Success Stories - Canadian Business Women

Canadian business women play a major role in strengthening Canada’s economy through their innovative products and services and international pursuits. The following are a collection of profiles and practical advice from successful Canadian business women who have taken their products and services to new markets.

Are you a Canadian women entrepreneur who has achieved success abroad with the help of BWIT and the TCS? We are always looking to feature accomplished business women such as yourself on this page and in our other publications. Please contact us today to tell us your story!


Perfume Entrepreneur’s Mission to Pay it Forward

Barb Stegemann, founder of The 7 Virtues, buys essential oils from farmers who have been affected by war and strife. Her company’s award winning fragrances are made with natural essential oils from the Middle East, India, Haiti and Rwanda. She is an example that women can use their buying power to affect change and reverse the effects of war and poverty. Barb first began sourcing orange blossoms in 2010 for her fragrance line from a farmer in Afghanistan to support him growing legal crops instead of the illegal poppy crop. She is the first woman from Atlantic Canada to have successfully pitched and landed a venture capital deal on the CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

Stegemann credits the BWIT team and the Trade Commissioner Service’s as being instrumental in her company’s expansion and growth.  “It’s much more powerful when a trade commissioner calls a buyer for me. I wouldn’t dare go into a country without their support. I have been incredibly impressed by the whole organization.”

Advice:

"It's challenging to ask for money for your time. But you have studied, invested, worked and built a network of high value. Don't give that away. Demand your value for your product or service and stick to it."


Revolutionizing a Shopper’s Experience by Removing the Wait to Pay

Toronto’s Wendy MacKinnon Keith aimed to transform the shopper experience through the company’s patented mobile self-pay application called SelfPay. The technology is integrated with Visa, Mastercard, American Express and ApplePay among others.  Mobile self-checkout makes shopping easy and meets shoppers’ needs for accessible product information and time saving convenience. Wendy spent 20 years as an international consultant with Fortune 100 companies and executives in retail and consumer technologies such as IBM, Ameritech, Nokia and Safeway. It was this expertise that led Wendy to create SelfPay.

As a participant in the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) initiative in San Francisco, MacKinnon Keith was well-positioned to build relationships with global channel partners. An initiative of the Trade Commissioner Service, CTAs help high-growth earlier-stage Canadian companies enter international markets. “The CTA was instrumental in assisting with introductions to local players and to getting a better understanding of local regulations which was very important given our work in FinTech.”

Advice:

“When starting any new venture I would strongly advise getting connected with potential customers to get needed feedback that what you are building is going to be valued and adopted.  We spend considerable time developing relationships with channel partners in our industry and this groundwork led to introductions with potential customers.”


From Traditional Answering Service to Innovative Emergency Response and Monitoring Solutions.

Newfoundland entrepreneur Sydney Ryan inherited innovation from her father, who brought the first communications towers and paging systems to the island and founded Telelink in 1965. Inspired by his innovative spirit, Ryan and her business partner Cindy Roma took over Telelink almost two decades ago, and have since become co-CEO’s.  While providing the traditional answering service and call centre services that the company was founded on, Telelink continues to innovate new solutions for its customers including emergency response monitoring, Journey Management, and lone worker monitoring.  Telelink is capitalizing on the strong US economy, the value of the Canadian dollar and the quality of the talent available in Newfoundland, and has found a current niche in supplying full time call centre agents for small call centres in the US that are challenged with attracting and retaining front line team members. 

We have found the BWIT led trade missions to be extremely helpful with our export strategy.  They are always well organized, with valuable support on site and in the follow up.  These events have allowed us to test a new market with minimal risk, network with other entrepreneurs and learn more about the resources available to us. You can’t underestimate the value of women business networks,” says Ryan.

Advice:

“We learned a valuable lesson after the drastic shift in oil prices in 2016, and that is to always maintain diversity in your product offering.  If your main market is a volatile or cyclical one, ensure your stability by always paying attention to your core offering and other stable vertical markets.”


Offering Canada’s Multilingual Talent Abroad

Ottawa’s Wintranslation offers translation services in over 100 languages and also specializes in Canada’s Indigenous languages. With 500 translators on the team, President Huiping Zhang is ready to do business in the US and Europe. She founded the company in June 1998 as a home-based, one-woman operation and built it into a thriving, award-winning business that works with multinational companies, governments, and not-for-profit organizations.

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

Advice:

“Give a lot of thought to your value proposition and competitive positioning. Be selective in where to put your financial resources and time. Leverage existing networks such as BWIT, its many trade missions and the trade commissioner service. Its many publications also offer wonderful exposure. There are government grants that help small businesses hire staff and train existing workforce that are also very valuable.”


