Laura Keller was on top of the world. She was living in Los Angeles and about to start a new job at a prestigious advertising agency. She’d been in the industry since after college and worked her way up to senior-level leadership in New York and L.A. She loved everything about it. It allowed her to combine her creative side with her instinct for business and driving results. She was ready to hit the ground running. And then, before she’d even set foot in the agency’s door, she got a call from her would-be boss. He informed her the L.A. office was closing. “The good news is you’ll receive one year’s salary,” he announced. “The bad news is you no longer have a job.”
The news caught Laura completely off guard. But she didn’t wallow in the job loss. Her mind quickly shifted to the possibilities. She often thought about starting a business. She’d also been planning her wedding and discovered that wedding retailers weren’t offering the quality of items she wanted for her celebration. There was a hole in the market for modern yet classic, tasteful and unique wedding décor and accessories.
She found a solution: Laura began sourcing beautiful items from designers and vendors that were not specific to the wedding industry. She developed wedding category exclusivity agreements with those designers and launched Divine Weddings in 1998. She started attending industry events and participated in wedding shows at posh venues like the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was the start of the dot-com boom and Laura launched a first-of-its-kind website offering unique and hard-to-find accessories for the discerning bride. She received an endorsement from wedding and style guru Colin Cowie. Her company was featured in InStyle Magazine and on the Lifetime Network.
Laura’s vision for a successful business quickly came to fruition, and the competition was taking notice. In fact, one of the biggest players in the wedding industry began copying her product designs. She met with them in L.A. and proposed they buy Divine Weddings. But they weren’t interested—they had already copied her business model. Squashed by a much larger competitor, Laura closed her business in 2001.
But Laura didn’t see it as a failure. It opened her eyes to the world of entrepreneurship, and she knew she’d start another business eventually. Fortunately, she still had one foot in the advertising agency world and had been consulting all along. And when her then husband’s job required that they move to Minneapolis, Minnesota, Laura figured she’d work for an agency there. She got a meeting with Fallon Worldwide and was contracted to recruit creative talent from her connections on the East and West Coasts.
When the senior recruiter left the firm, Laura stepped into the role and began working with outside vendors to find new talent. Once again, she recognized a hole in the market. No one was recruiting in a strategic and consultative way. And more specifically, no one was focusing on the recruitment of female leadership. Women were grossly underrepresented in chief marketing officer and senior-level creative positions and Laura intended to do something about it.
In 2007, Laura and business partner Ashley Mehbod—also an agency veteran—launched Pixie Dust, an executive search firm based in Minneapolis that specializes in supporting creative agencies and marketers looking for leaders who can champion new ways of thinking. As the name implies, the agency provides clients with the magic ingredient to enhance, elevate and improve their business—the people. More specifically, Pixie Dust has a gift for matching the right people to the right positions. They work as a team along with their talent scout, Lisa Hashbarger, to continually build and expand their network of the best creative problem solvers in the industry.
A Champion for Women and Equality
Laura’s focus on women’s equality extends beyond her work at Pixie Dust. She served for six years as a member of the Minnesota board of directors for Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s leading women’s reproductive rights groups. As women continue to face significant inequities in health care, Laura supports initiatives that ensure all women have access to proper care, which she believes is not only a basic human right, but essential to overall well-being. She currently serves on the organization’s marketing task force.
A decade after launching Pixie Dust, Laura got a call from a friend in L.A. with roots in Minnesota. Her friend connected her to social entrepreneur and humanitarian Wendy Diamond, the founder of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED). The event is celebrated every November at the United Nations and in 144 countries and 65 universities and colleges internationally. Since launching in 2013, WED has reached more than 5 billion people.
The initiative was created to empower women and girls across the globe to become active participants in the economy and engages program ambassadors all over the world to fulfill its mission. Laura was invited to fill the ambassador role for Minnesota. As a longtime advocate for women in business, she was excited about the opportunity. Ashley and Lisa also joined the advisory board.
Now in its third year, Laura and a WED MN advisory board of Minnesota women business leaders are dedicated to educating the world about the importance of empowering women in business. Each year they organize a day of programming for women entrepreneurs and champions of women. The 2019 WED MN event is scheduled for November 14, and the theme is innovation. It features a keynote from Amy Nelson, founder of The Riveter, a coworking space built by women for everyone. The event will include a panel discussion on innovating around equality in entrepreneurship moderated by Junita Flowers, founder of Junita’s Jar, a cookie company committed to giving back.
Like many involved with WED, Laura envisions a future where women entrepreneurs are recognized and celebrated every day. All funds raised through the Minnesota event are donated to Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and its Young Women’s Initiative, a statewide effort that builds pathways to economic opportunity for young women who are facing the greatest barriers. Laura also recently formed The Women’s Entrepreneurship Consultancy as an LLC. Her goal is to partner with a local college or university to deliver critical education and resources to aspiring female entrepreneurs and to increase WED’s impact in Minnesota and beyond.
To learn more about Laura’s business, visit PixieDustInc.com.
To learn more about Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Minnesota, click here.
Photo: Sarah Hrudka Photography
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