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From 5-year-old refugee to CEO, Tan Le shares family's story at RootsTech

RootsTech keynote speaker Tan Le addressed thousands of family history enthusiasts Thursday with a story from her own childhood as a 5-year-old girl fleeing Vietnam on a tugboat with her family.

"My mother carried a small bottle of poison," Le said. "She and my grandmother had agreed, if we were captured by pirates, firstly my sister and I, then they would drink."

Le's mother and grandmother would later tell her how pirates passed by their boat several times, and how the engine failed for six hours on the high seas. Le doesn't remember these details, but she does remember the young man who collapsed and died during the difficult journey, and the apple that the men on the ship had given her.

"No apple has ever tasted the same," Le said.

Le is now the founder and CEO of Emotiv, a brain-research company that tracks brain signals during thought processes. The company has thousands of partners in over 100 countries that research neurologically based conditions such as epilepsy and ADHD.

As a technology innovator, she has been recognized on several lists, including Forbes' "50 Names You Need to Know" in 2011.

Le attributes her success to a mix of "humility with daring." She said that she wouldn't be where she is today if it weren't for the women in her life — her sister, mother and grandmother — who journeyed with her through hardships to forge a new life.

"If there is a sinew in our family, it runs through the women," she said.

The RootsTech conference is taking place this week at the Salt Palace Convention Center and is expected to draw more than 20,000 guests.

Taylor Hintz is a Deseret News features reporter and currently a journalism student at Brigham Young University in Provo.