Ingrid Vanderveldt of ‘Empowering a Billion Women’: The Power of Flexibility; How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic
Protect your time. Entrepreneurs wear many hats. It’s easy to get pulled in multiple directions and spend your time and energy in the wrong ways. Over the years I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, take time for myself, and delegate by putting the right team in place to ensure I can focus on my job of running the business.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ingrid Vanderveldt.
Ingrid Vanderveldt (iV) is the Chairman and CEO of Empowering a Billion Women (EBW), EBW Cares Distributors & Vanderveldt Global Investments. Previously, she was the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Dell Inc. where she oversaw entrepreneurial initiatives worldwide helping to build a $250 million business segment and founded the $125M Dell Innovators Credit Fund, Dell Founders Club, and the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs during her 3-year term. She holds a Masters in Architecture from the Savannah College of Art & Design and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from UT at Austin.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Washington D.C. with my parents and three siblings where we were very active in serving the community through our church. I loved helping others, and at the age of 4, I knew my purpose was to be a missionary when I grew up. My father was an entrepreneur and inspired me to build and create things constantly.
When I was in third grade, the principal at my school called my parents into his office and told them I was no longer welcome in that school. He said that I was a troublemaker, that I was failing, and he had concerns that I was learning disabled.
My parents were shocked. They didn’t agree with this assessment but found me a great new school, a designated aid, and enrolled me in special classes where it was determined I did in fact need the extra help. Through all of this, I was teased by kids because I was “special.” I remember coming home crying, hurt, and embarrassed. My parents were my biggest advocates and always turned the negatives to positives and told me over and over that I WAS special! They told me to harness being special and that I could do anything if I just believed in the possibilities.
By the sixth grade, we finally figured out what my “learning disability” was — I was hard of hearing. Once we addressed that problem, it changed everything and I finally began to excel in school and in life. It was my eureka moment. I realized the importance of support networks (like my parents) and understood the power behind believing in my own possibilities. As my parents always told me when you reframe problems into opportunity you can make the impossible, possible.
After understanding my diagnoses and working through the challenges, I owned my reality, learned to love myself, and lived a pretty normal childhood.
I always loved art and had an amazing art teacher in high school who really mentored me. She submitted my work into art shows and one of my pieces was recognized by a recruiter for The Savannah College of Art and Design. I was awarded a scholarship and earned my Masters in Architecture. It was there when my path for public service became more in focus. I ran for office of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) in my school and was elected treasurer. Next, I ran for the national office of the AIAS and won one of five seats as a National Director of the AIAS.
In this role I found myself in rooms with seasoned business and policy leaders and I was the youngest person in the room. I often lacked confidence and wanted to continue my education and validate my “seat at the table”. I decided more education was the answer and a law and business degree would do the trick. While I was in graduate school, I applied what I had learned from my Architecture degree, built and launched companies for fun and loved it. So much so that I ended up folding my hopes to become a lawyer and doubling down on my dream to become an entrepreneur. I got my MBA from UT at Austin.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Make the impossible, possible” has been my personal mantra since a very young age. Once I got my MBA, I was ready. I knew I was going to build and launch successful businesses and I needed a mentor, a good one that’s done this before. I aimed high and asked the dean of the business school at UT and I was connected to iconic tech entrepreneur and billionaire, Dr. George Kozmetsky.
I told him “I want to build a billion-dollar business!” He appreciated my tenacity and took me on. We met once a month for breakfast at 4 am, and one life lesson he bestowed upon me was “the only thing that can keep me from success is myself.”
It’s something I say aloud to myself regularly so that I can reframe problems to find solutions to make the impossible, possible.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Overcoming Underearning was a book that taught me the power of “the click”. It’s all about that moment where we accept and embrace the opportunity to earn our fullest potential.
Chasing Bentley’s, written by Melissa Burrows is another great book. It’s all about how to incorporate accountability to achieve your authentic goals and purpose. She shares both her business and personal life experiences that are relatable and awe-inspiring.
