German Business Women’s Association to visit Edmonton on Trade Mission to Canada

Edmonton, AB - Sept 16, 2019 – In collaboration with national and regional partners, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is helping to organize an incoming trade mission of approximately 20 women business owners from the German Business Women’s Association (VdU). VdU will be visiting Edmonton from September 14 – 17th to explore business opportunities, including those offered by the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). VdU represents the interests of over 1800 women-owned businesses in Germany. These businesses employ over 500,000 people and represent a collective revenue of 85 billion Euros.

“The Association of German Women Entrepreneurs is very happy to strengthen our partnership with Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) and AWE through this trade mission,” says Dr. Marie-Claire Weinski, Board member of VdU International Commission. “This special cooperation allows us to give our members access to a strong female Canadian business network and to take advantage of the new international business opportunities under CETA. We look forward to an inspiring visit and to establishing valuable personal and business connections.”

While in Edmonton, the German delegation from VdU has a full itinerary including site tours of Startup Edmonton and the Advanced Technology Centre, and meetings with the Alberta Economic Development and Trade Office and the German Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research. On Monday, September 16th AWE is hosting a networking event at the ATB Entrepreneur Centre to facilitate connections and matchmaking opportunities between German and Albertan women entrepreneurs. The event has been sponsored by the Government of Canada Trade Commissioner Service, Export Development Canada, Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada, and AWE.

After spending four days in Edmonton, VdU will continue on to Vancouver, BC.

This trade mission builds on the momentum of a Canadian trade mission to Europe led by Business Women in International Trade that took place last fall. In November 2018, eleven women-owned Canadian companies and three representatives of Canada’s women’s enterprise organizations visited Germany and the UK, the first ever delegation of women entrepreneurs to Europe since CETA was ratified. On this trade mission an MOU was signed in Germany between the German and Canadian national women’s enterprise organizations to act as a collaborative tool for future trade missions and business relationships.

“We are honoured to have the delegation from VdU here in Edmonton and to have the opportunity to make connections between German and Albertan women entrepreneurs,” says Marcela Mandeville, CEO of AWE. “There is significant opportunity post-CETA for Alberta companies to explore international business opportunities. It is important to create these relationships across borders and I am looking forward to building on the partnership that was created when WEOC and AWE visited Germany last fall.”

Canada is a leader in women’s entrepreneurship, with the highest rate of early-stage activity among innovation-driven economies, including the US, Australia, and the UK. However, there is more that needs to be done to reduce barriers to business growth and export opportunities for women-owned businesses. The newly formed relationship between VdU and Canadian women’s enterprises organizations provides the opportunity to build innovative, viable solutions by connecting women entrepreneurs to each other and to potential supply chains across borders.

About Alberta Women Entrepreneurs

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enabling women to build successful businesses. AWE provides unique programs and services to women at all stages of business through advising, financing, mentoring, and network development.

Media Inquiries:

Devonne Kendrick

Marketing Coordinator

Alberta Women Entreprenerus


Four Tips to Help You Network Like a Pro

It’s a common misconception that networking comes naturally to entrepreneurs. However, stepping outside of your comfort zone and building relationships requires solid effort no matter who you are. Networking, like any activity, takes practice for you to become more comfortable with doing it. Like a muscle, with exercises that exist to help you perform better without having to think about it, similar habits exist that will help you get stronger at making connections with like-minded entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. Connect with other amazing, passionate individuals to share knowledge and experience, grow your business, and become lifelong friends. Follow these four foundational tips to improve your networking skills:

  1. Proper Body Language
    Stand tall, relax your shoulders, and do your best to appear confident (even if you might feel otherwise). This expansive posture demonstrates openness and self-assurance to others, and yourself. Tons of research exists that shows the positive influence of posture on the mind--do a quick google search and you’ll see what we mean! On the other hand, the opposite is also true. When you appear slumped over and closed in facing the ground with hunched shoulders, the corresponding emotions making you feel self-conscious and nervous become evident in your stature. This underlines the importance of staying off your phone. Though your device is a safe place to distract you and make you appear busy, you look unapproachable and disinterested--neither of which will help you network.

  2. Come Prepared
    First and foremost, arrive early to events. This means you can get a head start without having to enter a large, intimidating group of people if you arrive later. With fewer people, it’s easier to jump in and find someone to start a conversation with.

    Bring your business cards! Pro-tip: keep your business cards in one pocket and any you collect in another. Separating them will keep you organized and ensure you don’t lose any.

    Finally, have a plan in mind. Whether your goal is meeting new people or strengthening relationships you already have, brainstorm conversation-starters and questions to ask. Try to strategize the best ways to connect with this individual, but don’t be so rigid that you’re stuck to a script.

  3. Know Your Elevator Pitch

    Not only are you trying to make a good impression of yourself, but you also want to make a good impression of your business. You don’t want to fumble around describing your mission statement, nor do you want to hold the floor for so long that by the time you are finished all your partner can think about is what they’re having for dinner tomorrow. Be creative and concise and simply know why and how you can help people. Your business is your passion and you know these things inside and out, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to outline a conversational pitch to showcase your business.

  4. Make Genuine Connections

    Step outside of your comfort zone and initiate conversations with questions as simple as “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” Maybe try out, “Working on anything exciting lately?” or “What was the highlight of your day/week?” Be present, and dedicate yourself fully to listening and hearing what your partner has to say. Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. Ask open-ended questions using journalism’s five W’s (and how) to give the conversation lots of room to flow. Remember that the purpose of networking isn’t to gain more leads, but instead to increase your access to opportunities while seeking to provide similar opportunities to your peers. Relationships come first, business second.

These tips should provide you with a great jumping-off point for you to work on your networking style and develop tools suited specifically for you. Don’t discount networking as just another business buzzword--allow it to spark your personal and professional development.

Ready to flex your networking muscles? Alberta Women Entrepreneurs is hosting two AWE Connect events this September, in Edmonton (Sept. 16) and Calgary (Sept. 24)! Both events will feature inspiring attendees and panelists and provide an evening of entrepreneurial learning for a collective of passionate entrepreneurs like yourself. Register today!

New season, new opportunities

August came to an end, and it is clear a change of season is around the corner. A new season brings new opportunities, risks and challenges. How are we preparing?

While it may seem like things slow down in the summer, behind the scenes AWE has been getting ready for a full slate of workshops and events that will be running in September. Our digital marketing program will be in three communities across Alberta starting this month, and we are especially excited to bring the program to Grande Prairie for the first time.

One aspect of preparing for a new season is ensuring you have the resources you need to be successful, and the right processes in place to be effective. For AWE this has meant recruiting for a few new roles on our team, as well as preparing to launch new tools to help us build programs and deliver better service.   

As we begin September, I encourage you to ask yourself “What support and resources do you need as an entrepreneur to achieve your goals this fall?”

While we continue our work to provide capital, connections, and training, we are excited for the time ahead as we grow our programs for women business owners to succeed.  Today, we have an incredible opportunity to share talent and learn from others around the world who are creating innovative access to capital, skills, knowledge, and markets.

September offers fantastic opportunities to build connections across borders. The upcoming BWIT trade mission to the Go for the Greens conference in Orlando, Florida is focused on generating revenue, growing companies to create more jobs, and exchanging environment-friendly business practices. Go for the Greens will connect women-owned businesses and representatives of corporations, government agencies, and non-profits. The intimate size of this conference, which is limited to 300 attendees, gives corporate buyers and women-owned suppliers maximum exposure to each other.

Closer to home we hope you will join us at a special networking event to bring together Canadian women-owned businesses with participating German Business Women’s Association (VdU) delegates during their visit to Alberta. This visit is the next step in a journey that began in the fall of 2018 when AWE represented the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) on the first Canadian post-CETA trade mission to the EU organized by the Business Women in Trade program of Global Affairs Canada. The mission was focused on connecting women-owned businesses and support organizations who are seeking international growth. One of the direct results was a new relationship between WEOC and the VdU that continues to grow as we plan this visit to Canada and future connections.

