Helping business owners from diverse backgrounds benefit from trade

Having just celebrated Black History Month and International Women’s Day, CanadExport is now devoting its March issue to the theme of inclusive trade.

Broadly speaking, Canada’s inclusive approach to trade aims to ensure that people from all backgrounds and walks of life can take advantage of the opportunities that flow from international trade. More practically, it means ensuring that opportunities for global business expansion are available to companies that are owned or led by people from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in international trade, including women, Indigenous Peoples, Black Canadians, LGBTQ2+, visible minorities, and young entrepreneurs. After all, when exporters from these inclusive trade groups grow their businesses and succeed abroad, everyone benefits from the jobs and economic growth that are created here at home.

That’s why, in recent years, Canada has been making it a priority to include, in its free trade agreements, dedicated chapters and provisions on labour rights, the environment, small and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs), gender equality and Indigenous Peoples. This provides a framework for parties to the agreements to undertake cooperation activities that help remove barriers to participation and increases awareness of these important issues.

It’s also why the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) recognizes the importance of working towards an inclusive economic recovery, and is there to help all businesses in Canada — small, medium or large — navigate market changes and challenges to grow internationally. The TCS recognizes that exporters from inclusive trade groups face a number of specific challenges, including difficulty in securing financing, a lack of networking and mentorship opportunities, and the need for capacity‑building, including through knowledge‑sharing.

TCS‑organized business delegations

Participating in TCS‑organized business delegations is free for companies. Companies only need to pay for their travel and accommodations (and the conference fee, if applicable).

If a company is eligible to apply for CanExport SMEs funding, they can use this funding to cover 50 percent of the costs associated with participating in a TCS‑organized event or business delegation, whether it be virtual or in‑person.

Companies participating in inclusive trade‑focused business delegation with the TCS, such as those targeted to business women and Indigenous Peoples, can submit a funding request for less than the $20,000 minimum application amount if they only want to cover the costs associated with participating in that event (and not submit requests to engage in additional market activities).

As part of Canada’s Export Diversification Strategy, the TCS is helping businesses from these groups overcome those challenges as they set their sights on global expansion, while also proactively working across its vast network to help companies diversify their markets.

As Sara Wilshaw, Canada’s Chief Trade Commissioner, recently noted in a podcast discussion with the CEOs of two Black‑owned Canadian businesses, export diversification and an increase in inclusive trade “go hand in hand” for the TCS. “Diversification for us is about so much more than where businesses export,” she added. “It’s really about diversifying what we’re exporting, how we’re exporting … and really, importantly, who is exporting.”

CanadExport recently spoke with several Trade Commissioners about the targeted services and programs and other support offered by the TCS to help exporters from inclusive trade groups grow their businesses and succeed abroad. Jérôme’Pischella, Canada’s Senior Trade Commissioner in Seattle, sums up the goal well: through the support of the TCS, “these companies can compete on equal footing with companies with more resources, and still be very successful”, in turn “providing prosperity to all.”

Diversity Champions in Canada

The TCS has offices in more than 160 cities worldwide, including six regional offices (ROs) across Canada in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Before making the leap abroad, Canadian companies usually begin their global journey by working with Trade Commissioners at one of these ROs, who help them establish their international business strategies and find the right markets for their products and services.

Since 2019, a network of Diversity Champions has been established across the TCS’s six ROs. These Champions are focused on providing dedicated support and services to exporters from inclusive trade groups, including:

Trade Commissioners Nicole Van Hove and Serena Ko serve as Diversity Champions at the TCS’s Pacific regional office in Vancouver. According to Van Hove, the RO’s work has changed considerably since the Champion role was created. “We’ve moved from offering information‑type resources to more concrete opportunities with potential buyers who are looking to source from Indigenous‑owned businesses, or businesses from other inclusive trade groups. So that’s been exciting to see,” she says. “Not that there weren’t those opportunities before,” she adds, “but we’re seeing an increasing number of them, and hopefully that will continue.”

Other Diversity Champion responsibilities include interacting with various organizations to offer TCS information sessions, and managing the TCS’s relationship with regional and provincial inclusive trade‑focused organizations. In fact, according to Ko, a lot of the Pacific regional office’s outreach work “is not possible without having strong partnerships at the provincial level with local groups,” like Vancouver’s WeBC (formerly known as the Women’s Enterprise Centre).

This is part of the TCS’s “no‑wrong‑door policy”, according to Ko. In the Vancouver context, she explains that a company “will hit the right door at some point because we all know each other quite well in the trade ecosystem, and we constantly do referrals or check with each other” in an effort to ensure that a company will receive the services it needs for the stage of export-readiness at which it finds itself.

