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Dell wants to help the disruptors. In fact, Dell wants to be one of the disruptors. The company its founder calls “the world’s largest startup” is going back to its roots. The recent “Beginnings” ad shows the humble starts of companies like Under Armour, Skype, and Dropbox that have become part of the American vernacular. The ad concludes with Dell itself, launched in a humble dorm room in 1984.
Nowhere is Dell’s startup thinking more evident than with its entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) program.
EIR programs are familiar figures in the world of venture capital, arming investors with the ideas and contacts that form the lifeblood of the start-up community. Yet these prized “secret weapons” are increasingly being deployed in the corporate world, as well, to help more established businesses maintain their innovative spark.
Since serial entrepreneur Ingrid Vanderveldt came on board as Dell’s first EIR a little over two years ago, the tech giant has cemented its transition from a computer company to an end-to-end solutions provider with strong ties to the entrepreneur community.
Vanderveldt describes her role as a forming a bridge with the entrepreneurial community to “bring the outside in” — opening up Dell’s technology, financing and know-how to innovators seeking to quickly scale their business.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, enabling Dell to build upon its base of 10 million small business customers and the fast-growing, nimble “gazelles” that are key drivers of innovation and job creation in today’s economy. The Technology CEO Council, a trade group currently chaired by Michael Dell, estimated in a recent report that 40% percent of new jobs come from the top-performing 1% of companies.
“My role at Dell takes a unique spin on the traditional concept of an entrepreneur-in-residence, as my job is to create an authentic bridge between the corporation and the entrepreneurial community — providing Dell with visibility into the needs of entrepreneurs and establishing an ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders,” Vanderveldt told FreeEnterprise.com.
She started building that bridge through the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs, a sort of entrepreneurial community center. She also formed the Founders Club, made up of top executives from innovative companies. There’s also a financing piece, the $100 million Dell Innovators Credit Fund aimed at helping companies already backed by angel or venture capital to acquire the technology they need to grow.
Vanderveldt said she’s been given the opportunity “to create the programs that we all would’ve loved to have when we were launching our own companies.”
While she was only one of a handful of corporate EIRs when she joined Dell, Vanderveldt expects the idea to catch on, especially in the tech sector.
“Bringing the entrepreneurial mindset into a corporation is key for any organization that wishes to successfully reach entrepreneurs and startups as customers,” she said, noting that entrepreneurs spend over $559 billion a year on IT.
While Dell has become a champion of EIRs, including envisioning a role for them in government, Vanderveldt was actually the initiator. Having just sold her latest green IT venture, a business converting human waste into fuel for truckers, she pitched the idea while attending the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference in 2010. She saw it as a way to help pursue her “mission to give back to the entrepreneurial community and to empower women around the world to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.”
Her personal goal is to empower 1 billion women entrepreneurs by 2020, and she’s leveraging her roles at Dell and the United Nations — as a member of the Global Entrepreneurs Council — to accomplish the task. Through its Pay it Forward initiative, Dell itself has set a goal to track support for 1 million women entrepreneurs by the end of next year.
“Empowering women in business is one area that I’m especially passionate about and Dell’s focus and dedication to this mission, through programs such as the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, is what inspired me to get involved with the company in the first place,” said Vanderveldt.