In this time of rapid change, it is valuable to build meaningful connections with people who offer diverse perspectives and experiences, spark innovative ideas and learning, and build energy to keep moving forward with purpose. The opportunities mentioned above are only two of many ways to connect your business with others from across Alberta, Canada, and the world. We are here to help and hope you will explore how we can support you on your journey.

Always with gratitude,


Client Feature: Oh My Dog Spa

Oh My Dog.png

Myrna Saramago and Perla Pereira were both born and raised in Brazil. However, it was not until 2013, in Edmonton, that the two met for the first time.

Perla was living in the city temporarily, while Myrna had permanently relocated to Edmonton with her family. Myrna, a business graduate, and Perla, an engineer, had no idea that five years later they would be opening the dog grooming salon, Oh My Dog Spa. Their second year in business has proven that their model was an excellent fit for the Edmonton market.

“In the last year, we have doubled our business goal. In 2018, we set out to groom 10 dogs a day and now we are grooming over 30. In our biggest month, we had 80 new clients visit us.”

When asked to reflect on their successful year, both Myrna and Perla say that having a strong referral network significantly benefited their business.

With more furry clients entering their shop each day, Myrna and Perla know that having a strong team around them is essential to meeting the demands of their growing business—but they admit that this has not always been easy.

“We have learned that when hiring, it can’t just be on skill alone. Personality and culture fit are so important. As we grow, we step back and re-evaluate the business constantly.”

While being in business for yourself can come with challenges, it also presents significant opportunities.

“We love that we are doing things the way we think is right. From how we treat the animals we groom to how we spend time with our customers. All of our energy is put into our own business. We love working for ourselves and seeing our effort and education pay off.”

Myrna and Perla rely on each other as partners, but they also have support from family and organizations, including AWE.

“It’s not always easy to balance work and family life. Our families have been so supportive. So has AWE with the loan and business advising they have provided us. They have been very supportive.”

When asked what advice the partners would share with anyone looking to open their own business, both agreed: "Do what you like and what you're passionate about. If you're doing something just for the money, the chances of it lasting long-term are slim."

To learn more about Oh My Dog Spa visit

Finding Solutions: Strategy and Operations Edition

By Bev Latter, Business Advisor

You have established your business and now you’re wondering where to go next. Do you export into new markets or expand your reach? Maybe you’re considering introducing a new product line. For many business owners, starting and sustaining a business does not come naturally. There are skills individuals need to run a successful business. These skill sets range from financial literacy and financial management to employment standard requirements. Regardless of what you’re struggling with, we’d like to help answer some of your questions. This blog is an addition to our Learning Day Finding Solutions series where we summarize some of the solutions that were brainstormed by other business owners regarding issues they are facing. In this edition, we are focusing on the strategy and operations side of business.

Challenge: How do I plan and maintain ideal inventory levels that provide healthy cash flow for overhead, payroll, accounts payable, loans and capital growth? Externally viewed by the customers, inventory must be trendy, fresh and seasonal.

It can be difficult to plan your inventory months in advance, particularly when trends are changing so rapidly. However, there are ways to make sure that you can achieve a healthy balance between inventory and demand. One initiative you can take on throughout your fiscal year is always doing research. Get feedback from your customers to see what their thoughts are on your product/service and think of ways that you can improve it to increase demand. Measure your marketing and sales activities so that you have an idea of when you are in a busy or off-season phase. By gathering this data, you can plan ahead and ensure you have more on-hand inventory when you experience high sales activity.

In some cases, it can actually be good for your business to keep a limited supply as this can increase the demand for your product and encourage pre-orders. If you sell out, you can order more and provide discounts or other incentives to your customers for their patience. This is also beneficial to your cash flow because keeping an excess of inventory can tie up valuable cash that could be spent elsewhere. While this is different for all businesses, it is important to find a balance that works for your company.

Challenge: How do I scale a service to export into new markets?

For fast-growing businesses, exporting into new markets is often the next step. This can be intimidating and difficult, but there are ways to help ease the stress associated with scaling. A great way to make connections both in your home country and abroad is to attend a trade mission. Many trade missions will also give you the opportunity to attend special sessions and receive personalized support for your businesses. An upcoming trade mission that you can take part in is “Go for the Greens Business Development Conference for Women Entrepreneurs” which is happening in September 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

There are also a variety of resources available to small business owners that help with scaling, such as the Trade Accelerator Program offered by Enterprise Edmonton. Financing can be difficult, but there are institutions that can lend you enough to meet your needs. AWE offers repayable loans up to $150,000, and in the case that you need more, we can work with our partners to try to get you what you need.

Internally, a few steps you can take to prepare your business for expansion are increasing your operational capacity, learning about the culture in your new market, and networking. Expanding your business requires more staff and resources; make sure that you are able to grow your business to accommodate for this change. Furthermore, different markets will have their own cultural values and you may need to shift your marketing strategy to address these. Finally, build your network. The more connections you have the easier your transition will be.

In general, seeking our entrepreneurial training workshops is always a good idea. Studies have shown that those women who have participated in workshops or support meetings reported greater improvement and access to financing (October 2016 Report for WeSK by PwC).  The learnings/workshops, via technology, can be easily accessed by webinars which help to accommodate travel, time and busy schedules.

Aside from those, there are also a number of free or affordable resources provided for women in rural and urban settings. For example, I’d recommend reaching out to the following organizations that offer programs or networking opportunities at no cost or a small fee to help women entrepreneurs with skills training:

Regardless of what stage of business you’re in, you are not alone in the challenges you face! Owning and operating a business is no easy feat and if you find that you’re struggling with a certain aspect of it, don’t worry because there are a variety of support systems out there to help you reach your goals. With a little bit of a boost and guidance, you’ll be on the right track!

Digital Marketing Don'ts: What to Avoid When Dabbling in Digital Marketing

It’s 2019, and the harsh reality is that your business needs to be online in some shape or form. You’re probably accustomed to using social media to stay connected with friends and family, and the Internet is a button away to answer any question you could possibly conjure up. Still, digital marketing from a business perspective can feel intimidating and confusing. By no means do you have to be a pro, but there are some best practices we recommend following to effectively market your business online while pursuing a digital marketing strategy. Here are some bad habits we recommend avoiding:

1)    Autopost
Automating and isolating can go hand in hand. Social media automation tools are a very valuable resource, but you can’t simply plan a bunch of content, schedule it, and then go on vacation. Like the quote, “Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes,” social media and its trending topics move so quickly that what may have been relevant an hour ago could be a touchy subject now. The famous Live Nation example demonstrates this well.

When some of the staging collapsed at a Radiohead concert 7 years ago, with one person dead and three others hurt, an auto-scheduled tweet from Live Nation went out half an hour after they had announced the show had been cancelled:


This tweet remained up for 45 minutes before someone took it down.

The goal of social media conversations is to interact with your audience in a genuine way. By “setting and forgetting”, your followers can tell that there’s a lack of authenticity behind your posts, and their relationship with your brand can suffer as a result. This also corresponds with remembering to stay engaged on your business profiles, including liking and replying to comments, direct messages, and interacting with other accounts. These practices reflect well on your social media platforms, and help to grow your channels too!

2)    Haphazard Hashtags
Hashtags are truly a cultural phenomenon and they can be a great resource if used properly and strategically. They’re used to group streams of content, making it easier to search using keywords in communities and conversations. For example, searching #yegrestaurants on Instagram will return content that people have posted and tagged to contribute to the Edmonton restaurant community. Hashtags seem easy enough, but they aren’t exactly intuitive. Try to avoid the following faux pas:

#hashtagsthatarelongandconfusing: If the object of hashtags is to group content, it must be searchable and concise in order for people to use them, and use them correctly. Keep them short and sweet

#notdoingyourresearch: This is twofold. Firstly, look up your hashtags beforehand to get an idea of their context and popularity. The sweet spot for a hashtag is specific enough to generate good activity for a wide audience, and not overly vague that it ends up being a black hole of content (e.g. use #yegbike instead of #bicycle). If you’re interested in creating a branded hashtag specific to your company, choose one that has a lesser amount of activity and make it yours to build from. One good example of this is Poppy Barley’s #luxuryforthepeople.