A Moment of Calm leads to a World of Opportunity

Name: Wendy Weir, CEO
Company: Libre
Location: Gibsons, British Columbia

In 2006, Canadian woman entrepreneur Wendy Weir founded Libre, a company specialized in loose leaf tea glasses. The story behind Libre begins in China when CEO Wendy Weir noticed a Shanghai bus driver sipping tea from a glass jar amidst the chaos of a crowded bus. Wendy was fascinated by the driver’s moment of calm, an idea that she later branded as a Tea Moment when she founded Libre Travel Tea Glasses. These glasses have a loose-leaf tea infuser and are double-walled with a glass interior and poly exterior, making for a BPA free, durable and stylish on-the-go tea glass.

In Libre’s early days, Wendy achieved distribution in locations across Canada and the US. Today, Libre is famous among yoga, health and loose leaf tea circles, and has most recently started exporting to over 600 health food stores in the UK.

Crossing the Atlantic with the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS)

Well established in Canada and the US, Wendy identified the UK as her next key market. When trying to enter the marketplace she received advice from BWIT, the Vancouver Regional Office and the High Commission in London, all part of the TCS global network. Wendy first connected with BWIT through the BWIT LinkedIn group. “I found the BWIT LinkedIn group incredibly helpful and I was able to receive great quality advice from group members about exporting to the UK.” Reflecting on the export process, Wendy says she “can trace [her] steps back to the Vancouver regional TCS office”. From there she was referred to contacts at the High Commission in London who confirmed appropriate UK distributors for her product. “When we decide to enter a new marketplace again we will definitely continue to use BWIT and the TCS’ services.”

Advice for would-be entrepreneurs

As a WEConnect International certified woman business-owner with a wealth of experience, Wendy’s advice for Canadian business women entering the international marketplace is to “be prepared in terms of understanding the details and logistics of exporting, and make use of the numerous resources available to women-owned businesses.”


A Summer Job Turned Global Enterprise

Name: Jodi Glover, CEO
Company: Real Tech Inc.
Location: Whitby, Ontario

CEO Jodi Glover founded Real Tech in 2004. Having experience testing pool water, she was familiar with the water industry’s international need for a portable device for measuring water quality. For the first year Glover worked alone, aiming to convert her dream and prototype device into a low-cost and practical product. Real Tech’s first exports were to Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Today their website and word of mouth has led to having a business that is 80% exported. Working with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service helped Glover significantly reduce costs, risks, and barriers associated with seeking out international partnerships and clientele. The TCS’s established international presence allowed it to connect Glover to the right contacts, qualify companies and potential partners, and amplified Real Tech’s marketing efforts.

International Trade Missions – Gateway to Success

Real Tech’s first international trade mission was to China, at which Glover made a key note speech on International Women’s Day on how to take a company global. Over the next several years Glover engaged in further Trade Missions and networking events in China as well as India. Glover continues to participate in international events, particularly those with focus on water and clean tech. These have enabled her to meet people from Ontario as well as abroad. Glover recognizes the strength in attending government-run trade missions when entering into relations with foreign companies and governments: “We are always going with our government and we use it whenever we can.”

Advice for would-be entrepreneurs

“The world is much flatter than we think. There aren’t so many boundaries with international Trade. Utilize government to explore globally and learn about what markets to be in. Don’t hesitate to connect with the TCS. They were so helpful in my region, it’s ridiculous.”


Women-Owned Business Achieves International “Harmony”

Name: Judith Richardson, Executive Vice President
Company: PONO Consultants International
Location: Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

PONO means “Harmony” in Hawaiian, and that’s exactly what PONO Consultants International does: it brings harmony by providing services to facilitate change in organizations and the people within them. PONO Consultants International has been offering consultancy worldwide since 2000 through sessions including Peak Performance, Stakeholder Engagement, Organizational Culture Optimization, Integrated Communications, Workshops, and Guest Speaking.

PONO Consultants International has worked with clients in numerous countries such as the UK, Russia, Jamaica, the United States, Australia, Israel, and Canada.

International Trade Missions and TCS advice

Judith first became connected with the BWIT team through the Centre for Women in Business in Halifax and Status of Women Canada. Judith’s relationship with BWIT grew through her participation in an international Trade Mission to WBENC.

By attending WBENC Judith made a lot of connections with business women and even met partners to work with; “I hired two women-owned businesses to do some marketing and communications work for me, I developed a new offering with a company in New Brunswick, and I received a mentor from BMO Harris Bank.” Judith’s opportunities went even further when she was “invited to attend the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College for courses in their Executive Leadership program and made some WBE contacts there.”

In addition to attending WBENC, Judith works with the TCS office in Halifax. “We access our local TCS office for information of many kinds prior to working in countries abroad…We also occasionally speak with offices abroad on local issues or to get information prior to travel”

Advice for would-be entrepreneurs

A business women who has found tremendous success by pursuing diverse opportunities in countries worldwide, Judith provides the following advice for future entrepreneurs: “Enter into the work with confidence – behind that is to do all the research you need. List your ‘yeah-buts’ – all those things that you aren’t sure of – and find them out.”