Kendra Scott was told you had to be on the coast to succeed in the fashion industry. It might have looked that way, while she tried to sell her jewelry as a single mom and did her first shows 18 years ago, but they were wrong.
"I feel so fortunate that I started my business in Austin, Texas," Scott said. "I started going door to door with my jewelry in a tea box and I said if I had done that in San Francisco or New York, I would have probably been kicked out, they may have called security or the police on me."
Fellow Sharks and entrepreneurs Kendra Scott and Mark Cuban spoke from their respective Texas homes; Scott in Austin and Cuban in Dallas, and gushed over the state's friendly residents, bustling industry and hard workers.
Now running one of the most successful brands in the world and being named as one of the richest self-made women in the world, Scott said she thinks one of the reasons Austin has seen such massive growth over the past few years is due to the warmth Austinites give off.
"In Texas, people are warm, they're loving, they like to support local business and I think that was what you know really shines through," Scott said. "You look at Austin now and you see what's happening with this huge emergence, coming from both coasts, coming into Texas, because it is a friendly state to do business in."
Cuban got his start after moving to Dallas in 1982, right out of college. Though he's worth more than $4 billion now, Cuban spent many nights crashing on friends' couches while he was working on his first company, MicroSolutions.
Now that he's made it, Cuban is working on spreading the love through companies that solve problems and by writing a check when it's needed. When the winter storm hit, Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks, of which Cuban is a majority owner, donated $1.25 million to the Dallas Emergency Fund.
"I try to look at writing to check is to deal with an emergency, what's there right now that needs to be solved, where people are challenged," Cuban said. "I'll donate to a variety of organizations that I think can have long term solutions and then there's a time when you use commerce when you think that you can come up with a better solution."
Scott said she feels like business and philanthropy should go hand-in-hand but that it is a mistake to think writing a check will solve the world's problems—you have to also donate your time.
Between donating to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation through her Kendra Cares program, Scott said she's seen first hand that true philanthropy means putting down roots in the community.
"A lot of times the very beginning I was told that you couldn't give as much that I was giving away, whether that was product or doing this 20% give back or more, and that was simply just wrong because the connection that we made within our community," Scott said. "The relationship with our customers is so much deeper, so much more real because we were going through things with them."
As they closed out, Scott and Cuban agreed that what makes Austin special is knowing it is competing against the rest of the world.
"You put that sweat equity into your business then that's when the real equity can come," Scott said. "I had to be very gritty and get in there, just make it work with tape and glue and whatever I had around me and a very limited resources, but if you build it, they will come and you have to be able to do something where you're filling a void."
Their advice? High tail it to Texas and get your idea on the ground, even if it means starting small.
"I would say if you can get to Dallas, you can get to Austin, you can get somewhere in Texas or if you're already here, just go for it," Cuban said. "Build it just one step at a time and then you'll see you have so many resources available to you that you can grow it from there."
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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