Secondly, make sure to get a good idea of what your hashtag actually means so that you’re not accidentally contributing to something inappropriate!

#spamminghashtags: Keep your hashtags relevant to your content. It might be tempting to use a multitude of popular hashtags to display your posts in as many areas as possible, but this makes your social campaigns feel more like spam than a contribution to the conversation. Feel free to use multiple hashtags, just ensure they align with the communities in which your business is actually a part of.

3)    Not Targeting an Audience
The goal of digital marketing isn’t reaching an audience, it’s reaching the right audience. Defined target markets delve into the idea of demographics and psychographics getting narrower and narrower. The more specific your market, the more relevant your content, the easier you can convert. Digital marketing is used to serve your customers at all stages of their journey: build awareness and recognition of your brand, engage and nurture relationships with your potential clients, and create more touch-points to interact with current customers and improve their experience. In order to build relationships, think niche and connect with your minimum viable audience such that through your community you gain cheap and insightful methods to better understand your customer: talk with them, observe them, and analyze data.

4)    Ignoring Analytics
There’s a great quote that says “Marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed.” -Dan Zarrella

Which is all too applicable to digital marketing. All platforms provide numerous analytics and insights for you to optimize your strategy, automatically! The success metrics we recommend tracking are:

Audience Growth Rate--in the form of new followers across all platforms.
Average Engagement Rate-- in the form of the number of engagement actions (e.g., likes, shares, comments) a post receives relative to your total number of followers.
Conversion Rate-- in the form of contact forms completed, newsletter sign-ups, purchases made, download of content, etc.

Don’t get too caught up in the numbers, but do let them guide your strategy on an ongoing basis. Having a good idea of your audiences’ behaviour will help drive your digital marketing success while ensuring all your efforts aren’t put to waste!

All of these tips we’ve compiled as a result of our own digital marketing mishaps. It’s not easy, but it is absolutely worthwhile to champion the online presence of your brand. Our number one suggestion? Create content that makes you happy before you hit post.

Still feeling overwhelmed by digital marketing? Fear not. You’re an expert in your field, not necessarily in marketing your business. Digitally Solid is a 6-month program where women entrepreneurs can get hands-on experience using strategy and technology to build their businesses. Not sure if it’s right for you? We’re holding an info session webinar on August 28th to outline the curriculum and its benefits. Register here!

Diversity – What does it mean for you as an entrepreneur?

By Sadhna Mathrani, Marketing Assistant

Canada is a racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse country where we are lucky to have people from all walks of life. This also means that as an entrepreneur, you have a huge group of people to market your offering to, which can be very daunting. Diversity encompasses many things such as race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, and beliefs, just to name a few.

It can be a stepping stone to success for businesses, if engaged with in a thoughtful and genuine way. For all the entrepreneurs out there wondering how you too, can embrace diversity, we have some suggestions:

1.       Hire for “cultural add” vs. “culture fit”.

If you’ve hired people before, you’ve likely heard the term “cultural fit”. However, this can be incredibly subjective and you might end up hiring people with the same ideas as you. A concept that is being explored by companies such as Pandora is looking for “cultural add” instead of “cultural fit”. This focuses on hiring people from different backgrounds who hold similar values but provide a diverse perspective to the firm. Rather than hiring people who think the same and behave the same, the company is able to create an environment that facilitates the uncovering and overcoming of biases. Through this new approach, Pandora has seen higher employee satisfaction surveys and morale. When hiring, look for those who are willing to provide a different perspective and will help grow your company rather than those who simply mimic who you are currently.

2.       Consider the diversity of your customers when developing and marketing your product.

You don’t need to sell your product to every single person, but are you excluding a whole group of consumers without meaning to? For example, if you are an organic cosmetics company, you’ll have individuals with different skin types who come from different racial backgrounds and different age categories. Therefore, if you want to sell your product to appeal to a diverse group of consumers you’ll need to make sure that both your marketing technique and product itself are designed with this in mind. Don’t use a blanket technique but rather, a personalized one that shows that you’ve fully considered the diversity of your clients. This will help set you apart from other organizations.

Rihanna’s makeup brand, Fenty Beauty has done exactly that – the company offers over 40 different foundation shades. Unlike traditional cosmetic companies that have a narrow shade selection in their product lines, Fenty targets those who often have difficulty finding the right makeup for their skin. According to the Business of Fashion, Fenty reported a profit of $562 million in its first full year, outselling other popular brands such as Kat Von D. It’s clear that embracing diversity helped the company become one of the most popular makeup brands. Not only has this increased profits for the company, but it is also one of the most inclusive makeup companies.

3.       Adjust your marketing style and product/service when you are entering new markets.

What is considered appropriate and enticing in Canada may be very different than what is well-received in another country. For example, McDonald`s has been successful in countries like India due to their cultural sensitivity. They have introduced food items that reflect the taste of those in the host country, such as the “Big Spicy Paneer Wrap” and the “Chicken Kebab Burger”. You might need to do primary and secondary research for this, or you may need to hire someone who is familiar with business in that particular region. Whatever it is, make sure you are aware of those differences and are able to accommodate for them! Our team at AWE is ready to support as you begin thinking about market expansion through resources, advising, and trade mission opportunities. Our Business Beyond Borders program is tailored towards women entrepreneurs looking to expand and grow their business beyond Alberta’s borders.

4.       Don’t make generalizations about a group of people.

Make sure that you conduct research or speak to people from the group you’re trying to engage with to get a detailed understanding of what they need and how you can best serve their interests. A good way to do this is focus groups and primary research. It can be as simple as doing an online survey or just chatting with your target market in person about what they want. This will also help you market better as you’ll be more cognizant of people’s differences!

As you scale your business, your team will grow, your customer base will expand, and you may even enter new international markets. Embracing diversity and incorporating it into your business now will help ensure your business succeeds in the future.

What to Know About Your Credit Score

In an era where credit payments are being used more than ever, the term “credit score” seems to be the definition of an individual’s financial competence. However, for most people, it can be a mystery trying to decipher what exactly their credit score means and how it affects them. As a preview to our upcoming “The Truth About Credit” workshop, we’d like to look at what your credit score really means for you.

What Makes Up Your Credit Score

Before analyzing your score, it’s important that you know what goes into a credit score and what doesn’t. In most cases, there are five things that go into determining your credit score: your payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit mix, and new credit. Making sure you make your payments on time, keeping a low amounts owed, and ensuring that you can maintain credit for a long period of time are all ways to keep up a good credit score. The exact weight of each facet will be covered more in the “Truth About Credit” workshop, but this gives you a better understanding of what exactly goes into your credit score! However, there are some things that may or may not affect your score. For example, your income, net worth, debit card, and paying rent and other bills may not affect your credit score, but not paying these bills can negatively impact your score.

How does it affect you?

Your credit score is used whenever you are looking to get some form of credit. This can be applying for a mortgage, increasing the limit on your credit card, or taking out a business loan. Lending institutions will use your credit score to determine your financial health and how likely you are to pay them back. In some cases, landlords can search up your credit score as well. As a business owner, your credit score will be looked at by a number of people.

It’s important that you are able to maintain your debts and do not let them overpower you. While your credit score does not speak to who you are as an individual, it is one of the only quantitative measures lenders have to help them in making their decisions.

What do I do if I have a bad credit score?

Even though it may seem like you’re doomed if you have a bad credit score, don’t worry! Everyone goes through tougher times in their lives where they may have to borrow more than they can pay off, but there are ways to improve your credit. Here are some tips to getting your credit score back on track:

1.      Reduce your credit utilization: Keeping too high of a “credit used” to “credit available” ratio can harm your credit, particularly if you aren’t making your payments in full. A good balance might be to stay within 30% of your available credit more often. When paying your bills, try to make more than the minimum payment each month and ideally try to make full payments when possible.

