“Futurpreneur is very close to my heart, not just because it gave me the money I needed, but because it promotes entrepreneurship. They understand how important small business is to our society and how many people’s lives are touched by it.”
Recognizing the limitations of life in the Middle East for girls, Elle AyoubZadeh’s mother decided to move her five young children from Dubai, United Arab Emirates to a safer and more open and progressive country that would provide them with a greater breadth of opportunities.
With her mother settling in New Zealand, Elle readily adapted to her new environment, growing up in the country and remaining until she had completed her master’s degree in business with a specialization in international marketing in the luxury sector. Once her university education was completed, Elle was craving new experiences. As she recalls, “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and I wanted to see the world.” The independently-minded Elle made Australia her first stop, a country that she had never visited and one in which she knew no one. With only $1500 in her pocket, finding a job became her first priority. A fortunate meeting on her first day in Sydney with a recruiter resulted in same-day introductions to representatives of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s retail division. Impressed with her energy, Elle reports that “they hired me on the spot. That’s how I got into finance – something I had not studied. But I love business and it just fit.”
After two years, knowing that Australia was not her last stop due to a gut feeling to which she had learned to pay attention, she was intrigued by an advertisement on a passing bus about Canada. As she relates it, the ad had a line that said “Good things last longer in Canada.” Two weeks later, she saw the same ad in a newspaper. Struck by the coincidence, Elle felt something calling her to move to Canada. In recounting her second sighting of the ad, she says, “It just spoke to me.” Having switched jobs to work for State Street Asset Managers, she immediately set in motion a transfer within the global company to its Canadian office in Toronto. Landing in Canada in 2007, Elle remained with the firm through the trying years following the economic recession in 2008. But by 2010, she points out, “I started really thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.” Fascinated by the world of venture capital and angel investing, Elle set out to learn everything she could about the sector. She left her secure corporate career to run Maple Leaf Angels, one of Ontario’s first angel investment groups. Through her running of Maple Leaf Angels, Elle knew that she was, at heart, an entrepreneur. An early advisor had given her important advice. Elle recalls him saying to her, “There are two kinds of people. Those who want to drive the car and those who are comfortable being a passenger or in the back seat.” As she concluded, “I just knew I wanted to be the driver.”
Since 2010, Elle has been firmly in the driver’s seat. In an initial venture, she and a partner established a concept store in Toronto built around the idea of a unisex modern spa offering natural and organic skincare products. Dovetailing with her zest for well-crafted merchandise, she set out to source them internationally, including skin products and accessories like bags and jewellery. As she points out, “Like most entrepreneurs, I have this obsessiveness. I just have to make something happen.” Excited by the potential for producing well-crafted accessories, Elle’s interests shifted toward the creation of her own line of high-quality women’s shoes. She and her business partner – now her husband and a serial entrepreneur in his own right – decided to pursue their individual entrepreneurial dreams. Elle began building on her product-sourcing experience by travelling to Brazil, Spain, and Italy in search of the best shoe craftspeople and manufacturers. The quest to create what would become Zvelle, her shoe and accessories brand that combined the best craftsmanship, comfort, and timeless fashion at an attainable price point was underway.
Knowing that she wanted to control production and design, Elle needed to supplement the personal funds she had raised through the sale of her condominium. Not wanting to raise money to start Zvelle, she was determined to make things work on her own. Familiar with finance and venture funds, her husband suggested she contact Futurpreneur. As she recalls, “Futurpreneur was the only place I could go to for the extra funds. Luckily, I was in my early 30s and fit with their support for young entrepreneurs.” Elle embraced the process and soon qualified for a loan from Futurpreneur and its partner, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), for a combined amount of $35,000. As she recounts, “I’ll always remember going to their office on Richmond Street just before the weekend and signing the loan agreement. I just felt that I was rich. Now I could make it happen.”
Established in 2015, today Zvelle offers a full line of women’s shoes and accessories on a directto- consumer basis and through her recently established and personally designed boutique showroom in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood. Basing her brand on her idea that every woman should “Walk How You Want,” Elle has designed a full line of well-crafted women’s shoes and handbags that compete with all luxury designer brands, offering style, quality, and a range of options to fit all lifestyles. Never content to sit back, Elle has embraced women’s issues and causes as part of her business philosophy that seeks to empower women. Not only has she launched an ongoing series of video interviews focused on inspiring women called “In Conversation” on Zvelle’s website, she responded to the coronavirus with a philanthropic initiative by creating “healthcare heroes,” which donated shoes to frontline medical workers who were nominated by their peers as being especially deserving of celebration.
Given her drive and her commitment to women’s well-being, it should come as no surprise that when Canada’s first female finance minister Chrystia Freeland honoured the tradition of acquiring new shoes for the presentation of the government’s budget in 2021, she selected a pair from Zvelle’s collection. While Elle notes that she was “so proud when Minister Freeland wore the shoes,” she also relishes the humour inherent in a former finance executive who has become a shoe entrepreneur outfitting the Minister of Finance on budget day.
Reflecting on the six years since Zvelle’s launch and its growth in Canada and internationally, Elle acknowledges the hard work required to build her success. Always mindful of those who supported her along the way, Elle sees Futurpreneur as making a critical contribution. As she concludes, “Futurpreneur allows people to go and change their own lives and then change other people’s lives. It’s a sign of trust. I’m so proud that I paid off my loan from them, but, you know, they’ll always be family to me.”