For decades only four per cent of venture capital has gone to women, making it incredibly challenging for female entrepreneurs to get funded and supported. Well, not if serial entrepreneur and award winning mentor Vicki Saunders has anything to say about it.
In 2015 Saunders launched SheEO to help women entrepreneurs receive the funding they need by asking 500 women to commit $1,100 each. That pool of $500,000 is then divvied up among five ventures that were chosen by that group of 500 women. And if you’re waiting for a catch, there isn’t one – the funding is loaned out with zero per cent interest to be paid back quarterly every five years.
“What is so cool about our model that is really different is how the money is loaned out,” said Saunders over the phone with ITWC. “The women who contributed capital don’t get their money back. It’s like a paying-it-forward type of model.”
In 2020 when the first five year loans are paid back, that funding doesn’t just disappear. Instead, that $500,000 will go to another five organizations. Since 2015, SheEO has had three rounds of funding, meaning $150 million has been loaned out to 15 companies as a result of the 1,500 women who have become SheEO activators.
“It’s this perpetual fund that keeps loaning forward. After five years there will be a fund that forever keeps lending forward to women every year. The goal is to get to 1 million women by 2020, which would then create a fund of one billion dollars that perpetually keeps funding these ventures,” said Saunders.
There are two ways to get involved with SheEO. One: contribute the $1,100 necessary to become a SheEO activator, allowing you to help select the companies that receive the funding, and join this ever growing network of women.
“We have this community and everybody is there to help each other succeed in whatever they’re working on in the world,” said Saunders.
“Our concept is if you are surrounded by radically generous women, how would you dream and be different? A lot of female entrepreneurs feel that they’re quite alone, and it’s hard for them to get support. [The ventures] get these zero per cent loans and they also get access to all of us as your network,” she added.
The second method is to apply for the funding as a venture. In order to apply, you need to have at least $50,000 in revenue, and be majority women owned or led.
Just this past Monday at the SheEO Activation Summit, the five Canadian ventures who will receive the latest round of funding were announced. Among the five was emotion text analytic software company Heartbeat AI.
“We focus on creating algorithms that can understand and extract emotional meaning, or emotions, from text. Text being social media, open-ended survey responses, customer reviews, everything that can be transformed into text,” Heartbeat’s founder, Lana Novikova, told ITWC.
If this reminds you of IBM’s Watson capabilities, then you wouldn’t be wrong. However, Heartbeat AI takes it a step forward. For instance, Watson can take text and do sentiment analysis through five different emotions, mainly by focusing on whether a text is positive, negative, or neutral. Heartbeat AI, on the other hand, can differentiate between 100 emotions and secondary emotions that are narrowed down into nine primary emotions.
This enterprise level Software-as-a-Service platform created by Novikova and her team of ten can be licensed out for any business looking to better understand their customer service responses. So far this product has been used mostly by advertisers and retailers, but the applications are much broader. Novikova believes the platform can be used by human resources, and she envisions are future where Heartbeat AI can help virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa better understand emotion.
“Virtual assistants as they are now don’t understand when people are angry. They understand the content well enough, but they are don’t understand the emotion behind it,” said Novikova.
Until then, Heartbeat AI is opening up its API, so that developers can start building their own apps using the technology. Additionally, with the funding provided by SheEO, Novikova will also look to hire two salespeople.