SHEeo founder and startup mentor Vicki Saunders addresses a key business meeting in Newcastle on November 24

Get real: "I don’t know why we put the burden on women to prove why it would be better if we fully participated," says Vicki Saunders.
Get real: "I don’t know why we put the burden on women to prove why it would be better if we fully participated," says Vicki Saunders.

 You are based in Canada and in Newcastle on November 24 at the Global Series talk run by the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship and UON, titled The future is female – the economic and social impact. What will you speak about?

I tend to prepare my talks a day before based on what I’m noticing in the world that day. I always talk about how to build a better world, my story, what I’ve learned and how we all have to step into our leadership to reach our potential. 

 You did a Master of Arts majoring in Comparative Foreign Policy about 30 years ago in Canada. What led you into business?

Chance. I was in Europe taking a break between my master and phd and the wall fell down in Berlin. I was in Paris, saw the headlines and thought, history is in the making’, and went to Prague. I stayed four years and it changed my life. I was surrounded by people dreaming about what they were going to do now that they were free. At one point I said, ‘OMG, I’m free too! What am I going to do?’ and I thought, this is going to be like Paris in 10 years; pick a service business, anything and get started. So I started an English language school and just kept starting more and more businesses and becoming a catalyst for entrepreneurship.

 What companies did you co-found?

An English language school, a clothing store importing from India to the Czech Republic, Canada’s first public incubator, a software-as-a-service company focused on sustainability in Silicon Valley and dozens of programs and initiatives. And I’m a big mentor. I’ve mentored over 1000 entrepreneurs in the past 30 years.

The biggest lesson you took from that time?

You can’t follow anyone else’s path, and that’s the hard part. I see so many entrepreneurs asking if they are doing it right. There is no right way. You have to succeed on your own terms. Right now there is such a bias to go big or go home and it’s just killing all kinds of amazing ventures. Not all ideas are meant to scale. You have to figure out what works for you and own it.

 Four years ago you founded SHEeo. Why?

Because the only model for entrepreneuring is male-defined, male-funded and deeply biased towards male traits. We need a whole new model to support women. We run businesses that get to profitability more quickly than our male counterparts, we are highly capital efficient and we tend to focus on revenue first. That is pretty much the opposite of what we currently ‘value’ in our business narrative of ‘winner takes all’. Women have a very special gift of doing business differently so I set out to create an ecosystem support system that fit with how we run businesses Vs trying to turn us all into men.

The only model for entrepreneuring is male-defined, male-funded and deeply biased towards male traits.

Vicki Saunders

 SHEeo’s business model effectively creates a perpetual fund to boost women in business. Why is this important?

We are at a moment of deep disruption and we need a world designed by men and women. If women’s innovations don’t get funded we all lose, living in an unbalanced world. We desperately need new models, new mindsets and new solutions for a better world and we can’t do that with only 50 per cent of the population.

How does the world benefit from having more women in business?

Flip that question around. How does the world work with only men leading our institutions and businesses? We have massive inequality, right now 5 men have the same wealth as half the planet. I don’t know why we put the burden on women to prove why it would be better if we fully participated. I think the burden should be on men to prove why their massive over-representation (in every single industry) is good for the world. 

 At what stage is SHEeo?

If we keep growing at this pace we will reach one million women Activators and a $US1b fund by 2026. That will fund 10,000 female innovators each year, forever. We will be launching a follow-on fund to invest in the companies as they accelerate their growth given the support of thousands of radically generous women. 

The most common challenges you see in startups?

An old mindset. We think we have to work 24/7 to be successful, that we have to grow at all costs, that there are five paths to success, or seven secrets to marketing. It’s all bogus. No one really knows what the new economy will look like. We can only follow what works for us, our passion, our mastery and our vision. Stop looking to others for the answer. The answer is inside you. And I think one of the biggest misses for women is not building up your own network. The key to my success has been my network. I nurture it daily. I connect people. I share everything I learn on social, in blogs, on podcasts, in interviews. Cultivate your network. Reach out. Find people who you resonate with. Get far away from people who bring you down. 

  If you could give some career advice to your younger self?

I really love this question. I would have told myself to chill out and breathe. Everything is going to be just fine. And I also know that I never would have listened to that. 

Details on the Global Series event: http://newcastleinnovation.eventbrite.com