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Business Women in International Trade 2017 Newsletter

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Working together: Celebrating 20 years of success

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade
The Honourable
François-Philippe Champagne
Minister of International Trade

The Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program has so much to celebrate in 2017. Twenty years ago, the team travelled to Washington, D.C. on the first ever women-focused trade mission. Since then, the program has grown and innovated throughout the years, matching Canadian business women with countless commercial opportunities beyond Canada’s borders. 

Coming from a background of family businesses, and as a businessperson, lawyer and international trade specialist, I have had the pleasure of working with Canadian business women. I am pleased to see that you are more active and successful than ever.

Companies owned by women are the fastest-growing segment in Canada’s small business sector. The Government of Canada recognizes your incredible potential and is taking steps to help ensure your continued success.

The BWIT team provides support to business women as you navigate through an ecosystem of exporting services, information and programs to do business abroad. This year’s newsletter provides the guidance you need, highlights the program’s successes, shares lessons from Canadian business women and offers valuable resources.

As exporters, importers and investors, you will also benefit from our ongoing work to open commercial opportunities with our partners worldwide. This encompasses Canada’s close relationship with the United States and our other trading partners. The recently signed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will bolster our position, giving Canadians preferential access to the European market.

New economic opportunities abroad translate into economic growth and more jobs. As we mark BWIT’s 20th anniversary, may you continue to pursue your ambitions and achieve your international goals. 

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne
Minister of International Trade

Message from the Prime Minister of Canada

I am delighted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Global Affairs Canada’s Business Women in International Trade program. Empowering women in business and trade spurs innovation, promotes different ideas and perspectives, and acts as one of the best predictors of economic growth and prosperity. With the growing force of ambitious and inspirational Canadian women in the business sector, Canada has built a stronger, more prosperous and more inclusive economy. The Government of Canada and I, as Prime Minister, are working to help women succeed in the global marketplace. We are committed to creating an economy of successful entrepreneurs and business people who have opportunities to invest and develop international ties regardless of their gender. I am thrilled the program has played an important role in this commitment over the last 20 years, and I look forward to even greater success in the future.

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada

Business Women in International Trade: Assisting Canadian women since 1997

Twenty years ago, a group of high-impact women pooled their talents and connections to organize the very first Canadian business women’s international trade mission. Together with the Government of Canada’s support, they travelled to Washington, D.C. with 100 passionate entrepreneurs looking to access export opportunities south of the border. It was the start of something big.

“The first women-focused trade mission laid the foundation for the Government of Canada’s support for business women,” says Josie Mousseau, Deputy Director of the Business Women in International Trade program at Global Affairs Canada. “The trade mission exposed women to exporting and yielded countless business opportunities.”

Entrepreneur Andrina Lever, then President of Women Entrepreneurs of Canada, was instrumental in getting the trade mission off the ground. “Everyone focused their energies on helping women export. We conducted research on women exporters, solicited private sector support and had the federal government behind us,” says Lever.

By all accounts, it was a huge success. The trade mission generated millions of dollars in trade for Canadian business women and led to the launch of the program now known as Business Women in International Trade at Global Affairs Canada.

“The trade mission underscored the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs. Today, BWIT provides access to resources and networks through a dedicated website, newsletters and annual trade missions for women,” explains Mousseau. “Our strategy keeps us focused on our priorities. Women entrepreneurs are central to our work.”

RBC Economics Research estimated that majority women-owned businesses contributed almost $150 billion to the Canadian economy (2011). According to a 2012 BMO study, women-owned businesses employ more than 1.5 million people in Canada.

Barb Stegemann, Founder, The 7 Virtues
Barb Stegemann,
Founder, The 7 Virtues

Halifax perfume entrepreneur Barb Stegemann is one of them. Like other women before her, she’s on a mission to pay it forward. As founder of The 7 Virtues, she buys essential oils from farmers in Afghanistan, Rwanda and Haiti. Her goal? To help them rebuild their lives after war and strife.

