INTERVIEW by DAILY BR!NK STAFF | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of INGRID VANDERVELDT
Our fourth BR!NKer in our special #FixYoungAmerica Week is Ingrid Vanderveldt. Here’s what you need to know: she’s brilliant, direct, and is an expert in all things entrepreneurial. In fact, she is Dell’s first and only Entrepreneur-in-Residence, a position that, as it turns out, is even cooler than it sounds. She is on a mission to empower a billion (yes, a billion — nine zeros) women, and is committed to putting the global economy back on track by focusing on entrepreneurial job creation and development. In short, we love her. And we’re betting you will, too.
First off, I love your personal and professional story. You are a self-made entrepreneur who never waited for an opportunity to happen — you always did things and were never afraid to ask. Where does the fearlessness come from?
The fearlessness comes from my parents. They raised me to believe that with hard work, dedication, and focus, I could be, do, or create anything I wanted in life. I was very lucky as a kid to be raised in such a loving household, and it definitely showcases the possibility and potential of great parenting!
Could you explain what your position is at Dell as Entrepreneur-in-Residence? Coming from a startup background, what role do you think a global giant like Dell can play in bolstering the work of entrepreneurs and business owners?
If someone told me five years ago that Dell (or any other large company) was a place I would find myself working, I would have looked at them like they were crazy. I am an entrepreneur who formed my career and view of myself off of building ideas from scratch. While I have had Fortune 500 companies as clients, I never saw myself as someone that would “go inside.”
In my role as the first-ever Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Dell, I’m not only using what I’ve learned “in the trenches” of business to help other entrepreneurs, but I’ve set a goal for myself to empower a billion women by 2020. I knew the only way to accomplish this would be to partner with others and create leverage, and what better way to do this than to join forces with a company like Dell?
As EIR, you must come into contact with myriad small businesses every single day. What are some overall trends that you are noticing for 2012? It seems like this is the year of the cloud.
Yes, I would definitely agree 2012 could be classified as the “Year of the Cloud,” but I think, moreover, it’s the year of applications, usability, and flexibility. What I mean by that is that business owners don’t talk about technology, they talk about how it’s used to make their lives and businesses run better and more efficiently. Key to this is having the flexibility to work in a mobile environment.
For example, I am currently on international travel and will be for the next three weeks (in the UK, Canada, and Haiti). I am able to work with and connect to my team from remote locations and, using sharing applications, we can work off the same documents and keep track of our progress and success. The fact that we are in different locations is a moot point.
Working from home is a common option for entrepreneurs and business owners looking to keep costs down. Therefore, having applications that provide ease and efficiency is just as critical as the ability to be mobile. Any time you are working in a mobile environment, technology tools like cloud, security, and storage all become essential. Dell and Intel recently commissioned TNS Global to identify and explore key trends pertaining to the evolving workplace and workforce, which underscores the important role that technology has played in terms of increased mobility and flexibility.
The #FixYoungAmerica campaign aims to reduce unemployment and restore the American dream. How are you planning to make your mark within this debate?
Dell certainly has a number of ways that we are supporting job creation across the board, including with young Americans. For example, we’ll be making an exciting announcement in conjunction with the launch of the #FixYoungAmerica book to make sure it gets into the hands of as many entrepreneurs and business owners as possible. Another way is through Dell’s Youth Connect — in the United States alone, the program has committed $3M to help create over 20,000 jobs for students. Additionally, I recently met with some of the country’s leading minds in business, job creation, and entrepreneurship on behalf of Dell to talk about President Obama’s new Summer Jobs+ Program, a job creation initiative aimed to create 250,000 employment opportunities for low income and disadvantaged youth in summer 2012.
On a personal level, my sister Erin and I set up a foundation, The Vanderveldt Sisters Foundation, where we take a percentage of all our income and put it to philanthropic initiatives we believe in. Our money goes primarily to support the causes of women and global sustainability. At the end of this month, I will be traveling to Haiti to work with Haiti Partners and introduce Dell to the schools being built in Haiti. My goal is to bring the technology of Dell to the schools to connect students in Haiti with students in the United States so they can mentor and support one another. My individual “umbrella” goal is to Empower a Billion Women by 2020. I want to see a mobile device in the hands of every woman so they have access to the technology, tools, resources, and support they need to live fulfilling lives. I want to be able to put them in a position that helps “restore the American dream.”
A lot has been written about your incredible goal of empowering a billion women by 2020. What tangible results you are hoping to obtain, and what tools you are going to use in order to achieve that challenge?
