Ingrid Vanderveldt, entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell, was recently named to the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council, joining a select league of business leaders from around the world – all under the age of 45 – who have a record of advocacy on global issues and a commitment to philanthropy.
Vanderveldt is the creator and curator of the $100 million Dell Innovators Credit Fund (DICF), which helps power entrepreneurs worldwide, and the leader of the Dell Founders Club and the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs. Vanderveldt oversees the program that provides access for Dell’s 10 million small-business customers. She is also the CEO of VH2 Energy Investments and Green Girl Energy and co-founder of The Billionaire Girls Club.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention that she holds a patent for one of the first “personalization software” applications in the United States. Need proof? It’s Patent No. 6,266,668.
Yet it’s Vanderveldt’s philanthropic efforts that seem to inspire her most. She has focused on women’s entrepreneurial initiatives in developing countries, starting with Haiti. She supported the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Haitian Global Cohort, in partnership with the Thunderbird School for Good and the State Department, providing grants and Dell computers to 27 female entrepreneurs in the impoverished nation.
“I grew up thinking I’d be a missionary,” she told us. “But I found out I was a really effective capitalist, and that my calling was to create opportunities that drive wealth creation in my community, and on a global scale.”
Vanderveldt’s appointment to the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council follows a career in which she took on seemingly intractable problems all over the globe.
“About a year and a half ago, I made my goal empowering a billion women by 2020,” she said.
Vanderveldt’s plan is to use her business, policy and media initiatives to guide female entrepreneurs in making their dreams a reality by providing them with the right tools, technology and resources. Her first book on the topic, “Making the Impossible, Possible,” is slated to be released this year.
We spoke to Vanderveldt about her role as entrepreneur-in-residence, or EIR, what makes Dell’s commitment to supporting entrepreneurs unique and how she manages to stay sane with her current workload.
So first, we have to ask…what’s that patent all about?
I’m a tech geek at heart, but I am trained as both an architect and a businessperson (she has a Masters in Architecture from the Savannah College of Art & Design, where she is the 2012 Distinguished Alumna of the Year, and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from The University of Texas Austin). At the time, I was looking at the Internet and wondering: How does it feel from the user’s perspective?
That sounds like a rather large question to ask.
To give you insight into how my mind works, if you give me a big problem that many might say is too difficult or impossible to solve, I find excitement in solving it. But if you ask me to go to the mailbox, I’ll stress about it for days (laughs).
So how does this translate into patent No. 6,266,668?
At the time, my father’s company had developed a piece of technology that basically could be programmed to learn for itself. This technology was being used by the Department of Defense. Every time people thought there might be a problem with a military helicopter’s blades, for example, this would mean spending $300,000 to ground and check them. The technology my dad’s company developed sat on top of the black box and monitored the vibrations of the blades and rotors. It could help predict a pending crack in the blade, which ended up saving lots of money by being able to foresee potential defects before they happened with a high degree of accuracy.
From helicopter blades to the Internet…how?
The mental leap I made was – why is the Internet so confusing? I wanted the Internet to help me navigate my way, and the analogy I made in my mind was that, similar to the technology that sat atop the black box and checked vibrations and data in the helicopter, this kind of technology could be used in the web. I realized that by analyzing all those zeroes and ones that are flying around we could predict what you’ll be interested in and where you might be landing on the Internet. The idea was to find a way to create software that would provide real-time personalization of the web’s dynamic databases.
Like how Amazon and Netflix now seem to know more about me than my mother?
I just happened to come up with one solution to this problem. There were a lot of people working on this type of thing. But it was pretty exciting to come out of the gate with this as my first venture.
Tell us about your many roles at Dell. You’re not only the entrepreneur-in-residence; you head Dell’s Innovators Credit Fund (which is $100 million at present), the Dell Founders Club and the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs.
As the EIR, I am “bringing the outside in,” serving as a voice for entrepreneurs and business centers worldwide. I offer strategic insight and guidance to the executives and help open up and create opportunities for Dell and the entrepreneurs who are trying to business with each other.
Separately from my role as EIR, the tradition of an EIR is to launch their next business venture while they are at the job. But after working inside of Dell, I became so inspired by their authentic commitment to entrepreneurs and to women that I decided I wanted to “double down” and refocus my next business endeavor on Dell’s innovation. Dell’s Innovators Credit Fund is a financing instrument that helps fund all of the other initiatives, and our Dell Center for Entrepreneurs is a place where business owners and entrepreneurs can come together and marshal their resources.
What’s a day in the life of an entrepreneur-in-residence?
Traditionally an EIR would go inside and help with strategy and insight to executives, as well as give visibility to the entrepreneurial market. At Dell, however, this role has been redefined as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the company’s global commitment to entrepreneurs and to women. And the commitment is full-time. I’m on the road 80 percent of the time.
As for my day, no two are alike. My first priority is checking on how my team is doing. I have 12 people who work with me now. The second is looking at how the Dell Founders Club members are doing. What are their challenges? What introductions can I make? Third, what is Dell doing today to help the general entrepreneurial community move the ball forward? What initiatives, events and think tanks have been or can be implemented? And fourth, I’m on the road having executive meetings on policy initiatives, talking with governors, state senators and the like to help make doing business in states easier. And, finally, the rest of my time is spent meeting with potential customers and the media.
Can you tell us some of your goals for the United Nations Global Entrepreneurs Council?
My intention is to leverage my responsibilities on the council to create a win-win, focusing my work on helping the UN Foundation further their mission to empower women and girls globally. (The council is an advisory body of the foundation.) I see the potential for the organization to be involved in all my work around “Empowering a Billion Women by 2020.” They have similar objectives and could also be an exciting new partner for Dell focusing on getting technology into the hands of women globally. Providing this technology access can help these women gain access to information, inspiration and resources that can help them build an exciting future and empower them to explore the possibilities of entrepreneurship. With its Girl Up campaign, Dell has committed to providing resources towards helping young girls envision a future in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as part of our overall pay-it-forward focus. When you are working with companies like the UN Foundation and Dell, the possibilities for collaboration are endless and I look forward to our future together.
How do you stay sane doing all of this?
I meditate every morning, I take time to work out (as Richard Branson says, the key to success is fitness), and I try to eat relatively well and get enough sleep. Other than that, my day is given to the entrepreneurs I want to give back to.
David Albert is a contributing writer to Tech Page One.