2.      Pay your bills on time: Since payment history is a factor in your credit score, it’s important that you are able to make bill payments on time. If you find yourself forgetting to make them, set up automatic payments and prepare for them in advance. This will help you stay organized and you won’t suffer from interest and missed payment fees.

3.      Get a secured credit card account: This is similar to a pre-paid phone plan. You deposit a certain amount of money initially but then you can use the card like a regular credit card. This is a simple solution if you either have no or poor credit history.

There are plenty more ways to improve your credit score and learn more about what it means for you. For the full “Truth About Credit”, make sure to attend our workshop on August 27th in Calgary and September 12th in Edmonton!

Client Feature: Sophia Quewezance


Sophia Quewezance is an aspiring entrepreneur who is starting a fashion design company. She plans to design and sell t-shirts, swimsuits, and other clothing with Indigenous designs. Sophia participated in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series in Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation.

Sophia Quewezance has always had a love for fashion, a passion that only increased when she began working as a model. It was walking the runway that she realized that she wanted to be designing the clothes, and not only wearing them.

Independent and ambitious from a young age, Sophia knew that entrepreneurship was the right choice for her. “I didn’t want to have a boss, I wanted to be the boss.”

Participating in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series helped Sophia realize that with some strategic planning, her entrepreneurial dreams were well within her reach.

“The program taught me how to do things the right way and with compassion. Sometimes you run into dead ends but Bev (the program’s facilitator) showed me how you can get out of them and go a different way.”

Although she plans on running her business solo, Sophia turns to family for encouragement and inspiration. “My auntie is my absolute best friend and she pushes me to do everything and anything.” Her dad, a carpenter and entrepreneur himself, is another source of inspiration.

Running a business can be challenging, especially when you have a family, but for Sophia, her two young kids are just another strength. “My kids will totally help me. I want to dress them, and I want to dress my dog. My kids and my family inspire me.”

Right now, Sophia is focused on her designs, and executing her business plan. She plans to start operating her business online first, and then expand into selling at kiosks and powwows.

Her advice to other people considering starting a business?

“Don’t give up. Have faith in everything that you do.”

Working on Your Business Vs. In It

Strategic planning provides a sense of direction and outlines measurable goals. It’s a tool for guiding day to day decisions, and a way to evaluate progress by providing benchmarks that define success. To go one step further, having a network of like-minded peers to provide support, encouragement, and access to new ideas and perspectives will supplement your strategy further. What steps have you taken to steer your business in the right direction, with the right people guiding you? Peer mentorship, in conjunction with a plan of action for your organization moving forward, is critical, yet so often overlooked. Here are a few reminders of the importance of working on your business, not just in it.

 Invest in Yourself and Your Organization’s Success

The purpose is to set goals and develop a plan to achieve them, stepping back from your day to day operations and asking where your priorities should really lie. As businesses grow, they become more and more complex, so your strategy will require more energy and effort to direct your activities effectively.

You want your growth to be sustainable. Nothing feels worse than plateauing, and unfortunately, your business doesn’t run on passion alone. You want your business to thrive, not just survive.

Take Inventory

Start collecting a wider range of information about your business, internally and externally, as well as your competitive landscape. Do so on an ongoing basis, keeping an introspective lens on all of your efforts. You know your business better than anyone, so taking inventory of the path you’ve taken thus far and where you’d like to go in the future acts as fuel to keep driving you forward.

1)      Where is your business now?

2)      Where do you want to take it?

3)      What do you need to do to get there?

This can be overwhelming, especially as an entrepreneur, so it can be of great benefit to consider your network and the advice they can lend you. Oftentimes, other business owners have experienced, or are experiencing, the same challenges as you are, and can offer a separate, informed perspective on your current issues. At the very least, they can offer you support and companionship so you know you’re not alone.

Increased Confidence

As your business grows, it’s likely that you don’t have a hand in every aspect of your operations. Maybe you hate bookkeeping. Maybe your marketing efforts are, simply put, a grind. You don’t have to enjoy every single task that comes with being a business owner. What is important, though, is that you have an understanding of these processes to base your decision-making upon. The more you know, the better you can navigate the entrepreneurial horizon and increase the effectiveness of all of your business efforts.

There are numerous benefits to working on your business, including establishing focus and direction, managing risks, controlling resources, enhancing your competitive advantage, and creating actionable steps to achieve long term success. A plethora of support exists to help guide your strategic planning. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t always come naturally, even to entrepreneurs.

PeerSpark™ is a business accelerator program that combines practical, multi-disciplinary curriculum with support and learning from peers. The program offers expert coaching in a safe and supportive environment of other women entrepreneurs who are focused on growing their ventures. Our Fall 2019 intake is open, apply today!

Finding Solutions: Pricing Edition

By: Jenifer Horvath, AWE Business Advisor

Determining the price point for your products or services can seem challenging. You get caught between needing to cover your expenses, make a profit, while also trying to make the price appealing to sell in high volumes.

At AWE's Learning Day, Sparking Solutions event, we held a series of business challenges. Pricing, not surprisingly, came up as a common problem and attendees provided solutions and insights based on their own experience. Here are two that we examined.

Challenge: How do I set prices in an industry that has big variances in price points?

In many industries, such as consulting, automobile, and cosmetics, there is a considerable variation in prices between companies. For example, when you go to purchase a car, you could get a used vehicle for $3,000 or step into a dealership and buy a brand new vehicle for upwards of $150,000. As an entrepreneur, this poses the challenge of how to set a good price for your product when there seems to be little consistency between vendors.

Step One: Examine Value-Based Pricing

Value-based price is a pricing strategy which sets prices primarily, but not exclusively, according to the perceived or estimated value of a product or service to the customer rather than according to the cost of the product or historical prices. - Wikipedia

The first step in value-based pricing is to look at your ideal customer. Knowing your customer deeply means understanding their demographics, psychographics, situation, and needs. For example, we mistakenly think that people who buy luxury items are high-income earners, but that’s not necessarily true. A lower income earner will buy for aspirational reasons, or because the product/ service fills a deep need.

Apple, for example, sells premium products to individuals with a wide array of demographics. Buying Apple products is all about the customer feeling like they’re a better person and fulfills the need to fit in, or to reflect their values through the Apple brand. On the other hand, a low price, high volume shampoo may also have a wide range of buyers due to convenience, habits, or a person’s mindset on money. Put yourself in your customer shoes and see the whole experience as they would. Get curious and ask your customers lots of questions.

The next step in value-based pricing is to look at what differentiates you from other companies offering a similar product/service. By looking at what sets you apart, you can also determine what you can reasonably charge. What added value do you bring? Why would a customer buy yours, over another?

Step Two: Run Cost-Based Pricing

Another critical step is to look at all your overhead costs and expenses and how much of a profit margin you are willing to accept. Ensure that you don’t sell your product for less than what it costs to make. When building cost-based pricing, make sure to include all your time and administration work. Think of all the back-end work you have to do for your bookkeeping, marketing, sales, packaging and other tasks and make sure to add that into the price. Do both a high end and low-end price to get a rough estimate of where you can price your offering.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to price your product higher initially and then lower it in the future if needed. It’s much harder to convince people to buy for a higher price once they’ve been paying for the lower one.

Finally, test and learn. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know until you try it. Research and collect data regularly to determine what those in your industry are charging and how your sales are doing from one period to the next.

Challenge: How do I set pricing when my competitors are cutting their rates? How do I survive when I have a building, staff and other operating costs?

 When you are trying to set your prices in an industry where you have multiple competitors who are cutting their rates, it’s crucial that you take a step back and analyze the situation.

What is causing them to drop their rates? Is there increased competition, is the customer demanding it, or is it merely a race to the bottom out of fear? Is it sustainable over the long term? What’s happening in the industry?

Then, look at the value you can provide your customers. Get clear on your “why” and ensure your brand articulates who you are and the value you offer. Is it consistent, reliable, and trustworthy? Do you have a compelling brand story?