Ko says she and Van Hove work with companies “to see if they can benefit from any of our free resources, or any of our funding programs or our upcoming webinars.” Companies that are referred to the regional office, especially those with little to no exporting experience, sometimes “need a little extra direction, maybe a strategic conversation to focus their efforts,” Ko adds.

For example, to improve program accessibility, Diversity Champions like Ko and Van Hove provide a “concierge service” to exporters from inclusive trade groups who wish to complete a funding application to the TCS’s CanExport SMEs program, which provides up to $50,000 to SMEs registered in Canada to help develop export opportunities for their products and services in new international markets.

It’s also important to note that CanExport gives special consideration when assessing applications from businesses that fall into inclusive trade groups. In addition, CanExport has recently begun accepting annual supplier diversity certification costs as an eligible funding expense for companies who wish to be certified as a women‑owned, Indigenous‑owned or visible minority‑owned business.

Supplier diversity initiatives and business delegations abroad

Uncovering and promoting supplier diversity opportunities for Canadian companies is an important part of the work being done by TCS offices abroad, particularly in the United States.

Go for the Greens

Go for the Greens is a high‑level business development conference for women entrepreneurs seeking supplier diversity opportunities through exclusive access to companies, government agencies and non‑profits.

Participation in this conference offers delegates three days of business matchmaker sessions, educational programming through keynote speeches, panels and workshops, and access to valuable networking opportunities.

The TCS is organizing a delegation of women‑owned Canadian companies for the 2022 Go for the Greens Business Development Conference, which will be held in Orlando, Florida, from September 21 to 24. “The TCS in Miami is proud to partner with this women‑in‑business conference once again”, says Ximena Pauvif‑Machado, a Trade Commissioner based in Miami. “We will be recruiting women‑owned and led Canadian companies to participate in the event.”

Canadian business women who choose to join the business delegation are offered preparatory webinars, on‑the‑ground support from U.S.‑based Trade Commissioners, specific Government of Canada programming (including a meet‑and‑greet networking event with U.S. corporations), and additional B2B meetings. The event ends “with a day of golf on Saturday, September 24”, according to Pauvif‑Machado.

Stay tuned for registration information on the TCS’s Trade Missions and Events webpage.

As Jean‑Pierre Hamel, Canada’s Senior Trade Commissioner in Miami, explains, there are significant opportunities to be explored south of the border. “Many large buyers in the U.S. — including Fortune 500 companies — have proactive supplier diversity programs,” he says, adding that the TCS has an important role to play in ensuring that Indigenous, LGBTQ2+ and women‑owned Canadian companies, and well as those owned by other minority groups, have access to these U.S. supply chains.

TCS offices abroad work hand‑in‑hand with ROs in Canada to find the right companies to meet those needs. “We work closely with our regional office network back in Canada in order to identify these companies owned or led by people from groups traditionally underrepresented in international trade”, says Ximena Pauvif‑Machado, a Trade Commissioner based in Miami who covers the defence and security and life sciences sectors. “When we have a conference to promote or a business opportunity, the ROs are instrumental in helping us identify a company that could fit the need.”

In recent years, the TCS team in Miami has participated in a number of conferences geared towards women‑owned businesses, such as Go for the Greens and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair, as well as the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Annual Conference.

According to Pauvif‑Machado, the connections made by Canadian companies at diversity‑focused events like these are invaluable and long‑lasting. “It’s incredible to see how open these companies are to helping each other out and making connections to other business opportunities beyond the events.”

In Miami and elsewhere, participation in group‑specific events, trade missions and business delegations is one of the key ways in which the TCS is supporting inclusive trade groups. Trade Commissioners help participating Canadian companies prepare through pre‑event webinars and access to resource documents. The companies then have the chance to attend networking events, business preparation sessions, workshops and business‑to‑business (B2B) meetings arranged with local companies and stakeholders — all organized by the TCS. Some of these initiatives are even tailored to respond to the current needs of large corporations that have supplier diversity programs.

Trade Commissioners based in Miami also work with provincial partners, women’s economic organizations, and various chambers of commerce and associations in order to help promote opportunities in their territory, which encompasses Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For example, Pauvif‑Machado notes that she and her colleagues engage regularly with local chambers of commerce representing minority groups, and the team “has made great progress in connecting with these constituencies and promoting linkages with their Canadian equivalents.”

All of these efforts help companies explore opportunities and connect with the right business partners and customers in new markets, which increases their chances of striking a deal with a foreign buyer or partner.