Stop Self Sabotage by Pat Pearson is fantastic. It gives real tools, tips and advice on essentially how to get out of our own way to realize our fullest potential. I loved it so much I hired Pat to be the head of personal development for the leaders of EBW!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Since 1997, I’ve built, sold, or invested in a half dozen companies, created and hosted CNBC’s first original primetime series focused on entrepreneurs called “American Made,” and became the first entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell in 2011. In 2014, I turned my calling to be a missionary into action and launched Empowering a Billion Women (EBW).
The number one thing that holds women entrepreneurs back is they have a higher risk awareness and therefore need a higher degree of certainty of success. I created EBW to help women reach their full potential by combining mentorship and training along with products and services available to current and future female entrepreneurs. These services and support will allow them to build businesses of sustained value and create the economic and social progress the world needs.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I was deeply impacted by the affect of the pandemic on the economy and society, especially since my brother is an ER doctor. One of the biggest issues from the pandemic was the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies at the beginning. To address the shortage of PPE, I launched a new healthcare company, EBW Cares Distributors and created a market offering to get the necessary PPE in the hands of the people and places that need it most. We tapped our global network and brought in experts to launch an end-to-end global supply chain that extends from manufacturing to delivery of product to the end consumer.
Additionally, we’re paying it forward and launched COVIDxnow — a Global Economic Leaders Consortium aimed at unlocking all possible solutions to the impacts of COVID-19 and in the process creating hope, opportunity, and job creation across the globe. To date, we’ve partnered with brilliant thought leaders from the United Nations, the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, and many more — all to ensure we’re helping women entrepreneurs combat the challenges they face during the global pandemic.
For anyone looking to make a difference please join our community here!
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
On March 20th I got an alarming call from my brother who’s an ER doctor in Nashville. He was in the throes of managing the first global pandemic we’ve seen in our lifetime. He was scared and frustrated. He told me they were running out of the critical PPE needed to feel safe while treating patients. For eight days he had to take his PPE off, put it in a brown paper bag, and spray it with Lysol and re-use it.
I knew I needed to help. The supply chain was failing to supply people — most importantly front-line workers — with what they needed, when they needed it. Not only were health care workers in need, but women at scale were being displaced from the workforce as businesses were forced to close their doors as a result of COVID-19.
How are things going with this new initiative?
To date the company has:
- Equipped 30+ women in 15 states to launch, operate and own their own EBW Cares consultancies to help their communities reopen while building their businesses
- Onboarded more than 45 manufacturers in the supply chain, providing access to more than 1 billion supplies
- Distributed more than tens of millions PPE supplies — valued at $20M+ in 6 months
- Grown the team by 5x in the past 2 quarters
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Julie Sebree, Vice President of Envision Health. She came out of the automotive industry, not healthcare, and was recruited by KKR to head up procurement. She was one of our first customers. Like others, she quickly found herself in a position of needing to purchase products that historically were purchased by the hospitals. She became my “sister” in the process of working together as we made a pact that somehow, someway, we would get through this and we would get the products the doctors and business owners so critically needed. Her attitude and approach inspire me to know we’re not only going to get through this pandemic, but we will thrive on the other side.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Many nights I didn’t think I’d survive this. There were nights I was going on 1–2 hours of sleep, fighting to make this happen, knowing timing was more critical than anything I had faced as an entrepreneur. I was negotiating PPE deals 24/7 to no end and was just so incredibly tired. Finally, I realized I needed more help and started to grow the team.
As things seemed to be coming together, we got a hard punch in the gut. Here we were trying to do good by the world and solve a major health crisis, only to learn that many of the players we were negotiating with were actually bad actors with no true intention to help our efforts. They only wanted to turn a profit for themselves. It was a devastating blow to my heart and to humanitarian effort. People everywhere were promising they had the supply and had signed legal documents for these critical supplies only for us to learn that they didn’t have them.
We were swift to rectify these issues and put the right team in place to eliminate our risk. I appointed tech veteran, Rhonda Parouty as President, Roberta Lang, former global VP and General Counsel of Whole Foods to ensure we had excellence and eyes, ears, and hands on every step of the PPE process. We hired Cynthia Barnes as VP of Contracts and Development, who is a Six Sigma Black Belt in process, engineer, and an attorney.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Protect your time. Entrepreneurs wear many hats. It’s easy to get pulled in multiple directions and spend your time and energy in the wrong ways. Over the years I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, take time for myself, and delegate by putting the right team in place to ensure I can focus on my job of running the business.