Before cutting your price, look at ways to offer more value instead. For example, in the highly-competitive coffee world, Starbucks differentiates itself with personalization. They offer 100’s of ways to personalize your drink. Their app makes it more personalized in your hand by tracking orders, saving favourites and earning the “gold card’. They use your first name and make an effort to connect with you individually.

As Tim Hortons and McDonald's fight for share-of-coffee (amongst other things), Starbucks continues to offer value and a brand that creates loyal customers who will continue to pay $5+ for a beverage. Loyal customers are less likely to be influenced by price because they get value beyond the practical use of the product/ service.

What can you do to add value to create loyal customers?  

If you feel you need to lower prices to attract people, make sure to look at your costs and figure out how to reduce them, to maintain your profit margin. For example, keeping less inventory on hand or cutting back on material costs.

Businesses can use incentives to temporarily reduce their prices and drive purchases. Incentives could be a discount, coupon for a future purchase, or a free trial. However, remember, by offering ongoing coupons or discounts, your training your customers to expect this and to wait until the next offer.  Do this sparingly, unless it’s your primary marketing strategy like how Old Navy uses sales continuously to drive sales.

In some businesses, you may be able to introduce tiered pricing. This approach incentivizes customers to buy more and get a lower price per unit. Package pricing, where you combine multiple products/ services, is another way to differentiate your offer. Also, if possible, subscription or membership models are an excellent way to increase recurring revenue and lower your sales costs because you have higher customer retention.

When you see competitors changing their rates, don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and change yours. Take a look at the situation, industry, and your value. See if you can offer something else or new, or look at changing your pricing models. Find ways to reduce costs before you lower your prices or offer discounts. Remember, you need to run a profitable business, and if it isn’t, then you can’t be operational for long.

Small But Mighty - Competing Against Big Businesses

You are unique. So is your business. Nonetheless, it is easy to feel drowned out by larger firms with well-established brand awareness despite best efforts to make your business heard. It’s important to claim a piece of perceptual territory, making a promise to your customers that no one else is making. When there are bigger sharks in the water, how do you compete to gain a presence in the market, especially when your business falls more under the umbrella of boutique?

Do Your Research

Know Your Competitor

Above all else, you must have an in-depth grasp of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Know their target customers, their pricing, itemize their marketing strategy and identify their competitive advantage. By analyzing your competitors’ activities, you are then able to see what you could do better or different entirely. You can respond strategically, sidestepping their current position to find your own gap to fill.

Know Your Customer

Focus on a specific market segment--don’t try to serve anyone and everyone. Seth Godin said it best,

 “When you delight your minimum viable audience:

  1. You’ll discover it’s larger than you expected

  2. They’ll tell the others

If you aim for mass, you’ll probably create something average”

What pains are your (potential) customers suffering from that you can alleviate? Their everyday hassles will help you determine talking points and messages that will help you gain attention and propel you as a leader in the category.

Know Your Business

Identify your core competencies and develop a market niche around these competencies. Bigger firms are likely to have the resources to compete in areas like pricing, so instead, compete by adding value and special experiences that your customers are willing to pay a little extra for.

Where Small Businesses Prevail

Yes, larger firms have their own value propositions that they excel at. But there are things smaller firms offer that big corporations simply cannot.


Small businesses are much more flexible than their larger competitors. As a company grows, the harder it becomes to change directions or act quickly in response to current events and trends. You can run special promotions or messaging based on unexpected events or contribute to real-time conversations in an authentic way.


Small business owners are better positioned to build personal relationships with their customers. You most likely have a hand in most if not every aspect in the day to day operation of your business, which means you have more frequent and genuine contact with customers which allows for trust to be built. You are able to offer a more one-on-one customer service experience, so personalize your interactions and work to build meaningful relationships over time. This can be done by something as simple as remembering their dog’s name or following up with something they mentioned the last time you spoke. Furthermore, the additional contact allows for quicker response time when potential problems arise, providing you with the opportunity to let your excellent service shine through.


You are the ultimate differentiator. The passion that motivated you to break out as an entrepreneur is the same energy and enthusiasm your potential customers want to see. Furthermore, align your personal values with those of your business. Tell your story, let that separate you from the rest, and humanize your brand.


Conducting this kind of analysis will then help you to develop your differentiators. It may be helpful to even make a list of 3 or more. Ask yourself these questions about each:

1)      Is it true?

2)      Is it relevant?

3)      Is it provable?


Strategic use of social media platforms and content marketing allows you to be heard by huge numbers of potential customers without requiring lots of capital. Your website is also the perfect landing pad for your audience to connect with you. Whether that be to learn more about your offerings, your values, or your story, a good website is an integral touchpoint for prospects to build awareness and familiarity with your brand. If you don’t have a website yet, fret not. There are thousands of professionally designed website themes and templates for Wordpress and other frameworks that highlight your business in a sleek, smooth, manner that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Digitally Solid is a digital marketing program to gain hands-on experience, learning strategy and technology to turn up the volume of your communication efforts. 

Once you start promoting your story to your target audience, be sure to monitor your results and use analytics wisely to further tailor your message and optimize engagement. Engage with prospects, turn them into leads, and convert them to clients.


Without a doubt, big corporations are intimidating. These tips should help you to find your niche and gain a better idea of your position in the market. Most importantly, have faith in your offering and stand behind its value. As long as you stay passionate about the work you do, differentiating your business will come naturally. Remember, the ultimate differentiator is you. Connect with AWE to learn more about how we can support your growing business!


Finding Solutions: Financing Edition

By: Kiran Sagoo, AWE Financing Specialist

Have you ever had difficulty financing your business properly? Do you struggle between finding investors and also maintaining the vision you have for your business? You’re not alone. This is a common challenge faced by a number of entrepreneurs who are looking for more capital for their business. At our recent Learning Day: Sparking Solutions event, this topic was discussed during our Finding Solutions Session. For those of you who were unable to attend, we’ve compiled some of the solutions that were brainstormed and we’d like to share them with you!

Challenge: How do I decide whether or not to accept potential investment if investors have a different vision of what the organization could look like in the future? Do I take the money and build the company they envision? Or keep going on my slow and steady growth path?

It can be difficult to balance the needs of potential investors and your own aspirations, however, there are some techniques to making this process less challenging. The first question you need to ask yourself is “how far off are their values from mine?” Take a look at what they believe in and what their opinions are on aspects such as accountability, honesty, communication, work-life balance, and stability vs. high growth. By comparing your views to theirs on such matters you can see if there is some common ground or opportunity for compromise where both parties are happy with the outcome.

However, if you find that the investors have a very different idea of the path the business should take, you could take a cash loan to create a working relationship rather than providing them with equity in your business. This will give you access to capital while also maintaining your vision. If you stray too far away from it, you might fail not only in your business, but also emotionally and spiritually.

Once you have made the decision as to whether or not the potential investor is the right fit for your firm, make sure you spell everything out in your contract or agreement to prevent any discord in the future. This will also ensure that both you and the investors are aware of the other’s expectations and values. Finally, create a strategic plan for the next few months and years to hold yourself and the investors accountable. It will allow for smoother operations within your organization and help you follow your vision!

Challenge: How do I know when to bring in outside money and how much capital (investment, financing) is needed to grow from the current stage to the next?

Although this question was not answered at Learning Day, it is one that we felt was worth exploring.

Many entrepreneurs tend to seek financing when they are already maxed out with the capacity they have in their business. Whether it’s with their own time spent trying to keep up with the demands of their business or their financial resources are just not enough to keep up with the business needs, these entrepreneurs sometimes find themselves scrambling to find the help they need. This can be problematic as it can lead to rushed decisions about investors or other financing.

My advice to entrepreneurs is to pay attention to their time and budget constraints when they begin to stretch outside their capacity and take time to revisit their business plan.

As you explore financing, ask yourself: What equipment do I need to be more efficient with my business output and is it worth the investment? Do I need to hire employees to help with the increasing demand? Will spending more money on my marketing expenses lead to growth in clientele and revenues? Does this fit into my business planning? What resources do I need and how much will it cost?