“When we pay farmers fair market value, they don’t have to rely on illegal crops to make a living,” explains Stegemann. “We’re ahead of our time. MBA programs in Canada are studying our business model because today’s youth want to change the world. Their measure of success is not money—it’s about leaving this world a better place.”

Stegemann says success is within reach for businesses that take risks and reach out to their networks for support along the way.

“The BWIT team and the Trade Commissioner Service have been instrumental in our expansion and growth,” she explains. “It’s much more powerful when they call a buyer for me. I wouldn’t dare go into a country without their support. I have been incredibly impressed by the whole organization.”

Services to support women

In addition to this newsletter, the Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program offers innovative products and services to help Canadian women-owned businesses succeed on a global scale.

BWIT Trade MissionsReady to take flight? BWIT leads trade missions for women entrepreneurs. We help you prepare for the trade mission to make sure you get the most out of it. We also offer advice and assistance before, during and after your business trip.

BWIT Website– Connect with us online for information and resources to help you export, invest abroad and grow your markets. Find out about funding, supplier diversity, selling to the U.S. market, export and import controls, trade agreements and much more.

BWIT LinkedIn Group – Join our interactive online discussions on everything related to women in international business. Share information, successes and opportunities with our members.

BWIT News – Our monthly email updates will keep you informed about upcoming events, programs, trade missions, research and tools for women entrepreneurs. Sign up today.

Directory of Women-Owned Businesses Get the attention of more than 5 million visitors and procurement professionals from around the world. Register for this free online directory.

Remember us on social media
Use #womenexporters

TCS logo: Step-by-step guide to exporting

Spotlight on success

Newfoundland entrepreneur Sydney Ryan has found the key to long-term success: innovation. It’s a trait she inherited from her father who started Telelink to provide phone answering services to St. John’s doctors and lawyers 50 years ago. 

“My dad was a pioneer. He brought the first communications towers and paging systems to the island, and the first air-to-ground commercial telephones on airplanes.”

Inspired by his innovative spirit, Ryan and her business partner, Cindy Roma, grew Telelink in leaps and bounds after stepping into the co-CEO roles two decades ago. Today, the contact centre employs 100 people and provides services to customers in Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Mexico and South America.

“We expanded our traditional answering service. Our customers were looking for more specialized services to keep their employees safe, so we evolved to meet their needs,” says Ryan. “It opened up a whole new world for us. Today, our revenue is 10 times what it was when we took over the company.”

Success also means weathering storms, including the downturn that hit Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy when oil prices plummeted in 2014–15. Telelink shifted gears quickly to replace lost revenues from its customers in the oil and gas sector.

“We started providing outsourced labour to U.S. call centres that were desperate for talent,” explains Ryan. “True success is getting yourself through the rough times. We’re growing every day. The Australian market is on our radar next.”

The company also knows when to turn to others, like the Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program, for support and advice.

“Our role is to advocate for businesses like Telelink,” explains Trade Commissioner Lynne Thomson. “We have a significant networking capacity through our 161 offices in Canada and abroad. We use our connections to introduce business women to the right people, such as buyers, partners and others who will help their businesses grow. We organize trade missions, which include business-to-business meetings, matchmaking and networking receptions to give Canadian business women profile internationally.”

Thomson says maintaining a long-term relationship with the BWIT team makes a world of difference. “Businesses change hands, direction and focus. We’re here to help. Stay in touch with us. We’ll keep you visible and let you know about new opportunities in international markets.” 

Ready to grow? Connect with the BWIT team by email today.

Sound advice: Why mentors matter

Anik Lehouille

“I love mentoring women of all ages and at all stages of entrepreneurship. Being a mentor is about providing guidance, counselling and feedback, as well as introducing them to new contacts.

“How do you find the right mentor for you? You should share the same passion for business. Make sure there’s a strong connection. Tell your mentor what you want to achieve, ask for help to explore new ideas, clarify realistic goals and explore solutions together.”

