Ingrid Vanderveldt of Empowering a Billion Women (EBW): “When you activate women, you activate the economy!”

When you activate women, you activate the economy! Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our global economy, and under representation of women in business is a missed opportunity both socially and economically. Women put around 90% of their income back into their communities and families. If women and men participate equally as entrepreneurs around the world, […]

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When you activate women, you activate the economy! Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our global economy, and under representation of women in business is a missed opportunity both socially and economically.

Women put around 90% of their income back into their communities and families.

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 dollars.

Businesses founded by women produce higher revenue, over 2X more per dollar invested than companies founded by men.

With women accounting for 5.4 million job losses due to the pandemic, it’s never been a better time for women to become masters of their own destiny and launch their entrepreneurial journeys.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ingrid Vanderveldt (iV), 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 dollars business segment and founded the 125M dollars 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 dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thank you for having me! I am a serial tech and finance entrepreneur and have built, sold or invested in a half dozen companies and also created and hosted CNBC’s first original primetime series about entrepreneurs called “American Made.”

After learning about the struggles of other entrepreneurs and personally being told I was never going to be a venture backed company because I didn’t look like, act like or sound like any of the CEOs that investors were used to funding, I knew I had an opportunity to help other entrepreneurs — particularly women who are under-represented in business. It became a personal mission for me, I launched Empowering a Billion Women (EBW) to help women start, grow and scale businesses.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I had always been an entrepreneur, but in between selling one of my companies I landed in a corporate job. It was never in my plan but after meeting the Dell team at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference in Shanghai, I knew I had an opportunity to leverage Dell’s global reach to help even more women-owned businesses scale. I became Dell’s first-ever Entrepreneur-in-Residence with a mission to bridge the outside entrepreneur community inside of Dell.

Having always been the CEO of my own companies it was an adjustment, but also gave me the training wheels for the work we do at EBW today. It was the first time I had to pitch my ideas into a boss for approval. I was collaborating with Dell to be agile in their decision-making process and the experience on the flip side taught me how to navigate the enterprise clients I work with today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

After being told I would never get funded based on the fact that I “didn’t look like, act like or sound like any of the CEO’s that investors were funding,” I said “this can’t be the deal…. I WILL make this happen.” However, that translated into an attitude of, “I’m just going to man up and try to be like one of the dudes.” I literally cut off all my hair, bought some dark blue man-like business suits and I stopped wearing makeup. I failed miserably because it wasn’t who I was. I was pretending to be someone else and I lost my confidence. I would go into these meetings with no charisma. It was forced and it was embarrassing. It was a great lesson learned.

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. Don’t risk losing your authentic self as it’s what people will fall in love with and want to join you on your journey.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. 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?

EBW exists today because of my mentor, iconic tech entrepreneur, Dr. George Kozmetsky. He was a self-made billionaire who grew up so poor he had holes in his shoes. We met regularly between 4–6am at the Holiday House for breakfast and he would mentor me. He did this up until the days has passed in his 80’s, and I’m forever grateful as he taught me integrity, focus, determination and courage. When I thought I was going to “lose it all” instead he told me to keep walking and show that I could “walk through the fire” and make it to the other side.

Is there a particular book 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. It taught me to examine some of my beliefs around money, and to start protecting my time.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I love the mindset of “making the impossible, possible” and part of that is we must “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Without the “uncomfortable” we can’t press through the moments that seem impossible. While I was building my 3rd company, fighting for funding, I found myself not able to make payroll. I knew we’d eventually get the funding and needed to hang on long enough, so I rented my condo and had planned to live in my car. Thankfully, my support system offered to help, I moved in with a friend who believed in what I was doing, she carried me until I was able to get the money we needed.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Growing up my family was very active in serving the community through our church. I loved helping others and knew I wanted to be a missionary when I grew up.

Having experienced the challenges women face in entrepreneurship I’ve had the privilege to create programs that I would’ve loved having access to when starting my own companies. EBW has reached more than 700M women globally, matching them with the resources they need to start, grow and scale their companies.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Statistics show that less than two percent of women entrepreneurs in the United States earn more than 1 million dollars in revenue, and women CEOs received just shy of 3 percent of venture dollars in 2019. Add in the global pandemic, job losses and school closures and it’s easy to presume that the up-hill battle for women is steeper than ever. I disagree.

