From VC to CEO: Karyl Fowler begins journey to top by taking dual-credit courses in high school

Karyl Fowler is all about staying a step ahead of the curve.

That philosophy led the former Victoria College student to cofound Transmute, an Austin-based technology company focused on digitizing cross-border trade, in 2017.

“I didn’t set out to start a company,” said Fowler, the company’s Chief Executive Officer. “I was good at executing and talking to technical people; I could bring their ideas to fruition. But after taking on the role, I quickly realized the CEO is the person who is the catch-all for everything.”

Fowler began taking dual-credit courses at VC during her junior year at Memorial High School in Victoria. She graduated early from high school, so she spent her last semester playing volleyball and attending courses on VC’s Main Campus in 2008-09.

“I was in all of the AP [Advanced Placement] and Pre-AP courses,” she said. “I took a couple of those tests and thought, ‘Why would I do that when I could have the assurance of earning college credits and getting the exposure to the college environment?’ My parents were tremendously supportive of the idea.”

After accruing 45 credit hours, Fowler enrolled at Southwestern University in Georgetown, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and political science in 2012.

“One reason I chose to go to Southwestern is because it’s a smaller university,” she said. “Victoria College is also a smaller environment, so during the courses I took there, I could shake hands with the professors. I realized I appreciated how easy it was to engage with everyone in that setting. I liked the smaller school vibe.”

Getting an early start at VC paid big dividends for Fowler while she continued her higher education journey. Both of her parents, Dale and Dana, and her younger sister, Kelly, also attended VC.

“Southwestern is a private university,” she said. “I had an academic scholarship, but completing nearly all my basic courses at VC helped a lot with the affordability. Why spend the premium for courses I could take at VC?

“I was also able to graduate in three years with a double major. I couldn’t have done that without having gone to Victoria College.”

The quality of education at VC helped Fowler make a smooth transition to Southwestern University, where she studied abroad in England and Costa Rica. As part of her English degree, she also studied Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre in London.

“The quality of the classes at Victoria College was quite good,” she said. “I particularly enjoyed my economics, government and history classes. There was definitely a high bar there. It was not a huge transition to go from VC to Southwestern.”

After flirting with career paths in international business and law, Fowler found her calling in deep technology. She also graduated with a Master’s of Science degree in technology commercialization from the University of Texas’ McCombs Business School in 2015.

“After several legal internships, including one with the Texas Legislature, I had a couple mentors advise that I like people too much to be an attorney and that I should consider business,” she laughed. “I’ve always been fairly into technology, but didn’t become an engineer. I ended up working at a start-up biotech company and fell in love with deep technology. After that, I was hooked.”

Deep technology refers to start-up companies that provide technology solutions based on substantial scientific or engineering challenges.

Transmute, which has 10 employees, uses decentralized identifier and verifiable credential technologies to simplify the management of digital supply chain documentation at scale – which allows for faster, more secure cross-border trade. The company develops the core open standards their Verifiable Data Platform product is built on in collaboration with the US Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection.

Fowler, who has spent her career working mostly in the bioelectronics and semiconductor fields, also serves as a Techstars mentor, a start-up advisor for SXSW (South by Southwest), a steering committee member of the Decentralized Identity Foundation and a co-chair for the C26+ Smart Borders policy advisory working group at the US-Mexico Foundation.

“I’ve gotten more ‘Texas’ as I’ve gotten older,” she said. “Our business is very focused on cross-border trade. Most of our work focuses on securing and expediting imports and exports between the Texas-Mexico border. If we could speed our Southern ports of entry by even just ten minutes, it would add hundreds of millions of dollars in trade flows every year. Our technology can help make that happen while also empowering regulators with the data they need to do more targeted enforcement. We’re also very plugged into the start-up ecosystems locally in Austin.

“I wouldn’t trade the experience of owning a business. I’ve never worked harder in my life, and there’s always so much more to learn. You think, ‘I’ll see how this goes,’ then seven years go by.”