The Lieutenant Governor stands on a colourful podium with SheEO written in the background


An innovative idea
In 2015, Vicki Saunders was inspired to launch SheEO, a non-profit Toronto-based initiative that dramatically transforms how female innovators are supported, financed, and celebrated. Her goal was to disrupt the existing startup financing systems she believed were designed mostly for men, by creating an entirely new model with a new set of values shaped with a feminist lens. The goal was to help women create businesses that reflected their passions, strengths and values, and allow them a safe space to thrive on their own terms.

Thriving on their owns terms
Growing up on a 100-acre farm outside of Ottawa, Vicki Saunders remembers listening to her parents’ new ideas to diversify their family business. She and her siblings were encouraged to contribute to the brainstorming. What began as a pick-your-own strawberries farm quickly turned into a successful event-driven enterprise with year-round educational activities. Saunders believes this early creative and collaborative environment nurtured her for success as an entrepreneur, mentor, and innovator. She went on to start and grow four successful ventures of her own.

Radical generosity
The SheEO model is premised on attracting successful women investors by practicing “radical generosity”. Using a simple crowdsourcing framework, SheEO recruits 500 women called “Activators” who contribute equally to a $500,000 venture capital fund. The Activators then select five woman-led businesses titled “Ventures” that each receive a loan of $100,000 at zero-percent interest. Each new Venture is revenue-generating with export-ready potential to create a better world through their business model or their product or service. The Activators become a team that offers advice and support to help accelerate the new entrepreneurs’ successes while benefitting from this new business network themselves. The loans are paid back over five years then loaned out again through a perpetual fund.

The Lieutenant Governor speaks with representative from Heartbeat AI startup

Global impact
Just four years later, Vicki Saunders’s radical funding redesign is a resounding success. SheEO represents a highly diverse group of women and has a growing global enterprise in Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia and the UK. They are proud to have funded over 50 innovative women-led ventures that are solving critical issues and helping to redefine the world. They see their visionary approach as a pathway to a new inclusive economic and social model for sustainable communities. SheEO’s goal is to reach 1 million Activators and 10,000 Ventures, with a $1 billion perpetual fund, to support women for generations to come. As they ask so succinc¬tly to their growing number of supporters: Are you IN?

SheEO Venture Business Cards

The facts are compelling. They speak for themselves. Empowering women and girls can have an amazing positive impact on the prosperity and quality of life in our communities and society at large. Yet we are still working toward gender equality on so many fronts. There is much Unfinished Business. So I take much pride in the creative and visionary development of Ontario-based SheEO over the last five years. It demonstrates how women’s entrepreneurship can disrupt not only outmoded ways of doing business, but also underlying power structures, which so often entrench inequality and perpetuate divisions between the haves and the have-nots.
As SheEO amplifies the voices of women in the business world, it is driving real progress towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, or in Vicki’s words, “tackling the world’s to-do-list”.

SheEO’s model itself is an innovation with a profoundly social dimension. Its radical generosity has the potential to be truly transformative while allowing women to forge their own path and thrive.

Stories of Sustainability