Today we’d like to introduce you to Beth Beck.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Beth. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My journey to MillHouse is truly a series of footprints into the unknown. Growing up in Texas, I could never have imagined that I would spend the majority of my career living and working in Washington DC. Nor would I have ever dreamed I would work for NASA. Much less, retire from federal service and, in less than a year, create a non-profit organization to foster social, creative, and economic impact through fempreneurship.
I’m here because I’m willing to walk into the path of uncertainty to give the opportunity a chance to present herself. I’m extremely flexible (many call me fluid) with ideas and details, but quite unyielding when a picture of the future emerges in my head and I clearly see the way forward — even when no one else can see it. I’m willing to fail, which is key because the risk of missing an amazing opportunity is not worth it. Failure is simply a learning experience to discover what not to do the next time. But, there should always be the next time, with fresh, seasoned perspective.
So, where did MillHouse come from? And why MillHouse, what does that have to do with women?
The idea for a social hub to nurture art and entrepreneurship was born from my experience as a female, non-linear, disruptive thinker working in a linear, engineering-brain, male-dominated, bureaucratic world at NASA. In order to get to ‘yes,’ I built skills, tools, and techniques through the never-pleasant school of hard knocks. Most importantly, I learned that women bring fresh solutions to perplexing challenges, yet our voice is often unheard and our solutions overlooked because they don’t look like the “norm” — think, “the way a man would do it.” I truly believe that every woman is an entrepreneur at heart; however, society tends to crush our creativity and individuality in the process of enforcing the much-cherished trait of conformity. It’s time to redefine what entrepreneurship looks like (both in definition and those who wear it).
Why call it MillHouse? Easy. The idea grew roots at the Cotton Mill in McKinney. Long story short: Terry Casey, owner of the Cotton Mill, walked me through a huge unrenovated space in the building and challenged me to create my dream for a social space to support women in the arts and entrepreneurship. I reached out to Christine Smith-Atkins, co-founder, who dreamed of creating an art/co-working space in the same wing of the Cotton Mill. We joined forces and turned her business plan into the ArtBlock studio. My sister, Aimee Woolverton of Aimee Louise Photography, walked the space with me and the idea of collaborative photography studios emerged. She wrote the business plan for LightBlock, and became a Co-Founder. Rachel Lawley, our Founding Program Director, was designing the member experience to build community, creativity, and change and kept circling around the concept of wellness — to unlock greater potential for creativity and innovative thinking. In conversations with my daughter Carol about wellness, she envisioned wellness studios for yoga, aromatherapy, and more. She wrote the business plan for WellBlock, and is now rearranging her life to move to Texas and serve as WellBlock Director.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I am many things, but for the sake of this question, I’ll focus on two: 1) pragmatic visionary and 2) disruptive thinker.
As a pragmatic visionary, I expect resistance and barriers to new ideas which, more often than not, look and feel foreign, and threaten the status quo. Change can be quite unsettling to the status quo, which represents safe, familiar, and comfortable; and is often rooted in a position of power. My key to forward progress is anticipating and understanding the inevitable ‘no,’ and finding ways to transform it into a ‘yes’ before the I get derailed.
As a disruptive thinker, I cause discomfort. Not intentionally; yet it happens more often than not. I call it the unicorn effect. I fly around with a sharp pointy thing on my head, which some might think is imaginary, but I call it ‘imagination.’ Every time I look at something and see it in a new way, I inadvertently poke the person or thing I’m looking at. Anything approached from a different perspective can be enlightening, on one hand, or disorienting if it threatens the assumptions we hold dear. With change comes the fear of the unknown. Think of historic examples. Shifting from horse and buggy to automobile challenged long-held assumptions about transportation. Shifting from washboard and bucket to washing machine challenged our assumptions of what clean looks like. I was studying photography at the Corcoran School of Art in DC when digital photography technology became affordable. I remember countless debates in the darkroom over the value of chemical vs. digital images. We have many examples of shifts in our reality: space travel, smartphones, and the most important of all, Amazon Prime. All these ideas were once considered outrageous and unthinkable. Now we can’t imagine our world any differently — until the next paradigm shift in thinking occurs.
My point: ideas are disruptive, change can be terrifying, and idea people… well, we don’t fit the norm because we color outside the lines. Yet we persist. I found a great saying on a woodblock in an antique store in Guthrie, Oklahoma: “When one door closes, another opens. OR, you can open the closed door. That’s how doors work.”
I really love this saying. If a closed door is your obstacle, open it. Or, at least knock. Someone may open it for you. If so, all the better.
We’d love to hear more about your foundation.
MillHouse Foundation is our 501(c)(3) charitable and educational umbrella organization. MillHouse Foundation connects women through membership-based access to facilities, programs, activities, and experiences designed to promote, encourage, and support emotional well-being and entrepreneurial experimentation that may result in emerging business opportunities.