I believe we’re entering a new era for women as many are being forced to re-think their careers and entrepreneurship is their best bet. Because women naturally have the mentality of, “I’m going to protect my kids, family, and community. I’m going to think outside of the box. I’m going to vet, prepare, and execute so I reduce the rate of failure. I’m going to break through walls and do whatever it takes to survive.”

Today’s global chaos is forcing women to step into their power and opportunities for funding will thereby increase.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

I created EBW to help women reach their full potential by combining mentorship and training along with products and services to help them start, grow and scale.

On April 7, 2021, we’re launching a new EBW Accelerator — an online education platform and community that will bring together a network of passionate and committed female entrepreneurs and business owners to provide the skills, practices, trainings, and beliefs needed to help women reach six figures and beyond.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

When you activate women, you activate the economy! Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our global economy, and under representation of women in business is a missed opportunity both socially and economically.

  • Women put around 90% of their income back into their communities and families.
  • 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 dollars.
  • Businesses founded by women produce higher revenue, over 2X more per dollar invested than companies founded by men.

With women accounting for 5.4 million job losses due to the pandemic, it’s never been a better time for women to become masters of their own destiny and launch their entrepreneurial journeys.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. Increase supplier diversity opportunities for women-owned businesses. According to recent SBA data, 26B dollars or just over 5% of all federal contracts go to women owned small businesses. Given that women own 39% of all privately held firms, there is a significant discrepancy between allocated spend and opportunity. If these organizations doubled their supplier diversity allocation — not spend, JUST their budget allocation — then we would get more than 1B dollars of revenue back in the hands of women and diverse business owners.
  2. Invest in women through networks and mentorship. The challenge facing women remains the same: It’s all about access. Supporting women-owned businesses by giving them access to mentors, sponsors and networks of people who’ve “been there, done that,” gives women first hand advice based on real experiences and lessons learned. EBW is supporting mentorship efforts through our accelerator, continuing education and training programs, and facilitated networking events. Join us here https://ebw2020.com/education/.
  3. Elevate women in the media. American astronaut Sally Ride once said “young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.” Women are far less likely than men to be seen in the media. As subjects of stories, women only appear in a quarter of television, radio, and print news. The media has a duty to help reinforce gender stereotypes and elevate more women owned businesses.
  4. Increase access to capital. A 2020 CrunchBase study revealed that women received 2.8% of total startup investment, yet they make up nearly 40 percent of all entrepreneurs and significantly outperform men in business. Access to capital is arguably the biggest barrier for women entrepreneurs, there are a number of ways the public and private sector can help close the gap:
  • Incentivize individuals and organizations to invest in women-owned businesses through venture funds, corporate venture, private equity and supplier diversity.
  • Modernize and promote government certification, grant and loan programs.
  • Create new sources of capital though crowdfunding, personal and impact investments.

5. Increase STEM education for girls. There is a noticeably smaller number of women entrepreneurs with STEM backgrounds, which is one of the reasons most women-owned businesses don’t surpass 1M dollars in revenue. Research tells us girls lack confidence and lose interest in pursuing STEM subjects based on their beliefs, not their ability. It’s up to all of us to invest in the next generation, close the gender gap in STEM fields.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

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.

With only 3% of corporate procurement dollars and 5% of federal contracts going to women-owned firms, we believe if these organizations doubled their supplier diversity allocation, we will generate 1B dollars + in revenue for women entrepreneurs.

We invite you to join the movement to work with governments, enterprises, and influencers all over the world to course correct this “She-cession” and build the SHEconomy.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

President Biden is taking steps to advance women at a rate we have not seen. Given EBW’s mission is to create a global sustainable future through the empowerment of women, we want to partner with the Biden administration to foster policies and programs that advance women and girls and drive economic impact.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I hope they do! I’m on social media daily, sharing insights and resources for women entrepreneurs. Join me!

Twitter — @ontheroadwithiv

LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/ingridvanderveldt/

Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/ingridvanderveldt

Instagram — @ontheroadwithiv

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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