Must be the money

5 Texas entrepreneurs rank among Forbes' richest self-made women

Kendra Scott is one of the five richest self-made women in the state. Photo by Tyler Schmitt, ARF

It's common knowledge Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and Gulf States Toyota owner Dan Friedkin rank among the wealthiest people in Texas. But did you know that five other entrepreneurs — collectively worth more than $4 billion — stand among the richest self-made women in the country?

Billionaire Thai Lee and millionaires Kendra Scott, Kathleen Hildreth, Whitney Wolfe Herd, and Suzy Batiz appear on Forbes magazine's new list of America's 80 richest self-made women — women who garnered wealth on their own, rather than by inheriting or winning it. And they're in great company, joining the likes of Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Madonna, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé.

Thai Lee, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion, appears at No. 5 on the Forbes list. She is president and CEO of SHI International Corp., a provider of IT products and services whose more than 17,000 customers include AT&T and Boeing. Revenue at the New Jersey-based company hit $10 billion in 2018; more than 4,000 people work at SHI. Austin is home to SHI's corporate call center and is the hub for its sales division catering to small and midsize businesses.

"In early 2015, we mapped a five-year goal to reach $10 billion in revenue by the end of 2019. Through the hard work of our employees, the strength of our partnerships, and our ability to discern and solve our customers' most pressing IT and business challenges, we reached that goal 12 months early," Lee says in a February release.

At No. 40 on the list, with an estimated net worth of $550 million, is Kendra Scott. She is founder and CEO of Kendra Scott Design Inc. Annual sales at the Austin-based jewelry company hover around $360 million.

In 2017, Boston-based private equity firm Berkshire Partners invested in Scott's company at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Scott started the company in 2002 in the spare bedroom of her home. Today, Scott's business operates 100 jewelry stores, runs massive e-commerce and wholesale units, and employs more than 2,000 people. Last year, the company opened its flagship store on South Congress Avenue.

"There were so many ups and downs through this journey. There were many times that I thought I was going to lose my business. I had no investment capital. I was carrying it all on my shoulders — bootstrapping it, literally," Scott told CNN in 2018.

Kathleen Hildreth, co-founder of aviation-maintenance company M1 Support Services, appears on the list at No. 57, with an estimated net worth of $370 million. She is a West Point graduate and Army veteran who served as a helicopter pilot. Before M1 Support, she worked with defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin and DynCorp. Hildreth calls Aubrey, Texas, in the DFW area, home.

"Anything in the government's [aircraft] inventory, we do work on," Hildreth told Forbes. "You name it." Forbes adds, "The U.S Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and NASA are all clients of M1 Support, which relies entirely on the federal government for business. Most of its revenues come from maintaining military aircraft, including fighter jets such as F15s, F16s, and A10 Thunderbolts."

The fourth Texas entrepreneur on the list is Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Austin-based Bumble Trading Inc., developer of the Bumble dating app for women, and the related Bumble BFF friend-finding app and Bumble Bizz networking app. Herd launched Bumble in 2014 after co-founding dating app Tinder. With an estimated net worth of $290 million, Herd claimed the No. 72 spot on the Forbes list. This is her first year to be ranked.

Bumble counts more than 60 million users in 150 countries. The company's estimated annual revenue totals $175 million, according to Forbes. Russian billionaire Andrey Andreev is the majority owner of Bumble.

"I want to take this sucker around the planet," Herd told Marie Claire last year about the future of Bumble. "Then, who knows, maybe we'll work with [Jeff] Bezos and [Elon] Musk and take it beyond."

At No. 77, with an estimated net worth of $270 million, is Dallas' Suzy Batiz, founder of Poo-Pourri, the before-you-go toilet spray available at major retailers. More than 60 million bottles have sold since the company's founding in 2007; Pou-Pourri is now expanding into shoe and pet odors and a cleaning line.

Asked in 2016 what the riskiest thing was she had ever done professionally, Batiz said not selling her company or taking on investors.

"I had no idea if it was going to work out. It's like being on a game show," she told Forbes. "They hand you the big briefcase and you think, 'You can take this thing of money, or you can gamble and try to stay in the game.' Somehow I knew that my baby, the company, was very similar to a child. It just wasn't ready to be released into the world yet without me."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

The Ion has fresh funds to commit to its accelerator programs. Courtesy of Rice University

The Ion — a rising hub for innovation being developed in Midtown by Rice Management Company — has received a $1.5 million grant to go toward supporting its startup accelerator programs.

The grant from the Economic Development Administration is a part of the organization's Build to Scale (B2S) program and will also benefit three accelerators: the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, and DivInc Accelerator.

"Receiving this grant is a big win for our city — furthering the Ion's opportunity to bring together leading minds to solve some of our toughest challenges," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, in a news release from Rice. "We believe that it's a fully collaborative approach that will lead to accelerating energy innovation and sustainable solutions."

All three of these accelerators will be represented in The Ion's Accelerator Hub and will work in collaboration, according to the release, in The Ion, which is expected to open in 2021 with cohorts set to open applications in early 2021.

"We are really excited about working together with DivInc and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship to realize the full potential of the opportunities that these funds will help unleash," says Jan Odegard, interim executive director of the Ion, in the release.

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator has cycled through two rounds of cohorts — first focusing on resilience and mobility in Cohort 1 then air quality, water purification, and other cleantech in Cohort 2.

The 12-week Clean Energy Accelerator was only recently announced by The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at the annual Energy Tech Venture Forum earlier this month. The program is established to support Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's Climate Action Plan.

Meanwhile, DivInc's accelerator comes out of a partnership with the Austin-based nonprofit and The Ion, which was announced in spring of this year. The goal with this program is to increase access to minority entrepreneurs.

"DivInc embodies the mindset that this generation and all the generations of innovators to follow must be inclusive of people of color and women entrepreneurs – who will build successful scalable growth companies to address tomorrow's challenges and opportunities," says Preston James, chief executive officer at DivInc, in the release.

"By removing the barriers that currently exist, we unleash this untapped potential and lift Houston to new economic heights. To do this we must establish strong collaboration with partners like The Ion, Rice University, the EDA and many others."

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