How radical generosity can secure $1bn in funding for women

9 Sep 2016

Vicki Saunders, founder, SheEO. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

Vicki Saunders has a radical idea to disrupt the way women entrepreneurs access funding.

SheEO founder Vicki Saunders took to the Inspirefest stage this summer to share her idea of ‘radical generosity’.

Admittedly, she likes to create havoc if it means she can help change the world for the better and, through SheEO, she intends to disrupt the traditional model of funding and investment for entrepreneurs.

Inspirefest 2017

“In general, women were not at the table for designing 1.0 of this world, and we better be there for 2.0,” Saunders declared, and her design for this life involves a makeover of investment to include more women-led businesses.

How SheEo works

SheEO is a global collaboration network creating communities of 1,000 women in locations around the world. Each woman in a community contributes $1,000 to what adds up to a $1m fund. This fund is then used to finance 10 local companies that are female-led, majority female-owned and have at least $50,000 in revenue.

The 10 selected companies receive low-interest loans from this pool, plus access to the buying power, connections and expertise of a 1,000-strong business network.

SheEO has even rethought the funding application process, asking not for pitch decks but for a whole view of the people and the company. There were 236 applications received within six weeks of the first SheEO pilot, with the first question being: who are you?

The applicants are then vetted and whittled down via an online platform where the 1,000 women in the network make their top selections.

In keeping with the theme of changing it up, the 10 companies then come together for a retreat, building relationships and learning from one another, before they are then tasked with deciding among themselves who gets what from the fund. There are only two rules they must abide by: no one company can take the full $1m, and they can’t divide the fund equally among themselves.

In the last process, Saunders said, it took eight and a half hours to finalise this decision. Not bad for a day’s work.

More than money

This revolutionary approach to funding has already attracted attention outside of Saunders’ native Canada. Since launching the pilot there in July 2015, she has seen 100 more communities launched. The ultimate goal is for that number to reach 1,000 by 2020 – which would equate to $1bn of capital going to women entrepreneurs in the next four years.

“Imagine, if we were radically generous to each other, what we could do,” Saunders challenged the Inspirefest audience, noting that the generosity doesn’t stop at money. The communities also offer support to their funded companies, with emails from funding recipients to the network receiving responses within minutes.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.