Launched this week, Project Her is a crowdfunding platform for female-led businesses. But it’s not just the gender focus that sets it apart. Founders Donna West and Shelly Lynn Nellis have a vision to build a community of support, enabling women entrepreneurs to face their unique challenges, and create success on their own terms.
By Hailey Eisen
Donna West has worked in the corporate and small business world for most of her career. She paved her way with an entrepreneurial mindset, but always channeled her energy and drive into someone else’s business (save for a few tiny startups, including an organic produce delivery in the late 1990s and a dog treat company in 2008).
“I’ve never fully taken the opportunity to throw my passion, knowledge and education into something that’s my own,” says West, who was born in the US and lives in Vancouver.
When her friend Shelly Lynn Nellis approached her with the idea of starting a business together and mentioned crowdfunding, Donna was intrigued — even though she admits she didn’t know much about crowdfunding at the time. So began their journey of creating Project Her, a perk-based crowdfunding platform targeting female-led business. Their vision was to provide an opportunity for women to raise more than just funds by creating a community of fellow female entrepreneurs, and offering support in building and growing their businesses.
“I know that what’s really missing out there for entrepreneurs is the proper guidance when it comes to investment and raising funds,” says Shelly, who has been an entrepreneur herself for 15 years. “While I do think women need to invest in their own ideas, I don’t think they need to do it all by themselves.”
As the founder and editor-in-chief of Fresh Magazine — a Vancouver-based beauty and lifestyle publication created to inspire and empower real women — Shelly has been sharing the stories of successful Canadian women for nearly seven years. Beyond the magazine business, she’s also been a partner in two skincare lines and launched the app EpiAlert, inspired by her own daughter’s food allergies.
Donna and Shelly are hoping to use their personal successes and mistakes to help guide the entrepreneurs in the Project Her network. They each bring their own skills and expertise to the partnership — while Donna has a strong background in finance, Shelly’s strengths are more in marketing. The women say sharing this journey has been an incredible experience; one filled with mutual respect and admiration. “We both answer to each other as if the other owns the company,” Shelly says. “We are respectful of each other’s strengths and knowledge, and work together to come up with solutions.”
Over the past few years they have worked tirelessly fleshing out their ideas for Project Her, while researching and developing the platform upon which it will operate. Officially launching this month, Project Her will use a reward crowdfunding model, with campaigns providing contributors with ‘perks.’ These are most often early access to products, but they could also be other coveted rewards. The entire process has been designed to be simple, not only for the consumers exchanging pledges for perks, but also the female-led businesses who will be using the platform to raise funds.
While there are a number of big players in the reward crowdfunding space, they say there’s nothing in Canada right now that’s just focusing on women. “We don’t look at the big guys as competitors,” adds Donna. “They’re just paving the way for us.”
Plus, Donna and Shelly plan to set Project Her apart by providing an all-encompassing experience for entrepreneurs — everything from a private community for the sharing of advice and ideas, to a well-established referral network, to access to value-add services such as writing, social media, video production, and more. It’s a vision that goes beyond crowdfunding, offering valuable — and often much-needed — support.
“This is really about women helping other women,” says Donna, “something we’re both very passionate about.”
Project Her is partnering with Women of Influence as part of our commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs across Canada, helping them to get what they need for their business to thrive — from funding to guidance to inspiration. If you’re a female business owner, visit projecther.com to find out if Project Her is right for you, and how to get started.