Inspiration can come from a myriad of sources; a rousing speech, a film that strikes a note, or a persistent creative thought from your own heart and mind. And though you could have all of the drive in the world to foster this inspiration and build from it, taking off further can sometimes require the support of other like-minded creative souls.

This was the case for principled fashion designer and successful entrepreneur Shannon Passero. From the very beginning, Passero has teamed with women from across the globe as well as in her own Niagara backyard to grow her business and help develop her own creative ideas into successful products and a thriving business; in tandem, embracing the fact that it takes teamwork and a village [sometimes multiple] to turn a dream into a reality.

For years, Passero has made ethics, sustainability, and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes cornerstones of her thriving clothing business. That has helped her to build a successful business she can feel good about while fostering the growth and the well-being of the thousands of Third World women who help to manufacture her products.

As co-founder of the Pure Handknit line – a collection of individually hand knit sweaters that are famous for their recycled coconut shells buttons – she employs over four thousand woman knitters in Thailand. Her clothing line Neon Buddha, a lifestyle line of comfortable and versatile clothing which can take you from work to home to yoga with the right accessory tweaks – also employs another eight hundred staff.

Today, she is playing an integral part in the remodel of downtown Thorold – her successful storefront The Post Office on Front Street continues to thrive as she expands into home furnishings and expands on her local gift and décor suppliers.

Passero as well has taken to philanthropy and supporting local female entrepreneurs just like herself.

Since 2013, the Shannon Passero Women’s Business Grant Program has helped give female entrepreneurs in Ontario the extra push they need to grow their businesses; annually awarding two grant recipients $12,500 dollars each to further their dreams.

“I got the idea for the grant program after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In,” says Passero. “I realized I wanted to inspire women to pursue new opportunities and creative solutions to move their businesses forward in a sustainable way.”

And though the grant program has been hugely successful since its conception in 2013, the program plans to evolve in 2017.

“For [2017], we will evolve and change the award to have a mentoring component and we will award 10 thousand dollars to one woman business owner,” said Passero. “We found that, in previous years, recipients commented on how valuable it was to have even a minimal amount of mentoring that naturally went hand-in-hand with the award. So, this year, we changed our grant so we can focus on providing that vital assistance, plus the $10,000 dollars, which will be given to one deserving business for the year.”

Passero has kept the application and business requirements straight forward; applicants must be Ontario-based businesses with women in a significant leadership role which utilize the principles of social consciousness, sustainability and innovation in their products and in their production.

In addition, Passero also looks for a solid business plan and a long-term growth strategy for each applicant. All must also demonstrate how the grant money will enhance the growth of their business and show financial documents that reflect the current health and future potential of the current business.

“When you start building a business, you don’t usually have any extra funds or access to seed money,” said Passero. “So, for me, just like for any entrepreneur, receiving a financial grant would have definitely helped with any number of things.”

Passero said the grant will now go hand in hand with mentoring and networking opportunities – as assistance should not stop once the cheque has cleared.

“Our grant program will also now provide mentoring, camaraderie and networking opportunities, which are vital when you’re launching your business or trying to take it to the next level,” said Passero. “I recently read a study about mentoring that found that 63 per cent of the more than 300 business women interviewed said they never had a formal mentor. Yet, mentoring is considered to be essential to career success.

“It’s so important to have someone believe in your work and empower new opportunities through mentoring and financial support, and I hope the grant does all these things,” said Passero.

Passero’s roster of past grant recipients is broad and varied. From innovative local foodie Lori McDonald, founder of Provisions Food Company which creates handmade, all natural food, accompaniments,  picnic pairings and more; Jordan winery owner and winemaker Sue-Anne Staff, who’s fresh innovative wine brand Fancy Farm Girl has quickly become an Ontario wide favourite; and entrepreneur Stacey Vukovics, founder and creator of Huggaloops – a line of baby carriers, wearable accessories and wrap- free baby wraps which keep mom and baby close, content and hands free.

The most recent grant recipients included Jackie Troup, owner of Blossom Bakery, whose vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and kosher baked goods have created more options for sweet tooth lovers with allergies and aversions; and Jolene Antle, owner of Garden City Essentials – a line of formulated from scratch natural skin care products which are hand poured, blended and 100 per cent cruelty, synthetic and harmful ingredients free.

Passero said that Lori McDonald explained that winning her grant was a tipping point for her business; the following year, McDonald’s sales increased by 74 per cent.

“It gave me the capital contribution I needed to further invest in crucial resources,” said McDonald. “The grant enabled me to hire key people that I am able to rely on. As a team, we are able to pursue so much more than I was able to do on my own. It also gave me the opportunity to build up the infrastructure of my business. I was able to invest in two crucial pieces of equipment as well as hire experts to help with branding and marketing to take my business to the next level. And last, but most importantly, the grant has given me the confidence to pursue my goals and to reach higher than I thought possible.”

Passero said that she believes now, more than ever, that it’s time to instill confidence in woman entrepreneurs.

“I want to encourage creative business women who are focused on introducing and developing new innovative products,” said Passero. “According to a recent Statistics Canada report, while increasing numbers of women have become entrepreneurs in the past 30 years, men continue to dominate. In 2015, just 38.8 per cent of self-employed people were women. As well, women are less likely to have an incorporated business while self-employed. In 2015, 34.2 per cent of self-employed women had an incorporated business compared to 53.2 per cent of men. Women are also less likely than men to have paid help, incorporated or not.

“As you know, I have great respect for Sheryl Sandberg, and she has said, ‘We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored’,” said Passero.