Meet Shelley Kuipers and Judy Fairburn, Founders of The51
Shelley Kuipers is not just a business leader; she’s an activist in business, entrepreneurship, and investment, working to build the world she wants to live in. She is the co-founder of The51 and serves as a guiding force behind the Adventure Capital family office.
Judy Fairburn is a true change-maker, serving as Co-CEO and Fund Managing Partner. Her remarkable journey includes roles as a board director, engineer, Creative Destruction Lab Fellow, and early-stage investor. Judy champions environmental sustainability, corporate/entrepreneurial partnerships, and the pivotal role of diversity in future-proofing businesses. Beyond her impressive corporate executive career, Judy co-founded a $100 million digital/cleantech venture fund and made significant strides as the first Chair of the consolidated Alberta Innovates. In her “spare time” (if such a thing exists), Judy embodies the spirit of the outdoors, indulging her passions for hiking, skiing, and cycling.
Together, Shelley and Judy are shaping the future of business. Their combined expertise, unwavering dedication, and passion are driving positive change and innovation in the business world, making them a force to be reckoned with.
My first job ever was… Shelley: working in Northern Alberta on a pipeline crew. It was tough work with a demanding schedule — great preparation for what would come in the life of an entrepreneur!
Before my work with The51, I was… Judy: an executive at Cenovus Energy. I was the first Chief Digital Officer and EVP Business Innovation of a Canadian energy company, and while there, I co-founded Evok Innovations, a $100 million digital/cleantech venture fund.
We created The51 because… Judy and Shelley: we found women weren’t being invited to the table as investors and weren’t receiving capital to propel their businesses at nearly the same rates as their male counterparts. The stark reality we confronted was a striking contrast to the entrepreneurial landscape, where women possessed the same talent, drive, and innovative potential as their male counterparts. Yet, they were disadvantaged in their pursuit of funding and investment opportunities. This glaring disparity lit a fire within us, driving our commitment to change the status quo.
We created The51, alongside Alice Reimer, based on our own experiences as entrepreneurs, early-stage investors, and corporate leaders. Based on our own journeys, our mission with The51 became crystal clear: To disrupt the existing paradigm, shatter the glass ceiling, and empower women entrepreneurs to not only secure a seat at the table but to thrive and lead within the world of business and investment, on their terms.
I’m passionate about the financial industry because… Shelley: women are set to control 65 per cent of the wealth in Canada by 2030. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for women to create products for women and, quite frankly, everyone.
My proudest accomplishment is… Shelley: consistently trying to make an impact and being someone who challenges the status quo of life, both personally and professionally.
My biggest setback was… Shelley: walking away from a company I founded.
I overcame it by… Shelley: deciding that it did not define me, and that I could reinvent myself professionally.
My best advice for anyone who cares about a cause and wants to contribute to it would be… Shelley: if you are committed to a vision and feel that you can make a difference, get started with what you have, with where you are, and leverage the community around you. You don’t have to have all the skills or knowledge on your own, and timing will never be perfect — any action is better than inaction.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Shelley and Judy: try to find some balance in your life.
The thing I love most about what I do is… Judy: our incredible community. We are so driven by our mission to advance Financial Feminism, and getting to see how that passion grows along with our community is amazing.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… Judy and Shelley: tenacity and resilience.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Shelley: I am a mom and grandmother.
I stay inspired by… Shelley: listening to other points of view and not staying in the bubble of a narrative that isn’t representative. I like to debate.
The future excites me because… Judy: women have so much potential to create new value and new impact; we are an ‘and,’ not an ‘or.’ Our contributions do not take away from others.
My next step is… Shelley and Judy: continue our mission of building a financial platform to power women’s economic participation through their capital and influence.