Leaders’ Insights: Vicki Saunders, Sheeo

23 Jun 2016

Vicki Saunders is an entrepreneur, award-winning mentor and adviser.

Vicki Saunders is the founder of Sheeo, an initiative that aims to transform how we support and finance female entrepreneurs around the world.

Saunders has co-founded and run several ventures, including Zazengo, an online platform for consumer and employee engagement; KidsNRG/The NRG Group, which went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2000, and ImpactANation, a global consulting firm focused on engaging youth to tackle the grand challenges we are facing.

Future Human

An accomplished speaker at events around the world, Saunders will be in Dublin next week for Inspirefest, where she will present a keynote.

Describe your role and what you do.

I lead the vision and strategy for Sheeo and I’m always activating my network and my experience to help women create a huge impact in the world through their businesses.

What set you on the road to where you are now in the industry?

I have started and run five businesses and dozens of programmes over the years while mentoring more than 1000 entrepreneurs and I have observed, with deep frustration, the lack of funding and support available to women who run businesses on their own terms. Women receive less than 7pc of venture capital funding and a minority of women-led businesses have mentors and advisers. I decided that instead of starting another five businesses in the rest of my lifetime I would devout my life to solving this issue.

What do you do every day to help you achieve your business goals?

I am engaged in a rapid rollout of #radicalgenerosity, our signature programme at Sheeo, which invites 1000 women per city to commit $1,000 each to provide loans to 10 local women-led ventures that are selected by the 1000 women. We have had incredible interest from all over the world to replicate this model. We have 100 cities in the pipeline and we expect to reach 1000 cities by 2020.

I’m constantly paying attention to following the energy I see around me, paying attention to my intuition and acting in an instant when everything seems right. So, for example, I pay attention to what cities around the world keep emailing us to replicate our model, then I meet with them and if it feels right (because value-fit and community-readiness is critical to our success), then I greenlight the city and we are off!

I practice what I preach, which I think is critical to any kind of transformation. How am I being radically generous with myself and how am I being radically generous with others?

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistake I made was not asking for help in a time of struggle for me. I didn’t trust myself at that early point in my career and I was surrounded by a bunch of arrogant traditional business people who ‘decided’ that I didn’t have what it took to build out the company that I had started and grown.

I didn’t have anyone around me who had my back and was in my corner. That was my mistake. I learned the hard way that you must ask for help when the going gets tough (well, all the time actually) if you want to achieve great things in the world. It took me a while to learn that lesson.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Breathe. It’s all going to happen and unfold as it needs to. Believe and trust. And, of course, my younger self would still not believe me. It takes time to build up your confidence and trust in your power. Or it did for me, anyways.

‘The biggest mistake I made was not asking for help in a time of struggle for me’

How do you get the best out of your team?

After years and yeas of reading books and trial and error and hundreds of workshops, conversations, guru chats, etc, I think radical generosity is the key. How can you push people to the edge, the “radical” extension of their belief in what’s possible, and still be there – “generosity” – to give them a hug when they don’t quite reach the goal.

This is something I continue to work on. My goal is to be a graceful leader. Some days I rock at it and others I suck and that’s just my learning curve. When I’m fearful or unsure it shows up in my behaviour towards others. All of this work, running a business, whatever it is you do, is really only a pathway to learn about yourself.

What would you say are the key skills and traits a new starter in your industry needs?

I think it’s critical for everyone to get to know what their mastery is, what motivates them and what they are passionate about. Once you are in that zone, you can achieve anything you want.

‘Blockchain will be a game-changer for finance’

What trends do you see affecting your industry in the near future?

Everything is changing. Finance as we know it is dead. Blockchain will be a game-changer for finance. Programmes to support entrepreneurs need to be radically redesigned. Artificial intelligence is going to totally change how we find the person with the answer to our needs in an instant. I can’t wait. In the end, I see the future as very bright and, in the middle, it’s going to be messy.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

If your company has a hard time attracting diverse talent it says everything about your culture. This is not a pipeline issue. It’s a culture issue. Redesign from the bottom up it if you want to outperform your competitors.

 Who is your business hero and why?

Zita Cobb from Fogo Island Inn. She’s redesigning community from the bottom up in whole new way.

‘If your company has a hard time attracting diverse talent it says everything about your culture’

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Traction, by Gino Wickman.

Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Birth of the Chaordic Age, by Dee Hock.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Meditation. Deep breathing. Massage. Debriefing each day with my husband. Phone calls and meetings with people who are, what I would call, wise elders and the young ones who are just getting started. Reading everything I can from all sectors – Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, FiveThirtyEight, The Guardian, The New York Times, PandoDaily, TechCrunch, PopSugar, Scientific American, and hundreds of blogs. Seriously, I read the full spectrum.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book your tickets now to join us from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.