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Having a lasting impact through entrepreneurship

As a teenager in high school, Vickie Gibbs (MBA ’98) knew she wanted to start her own business.

“I don’t like being in a box,” Gibbs says. She had a strong desire to be her own boss and be as creative as possible.

With that entrepreneurial mindset, Gibbs was the perfect person to serve as executive director for the Business School’s Entrepreneurship Center.

Gibbs earned her MBA through the School’s full-time program, so she’s familiar with campus and the buzz of students working on start-ups and other projects.

“It’s nice being back in the community. Being around students definitely gives you that energy and feeling of being hungry to learn,” Gibbs says. “There’s that excitement that comes from lifelong learning here.”

Gibbs earned her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Duke University. Her alma mater and UNC were both on her radar when she decided to earn her MBA. She was married at the time, and wanted to stay local.

“I knew that UNC Kenan-Flagler was really strong in marketing and had just started to do more in entrepreneurship, which was new at the time. That was interesting to me,” Gibbs says. After coming to Chapel Hill for her on-campus interview and site visit, her decision was made.

“The community and the general vibe about everything were really amazing and I could tell that everything was very connected, everyone was willing to help each other,” she says. “Overwhelmingly I said, ‘This is where I want to be.’”

The sense of community extends to alumni and Gibbs compliments the School’s efforts to keep them involved.

“Shortly after I graduated, I came back and spoke at classes and judged events. That brought more connections to other alumni and students, growing my network of people,” Gibbs says. “The Business School and Entrepreneurship Center both work to keep alumni engaged, informed and included.”

Gibbs brings more than 20 years of experience with entrepreneurial ventures to the center. Her career has included jobs at high-tech startups including OpenSite, Art.com and Motricity as well as stints with Viacom / MTV Networks and Capitol Broadcasting Company before founding Marlow Consulting Group.

Gibbs learned valuable lessons at each company, but one scenario stood out to her.

Gibbs and her best friend were working at Art.com, an online retail company. They both loved the idea of producing a physical product, and had an idea of creating an actual store, thinking it would be the same as online retail, but they quickly learned they were wrong.

“Being a successful entrepreneur, you have this combination of humility and hubris. You don’t know everything but you’re convinced you can figure it out,” Gibbs says. After their store had been open for four years, they had to close it.

“Sometimes the greatest learnings come from experiences that are considered failures. We launched a business and had to close it, but learned so much from that experience. One of those lessons was not being afraid of trying something new and failing. Those failures can turn into something positive, potentially a life-changing career”, Gibbs says.

Learning from mistakes and being adaptable has helped Gibbs in her leadership roles and will certainly guide her in her new role with the UNC Kenan-Flagler Entrepreneurship Center.

“I am a servant leader. I feel that we’re all one team, and even though I might be the leader of a team, we’re all in it together. It takes all of the pieces to make things successful. By serving others, we serve the greater good,” Gibbs explains.

But before becoming an entrepreneur, Gibbs used her background in electrical engineering to land her first job at Mitsubishi Semiconductor as a hardware design engineer. Being a woman in STEM, tech and entrepreneurship, Gibbs has advice for other women who want to follow a similar career path.

“Don’t be afraid of anything. You are completely capable,” Gibbs says. “Don’t be intimidated just because there are not a lot of women around. Sometimes you just have to be bold and go for it,” Gibbs explains. Being a woman in business and tech has disadvantages and advantages.

“I get remembered a lot more. It gives you an opportunity to stand out,” she says.

And when disadvantages arise, Gibbs relies on her circle of friends. She says it’s important for women in business to maintain a cohort of female colleagues and peers who you can rely on. It has helped Gibbs professionally and personally.

“We talk about work, we talk about fun stuff and we also support each other as we encounter challenges,” Gibbs says. They also share successes. Gibbs helped pilot a program at Duke, DTech, for women in technical fields to help them develop a sense of community with their female peers. “It’s been life changing for some of those young women who are graduating and getting jobs.”

Gibbs loves seeing potential in others, coaching them and giving them the opportunity to learn and pushing them outside of their comfort zones. Some people who have worked with Gibbs are now VPs of top brands like Nickelodeon and Sephora.

“One of the main drivers for coming back to UNC Kenan-Flagler at the Entrepreneurship Center is to have a larger impact in a broader way,” she says. Gibbs praises Ted Zoller for the success and growth of the center. She wanted to work with him and take the center to the next level. One challenge she hopes to tackle is diversity.

“Diversity in entrepreneurship is a challenge. No one’s really figured it out yet and I would love to make progress with the Entrepreneurship Center — figure out how companies can do it better and how we can do it better. It’s a big problem to solve,” Gibbs explains.

Her goal is to always have a lasting impact where ever she can. In addition to her new role with the Entrepreneurship Center, she’s also working with the Street Hope Foundation in Kenya. The organization supports women who are in survival prostitution, which is when homeless or disadvantage people trade sex for food, a place to sleep or other basic needs.

“We’re teaching them life skills and job skills. To watch life-changing impact is really amazing,” Gibbs says.

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