When Delilah Panio graduated with an English degree from the University of Regina in Canada in 1991, she could never have imagined that 30 years later she would be a leader in the North American capital markets, working for the Toronto Stock Exchange, running her own company working with women entrepreneurs globally, and speaking in front of large audiences. At that time, she didn't even know what a stock exchange was. Growing up in Montmartre, Saskatchewan, she didn’t have any big dreams that went beyond getting out of that small prairie town of 500 people, but she was never afraid to say yes to bold opportunities and moving to new cities. Her travels to other countries gave her the confidence that she could go and live anywhere and do anything.
“My prairie work ethic, love of people, being a creative extrovert, and following the opportunities as they came to me has led to an incredible life that I could never have even imagined growing up,” says Panio.
Now, Panio’s overarching role in finance is to educate entrepreneurs on their funding options, from bootstrapping to going public with an IPO. In her full-time work as Vice President of US Capital Formation for Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), she works with American CEOs that are looking for a viable option for accessing growth capital, often seeking an alternative to traditional venture capital that will provide a path to liquidity for early investors and employees, acquisition currency for growing through acquisitions, and a stepping-stone to a US listing on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq. During her 10 years at TSX in Toronto, she created the TSX Venture 50, a ranking of the top 50 companies on the TSX Venture Exchange, which has become a flagship program of the Exchange today. She also created the Public Venture Capital Campaigns in Canada in the 2000s, and the US Roadshows that continued up until the pandemic.
“As a small-town Prairie gal, it has been such an honor to be all over the world representing the Canadian capital markets, especially now living in Southern California and being Vice President for TSX. I’ve come a long way,” she says. “This work in the capital markets and the compensation that has come with it has provided the opportunity to travel the world and extend my knowledge in finance to female founders, which is my true passion.”
As Founder and CEO of Fortuna Funding, Panio educates early-stage female founders on how to get investor-ready for their pre-seed, seed and Series A funding rounds. She provides practical and intentional guidance on accessing aligned capital, which is especially critical for female founders. She empowers women entrepreneurs to create their ideal funding strategy. Through her education programs, business coaching services, and unique events, she helps founders understand the right funding for themselves and their business, providing the tips, tools and templates to get that capital.
In 2022, Fortuna Funding partnered with UBS’s Women’s Wealth division in Europe and SheEO on Project Female Founder, a unique program to accelerate female and non-binary founders in their success through a holistic program of investor readiness training and a global ecosystem of support to build relationships and networks. "Project Female Founder" is a cohort of 50 UBS Client Advisors and Female Founders from around the world, and started with Fortuna Funding’s proprietary Investor Readiness Program. The 10-week virtual program addresses the key components needed in order to be ready to take on external capital, to understand the various capital options, and to create a custom funding strategy.
“According to the United Nations, when women make money, they contribute on average 80% back into their community, and with men it’s around 30%. Women with money take care of their families, communities, and the planet. They typically create businesses that have an impact, however statistically they have minimal access to capital at all levels of the funding ecosystem. Most early-stage entrepreneurs don’t know a lot about funding and given the dismal stats of women getting funding (just 2% of venture capital in the US in 2021!), this is my lane where I can have an impact,” she says.
On top of her work with Fortuna Funding, Panio is a part of many other prolific projects dedicated to helping and empowering women in business. She is Chair of the Funding Committee for Women Leaders of Octane, whose objective is to help more women entrepreneurs in Orange County to access funding. Panio is also Co-Founder and Executive Director of We Are Enough, a new initiative whose mission is to create a global mindset shift by educating women globally at every socioeconomic level on why and how to invest in women-led businesses and/or with a “gender lens.” She most notably devised a global campaign that has the goal of inspiring millions of women to commit to investing into women-owned businesses. We Are Enough is led by Founder Tracy Gray, and with Panio has raised over $350,000 for We Are Enough including $100,000 from JP Morgan Chase for an important feasibility study and $250,000 from a well-known Silicon Valley tech CEO (wishes to remain anonymous). Most recently, We Are Enough has been approved to receive a significant grant from an investment company that advances social progress in the United States and supports women entrepreneurs, particularly women of color. An official announcement is coming soon.
“Our campaign is a proactive way that women and girls, especially women and girls of color, can affect change and have a long- lasting impact on themselves, their families, their communities and the world. This is a campaign of major significance for We Are Enough and our goals to encourage more women investing in women, and Delilah’s expertise and creativity are absolutely paramount to its success. There is no one else I could accomplish this with,” Founder Tracy Gray describes.
Despite all that Panio has accomplished throughout her extraordinary career, she says she is just getting started on this important work. She is focusing her time and efforts on helping women to access aligned capital globally. She is thrilled to be partnering with global organizations such as UBS and SheEO, knowing there is so much to do at every level of the funding ecosystem for women.
“I believe the planet needs a lot of nurturing, love and community right now, which is what women are brilliant at. Women in every community need to be at the decision-making table for all aspects of life, and we still are not. The reality is that economic power is required to get to those tables, or to create new tables as the old ones become increasingly obsolete,” Panio concludes. “When we understand our economic power, we can truly make the changes we want to see in the world. I want to help women to transform their wealth, no matter how small or large, into that economic power. With everything that’s going on in the world and the increased demands on all of us, I know I need to focus on ways I can help utilize my background, expertise and networks to help women access aligned capital and encourage more women to invest in women.”
Published by Pooja Agarwal