, who encouraged her to nurture her passions. And Keeton said she found she was able to scratch those entrepreneurial itches, even while wearing her investment banking “uniform,” by working with media and digital media companies.

“Creativity and serendipity was important to me even though most of my career was in the corporate world,” Keeton said. “I found that in media companies … that were run by creative people.”

The desire to do something entrepreneurial took on a new urgency following a cancer diagnosis in 2012. (She’s now healthy.) “Your concept of risk shifts,” she said, while also pointing to a commencement address given by Steve Jobs along similar lines in 2005.

Two years ago, Keeton founded a restaurant app called Flavour, and plotted a return to her hometown of Houston. She sold Flavour to Tasting Table, which renamed the app Dine.

“You need confidence, but you have to be attuned to your surroundings,” she said.


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