Discuss your business planning needs with a trusted advisor, business mentor and even your own team. Planning for the building and growth of your business in as far in advance as you possibly can will lead to more time for you to explore your financing options which might include seeking outside investors who align with your company’s vision or getting a business loan.

We reached out to the AWE community for more advice. Here’s what they have to say about financing challenges business owners may be facing and some remedies to their concerns:

 “It depends on what type of outside money is being considered. If it is some simple operating capital for a company that is in a slow growth phase, then simple debt is likely the right instrument, providing that the bank will help. This would be considered non-dilutive capital and sit as a liability on your balance sheet. If you are a tech company with a market opportunity to scale quickly once commercialization starts then considering angel capital could be a good option. This will likely be dilutive capital and you need to make sure the investor/company match makes sense as not all investors are a good fit for your business. The business will need to ensure they have a shareholder agreement, a subscription agreement and available issued shares for assignment.”

-          Kristina Milke, President of K-GAR Consulting Inc.

“It’s always a fine balance between personal money, outside share capital and debt. That specific balance is dependent on your business plan.  I prefer to have a balance where I can bring in shareholders who have skill sets that I may need in my business in the future.  As you grow, individuals with “skin in the game” bring value beyond their share capital.  They bring networks, expertise, and an easily accessible “adhoc” advisory board.  I am a proponent of bringing in external share capital to dilute risk, get access to expertise and not to be reliant solely on debt, which has the fixed interest costs. I will say that not all shareholders are equal, so it’s important to interview prospective shareholders and ensure they are a fit with the philosophy and strategy of your company. To seek the right balance for your company, always consult with your advisors to determine the appropriate strategy for your business plan.”

-          Phoebe Fung, Proprietor of Vin Room & VR Wine

Managing cash flow is an important activity for any business. Building at minimum, a 12 week cash flow forecast that takes into account the exact week in which cash comes in or goes out.  This helps provide insight to cash needs over the next quarter and helps make smart decisions about how to manage your working capital or when to make active decisions to stretch it out. Short-term financing such as a line of credit can also be used to bridge the gap between payables and receivables.”

-          Melissa Richards, Managing Director, Entrepreneurship Strategy, ATB Business


Financing challenges can be difficult to deal with and they often create a great deal of stress for business owners. That being said, remember that you are not alone and there are ways around even the most difficult obstacles.

Have questions about financing for your business? Reach out to AWE

Client Feature: Jeanette Many Guns


Jeanette Many Guns is a filmmaker and is the Owner and Operator of Many Guns Ranch and Adventures. Jeanette participated in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series in Calgary.

For 20 years, Jeanette Many Guns has been offering trail rides and customized tours on horseback throughout Siksika Nation. Speaking passionately about the beauty and the history of her community, Jeanette explains that the many historical sites, close proximity to the Bow River, and breathtaking badlands, make Siksika a popular tour spot.  

“I had a lady from Europe that came and she couldn’t believe how we didn’t see anybody all day. The land that we go through is the same as it was 100 years ago; it hasn’t been touched. There’s so much history here at Siksika and it’s beautiful.”

It was her love of teaching about history and culture that inspired Jeanette to start a second business, this time in filmmaking. In 2015 she began creating educational films about Siksika. In addition to a series on the Blackfoot language, Jeanette has also made films sharing Blackfoot legends and stories.

Jeanette participated in the NextStep to Success program to help her get more organized and to improve her business plan. Her advice to others starting a business is to put their ideas down on paper.

 “Start off with a business plan. And have everything in writing. When you go to the banks, or to any company, they want to see everything in writing.”

When asked what she likes most about entrepreneurship, Jeanette says she enjoys the freedom of working for yourself and the ability to set your own timelines. Ultimately though, it comes down to achieving her goal of educating people. 

“When visitors come out I get to educate them on the Blackfoot history, our culture, our heritage, and our traditions. That feels good.”

4 Entrepreneurship Myths Debunked

As Mark Twain puts it, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. Being an entrepreneur is never easy – it requires countless hours, meetings, and a never-ending series of obstacles. But, the rewards of being one are plenty – you can work your own hours, be your own boss, and live your dream. The key is to get started and take a leap of faith. You’ve probably heard chatter around what entrepreneurship entails, particularly being a woman entrepreneur. How much of what you hear is actually true? We’d like to debunk some common myths and remind you that nothing is ever impossible, including being an entrepreneur.

Myth #1: Entrepreneurs are born.

The way that our culture talks about entrepreneurs often suggests that there is somehow a connection between genetics and your ability to be an entrepreneur. The truth is, entrepreneurs are not born, they are made. You don’t need to be a creative genius from birth to become a successful entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship requires hands-on experience and looking at the world through a critical lens. Successful and well-known entrepreneurs do have some features in common – they are dedicated and are committed to their business idea. In fact, according to Mark Healy from the Globe and Mail, most entrepreneurs don’t even start their businesses until they’re in their 40s. So if you think you weren’t born to be an entrepreneur, look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you can train yourself to be one!

Myth #2: Entrepreneurs finance their businesses with venture capital and they need a large amount of funding.

When people think of entrepreneurs, they often turn to places like Silicon Valley or shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank. The truth is that these entrepreneurs are part of a minority of people – the vast majority of entrepreneurs use their personal financing, friends and family, or turn to financial institutions. Statistics from AlleyWatch show that in the USA, over 57% of start-up funding comes from personal savings. While there are some start-ups that do require larger amounts of funding, most entrepreneurs need a smaller amount to get their business off the ground. In fact, AWE offers a fantastic loan program that is designed to help women entrepreneurs succeed. Don’t be afraid to seek external funding when you need it, but don’t be intimidated – there are many options out there for small to medium sized businesses!

Myth #3: You can only be an entrepreneur if you “reinvent the wheel”.

Both Uber and Lyft provide similar transportation services, yet Uber was developed three years before Lyft. Despite being variations of the same service, their founders are all still considered entrepreneurs. There is the common myth that you can’t be an entrepreneur unless you invent something new or “change the game”. However, it’s far more common for individuals to take an already existing idea and add a new dimension to it. Entrepreneurship is about finding the market gap and areas that existing companies are lacking in and tailoring your offering to accommodate for those shortcomings. Most markets aren’t fully saturated and you can usually find a niche market that is interested in your product. Don’t focus simply on revolutionizing the industry, focus on how to add value to the lives of your customers and do what others aren’t.

Myth #4: Women are “too emotional” to be good entrepreneurs.

This is the classic argument that women are somehow less capable than others because they are more likely to show their emotions. This is nothing more than a myth. BDC released a video that discusses myths related to women entrepreneurs, and this is one that comes up and is discussed in depth. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean that you have to be ruthless and emotionless. Use your emotions to your advantage – they will be what set you apart from others. Part of entrepreneurship is your passion and dedication to your idea, so don’t be afraid to show this! These positive emotions will drive people towards your business and will make you successful.

All entrepreneurs are different and each one will experience their own journey. Entrepreneurs dream big but can also remain realistic and focused on their goals. Remember that you are in control of your business and with the right mix of passion and dedication you can be a successful entrepreneur!

AWE Awards 2019 Wrap-Up

If you were at our AWE Awards reception on May 14th, 2019, you’ll know it was an evening full of good food, great conversations, and celebration of some of Alberta’s finest entrepreneurs. For those of you who weren’t able to join us, we’d like to relive some of the magic with you.

AWE was lucky to have Quinn Ohler from Global News Edmonton as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening. She was an excellent host and made sure to keep everyone in the crowd entertained! There were also some inspiring speeches delivered by Marcela Mandeville (CEO of AWE) and Teresa Clouston (Executive Vice President of ATB, Business and Agriculture). Teresa Clouston remarked that “If you’re looking for a role model, look no further than this room, as it’s here in spades”.

Now, for the part that everyone has been waiting for: the awards! We’d like to recognize all of the finalists for this year’s awards and congratulate the 2019 winners.