Pauvif‑Machado enumerates a number of TCS‑supported successes in the Miami market. “We’ve had some women‑owned businesses sign a deal with a major car manufacturer for their consumer products, others that have gotten their products into supermarkets, and one was selected to participate in a Shark Tank style event for a hardware chain.”

Queer Eye for B2B Supply

The Queer Eye for B2B Supply event will take place in‑person in Seattle, Washington, in September 2022, and will be a new initiative for the TCS in partnership with the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), the oldest and largest regional LGBTQ2+ business chamber in the United States. The event will offer opportunities for Canadian companies to connect with corporations based in and around the Seattle area, including mazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and T‑Mobile.

“This is only the second time that an LGBTQ2+‑focused initiative will be organized by the TCS in the United States. We will have a to‑be‑announced sector focus for Queer Eye for B2B Supply, and are working with Canadian industry and organizational partners to identify companies that are the correct fit in order to maximize returns for our Canadian participants,” says Maddie Morris, a Trade Commissioner based in Seattle who covers the aerospace, defence and security, and industrial machinery sectors. “This will be a historic year for LGBTQ2+ inclusion for the TCS as our team in Los Angeles is also planning to put together a delegation this year,” Morris adds.

Her colleague Juan Gonzalez, who covers the education and professional services sectors, notes that the TCS team in Miami is now turning its attention toward connecting Florida’s Indigenous community with Indigenous suppliers in Canada. “We are currently at an exploratory stage, but in the not‑too‑distant future we are hoping to have a cross‑border event focused around this initiative,” he says.

Like their colleagues in Miami, Trade Commissioners in Seattle view inclusive trade promotion as a team effort. Jérôme Pischella, the Senior Trade Commissioner in Seattle, notes that inclusive trade has been at the forefront of the TCS’s activities there for the last three years, and every member of his team has played a role.

“The territory we cover includes notably socially progressive cities like Seattle and Portland. There are very strong economies in our territory, especially in the knowledge economy: sectors such as technology, ICT, clean technologies and ocean technologies.” Pischella notes that over the past three years, his team has led several successful initiatives in each of these areas, which have resulted in successes for several Canadian companies from inclusive trade groups.

By way of example, Pischella highlights the Seattle TCS office’s successful partnership with Women in Cloud, a Seattle‑based organization that supports women entrepreneurs with cloud‑based technologies.

Through this partnership, dozens of Canadian women entrepreneurs have had the opportunity to attend networking events with local women executives and decision makers, Pischella says. Some have gone through a dedicated accelerator program in which they have received coaching, corporate investment and other business resources. “Next year we are hoping to ramp up this program, opening it up to other types of technologies, and run up to four cohorts,” he adds.

Other successes highlighted by Pischella include a TCS‑led aerospace‑focused accelerator program with Boeing for which 80 percent of the Canadian cohort was comprised of companies from inclusive trade groups, which he notes “is not an easy feat in the aerospace sector. We have also seen two Indigenous, women‑owned companies from Western Canada make it to market in Washington in the food and beverage sector.”

Free guide: Going global – Empowering women through trade

Looking for ways to unlock your full potential as a woman entrepreneur? If so, you’re invited to download a free copy of the new Women in Trade guide from Export Development Canada (EDC), which contains expert insights on how Canadian companies owned or led by women can realize their global potential. Download your free copy today and learn how to grow your business internationally.

Looking ahead, Pischella says his team will continue to promote its events and activities through business associations in Canada, provincial partners and the TCS’s network of regional offices. A “special kudos,” he says, “to Nicole Van Hove in our Vancouver office, who is an incredible champion to Indigenous companies in Western Canada.”

For her part, Van Hove relates a brainstorming session two years ago with colleagues in Seattle for ways to help Indigenous businesses target tribally owned casinos, hotels, restaurants and gift shops in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The result: a pilot project led by the TCS teams in Vancouver and Seattle, beginning with four participating businesses. “So we’ve been doing that for about two years, and in the future we’re hoping to work with a large retailer on a pop‑up shop initiative for diverse groups as a way of increasing their sales in the U.S,” Van Hove says.

Whether it’s in Canada, the U.S. or around the world, the TCS is committed to working with Canadian exporters from all segments of Canadian society, to help them expand their presence and achieve success in global markets. As Hamel, the Senior Trade Commissioner in Miami, says, “providing a platform for underrepresented groups in international trade is a priority for the Government of Canada and by extension, the TCS.”

For more information on TCS support and initiatives for inclusive trade groups, visit the Business Women in International Trade, Indigenous Business Export Support and Trade Missions and Events webpages.

And keep reading to learn more about how the TCS is helping Canadian women, Black and LGBTQ2+‑owned businesses succeed abroad.

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