Being an entrepreneur is not easy. It's not all Kickstarter pages and celebrating the first sale. A lot of being an entrepreneur is sleepless nights, wrestling with investors, scrambling to hit deadlines, dealing with people who don't deliver (on time, on budget, on quality), and the list goes on.
And it's even harder for women.
Fortunately, that's not stopping them. The State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express in 2014 found that the rate of increase of women entrepreneurs is 68 percent since 1997 with more than 9.1 million women-owned businesses in 2014 that collectively generated over 1.5 trillion dollars in revenue.
Many thousands of women are starting their businesses now and taking their first steps on the entrepreneur's path, but a handful have been hard at work for decades. Vonda White, Founder and Executive Director of Camp Pillsbury, was one of those empowering women.
She started her first business in 1996, an insurance consulting brokerage. The experience opened her eyes to the world of potential out there for those people who are willing to take risks and work to turn dreams into realities. With her head on a swivel, she began seeking out new opportunities.
An idea hit her one summer after taking her children to a summer camp. The benefits that camps have on child development are enormous (studies have shown they can increase children's resilience to stress) and it hit her: she should open her own.
When she sat down to draw up her vision for the camp, she realized she was going to need something very difficult to acquire. She needed a college campus. If you realized you needed to buy an entire college to make your dream a reality, you might quit, right? Vonda, a hustling entrepreneur, simply googled, "College campus for sale."
That's right, a whole college -- dorms, acres of open space, operable facilities, the whole nine yards.
The nationwide search went on for months but when Vonda stumbled across a beautiful campus for sale in Owatonna, Minnesota, she knew it was the one that matched her vision. The historical campus was originally opened in 1957 as Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and housed over 800 students a year. After it closed in 2008, the property remained bank-owned for 5 years waiting for the right buyer.
For Vonda, the campus was perfect. But, there was one small issue. She read an article that a group of Chinese investors were acquiring the campus. While most would have given up there, she persevered. Vonda called the bank the next morning and to her surprise, found that the deal had fallen through. It was hers if she could come up with the financing.
So Vonda went from bank to bank, getting rejected by each in turn. Sadly for women entrepreneurs, that's not too uncommon. Data shows that women have a more difficult time raising funding than men and that seemed to be the case for her. But she kept going. After being denied by six banks, she finally found one willing to give her the financing.
And just like that, Vonda became the owner of a college campus. After years of effort and overcoming what many would have called impossible obstacles, she had bought a college. She attributes her drive to her ability to "Break through all barriers, no matter what the goal", one of the many skills she acquired as a 13-year member of the Entrepreneur's Organization, an elite members-only group of entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship is tough for men and women. It's been reported that 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months. Despite these risks, Vonda continues to charge ahead, overcoming every obstacle that gets in her way.
On January 17th, 2014, Vonda held a large ribbon-cutting ceremony as she opened the Camp Pillsbury campus. This opening came just 8 weeks after she acquired the campus. Many in the community doubted she would reach that deadline. But she did it, because that's what she does.
While the future of Camp Pillsbury remains to be seen, the one thing that is clear is that Vonda White is an empowering entrepreneur to men and women everywhere. She doesn't take no for an answer and once she has a vision, there is nothing that will stop her from achieving it. Vonda's story is still unfolding and it won't be one you'll want to miss.