Anik Lehouiller, Réseau des Femmes d’affaires du Québec mentor, Montreal, QC

BDC invests in women entrepreneurs

“Women entrepreneurs represent an enormous economic force in Canada. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is committed to helping women-owned businesses grow and succeed both domestically and internationally. That’s why we take great pride in our partnership with BWIT.


“Our investment in women includes the Women Entrepreneurs’ Initiative, which provides loans and support to companies that are majority women-owned. We have earmarked $700 million in lending for women over three years. We offer advisory services and mentorship tailored to each business’ needs.

“We are delighted to be injecting $50 million into women-led start-up tech firms. Some of the funds will be used to create a program with both venture and growth capital.”

Nancy Goudreau, Director, Corporate Financing
Business Development Bank of Canada

Fast-track your global growth with CanExport

Renée Safrata
Renée Safrata,
CEO, Vivo Team

Renée Safrata is breaking into the U.S. market 18 months sooner than planned, and she credits the CanExport program for getting her there. The CEO of Vivo Team, a web platform that analyzes team productivity and provides training solutions for improved performance, was recently awarded nearly $50,000 in matching funds over three years to explore the U.S. market’s potential for her growing business.

“We are conducting focus groups in four American cities with 150 businesses that have expressed a real interest in our offering,” says Safrata. “The focus groups will help us determine our positioning so we can tailor our marketing and branding to meet our clients’ needs.”

Delivered by the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), CanExport is a five-year, $50 million program that provides financial support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to develop new export markets. The program funds a wide range of export marketing activities, such as travel, participation in trade shows and trade missions, creating or translating marketing products, and more. Non-repayable contributions range from $10,000 to $99,999 per project.

Since the program was launched in January 2016, CanExport has approved funding for 550 Canadian SMEs. To date, Global Affairs Canada has committed more than $17.5 million to support Canadian SMEs entering new markets.

“Successful applicants demonstrate that they have a solid plan in place,” explains Elise Racicot, CanExport Program Manager. “They have identified their partners and clients, and have the resources they need to break into the market.”

For Vivo Team, the support received from BWIT and the TCS has been indispensable. “They have been with us every step of the way,” says Safrata. “We were able to rework our application based on BWIT’s feedback. Once you are approved for funding, the TCS is very keen to support you with advice and on-the-ground knowledge.”

As for words of advice for potential applicants to the CanExport program, Safrata’s message is simple: “Be very thorough with your application. Provide a detailed budget and show how you will use the funds.”

To apply for CanExport funding, visit the website.

Women on the world stage

Canadian business women are making their mark on the international stage. From international meetings such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to the G20 gatherings of the world’s top economies, women are shaping the global agenda and advocating for women’s causes worldwide.

“I applaud the G20’s decision in 2015 to add a new formal women’s engagement group to the agenda, to better integrate women’s perspectives and a gender equality lens across the G20. It’s encouraging that our global leaders want to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on female labour and youth employment. I’m extremely pleased the G20 leaders committed to supporting ‘policies that encourage firms of all sizes—in particular, women entrepreneurs, youth entrepreneurs and women-led companies’ at their 2016 Leaders’ Summit.”

Laurel Douglas, CEO, Women’s Enterprise Centre, B.C.
Canadian delegate at the W20 in Beijing, China in May 2016

“As G20 Sherpa for the Prime Minister, one of my top priorities is to ensure that Canada’s engagement at the G20 serves to expand opportunities for women and girls to benefit from and contribute to economic prosperity. This includes inviting their recommendations to inform policy development within the G20, and reflecting their interests and priorities in G20 leaders’ commitments. Canada wants to promote women’s leadership and highlight the important role that women play as drivers of the economy.”

Vincent Rigby, Prime Minister’s G20 Sherpa
Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Global Affairs Canada

“Any group that is under-represented in the global economy needs to be recognized in government policy. Empowering women to start businesses is a tool for social change. It comes from conveying the message that entrepreneurship is a career choice, and that women have skills they can commercialize. I’ve walked that path. It was an honour to stand up and share my story, and to inspire other women.”