Mentoring is a critical element in any economy to getting it turned around. When a successful entrepreneur and/or business owner can support an emerging one by providing focus, inspiration, and guidance, I would argue that this can be more effective and efficient in increasing the chances of success for a new entrepreneur than almost anything else. With that in mind, as part of my role at Dell, I’m working on setting up new mentoring programs for the Summer Jobs+ Program. This can also be seen as a “test ground” of sorts to see how we can create a mentoring model that can be scaled globally.
Sheryl Sandberg was quoted saying that women are often too afraid to ask for a raise or take as many professional risks as men in the workplace. Do you think that gender is something that needs to be included in the debate on economic opportunities and entrepreneurship for young people?
Great question, and I agree with Sheryl. While I would love to say gender doesn’t matter, and only skills, motivation, and integrity do, this would be unrealistic and could be perceived as a disconnect if we didn’t address the differences of men and women. That said, I think all around it’s time to stop looking at these differences as a crutch, creating excuses for why there might or might not be “gender equality.” Instead, I think we need to just understand that issues evolve and we are now at a point in our society where men are ready for the women to “show up” and that women are ready to fully contribute. There is only so much time in a day and I would rather see our time spent on constructive issues like solving global economic and social challenges, rather than discussing the past.
The GLASS Forum is fantastic, but I’d like to play devil’s advocate for a minute: isn’t there a risk, when having a conference convening female leaders, to polarize the debate and validate the idea that women and men might work not well together as decision-makers?
I think any time you have a conference that’s just for women or just for men, these questions will arise. That said, while The GLASS Forum is designed with women in mind and targeted to women, men are invited to join. We are not fully exclusive; we are simply targeted and rather “inclusive.”
With all that in mind, though, I think any time you put a big idea out there or an initiative that has the potential to impact the world as The GLASS Forum does, there will always be people with other opinions, and that’s great. It’s those ideas that help make the ones we are working on that much better. I fundamentally agree that if we are going to create a global sustainable future, it does require a different set of eyes, and that is the eyes of women.
The reality is that our global economy is where it is at because of the way we have always done things. As much as I love, respect, and appreciate all the incredible men I work with, the fact is that our global societies have in large part been run by the guys. Again, this is not an opinion — just look at the statistics worldwide. If we want different results we have to do things differently, and women should seize the opportunity and decide it’s time to get involved. The GLASS Forum is one way to do that. Beyond that, the results will simply speak for themselves. More women are coming into leadership roles, and I’m confident that bringing the women’s viewpoint increasingly into decision-making processes will yield positive results.
You’ve recently said that people who open doors and provide opportunities for kids today “can make all the difference in the world.” Was there such a person for you?
A number of people throughout my life could fit this description. Starting with my parents, who believed I was a rock star as a kid, and that does a ton to boost a kid’s confidence! Especially in those many awkward years when I wasn’t one of the “cool kids,” but knew I could always lean on my parents to love me. My teachers Mr. and Mrs. Hall in the fourth grade who believed in me, even when I was sent off to a special school because the school board thought I was learning disabled. It turns out I wasn’t; I had fixable hearing problems.
I think a key point here goes back to the power of great parents in building confidence in their children. With confidence, today’s youth will explore what might be out there in the world for them to experience, and it only takes one “Yes” to truly change the perspective a child might have about his or her own future. If you see a child who is being raised in a challenging household for whatever reason, making the conscious decision that you can be the person who shows belief in the possibility of that child can be huge.
In addition to a great deal of skydiving and motorcycling, what does 2012 look like for Ingrid, and what are you looking forward to the most this year?
Other than more skydiving, more racing, and time with my lovely husband, I am dedicated to Dell’s global expansion in the entrepreneurial marketplace. It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to work with a Fortune 50 like Dell that continues to invest in providing resources, support, and leadership to this market. You can find me on the road both in the United States and internationally, spreading the message of the possibility of entrepreneurship. I will likely be doing more television — I used to host a show on CNBC called American Made, focused on entrepreneurship — and am also working on a book.
I like to win (don’t all entrepreneurs?) and will measure my success in 2012 through the lens of all the entrepreneurs worldwide who are creating the jobs that are getting our global economy back on track. Through my role at Dell and in my personal endeavors, I will be working with entrepreneurs in the US and globally to do my part to help them be as successful as they can be and help equip them with the technology they need to do more.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
If you have an idea you want to explore, just send me an email at Ingrid_vanderveldt@dell.com. Help spread the word and join the entrepreneurial movement!