Emerging Entrepreneur Award: Staci Millard, S. Millard Chartered Professional Accountant

Staci is an outstanding business woman who owns and operates her own accounting firm in Fort McMurray. She is the current treasurer for the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce and won the female entrepreneur of the year for the Chamber Awards in 2018. When accepting her award, Staci commented that “As women, we’ve come to believe that being in business has to be a struggle. And at one point, it was. But, being a woman business owner was one of the best things I’ve ever done. We are in the most abundant position as ever to be women in business”. Congratulations Staci!

Emerging Innovator Award: Myrna Bittner, RUNWITHIT Synthetics

Myrna has been involved in the tech industry for many years now, and is currently the CEO and co-founder of her third tech company - RUNWITHIT Synthetics. She has a tremendous reach and has even worked on projects with NASA and US West. She is a proud promoter of equality, diversity and representation. Although she wasn’t able to attend the event personally, in her acceptance video she gave some wise words on how “The best things aren’t easy, they are just profoundly worthwhile.” Congratulations Myrna!

Upsurge Entrepreneur Award: Allison Grafton, Rockwood Custom Homes

Allison is a hardworking and driven woman who is always looking to grow her business. She has won the RBC Women of Influence Momentum Award and has also been inducted to the WXN Hall of Fame. She is currently in the process of scaling her business and has just recently opened up a division of her business in the Okanagan area. In a field that is often dominated by men, Allison commented that “Out of all companies in Canada, there are only 2 woman-led construction companies. Any woman that comes into an industry looks at it differently, and that’s where our success comes from. As females, we always go above and beyond”. AWE is proud to recognize Allison for her achievements.

Celebration of Achievement Award: Karina Birch, Rocky Mountain Soap Co.

Karina has always been an advocate of the principle that “what goes on the body, goes in the body” and used this value to build her company, Rocky Mountain Soap Co. The company has grown tremendously and has been included in the Profit 100. Karina is committed to using natural products and ensuring that her business is sustainable and socially responsible. When speaking about the entrepreneurial spirit, Karina stated that “I started my business at 24 when I was naive but uber-confident! This is the entrepreneurial spirit”. Karina is an inspiration to so many women and AWE is incredibly proud to recognize Karina and the strides she has made in the world of business.

While the awards ceremony is over for this year, women will never stop changing business. As CEO of AWE, Marcela Mandeville, stated, “When women succeed, everyone succeeds”. We are proud of all the incredible women entrepreneurs out there, and if you know someone who should be recognized, nominate her today for the 2020 AWE Awards!

Special thanks to our 2019 AWE Awards Reception Sponsor ATB!

Special thanks to our 2019 AWE Awards Reception Sponsor ATB!

Let's Spark Solutions Together!

Are you facing a challenge in your business? If you are an entrepreneur, then chances are the answer is yes!

Business owners face difficult problems and hard decisions every day while starting, growing, and leading their companies. On May 14th, AWE is bringing together women entrepreneurs, subject-matter experts, and leaders in the business community to work through common challenges together and create solutions for success.

Learning Day: Sparking Solutions is a full-day event focused on bringing together entrepreneurial thinkers. Tap into the collective brain and experiences of the entrepreneurs around you as we spark solutions together!

Whether you’re struggling to hire the right people, find low-cost marketing options, manage cash flow, or access capital, you’ll have an opportunity to explore a challenge that’s relevant to you and walk away from the event with tangible solutions.

Learning Day will begin with an opportunity to select one challenge that you are facing in your business. In small groups, you will work with your peers and a facilitator to work through your chosen challenge and brainstorm innovative solutions.

Possible challenges include:

  • How do I plan and implement low-cost marketing beyond using social media?

  • How do I decide whether or not to accept potential investment if the investors have a very different vision from me?

  • How do I find valuable leads and make effective sales connections?

  • How do I hire the right people? Should I hire contractors or permanent employees?

  • How do I set pricing when my competitors are cutting costs?

  • How do I manage my professional and personal life when my business partner is a family member?

  • How do I stay profitable during an economic downturn?

  • How do I manage cash flow in an industry where 30-90 pay periods are the norm?

  • How do I address and implement strategies to support mental health in my team?

  • How do I know when to bring in outside money and how much capital is needed to grow from one stage to the next? 

We’re stronger together. Let’s tap into the collective brain and experiences of those around us and spark solutions!

AWE Announces the 2019 AWE Awards Finalists

Edmonton, AB, Canada – A total of 180 entrepreneurs were nominated from across the province for the 2019 AWE Awards. There are three categories celebrating the outstanding contributions of women entrepreneurs, with multiple finalists named in each, as well as one Celebration of Achievement Award recipient who is recognized for being an inspirational leader and role model for women in business.

This year the AWE Celebration of Achievement Award will honour Karina Birch, CEO, Rocky Mountain Soap Co., as an exceptional woman entrepreneur who has built a business in Alberta with significant impact on the economy and the community.

At the AWE Awards Reception on May 14th, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs will celebrate Karina Birch, as well as announce the recipients of three other award categories including the Upsurge, Emerging Entrepreneur, and Emerging Innovator Awards.

“We believe that our economies and communities are stronger when women are full participants in entrepreneurship," said Marcela Mandeville, CEO of AWE. "Our award nominees demonstrate the power of entrepreneurship and the leadership, commitment, talent, and innovation that fuels small and medium-sized business success. We are proud to recognize the contributions made by our nominees, finalists, and this year’s recipient of the Celebration of Achievement Award, Karina Birch, to Alberta, Canada, and the world.”

The AWE Upsurge Award is presented to an entrepreneur who has built a solid foundation for her business and is now experiencing rapid growth and significant expansion opportunity. The 2019 finalists for this category are:

·         Jodi Sommer, From Play To Words

·         Kristi Hines, Hines Health Services

·         Allison Grafton, Rockwood Custom Homes

The AWE Emerging Entrepreneur Award is presented to an entrepreneur who has built a strong, scalable business foundation and has achieved early success with strong market potential. The 2019 finalists are:

·         Michelle Bishop, Elle’s Closet Boutique

·         Ashleigh Hole, Octopus Creative

·         Staci Millard, S. Millard Professional Corporation

The AWE Emerging Innovator Award is presented to an entrepreneur who has built an innovation or technology-based business with early stage success. The 2019 finalists are:

·         Tracey Wood, Agents of Change

·         Myrna Bittner, RUNWITHIT Synthetics

"ATB understands that women entrepreneurs face unique challenges when it comes to making their businesses a success," said Teresa Clouston, ATB Financial's Executive Vice-President of Business and Agriculture. "ATB is focused on understanding these challenges so we can help overcome them. We're thrilled to support these incredible dreamers, doers and risk takers, because we know that when these women are successful, Alberta is successful."   

Anyone wishing to celebrate the outstanding women entrepreneurs in our province is invited to attend the AWE Awards Reception. Tickets for the event can be reserved here.

About Alberta Women Entrepreneurs

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enabling women to build successful businesses. AWE provides unique programs and services to women at all stages of business through advising, financing, mentoring, and skills and network development. 

Sponsored by:


Media contact

Devonne Kendrick

Marketing Coordinator

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)


Client Feature: Esther Jacobs

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Esther Jacobs is the Co-owner and Operator of Jacobs Weaselhead Corporation. The company has several different streams of business, including catering, equipment rentals, and training. Esther participated in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series in Tsuut’ina Nation.

Esther Jacobs is no amateur when it comes to her craft. She has been working in catering for over 30 years, a skill she learned hands-on at a young age.

“We learned a lot of our hands-on skills from our own mothers, aunts, cousins. You learn a lot of the basics you need to know from community connections.”

She also grew up in an entrepreneurial family, with her father being a business owner for over 25 years. Her whole family worked in that business, and she credits her dad for teaching her many of the business skills she has today.

Like most entrepreneurs, she often wears many hats in the company, doing the marketing, promotions, negotiations, and payroll, in addition to cooking.