Anne Whelan, President and CEO, Seafair Capital
Canadian representative at the APEC Forum in Lima, Peru in June 2016

Certification opens doors to opportunities

“Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” – Coco Chanel

Certification gives you direct access to sales contracts with corporations and governments that are actively seeking to diversify their supply chains. Many have formal supplier diversity programs in place to purchase from minority-owned businesses, including women, Aboriginal or visible minorities. In fact, companies like Walmart, Microsoft, IBM, UPS, BMW and Coca-Cola purchase billions of dollars each year from certified minority-owned businesses.

Alicia Woods
Alicia Woods,
Owner, Covergalls

The Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program offers direct access to these opportunities through women-focused trade missions to supplier diversity conferences each year. Alicia Woods took part in BWIT’s June 2016 trade mission to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair in Orlando, Florida.

“I was amazed at the opportunities available through certification,” explains Woods, who owns Covergalls, a women’s workwear company. “The BWIT team introduced me to several large companies with supplier diversity programs.”

Covergalls secured a product trial through ExxonMobil and is currently in talks with Monsanto. “I’m thrilled because it means getting our product in the hands of the customer. Certification is one step closer to signing a deal.”

To qualify for certification, your business must be 51% or more women, Aboriginal or visible minority- owned and operated. Certifying bodies also offer training, mentorship and advice:

Huiping Zhang,
President, wintranslation

Trade Commissioner Neil Robinson has worked with a number of women-owned companies like Covergalls. He says that doing business with corporations involves a great deal of preparation.

“It all starts with understanding your product and your value proposition. Alicia’s coveralls are designed for the growing number of women who work in male-dominated industries. That’s unique,” explains Robinson. “You also need to target your pitch. Get to know the company’s supply chains and how you fit in. Tailor your sales and marketing tools to position yourself for success.”

Like Covergalls, Ottawa’s wintranslation has a unique offering. The company translates into 100 languages, and specializes in Canada’s Aboriginal languages. With 500 translators on her roster, President Huiping Zhang is doing business in the U.S. and Europe. She says that being certified as a women-owned business is a huge asset—and something she highly recommends.

“It opens doors. There’s a large community of certified businesses and corporate customers with supplier diversity programs,” says Zhang. “We take part in BWIT’s women-focused trade missions and supplier diversity conferences. Each time, we make more contacts and leave with contracts. It’s been a great relationship and business building tool.”

Sound advice: Spread your wings

Julia Fournier

“HCMWorks is a contingent workforce service provider offering our clients access to talent, expertise, technology and processes that reduce workforce costs, while increasing recruitment efficiencies.We started in business with a $1.5 million contract. We had several flagship Canadian accounts, but our revenue became stagnant. Expanding to the U.S. was one of our best decisions. Our growth has far surpassed our expectations. We deal with U.S. decision-makers, which has opened the door to their international operations. We are now a $155 million company.

“My advice? Look to the U.S. Take advantage of the Fortune 500 supplier diversity opportunities. These set-aside programs for women and minority-owned businesses create a platform for you to compete against larger suppliers.”

Julia Fournier, President & CEO, HCMWorks, Ottawa, ON

How trade missions make all the difference

Heather Daymond
Heather Daymond,
Owner, Shut Ur Pie Hole

When Heather Daymond received an invitation to supply her pies-in-a-jar to hundreds of celebrities at the Emmy Awards in Hollywood last year, she knew she had to ramp up her plans to enter the U.S. market. Not one to miss a beat, the owner of Shut Ur Pie Hole found out about a trade mission for women taking place days after the Emmys, so she immediately signed up.

“I was already working with the Trade Commissioner Service in Winnipeg to prepare for the U.S. market,” she explains. “Then the Emmys, the trade mission and an invitation to do a pie bake-off on The Food Network’s Sugar Showdown came along, so I knew I needed to go for it.”

Trade Commissioner Ryan Kuffner guided Daymond through the opportunities. They discussed market entry strategies such as private labelling, exporting her brand, and selling in stores or through e-commerce.