MillHouse McKinney is our 501(c)(6) membership-based facility, located at the historic Cotton Mill. The facility is designed as an innovative social and intellectual spa-like experience where women can relax, think, work, and grow. Members can gather with friends, colleagues, or clients in a welcoming, affirming environment; explore topics and skills; discover and share passion projects; and create new ideas to fill a market gap. Members have access to ConnectBlock social hub, ArtBlock studio space and rentals, LightBlock photography studios and equipment, and WellBlock yoga studios. Special programming will evolve based on members’ interests.
This endeavor is built upon the concept of the sharing economy, where members contribute time, talent, and treasure to support one another. The MillHouse team members provide expert counsel to best match and broker the shared resources, and help members explore ideas, define or refine viable business concepts.
MillHouse McKinney will offer members a social space, ConnectBlock, and three adjoining studios spaces, ArtBlock, LightBlock, and WellBlock. ConnectBlock, the social hub is designed to foster community, co-working, idea generation, creative collaborations, skill enhancement, resource sharing, and social networking. Members have access to interest-based programming set in a cozy space with comfy couches, a coffee/juice/wine bar, and healthy snacks, gathering spaces, and client rooms. Pop-Up Boutiques showcase member and women-owned products. WellBlock offers two wellness studios, changing rooms, a juice bar, and more. ArtBlock offers individual artists studio spaces to create and showcase innovative work. Special events and classes will be available to members and non-members. The photography studio offers two shared studios to experiment with natural light and flashlight. Also available: a client viewing room, hair/makeup station, shared equipment, photo printers, and kitchenette. LightBlock offers two shared photography studios to experiment with natural light and flashlight. Also available: a client viewing room, hair/makeup station, shared equipment, photo printers, and workspace. MillHouse McKinney will offer classes, workshops, events, and activities that will be available to members and non-members. We’ll also offer application-based opportunities for Social Impact Fellows and Artist-in-Residence. The number of fellowships is contingent on funding.
We’re opening MillHouse McKinney in phases, while we raise funds and renovate the Cotton Mill as our home away from home. Phase 1, June 2019, we’ll open with a few artists in a temporary ArtBlock space. Phase 2, tentatively August 2019, will offer additional ArtBlock studio space, LightBlock and WellBlock studios, and the ConnectBlock social space. Pending funding, Phase 3 will expand the ConnectBlock social and event space with access to patio and gardens and additional parking.
What were you like growing up?
Years ago, I asked my mother’s best friend what I was like growing up. She told me I was ‘sassy.’ Not sure how I felt about the word, I looked it up: ‘lively, bold, full of spirit; cheeky; a little feisty; quick-witted and clever.’ I’ll take it.
For me, childhood was a magical journey of expression, where I was allowed to try and fail and try again — all in the safe, welcoming, affirming environment of my family. I grew up in a creative household, so being creative was more of a given than the exception. I started my first business at the age of 12, selling handmade paper mache jewelry at Wimberley Market Days.
I never really ever saw myself as a “girl,” but rather just Beth. I flourished because no one told me who I could or couldn’t be. My parents let me figure it out, with their support. We want the same for the women of MillHouse.
Just to close the loop, and show why I believe MillHouse meets a specific need — my happy existence came to a screeching halt when I started working at NASA after grad school. For the first time in my life, I became a woman in the workplace — with unwritten but well-accepted norms of behavior. The pressure to conform was relentless, yet day after day, I thanked the Lord that He gave me parents who grounded me in Truth and allowed me to be me — even when the rest of the world told me to be someone else. And just to be clear, the pressure came from both men and women. Men have expectations of women. Women, as well, expect women to conform to what society dictates. But sameness is not something I value. Uniqueness, that’s what intrigues me.
At MillHouse, we want to help women rediscover who they uniquely are, excavate their buried dreams, and find new ways to flap our butterfly wings… to change the world!
- Members: $1000 annual fee or $100/month
- Founding Members: $5000 3-year membership + 2 legacy member nominations [or 1-year membership + $4000 donation]
- Patron Members: $15,000 5-year membership + 3 legacy member nominations [or 1-year membership + $14,000 donation]
- Studio membership fees vary
- Address: MillHouse McKinney at the Cotton Mill
610 Elm Street
McKinney, TX 75069
- Website: https://millhousefoundation.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aimee Woolverton/AimeeLouise Photography (group photo) Kate Jones/Fair and Square Imports (Instagram post), Kurt Ortley/DesignKor (architect renderings, Carol Beck/Joy Yoga (yoga pose); National Child Labor Committee Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C (Women of Cotton Mill 1913); MillHouse Mission Instagram/art by Christine Smith-Atkins