Women in B2B: Vicki Saunders on her plan to help support female-run businesses

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This is the next instalment of our new profile series on B2Bnn: Women in B2B, sponsored by SqueezeCMM. With these profiles, you’ll learn about the careers and business goals of inspiring female leaders in the B2B industry. 

A new project aiming to meet the tremendous need for and by female-led ventures will be giving five Canadian businesses a boost in December.

“Women are starting businesses at twice the pace of men and making 80 percent of purchasing decisions, yet only four percent of venture capital goes to women,” said Toronto-based entrepreneur and head of SheEO Vicki Saunders. “Instead, women go to banks, their friends and family, and if all else fails, they ‘bootstrap’ their way up.”

That’s where Radical Generosity comes in.

The brainchild of Saunders, an award-winning mentor, author and speaker, Radical Generosity will be launching its first cohort this month as five women-led businesses will be chosen by their peers to receive five-year, interest-free loans totalling $500,000.

Saunders launched the Canadian Radical Generosity model earlier this year with the goal of getting 1,000 women to gift $1,000 each – a collective $1 million – to improve on the low levels of funding that women-led ventures receive, and the limited number of female entrepreneurs that have mentors and advisers.

At the end of November, the project had 500 investors, a number that the Ottawa native is pleased with, given Radical Generosity’s unique funding model.

“This is still new,” she said. “We were looking for people who were willing to step out onto the edge. People want to see how this is going to work first, and that is OK.”

Saunders can’t wait to see how the support of 500 women will impact business owners’ dreams, ambitions and boldness.

“Can you imagine having (500) women who have your back? If you knew you had a whole network of people invested in your success willing to be radically generous, would you act differently? My thesis is: absolutely!”

The 51-year-old business maven said she has been the beneficiary of support and advice from women at different points her in life.

“I’ve met many women on the way who have opened up my mind to the state of the world, to my potential, to how I was getting in my own way,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky to bump into the most incredible women. As they say, ‘the teacher appears when you are ready for them.’”

This fall, Radical Generosity had 239 applicants Canada-wide. Product ideas ranged from food coverings made from beeswax, to video games that teach empathy, to wellness products.

The contributors, or “activators,” as Saunders calls them, will be choosing the recipients this month. “We’re asking women to choose their favourites, the ideas that they are most excited to support,” Saunders said.

The entrepreneurs will negotiate with each other to split the funds. This will help the women excel outside of their comfort zone, Saunders said. After the money is repaid to SheEO, it will be loaned out again to the next cohort of companies, with each $1,000 commitment paying it forward over and over.

Beyond the money, the selected ventures will also receive access to advice and guidance from the activators and world-class coaching, retreats and workshops. By next year, this material will be available to anyone who wants the information, she said. “We want to change the model of how we do things.”

Saunders said that change is much-needed.

Anyone starting a business has challenges from the get-go, she said.

“You have to get people engaged in your vision so they join your team and go on this crazy journey with you. You need to raise capital if you can’t bootstrap the idea. There’s a lot of effort spent in clarifying your idea, finding supporters, mentors, team, advisors and all of that takes a giant leap of faith. It’s super scary and exciting and every day can be like a rollercoaster. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Things are even tougher for women.

“I think that women have busier lives than men, in general. We’ve got a lot on our plates so one of the benefits of running your own business is designing your life to get all of that done. You can set your own hours and define your values. That’s a huge bonus.”

The rewards, for those who choose to undertake the challenge, are great.

“I’m totally addicted to the freedom I’ve created for myself,” Saunders said. ”I’m in control of my own destiny. Beyond that there is an incredible rush in bringing something new into the world and the creative process.”

Supporting women also means shouldering the communities they work in, as women are more likely than men to invest in their communities.

“If women were financed to the same degree as male-led companies, we would create six million jobs in the next five years in North America,” Saunders noted.

The goal by 2020 is to expand the program worldwide, getting one million women to gift a collective $1 billion.

“The biggest issue with Radical Generosity was how to design an experience to wake us up to the fact that we have all we need to change the world,” Saunders said. “The only thing stopping us is ourselves. It needed to be small enough that it was doable and be able to replicate and grow so that it could have a big impact and it needed to be different enough that it twisted your brain a bit.

“We’ll get there,” she said. “This is the beginning of a movement.”

Photo courtesy Vicki Saunders

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Tracey Tong

Tracey Tong

Tracey Tong is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years in newspapers and communications. She is a former managing editor at Metro News and has contributed stories on business, politics, technology, science, healthcare and the arts to dozens of publications all over North America. The Burlington native currently makes her home in Ottawa. Find her on Twitter @TraceyTong