Liz Keehner uses entrepreneurial mindset in technology sector
Liz Keehner (Finance ’13) has always been interested in starting things — she calls it the entrepreneurial mindset. And that attitude blended in nicely with her eventual career — working in venture capital firms primarily focused on funding startup technology companies.
“I always had that mentality of working for yourself as an ideal career path,” Keehner said. “What I didn’t know was I would be working in the technology sector. But getting involved with the [John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center] at UNI and being immersed in startup culture in my career made me really excited about technology, startups and companies trying to innovate and disrupt markets.”
Keehner first attended UNIBusiness with a double major in accounting and finance but eventually focused solely on finance. She was interested in investing and entrepreneurship, earning her certificate in entrepreneurship before graduating in 2013.
Keehner moved to Austin, Texas, in 2014 to work for MicroVentures, a start-up technology venture company with just about five employees at the time. It grew to about 20 employees by the time she left three years later. She then joined 1839, a more traditional venture capital organization that funded early startups in central Texas.
At 1839, Keehner had the chance to travel to Lahore, Pakistan, in late 2017 to help the cities of Austin and Lahore foster a relationship. She also looked to fund Pakistani startup companies planning to do business in the United States sometime in the future.
The trip changed her mindset on international startup culture.
“Getting that opportunity is once in a lifetime,” Keehner said. “I would’ve never imagined that opportunity or even wanting to travel to Pakistan because of how the country is viewed here. But actually getting over there and seeing it is another reality.”
Keehner traveled to Pakistan with a 10-member delegation, creating relationships and learning about the entrepreneurial community in Lahore. She was surprised to find that more than half of the founders in the incubator she worked with were women.
“People’s eyes get big when I say that,” Keehner said. “It’s true. Pakistani culture is a lot more progressive than people believe it to be. It just opened my eyes to see there is much more opportunity over there and so much intelligence we could be using.”
It was much more impactful for Keehner because of her passion for helping women and minorities start their own companies. Before moving to Des Moines this summer to be closer to family, Keehner was a part of DivINC, an Austin-based accelerator helping women and people of color begin and grow companies.
“It’s always something I’ve been passionate about,” Keehner said. “I think women especially get overlooked when it comes to investment and leading a company. Over 70 percent of consumers are women. Women are making the buying decisions, yet investors aren’t listening to women who are creating technologies or products that women will be buying.
“I’m just passionate for opening doors for people who wouldn’t have had those opportunities.”
After moving back to Iowa, Keehner joined VentureNet Iowa in October as a program manager. She serves as the first contact point for startup companies seeking funding from the Iowa Economic Developmental Authority.