Program helps women grow their global footprint

Are you ready to export? It's a question that many entrepreneurs ask themselves, given the risks as well as the rewards of developing sales outside of Canada.

Now businesswomen who are "export-curious" can find the answer through a new online survey, says Zoe Hawa, a trade commissioner for the Canadian Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. The Export Readiness Quiz is intended to help women entrepreneurs determine if they are prepared to export, she says, and to identify areas they may need to focus on before they start.

Renée Safrata
Renée Safrata, founder and owner of VIVO Team Consulting Inc.

The confidential survey is one of many initiatives sponsored and offered by BWIT in order to help women-owned companies looking to expand outside of Canada. BWIT connects Canadian business women with trade commissioners around the world, organizes trade missions and attendance at trade shows for Canadian business women, provides specialized communications products that showcase and connect women entrepreneurs and offers policy advice on women's economic empowerment to international forums.

Christine Hogan, the new Deputy Minister of International Trade, says that Canadian business women are playing an active role in international trade, with many of them excelling in highly competitive industries in the global arena. Programs such as BWIT are vital to identifying ways to help women expand their ability to bring their businesses to the next level of success.

"Canada continues to deepen and broaden our trade and investment ties to create the conditions for SMEs to succeed through international trade," she says. "Supporting women entrepreneurs is part of the Government of Canada's ambitious Global Markets Action Plan to keep our highly trade-oriented economy supported, strong and growing."

BWIT is dedicated to providing targeted support to Canadian women entrepreneurs, by providing access to opportunities and growing their global footprint.

Christine Hogan
Christine Hogan, Deputy Minister of International Trade

"The BWIT program has been instrumental in assisting thousands of women-owned businesses globalize over the years," Hawa says. "Having strong partnerships between ourselves, business women's associations and organizations across Canada as well as our Trade Commissioner Service colleagues worldwide have been central to delivering on that success."

She notes that BWIT maintains a notable website and a nationally cited LinkedIn group, publishes a quarterly blog and an annual newsletter.

The Canadian Business Women in International Trade LinkedIn Group, set up in 2012 as one of eight TCS LinkedIn subgroups, is a forum for networking and exchanging approaches to doing business abroad. There are currently close to 1,300 group members, including like-minded professionals, trade commissioners, government partners, trade associations, academics and researchers, all interested in international commerce. It is the most successful TCS subgroup and was nominated by Canadian Internet Business as one of Canada's top business groups, joining others such as the Globe and Mail's Small Business Group and the Canada Business and Professional Network Group.

The short export-readiness quiz adds one more tool for women entrepreneurs to better understand whether they are ready for exporting—or not," Hawa says, noting that it is especially good for those who are somewhat risk-averse but want to expand their horizons.

"It will be quite valuable for a lot of women entrepreneurs who are export-curious," she says, adding that for those who aren't necessarily ready, the quiz will provide a "reality-check."

BWIT offers women-focused trade missions annually to provide women entrepreneurs with opportunities to secure contracts globally, working with colleagues at consulates and embassies as well as business women's associations across Canada. These include the Organization of Women in International Trade, Quebec Business Women's Network, Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, and Women Enterprise Centres across Canada.

BWIT and these partner associations play a leading role in organizing Canadian trade missions to the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair, the largest supplier diversity procurement trade show in North America. During these shows, one-on-one meetings are organized with corporations in the market; to date, millions of dollars of contracts have been secured from these trade missions.

"We have a lot to celebrate, although we still have so much to do," says Ruth Vachon, CEO of the Quebec Business Women's Network, an organization with 2000 members that brings one of the largest delegations to the event.

She points out that "women are not so good at networking." Indeed, businesswomen ranked networking fifth among their priorities in a study last year. "We have a lot to learn," she says, adding that BWIT helps them to "knock on doors," and by attending trade shows, entrepreneurs and different organizations can "put their heads together and celebrate their successes."

Renée Safrata, founder and owner of VIVO Team Consulting Inc., a Vancouver-based company that solves workplace productivity issues with a web-based platform that tests, trains and tracks corporate team performance, attended BWIT's trade mission to the annual "Go for the Greens" conference and trade show in Florida last fall. Safrata says that the show particularly "stands out" among the six such events she attended in 2014. The hosts, corporate players, sponsors and fellow women business owners "consistently expressed a heart-felt welcome to the Canadian delegates, which made it easy to feel included and participate fully," she explains.

Safrata felt there was a "solid invitation" to become part of conversations in "this already established network" and to make lasting connections. "What a great way to reach out to other women with open arms with an interest in doing business in the future."

The growing connections between BWIT and Industry Canada are particularly useful. For example, Industry Canada's Canadian Company Capabilities (CCC) database was expanded last year to include a specialized directory for women-owned businesses. The directory helps women-owned businesses promote their products and services to procurement professionals in Canada and from around the world. The CCC database showcases the products and services of more than 50,000 Canadian businesses and attracts more than 5 million visitors and procurement professionals annually.

Hawa encourages qualified women-owned businesses to sign up on the specialized directory, which especially allows them to be easily identifiable to organizations looking to do business with them.

"There are so many opportunities to grow their business," she says, noting that a major part of BWIT, through its newsletter and other communications, is learning about the success of women entrepreneurs and supporting their efforts in international markets.

"We have some incredible role models with all of these great women who are out there conquering the world," she adds. "They show us all that it can be done."

Learn more about the Canadian Business Women in International Trade program.

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