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Podcast Transcript: Connecting businesswomen to opportunity

Here’s a question for you. What segment of the Canadian population provides jobs for 1.7 million Canadians and contributes over $18 billion to the Canadian economy? The answer: women.

In fact, between 1981 and 2001, the number of women entrepreneurs in Canada increased 208%.

Yet the top 13 multinational corporations that purchase over $1 billion each, per year, from diverse suppliers spend only 2.2% on women-owned businesses.

But that’s hopefully all about to change with the recent launch of a program called WEConnect Canada, a Canadian non-profit organization that qualifies women-owned firms and connects them to the growing corporate and public sector demand for diverse suppliers.

So far, some major multinational corporations have signed up to WEConnect and they’re looking for Canadian businesswomen.

Stay tuned as I talk to the lead strategist for WEConnect Canada about why this programme could mean big business for women entrepreneurs in this country.

I’m Michael Mancini, Editor-in-Chief of CanadExport, the official e-magazine of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. Visit www.canadexport.gc.ca to subscribe. It takes seconds and it’s free.

Also, tell us what you think of our podcasts and how we can improve. If you have story ideas, or business questions you want answered by our worldwide network of trade commissioners, let me know. Just send an email to canad.export@international.gc.ca.

Now back to the show.

Michael Mancini: I'd like to welcome Laraine Kaminsky, Lead Strategist of We Connect Canada. Laraine, thanks a lot for speaking with me today.

Laraine Kaminsky: You're welcome.

Michael Mancini: We're in the middle of some pretty challenging economic times right now, but there is a lot of good news out there. Tell me about WEConnect Canada and why it's important.

Laraine Kaminsky: We Connect Canada has recently been launched by the Minister of Status of Women. This is a wonderful opportunity for Canadian business women to have a stronger connection with corporate and government procurement officers. This has been based on a very successful model in the US called WE Bank, and it has also been launched in the U.K., called WE Connect UK.

For many years, historically, women business owners have not had exactly the same opportunities as men business owners to have the same access to procurement officers, procurement opportunities, large opportunities in large-scale contracts. This is going to qualify and certify women business owners. Women business owners who become certified will then be on our database. And then member companies will have access to a group of women business owners and businesses that are ready to take on the challenge and opportunity of these much larger contracts. There'll also be the opportunity for women business-to-business opportunities. So clearly this is opening new doors of opportunity.

Michael Mancini: Mm-hmm. OK. Take me into the program now. Take me into WE Connect Canada and how exactly it works and how businesswomen can qualify to be a part of this program.

Laraine Kaminsky: So in short, we would encourage any women business owner -- that means a business that is 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by a woman. So that's the first thing. So if you fall in… you're listening to this and you fall into that category, 51 percent you own, minimum, you actually manage and control that business, please go to our website, which is www.weconnectcanada.org.

On that website, as a woman business owner — so there… there are… there are sort of three parts to the process, and perhaps I'll quickly go through it at high level. So if I'm a woman business owner, I go on the website, I see that there are an… a qualification process. Betty Wood, who is a fantastic woman who ran the national program for women in business for the Royal Bank for many years is heading up our qualification process.

So you go on line and you go through the application process. Everything gets sent to Betty. If everything works for you, you send the cheque of $750, and then she will connect with you, do a site visit, and… and go through a fairly rigorous but fair process. So that on the second part of the program there are the corporates and there are the members. And we already have nine corporate members, you know, little companies like Accenture, Alcatel-Lucent, BMO Financial Group, Sysco, IBM, Manpower, Pfizer, Staples, and Wal-Mart. That number will grow exponentially over the next year or two years. WE Bank in the U.S. has something like over 2,000 corporate members. So you can imagine that type of opportunity. So the… what will happen then is that the corporate members will have access to this database of qualified business women owners. So that's the second part.

The third part is the… not only the business-to-business for the women who are qualified in our database, but also, we will be looking at women-owned businesses who are not quite there yet, looking for that opportunity. So we're going to be offering training, mentoring, and networking opportunities across Canada.

Michael Mancini: Tell me why WE Connect was created in the first place.

Laraine Kaminsky: Very good question. You know, why in the year 2009 are we still segmenting our markets? You know, there's a number of facts. One of them is that there are more than 821,000 women entrepreneurs in Canada, and they annually contribute in excess of $18 billion to the Canadian economy. You know, women-led firms provide jobs for 1.7 million Canadians. They do, you know, more than the Canadian business top 100 companies. You know, they're offering lots of jobs. However, there are still issues and barriers and gender inequities. The success model in the US has demonstrated very clearly that, by segmenting the market, by paying special attention to women-owned businesses, there's a significant, again, benefit to the economy as a whole. You know, women make, you know, more than 80 percent of all purchasing decisions. Surely, from a representation perspective, big companies would want to have women-owned businesses looking at their products. And services. So we're looking at both products and services.

Michael Mancini: Right. Now, I want to go back to… you mentioned some pretty major corporations. I mean, these obviously aren't little players. What's in it for them to tap women entrepreneurs?

