Devon Fiddler had a clear mission for the company she started in 2014: To help change the perception of Indigenous women. Her Saskatoon-based fashion brand, SheNative, sells leather handbags and apparel that benefit her community with charitable donations while sharing their message. For example, the Red Purse collection was designed to raise awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada with 15 per cent of profits directed to charities that support and empower Indigenous women.
But as a new entrepreneur, she struggled with how to move her business forward and make focused decisions. She often forgot her own opinion because she listened to many points of view from different mentors and coaches over the years.
Fortunately, a connection to SheEO helped her find the right mentor. SheEO is a Canadian-based organization that supports female-led ventures with investments from females sponsors or ‘activators’. Every year, contributions from each activator is pooled together and loaned out interest-free to companies that are trying to create a better world through their products or services.
“One of the SheEO coaches really helped me put things in perspective, getting me to dig deep to get in touch with my own belief system,” Ms. Fiddler says. “She taught me a lot about inner intuition, encouraging me to decide for myself on the direction to take.”
After being chosen as a venture, Ms. Fiddler attended a SheEO retreat in Toronto in 2017, learning self-development and business skills.
“It was really about sharing experiences,” says Ms. Fiddler, who brought her eight-month-old son along where he was welcomed, even during work sessions. “I expected people would be catty but it wasn’t like that. It was a profound experience with an atmosphere of understanding. I always know that if I need advice or to connect with somebody, SheEO has my back.”
Everyone who applies to SheEO gets personalized feedback even if they’re not chosen for funding, says founder Vicki Saunders. The organization has helped over 1,000 female-led ventures since it started four years ago and funded 25 ventures. The organization’s terminology of “ventures” and “activators” is very intentional.
“If you want to create new behaviour, you often have to use new language,” Ms. Saunders says. “If I said I was creating a big investment club, many women wouldn’t want to be part of that. In our network, an activator is activating their network, expertise, buying power and input into communities along with their money. It’s not just the money.”
Ventures are selected by the activators themselves from applicants. Companies have to be in the market with customers and at least $50,000 in revenue. Another requirement is that a woman must own 51 per cent or more of the shares, and the company must be led by a woman.
“One of our challenges is that four per cent of capital goes to female entrepreneurs and we are 51 per cent of the population,” Ms. Saunders says. “It’s a nightmare to get funded as a female entrepreneur. There are just so many unconscious biases in every sector.”
With mothers, daughters and granddaughters from ages 12 to 94 as activators in their network, she encourages any woman who wants to get involved to do so.
Another organization that is committed to driving social change is Good & Well, a Toronto-based investment firm that partners with individuals and early stage businesses that want to create a more fair, prosperous and sustainable world.
Alexandra Bailie, the company’s president, says today’s social and environmental challenges can’t be solved without engaging enterprises that are shifting traditional business practices and perceptions.
“The private sector hasn’t yet been adequately mobilized,” she says. “We seek to contribute to that effort by catalyzing a private sector in which people bring their humanity to work.”
As one of the businesses Good & Well supports, Fresh City aims to build healthier, more sustainable food systems. Ran Goel, who started the bootstrapped company as an organic urban farm in 2011, says the investment came at an opportune moment when they were moving towards more prepared foods and the meal kits their customers wanted.
“Good & Well actually reached out to us when they were first setting up in 2015,” Mr. Goel says. “It was a dream come true for a mission-based company. What this kind of capital does is allow entrepreneurs to try and create different and more sustainable business models effectively. A lot of us have ideas about how the world could be a better place, but really you don’t know how it’s all going to work until you do it.”