New Establishment Innovators: Tennile Cooper’s epic venture to fuel startups

The mentor and founder of She Is Epic is funding female entrepreneurs.

Tennile Cooper

By Will Novosedlik

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of strategy.

Marketing consultant, activist, volunteer and business mentor Tennile Cooper comes by her passion for helping others honestly.

After graduating with a degree in social work in 2007, Cooper was hired by Brampton-based Well Fort Community Health Services. But five years in, she was frustrated by the fact that – after building relationships and nurturing leaders in a given community – funding would dry up and she’d need to move on to another group. For someone as committed as she was, the abruptly terminated connections proved painful.

So when a communications coordinator role came up at Well Fort in 2014, she jumped at it and discovered she had a talent for marketing. After a year in the role, she struck out on her own, launching a copywriting and business coaching company called She Is Epic.

While mostly working with women-led businesses, Cooper wondered why so many were self-funded. Some digging revealed that in the world of entrepreneurship, access to funding is often denied to women. In 2018, for instance, only 2.2% of the overall $130 billion of venture capital raised by U.S. companies went to female founders.

After attending a talk in 2019 by venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, an LA-based seed investment fund that backs under-represented female founders, Cooper decided to start her own, calling it the SIE Fund.

Using She Is Epic as a base, Cooper allocates 50% of the profits generated by her consulting fees and merchandise sales to the micro-fund. Clients immediately become a part of a Shark Tank-like investors circle who have the ability to vote on the entrepreneurs who will receive the funds. It’s early days and will take time to build up capital, but its unconventional model and focus on women-led ventures makes it feel like a disruptor in the VC landscape.

As an ecommerce business that’s powered by Shopify, SIE is on the platform’s internal merchant list. To launch its business channel in late 2020, TikTok partnered with Shopify and selected 40 black-owned businesses (including SIE) from its merchant list to be featured in a campaign. TikTok reprised the campaign in February 2021, this time extending it to Instagram and Twitter. That relationship is ongoing, with Cooper involved in the development of future TikTok campaigns.

Beyond running two businesses, Cooper is also a marketing and communications manager at Toronto’s Artscape, where she led the creation of a Shopify-powered online marketplace for artists who struggle to remain visible during the pandemic. She provides both writing and mentorship to Toronto’s talent development platform 10,000 Coffees. And for the past several years she has been a mentor to The City of Mississauga, where she helps entrepreneurs develop financial management skills, and to the York Region COVID 19 Small Business Recovery Program, where she guides brick-and-mortar businesses as they pivot to online.

For the last four years she has been chairman at Startup Peel, where she has been heavily involved in promoting Techstars Weekend, a program designed to help small businesses turn their ideas into products. “Between my [various] mentorship activities, I have helped launch 50-plus businesses.”

Such determination and dedication has helped Cooper go from strength to strength, and will no doubt continue to power her on the path to success in a world where unconscious bias still keeps women out of leadership roles and away from much-needed funding. If she can overcome that then she is indeed epic.