- Enjoy the process of uncovering your unique talents. We all have preconceived notions of what success looks like based on examples of other successful leaders. My advice — don’t be anything you’re not. Sure, there are times when you have to tailor your communication style to appeal to certain audiences, but don’t risk losing your authentic self in the process as it’s what people will fall in love with about you and want to join you on your journey.
- Mistakes are going to happen. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not innovating. It’s part of the process. The key to overcoming mistakes is to address them head on as soon as they arrive, communicate with whomever needs to be in the loop, and develop a strategy to solve the challenge and most importantly learn from it.
- Your business will evolve and you must too. With growth comes change and that change won’t always be comfortable. Sometimes the most amazing people you’ve worked with won’t always be amazing for your business. I’ve had the privilege to work with so many great people over my entrepreneurial journey — people that supported my mission and so therefore I felt indebted to. Going back to the importance of protecting my time, learning to make tough personnel decisions has allowed me to focus my time on what matters to me most — my family, friends, and Empowering a Billion Women.
- Be a student of your craft. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s important to understand both the science and the art of entrepreneurship. When I was the entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell, my team and I started a $125M credit fund that was designed for entrepreneurs looking to scale. Shockingly — no women applied for the capital! We learned that it was because they didn’t understand how debt capital worked. My advice — always be a student, continue to read, learn, and understand your options.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I get up very early every day, pray, meditate, exercise, and do most of my creative thinking during this time. It’s the only quiet time of the day where I can gain clarity and be productive without life and business throwing me curveballs. I value and protect this time so much and attribute much of my success for creating this space for myself.
The isolation during this pandemic has been hard for so many. My husband and I made it a point to keep up with our friends, my employees, and family virtually as much as we could. Human connection, albeit over technology, is more important than ever. Additionally, I encourage people to serve and make a difference. Launching EBW Cares Distributors has been hard, but worth it knowing we are making a difference in the world.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
This falls back to the mission of EBW. I want women of all ages and stages in their entrepreneurial journey to know they’ve got the resources to help them scale.
Why? Because when you activate women, you activate the economy. Underrepresentation of women in business is a missed opportunity — both socially and economically. When we invest in women, their communities, states, and countries prosper, which generates a multiplier effect.
Did you know…
- Women put around 90% of their income back into their communities and families — they are one of the world’s best economic and social bets.
- If women and men participate equally as entrepreneurs around the world, the global GDP could see a rise of 3–5%, giving the global economy a boost of $2.5–5 trillion.
- Businesses founded by women produce higher revenue, over 2X more per dollar invested than companies founded by men.
As we move forward in the post-COVID landscape, we’re optimistic that women-owned businesses are poised to play a significant role in the economic recovery — just as they did in the post-2008 economy. That’s why we recently launched the SHEconomy Project — a bi-partisan job creation and supplier diversity initiative that will create more Social, Health and Economic impact for women-owned businesses.
Right now, only 3.0% of total procurement dollars are spent with women-owned firms and only 4.8% of total procurement dollars are spent with minority-owned firms. (Corporate Diversity Survey). If these organizations doubled their supplier diversity allocation — not spend, JUST their budget allocation — then we would get more than $1B of revenue back in the hands of women and diverse business owners because of that multiplier effect.
We’re calling on and working with the public and private sectors to leverage their existing budgets to help women and people of color secure procurement contracts so we can get our economy back on its feet.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I know this is a high hurdle — but hands down President Elect Biden would be my top choice. He is taking steps to advance women at a rate we have not seen. EBW’s business is about uncovering and solving access to critical, innovative solutions that are otherwise hard, if not impossible to find. While we recently pivoted to become providers of PPE- the women in our network represent thought leaders and decision-makers across numerous industries.
How can our readers follow you online?
Twitter — @ontheroadwithiv
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/ingridvanderveldt
Instagram — @ontheroadwithiv
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!