Not everyone dreams of one day owning their own business. When it was suggested to Diana Dibble in 1994, she says she was quite clear that she didn’t want the responsibilities that come with being a business owner, especially when you have employees.
“As an employer, you are responsible for people’s livelihoods and it’s a role that I view as being very serious. However, life had a different plan for me,” Diana says. She started her first business in 1996. She put it on hold in 2000 to go work for a former client, where she met her business partner, Molly Gimmel. In 2001, Diana and Molly started their business and more than 20 years later, the business partners are still going strong.
“It’s interesting that people perceive me as someone who always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Diana says. “When Molly approached me with the idea of starting a business, I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur.’ I felt like entrepreneurship was too much responsibility and a lot of long hours.”
However, Diana changed her mind. She recalls going on a cruise and thinking about the business idea again. Then, as soon as she returned, she called Molly to say, ‘Let’s do this!’”
Diana merged her previous consulting practice into Design To Delivery Inc (D2DInc), a government contracting firm launched on September 10, 2001, one day before 9/11. It was originally founded to help small businesses win and manage government contracts and was successful in helping numerous small businesses enter into government contracting and grow their organizations. The company has since changed their business model, and this multiple award-winning company now directly supports federal government agencies.
The business partners have since opened a wellness center that they ran for three years, and in August of 2022, Diana founded Tripod Coaching & Consulting LLC, a business operations consulting firm. “The point is, you never know where you’ll end up,” she says. “I have a passion for helping people and for business operations.”
Diana likes to joke that she’s a June Gemini, while Molly is a May Gemini. “The two of us together is why everything works,” she says. Molly is D2DInc’s outward facing partner. She handles business development and client services. Diana is the inward facing partner, responsible for all of the company’s business operations functions and infrastructure.
Some of the milestones the two have faced together over 20-plus years include surviving their largest customer going bankrupt during the 2009 recession; pivoting from supporting government contractors to providing contract administration and program management support directly to federal agencies; hiring employees who work on agency sites in multiples states; opening their second office in Indiana; and being on the Inc. 5000 list for four consecutive years. In 2013, they won a contract that catapulted them to $10 million in annual revenue and almost 100 employees.
More recently, during COVID-19, Diana realized the full scope of the pandemic early on. She and her team quickly began the process to move the entire staff to work remotely before the states shut down ensuring no interruption in services to their customers and employees. Then in 2022, D2DInc launched a new service line called the Small Business Superstore, or SBS, a community of small companies who sell products, which D2DInc will resell to government customers.
Another big change that came more recently for Diana was personal. Starting in late 2019, she noticed changes in her vision. Then while backing out of a parking spot in July 2021, she realized that she had no peripheral vision in one of her eyes. She had an MRI on November 1, 2021 and waited for the results. “I remember I was on a NAWBO Circle event call when the doctor called me. The doctor said I had two brain tumors, most likely non-cancerous,” she says. “Six days later, I was meeting with a neurosurgeon and getting scheduled for brain surgery on December 1, 2021.”
At first, Diana shared her health journey just with those closest to her, but during Brain Tumor Awareness Month in May 2022, she decided to share it with the world, especially with other women business owners. “After years and years of doing business operations consulting, the ‘what if’ happened to me but I was prepared,” she says. “I realized within days after my surgery that something good has to come out of this. I have to use my story to help others.”
Diana had less than three weeks to prepare her company, her business partner and her executive team for her absence, which ended up being 6-and-a-half months instead of the originally planned 5 weeks. Fortunately, all the work she had done over the years to standardize and document company policies and procedures made it easy for Molly and their executive management team to step in while Diana was recovering from surgery and subsequently radiation treatments.
Diana is doing great today, though her health journey is far from over. She will have these tumors for the rest of her life. The surgeon was only able to partially remove one tumor, which started to grow again in January 2022. She said she hopes that the 5.5 weeks of radiation she had stopped or shrunk the tumor because additional surgery isn’t a safe option. The other tumor is stable and remains unchanged. “There’s so much misinformation about brain tumors like that you have surgery and you’re all better,” Diana says. “It feels good to finally tell people this is what’s going on and tell them these are some of the things you should know about people with brain tumors.”
Through it all, NAWBO, and specifically the NAWBO Circle program for women business owners who have reached at least $1 million in annual revenue, has been a constant source of support. Diana found out about NAWBO a few years into her business after Molly joined. “I’d go to some events, but I had my things and she had hers, but I sat back and watched Molly bloom as a business owner and leader,” shares Diana.
After Molly and Lynda Bishop, VP National Programs for the NAWBO Institute, created the Circle, Diana watched the first year and then in 2017, she joined. “I found women with similar-sized businesses with similar challenges who just understood,” Diana says. “Then, I decided to go to more events and make more friends in the Greater DC chapter. One day after an event, I was asked about joining the Chapter board and becoming chapter president and I said, ‘Sure.”
“I like to help people, but I can’t explain how much I got back,” she adds. “I had been a leader, but it’s different when you’re a leader of a Chapter board made up of other women business owners. I learned so much from them and my other NAWBO sisters. The before, during and now NAWBO me is not the same person. I’m better at listening, asking questions and getting input. The transformation is amazing.”
Diana gives back to her community in other ways, too. She is a frequent judge and speaker for Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), participates on various panels talking about business topics and fundraises for several local, national and international non-profits. She is also using her story as a brain tumor survivor to bring awareness, to fundraise (she raised almost $5,000 in May and June for the National Brain Tumor Society) and to end the stigma facing entrepreneurs with chronic illnesses, particularly invisible ones.
“I want to work with entrepreneurs to create contingency plans to keep their businesses running when diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening illness or while being a caregiver,” Diana shares. “It is a very scary time because you’re dealing with immediate health issues, as well as the short- and long-term effects on the business. I want to offer hope. My story may become someone else’s roadmap for survival.”
Besides the honor of being recognized alongside some other remarkable women, this reluctant serial entrepreneur sees the Woman Business Owner of the Year award program as a platform to help her do just that.
Photos (top to bottom) include: Diana and Molly at D2DInc’s second physical location in 2013; Diana speaking at a NAWBO Greater DC event; and Diana serving as a judge for a NFTE event (the photo appeared on their website).