“One of Heather’s challenges was that she did not have clear data on her product’s shelf life, so I put her in touch with testing companies,” says Kuffner. “I also connected her with a trade commissioner in the U.S. who helped with labelling requirements, e-commerce regulations and shipping logistics.”

To prepare for the Go for the Greens Business Development Conference for Women Entrepreneurs in Florida, Daymond worked with the Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) team. “They helped me understand how to draw the greatest benefit from the trade mission—from refining my elevator pitch to resonate with potential customers to facilitating introductions,” she says.

As part of BWIT’s business-to-business opportunities for trade mission participants, she met with buyers from Disney and introduced her pies-in-a-jar idea to offer as wedding favours and corporate gifts.

“Meeting the Disney buyers was a real coup. I sold them on my products, my company and the brand recognition I’ve built in the market thanks to the Emmys and The Food Network,” says Daymond. “Our pies are like grandma’s, so I focused on the fact that customers want homemade, unprocessed foods. They expressed a real interest in building a relationship, and since that time, I’ve been in regular contact with Disney.”

Join us for our 2017 trade missions

BWIT is leading three women-focused trade missions to the U.S. in 2017. The Canadian Business Women’s Trade Mission to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair in Las Vegas takes place in June, the trade mission to the Go for the Greens Business Development Conference for Women Entrepreneurs in Orlando is scheduled for September, while the Women in Business North American Summit will take place in Atlanta in October. To join, go to the website.

BWIT trade mission to the Go for the Greens Business Development Conference for Women Entrepreneurs in Orlando, Florida (September 2016)

Free trade with the EU

Did you know?

BWIT played a key role in facilitating the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to support the growth of women-owned businesses in North America. The goal? To advance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment through partnerships, support, mentorship, trade missions and resources that will help women entrepreneurs connect with buyers and suppliers.

Canadian producers, manufacturers and exporters in virtually all sectors will be able to export to Europe like never before, thanks to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The Agreement will eliminate or reduce trade barriers. Once CETA is fully implemented, 99% of the EU’s tariff lines for Canadian goods will be duty-free. From cosmetics to construction equipment, your goods will become far more competitive.

Find out what’s in store for your business.

Excelling in trade: Tips from Trade Commissioners

Do you have plans to participate in a trade mission, travel for business, or attend a conference or trade show? We turned to our trade commissioners in Vancouver and Miami for their advice.

Plan ahead for best results

“Before you go on a business trip, research your target market and be clear about the purpose of your trip. Do you want to meet with potential customers, agents, partners or someone who can help commercialize your technology? Reach out to the Trade Commissioner Service in your region for advice. We can connect you with trade commissioners in your target market, who will provide market and sector information, along with a list of qualified leads. If you’re attending a trade show or conference, build some excitement around your presence before you leave. Send out invitations to your booth and get the word out on social media. When you’re on-site, be engaging! Tailor your pitch for each person you meet.”

Christian Hansen, Senior Trade Commissioner and Renee Umezuki, Trade Commissioner, Vancouver

Stay on message and follow up

“The Business Women in International Trade missions put you face-to-face with buyers from large multinationals. If you secure a B2B matchmaking meeting, don’t overpromise and make sure you have the capacity to deliver. Meet as many people as you can. Within two weeks of returning home, connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter, then schedule quarterly follow-ups in your calendar.”

Ximena Pauvif-Machado, Trade Commissioner, Miami

Stronger together: Partnerships to advance women

When it comes to assisting business women across Canada, the Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program takes great pride in being part of a national network of partners that supports women at every stage of business development. Here’s what two of our valued partners have to say:

“The Women’s Enterprise Centres, which are part of the Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC), have a long history of providing services to women entrepreneurs. While we bring the grassroots development of entrepreneurs to the table, BWIT provides the opportunities and guidance necessary for our business women to internationalize. The BWIT team helps our clients navigate new markets and prepare for trade missions. The women-focused trade missions they lead create incredible opportunities for entrepreneurs to grow their networks and secure contracts globally. The BWIT team is our go-to resource for information and support.”