“There’s not a start and end date when you’re an entrepreneur. It’s all day, every day, it’s always on your mind what to do next. Getting out a quote, or an estimate, or submitting a bid.”

Esther and her husband incorporated their business, Jacobs Weaselhead Corporation, in 2017. With her catering expertise, and his background in the construction industry, their combined skillsets are perfect for the variety of services their business offers.

Partaking in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series was a good complement to other training Esther has done to build her business. The sessions allowed her to look at the big picture for her business. What she found particularly valuable and empowering were the discussions with other women, and the supportive learning environment.

“I find that when you’re with a group of women, it’s different. The learning is different, the teaching is different, and what you get out of it is different. There’s more camaraderie.” 

2019 Nominees Announced

Each year, AWE celebrates and honours female entrepreneurs from across Alberta. Nominated by their peers, these inspirational women are achieving growth and success in business, and making an impact on the economy and their community.

This year, we are pleased to share that we had a record number of 180 women nominated for our AWE Awards! Over 100 of these entrepreneurs submitted nominations packages to be considered for the 2019 Awards. Collectively they represent over 282 million dollars in revenue, and over 2100 employees.

On May 14, 2019 we will announce the recipients for this year's AWE Upsurge, Emerging, Emerging Innovator and Celebration of Achievement Awards. Finalists will be revealed in April.

  • Cindy  Gray, 5 Quarters Investor Relations, Inc.

  • Lisa Makin, A Fairytale Beginning Preschool/The Treehouse Daycare & OSC/Happy Day Out of School Care

  • Tatyana Plaksina, Aegis PetroSolutions Ltd.

  • Tracey Wood, Agents of Change Partners Inc.

  • Brandi  Heather, AMPED2PLAY Inc.

  • Laura  Asham, Asham Creations

  • Kristen Dyck, AVRO Creative

  • Jennifer Carlson, Baby Gourmet Foods Inc.

  • Chandra Devam, Baris Corp (Operating as Aris MD)

  • Candice Boyce, Baseline Village Dental Hygiene

  • Louella Klyne, Be Well for Life

  • Adrienne Paul, Blackwatch Transport Ltd.

  • Jaclyn  Reid, C.S.S. Office Furniture Systems Service Inc.

  • Charlotte von der Ahe, Calgary Dog Life Publications

  • Candace Wolfe, Candace Wolfe Design Inc.

  • Chandra Lizanne Flett, Chandra L. Flett Professional Corporation

  • Chelsea Joe,  CJ's Hair / Tikko J Scrunchies

  • Caitlin  Zietz, Complete Health

  • Sylvia  Johnston, Cornerstone Music Cafe Ltd.

  • Christy Prichard, Cupping Canada Inc

  • Dani Moore, Dani Moore Consulting

  • Yvonne Irnich, DaVinci Gelato

  • Linda  Blanchett, Diva Communications Inc.

  • Aja Horsley, Drizzle Products and Consulting Inc. (Drizzle Honey)

  • Michelle Bishop, Elle’s Closet Boutique

  • Carrie Brosbol, Embellished Painting Inc.

  • Kari Fulmek, Equine Connection - The Academy of Equine Assisted Learning Inc

  • Linda Miller, EWI Works International Inc.

  • Martha Miao,  Eyes High Education Ltd.

  • Jill Chambers, Financial Concierge Inc.

  • Rachelle Willows, Flowers by Willows

  • Kimberly Carson-Richards, Forward Momentum Coaching Solutions

  • Jodi Sommer, From Play To Words

  • Katie Robertson, Grapevine Communications Inc.

  • Shawna Curry, Health Redesigned

  • Dalene Heck, Hecktic Media Inc.

  • Aga Wajda, Plytta Herbologie

  • Kristi Hines, Hines Health Services

  • Ann Zee, Holistic Institute of Health & Fertility

  • Lisa Nicholson, Hope 4 MVC Kids Society

  • Danika French, Hourglass Bridal Boutique

  • Brandi Ryan, Human Kanvas Inc.

  • Lesley Burton, Idyllic Resources Ltd.

  • Elaine  Kupser, Impact Productions Inc./IMPACT Magazine

  • Sheila  Willis, Impact Tourism a Division of 578443 Alberta Ltd (History Check Mobile App

  • Jessica Baudin-Griffin, Intellidance Inc.

  • Justine Gamez Huckabay, Intercommunicate Ltd.

  • Jess Black, Jess Black Inc.

  • Michele Gilbert, Johnsons M & M Carpet Cleaning Services Inc.

  • Amy Yu, Kickbyte Digital Solutions

  • Kim Orlesky, KO Advantage Group

  • Kristina Szabados, Kyauszab Holdings Ltd

  • Marcia Sequeira, Lakehouse Naturals Soap Company Ltd.

  • Lori Pecorilli, Latium Fleet Management

  • Justine Martinson, Lipstick Empire Ltd.

  • Joy Johanneson, Living Joy Wellness Therapies & Retreats

  • Elizabeth MacRae, MacRae Integrated Consulting Inc.

  • Jennifer Massig, Magna Engineering Services Inc.

  • Marley Baird, Marley Baird Media

  • Marjorie Newman, MCN Canada Immigration Consulting Inc.

  • Susan  Binnie, Million Dollar Sisterhood Inc.

  • Kat Haluska, Million Dollar Sisterhood Inc.

  • Brandi Morin, Mixed Blood Apparel

  • Jesse Szymanski, Modern Muse Media Ltd.

  • Monica Patt, Monica Patt Acupuncture

  • Ashley Prince, More Fun! Gourmet Sweets

  • Lorna  Mutegyeki, Msichana Inc.

  • Colleen DeSantis, Natura Soylights

  • Sangeeta Sharma, NIWE ACADEMY Inc.

  • Aleksa Mrdjenovich, Nova Hotels Inc.

  • Ashleigh Hole, Octopus Creative

  • Myrna  Saramago, Oh My Dog Spa and Grooming Corp

  • Julie Quantz-Kovac, Oil City Signs & Promotions Ltd.

  • Monica Tawfik, Performance Auto Calgary Inc.

  • Amy Laing, Ponytails + Horseshoes Ltd.

  • Emma  Wood, Pretty as a Picture Photography

  • Anchal Verma, Rasa Entertainment

  • Tegan Martin-Drysdale, RedBrick Real Estate Services

  • Ildi Arlette, Results Contiunuum Inc.

  • Nicole Matos, Rivet Management Ltd

  • Allison Grafton, Rockwood Custom Homes

  • Karina Birch, Rocky Mountain Soap

  • Andrea Beaubrun and Christine Schubert, Rumina Naturals Inc.

  • Myrna Bittner, RUNWITHIT Synthetics

  • Staci Millard, S. Millard Professional Corporation

  • Katherine Lesperance, Sensible Marketer Inc

  • Tessa  Martin, Serenity Now Wellness Centre Inc.

  • Terry Caron, Spring Lake Naturals Inc.

  • Neeru Schippel, SSC Family Restaurants Ltd.

  • Kristi Cawthorn, Startec Compression & Process

  • Shannon Neighbour, Svensen Neighbour Recruiting Inc.

  • Jenni Hartt, Talk Dirt to Me

  • Ashley Rice, Techni-Craft Equipment Services

  • Sandra Weber, The Dress Lounge

  • Jessi  Toms, The Edmonton Muse

  • Ashley Mielke, The Grief and Trauma Healing Centre Inc.

  • Kelly Doody, The Social School Inc.

  • Rena  Tabata, Think Tank Innovations Ltd. (ShareSmart)

  • Kori Hart, Torch & Teal

  • Erica Thomas, Transitional Solutions Inc.

  • Dr. Sharmin Habib,  Umay Care Holdings Inc.

  • Melanie d'Haene, UNDO Divorce Inc.

  • Heather Davis, Uplift Adventures Inc.

  • Valerie Loseth, Valerie Loseth

  • Matricia Bauer-Brown, Warrior Women

Special thanks to our sponsor ATB!