Many people dream of one day starting their own business—but for Ingrid Vanderveldt, founding just one company wasn’t enough. As the woman behind Green Girl Energy, the GLASS Forum, CNBC’s primetime series American Made, and more, Vanderveldt has proven herself to be one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs in the world.
Luckily for us, she’s also dedicated to sharing her knowledge in hopes of empowering other women to follow in her footsteps. As Dell’s first-ever Entrepreneur in Residence, it’s now part of her job to offer valuable advice for those aspiring to create their own companies.
We caught up with Vanderveldt on her experience, the traits she believes every entrepreneur needs, and her advice for women embarking on their career paths.
Is being an entrepreneur something you always dreamed of?
As a kid, I actually dreamed of being a missionary. However, without really knowing it at the time, my excitement for creating things that people wanted to buy was really the early sign of having an entrepreneurial drive.
You co-founded your first company pretty much right out of grad school. With all of your experience now, what do you wish you could have known then?
First, listen better, and be more humble. And secondly, let the results speak for themselves. Don’t be so scared about having to prove yourself and of what people think of you. I was so busy trying to prove my own worth that I found myself rushing to make decisions at times. When really, if I’d gone a little slower, it would have allowed me to move quicker—and certainly more effectively.
Since those early days, you’ve founded several more successful businesses and even your own television show. What has been the most challenging project you’ve undertaken?
Personally, I feel the most challenging project, if we all do our own soul searching, is actually within ourselves. I know it is for me. I can point out a number of times where I’ve said, “Wow, that was challenging,” and certainly there were many times that things were so challenging I often wondered how I would make it another day. It’s about having the ability to be objective and say, “OK, I know I can make this happen anyway,” and then sticking with those projects and finding the right people with the right skill sets to help make them happen.
It’s also equally important to have the self-realization to understand when it’s time to cut your losses, take the lessons learned, and close the door until the next big opportunity presents itself.
Through these opportunities, you’ve met many other entrepreneurs, including the founders of Starbucks and Whole Foods. Are there any common traits you’ve noticed?
Yes, I feel there are two particular traits that all of the most successful entrepreneurs share—they do what they are passionate about and they are persistent. And absolutely every great entrepreneur has a mentor.
You’re currently the Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at Dell. What does this position entail?
The universe! It’s amazing, and while I knew it would be great, I had no idea that it would turn into what it has. In short, my position began as a means to help bring “the outside in,” meaning bringing the entrepreneurial perspective into Dell, a Fortune 50 company. Having an EIR on board was a way for Dell to create a direct channel to listen and exchange ideas with customers, allowing the company to create the products and solutions that business owners need to grow and become successful.
Dell has also created the first of its kind “Office of the EIR,” as a “Center for Thought Leadership, Innovation, and Strategy for Entrepreneurial Excellence,” which I oversee with my team. Over time, we will bring in new EIRs to help transform and lead that vision.
What advice do you have for women just embarking on their career paths, whether they’re hoping to become entrepreneurs or be successful at an established company?
Get a mentor, invest in yourself, and know that you can do it. Also, get a support group (I have found that the Grameen Bank model of a small group of five people—including you—is ideal and it’s free). Belonging to women’s organizations and networking groups and attending conferences for women in business can be great ways to develop the support network you need to grow and be successful. In fact, it was through the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) that I actually found my way to my current position at Dell.
Another group I’m intimately involved in is the GLASS (Global Leadership & Sustainable Success) Forum, which I started to help bring together the collective voice of women in global sustainability.
I personally believe that if we are ever going to create a new world, it will happen through the leadership, vision, and involvement of a new set of eyes—the eyes of women. If you agree, I urge you to get involved! The world needs the gifts you have to offer.
Come join the EIR journey at www.dell.com/eir and follow Ingrid’s tweets via @ontheroadwithiv. And if you are in business or thinking about starting a new business, come join DWEN’s Women Powering Business group on LinkedIn!