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SheEO Radical Generosity cohort Top 5 Canada 2016

The SheEO effect

“Collaboration is the new competition.” – SheEO Radical Generosity fund Top 5 cohort

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Our SheEO Radical Generosity cohort: (L-R) entrepreneurs Nadia Hamilton, Ilana Ben-Ari, Suzanne, Sonia Strobel, Madeleine, Toni Desrosiers, Coaches MJ Ryan and Loren Walsh, and Founder Vicki Saunders. Toronto, February 22, 2016. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.

We have just returned from one of the most remarkable experiences in our entire Lunapads journey. In addition to being recognized as being among Canada’s most impactful women entrepreneurs, we have seen and experienced what we believe is the future of sustainable business funding.

Lunapads was ranked in the top 5 from a field of over 230 applicant companies from across the country by 500 “Activators”: women who each contributed $1,000 (including Suzanne and I) to create the SheEO Radical Generosity fund of $500,000, distributed as interest-free, 5 year term loans.

The Toronto-based initiative is the brainchild of serial tech entrepreneur Vicki Saunders. Rather than being a “Venture Capital for women” approach, the fund offers a holistic, arguably more impactful model, harnessing the power of the Activators, effectively bringing each selected venture 500 new customers and advocates.

Vicki’s experience in the Silicon Valley investment world was of a deeply flawed model that is leading to unrealistic valuations – and human expectations – of “unicorn” companies that do not reflect the reality of the vast majority of business startups (twice as many of which are started by women as men, incongruously). Less than 4% of this type of investment is given to women-owned companies in any case.

Some other notable things about why Radical Generosity is so groundbreaking include its process: the $500,000 was allocated, not by a panel of judges or “experts”, but rather by consensus among the 5 ventures. The only rules that we were given were that the funds could not be divided evenly, and that the funds could not all be given to one venture.

Video credit: Kristina Ruddick

Rather than an adversarial, “winner take all” approach, where the venture with the most capital is seen as the most successful, the ventures chose (in the face of considerable media pressure, I might add) not to disclose the final amounts, choosing instead to highlight the combined estimated increase in revenue for the entire group in the next 12 months ($2.5 million).

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“Locked in a boardroom?” Not!

What the process looked like in practice was what made it truly incredible. We were sequestered, not in a downtown boardroom, but rather in a historic country farmhouse an hour away from Toronto.

In the company of two expert Coach facilitators as well as Vicki herself, we were led in a series of deeply thoughtful, heart-led conversations and exercises for a full day and a half prior to the commencement of the final deliberations. We were fed delicious organic food and encouraged to share our personal stories about who we are as people and the “whys” behind our business ventures.

The result is that it would be harder to find a more closely bonded group of ass-kicking entrepreneurs, fiercely committed to one another’s – and the fund’s – success. It is an amazing example of “big picture thinking” that we believe sets an example of true sustainability. “Not for ourselves alone” was a refrain that kept playing in my head throughout the weekend.

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Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

And then there was a party! It was so amazing to be celebrated, especially alongside such inspiring sister-entrepreneurs. The “purple carpet” event was held in a historic Fermentation room (Vicki noted in her speech that it was a perfect metaphor for the growth of the Radical Generosity network) and attended by over 200 Activators. In that room, we felt the overwhelming power of women truly excited about our businesses and eager to offer ways to help us achieve our goals. We are not only now supported by a new model of funding, but we now have 500 new customers, experts and champions of our business. How awesome is that?!

The only disappointment in the entire experience was the lack of depth in media coverage (ie: the Globe and Mail – online only , Techvibes,  and a tiny blurb on News 1130 and in the Vancouver Sun).  Given the innovative funding model and degree of impact SheEO is creating, we strongly feel this kind of story deserves more attention.

We are incredibly proud of this milestone and so grateful for the support of our staff, customers, friends and family that has brought us to this point. To Vicki and the SheEO team, the Activators, Ilana, Nadia, Toni and Sonia (more on these women and their businesses soon), and all SheEOs past, present and future: thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We will do you proud!