Laraine Kaminsky: There's two or three aspects for them. The first one is, you know, going back to the… the numbers of women who are actually making the purchasing decisions. There's also… our population and demographics have changed significantly over the last 20 years. And no longer is it acceptable for the companies like IBM and Staples and Alcatel-Lucent to have visually that old boys' club. It's just not acceptable any longer. And the US has been, you know, full flair in this, that for companies to get government contracts, those companies that we mentioned, that… who are on our board, they have to demonstrate much more of an inclusive eye to all of their contracting operations.

So because of that, they're looking to… to Canada and saying well, you know, if this has worked, it's been successful for us, we’ve grown wonderful relationships with women-owned business and it's been really good for our business — it's been good not only from an optics perspective but it's been good from an economic perspective — let us see if the similar model will play out in Canada.

So you know, if you look at our nine corporate… initial corporate members, they all are… other than Bank of Montreal, the other eight are head officed in the U.S. And all have been very successful with what's called supplier diversity. Supplier diversity is a new concept for Canada, but Bank of Montreal has stepped up to the plate, and we're very grateful and appreciative of that. And now we're looking for other Canadian players in Canada's business market to become corporate members.

Michael Mancini: OK. So if I understand it, supplier diversity programs are organizations within corporations — is that right? – that monitor and actively seek to do business with minority-owned businesses or women-owned businesses.

Laraine Kaminsky: Exactly.

Michael Mancini: OK. Perfect.

Laraine Kaminsky: So they look for the relationships. And it's that return of investment from a marketing perspective, from a business perspective, and from a whole inclusionary perspective -- market share, leadership, you look at the… you know, the top 100 Fortune… you know, Fortune 100 companies, they're all very involved with supplier diversity.

Michael Mancini: Mm-hmm. I want to go back to the… the WE Connect program now and just sort of connect the dots a little bit. Now, if… if a business woman becomes a member of We Connect and all the due diligence on your part is done, and they're now a member, what happens then? Business, I'm assuming, is not guaranteed.

Laraine Kaminsky: No.

Michael Mancini: You're not guaranteed to do business with these companies; you qualify to do business with these companies.

Laraine Kaminsky: And… and introductions are made.

There will also be mentoring opportunities. There will be profiling opportunities. You know, the marketing opportunities will be extraordinary. As we know, marketing budgets are often limited. These women will be profiled in all of our media and all of our releases, particularly the ones who are coming on board, you know, within the first 12 to 18 months.

The fact that the… that the marketing opportunity is face-to-face and in person and… you know, we're calling this Opening Doors and Opening Opportunities. All what we will be able to do is to open the door. Once the door is open, then, you know, we have qualified business women owners who can walk in — or run in — depending on how ready they are to get their stuff to market.

Michael Mancini: How many women entrepreneurs to you expect to eventually sign up, say, in the first year?

Laraine Kaminsky: Our goal within the first year is to have… I… we would hope at least a hundred. So you know, to be in the first hundred is pretty competitive. And that's a conservative number. We've probably got about 30 in the pipeline and we've just started. You know, my goal is that a year from now we can showcase that first 100 qualified women business entrepreneurs.

Michael Mancini: What words of advice would you offer Canadian business women, even those that are not necessarily in business right now but who are considering it? What advice would you offer them?

Laraine Kaminsky: Be bold. Take risks. Be sure of yourself. Make sure that your product or service is of the highest quality. I mean, that's another thing, Michael, that I'd like to mention, back to what's in it for the “corporates.” The feedback we have from the corporates is that the calibre of the women business owner is flexible, adaptable, with very quick response time. And so this is the kind of women business owner that we're looking for, a woman who has taken the time and trouble to make sure that her business is on a strong foundation. And again, all the research shows that women business owners build very successful businesses.

And so that's one of the things hat we are really hoping to build, is the strong community nationally and internationally, and that's again the very crux of WE Connect Canada, is that it's a Canadian-based organization with very strong ties into the U.S., the U.K., and shortly India and China.

Michael Mancini: Well, great. Laraine, thank you very much for taking this time today.

Laraine Kaminsky: No, thank you very much for the opportunity. And as we progress on the WE Connect Canada journey, I'd be delighted to reconnect with you.

Michael Mancini: That would be great. Best of luck.

Laraine Kaminsky: Thanks very much, Michael.

Michael Mancini: That was Laraine Kaminsky, Lead Strategist of WEConnect Canada. She was speaking to me from New York.

Well, that’s all for this podcast edition of CanadExport.

As Laraine said, go to www.weconnectcanada.org or give them a call at 1-877-857-3888 for more information on WEConnect Canada.

And don’t forget to subscribe at www.canadexport.gc.ca.

You might also want to visit the www.tradecommissioner.gc.ca website to find out how the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service can help you.

I’m Michael Mancini, signing off for now.

To download our other episodes, just go to www.canadexport.gc.ca or go to iTunes and use the searchword “CanadExport.”

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