Sandra Altner, CEO, Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba and Chair, WEOC Board of Directors

 “To build an ‘innovation nation,’ we need to work together to support, champion and promote business women. I think BWIT is an amazing program. Startup Canada acts as a pipeline to promote BWIT’s initiatives to our 150,000 members so that women entrepreneurs can participate in these incredible opportunities. The more we work together, the more we can unleash the innovative and growth potential of Canadian business women.”

Victoria Lennox, Co-Founder & CEO, Startup Canada

Step-by-step exporting support

Did you know?

More and more, women-owned businesses are helping to power our economy. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) owned by women represented 15.7% of all SMEs in Canada, and 11.1% of exporting SMEs in 2014. Female SMEs exhibit a number of characteristics that are common to SMEs more generally: exporters are larger and have owners with more education and experience than non-exporters. Likewise, women exporters are located in export-intensive industries, such as professional and technical services, manufacturing and wholesale trade. As exporters are some of the strongest firms in the economy, it is important that female SMEs look to exporting as an opportunity to expand their businesses.

Read the full report, Majority-Female Owned Exporting SMEs in Canada, from Global Affairs Canada’s Office of the Chief Economist.

Team BWIT is ready to help you: Paige Kirk, Lynne Thomson, Josie Mousseau, Edith Morency and Miriam López-Arbour.

Ready to export or expand your global footprint? Tap into these tools, programs and services to get you on your way.

Step 1: Do your research

Research and planning can go a long way to help you to develop your export strategy, identify the best opportunities and understand what you need to do to enter your target market.

Export planning

Import & export controls and requirements

Step 2: Access government services for exporters

The Government of Canada offers valuable services targeted specifically to meet your business’ needs. Connect with us and find out how we can help you.

Step 3: Find financing

Do you need financing or insurance to get into your market or secure a deal? Check out the resources and programs available both Canada-wide and in your region.

Canada-wide resources

Regional resources

Women's Enterprise Organizations of Canada: Funding programs available through WEOC’s member organizations across Canada. Find a centre in your region.

Eastern Canada
Central Canada
Western Canada

Stay connected with BWIT

BWIT's Information Coordinator Miriam López-Arbour invites you to visit our website and sign up for email alerts. You can also connect with the BWIT team.

“Our LinkedIn group has over 2,000 active members who share news, opportunities and resources for business women on-the-go. Join us for some great networking and conversations.”

Don’t forget to tweet using our #womenexporters hashtag on Twitter!

Save the date!

April 11‒12, 2017
2017 Diversity Procurement Fair
Toronto, Ontario

May 4‒6 2017
Women Presidents’ Organization 20th Annual Conference
Orlando, Florida

June 18‒22, 2017
BWIT Trade Mission to WBENC National Conference and Business Fair
Las Vegas, Nevada

September 14‒16, 2017
BWIT Trade Mission to Go for the Greens Business Development Conference for Women Entrepreneurs
Orlando, Florida

September 28, 2017
WBE Canada Conference
Toronto, Ontario

October 2 ‒4, 2017
Women in Business North American Summit
Atlanta, Georgia

October 15‒21, 2017
Small Business Week Canada
Activities across Canada

November 2017
Power the Economy, WEConnect International in Canada National Conference
Toronto, Ontario

March 8, 2018
International Women’s Day
Up-to-date information and events at:

Sign up for current information, events and email alerts. Connect with us on LinkedIn.


Women’s business networks and associations

We encourage you to connect with these industry associations and organizations that support women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses. Our resources are organized by category.

Editorial information

The Business Women in International Trade Newsletter is published annually by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service of Global Affairs Canada.

Newsletter Editors

Josie L. Mousseau, Deputy Director
Business Women in International Trade

Edith Morency, Trade Commissioner
Business Women in International Trade

Lynne Thomson, Trade Commissioner
Business Women in International Trade

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of International Trade, 2017

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