Client Feature: Sonia Egey-Samu

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We sat down with Sonia Egey-Samu, Partner of Clarity Wealth Counsel Inc, to learn more about her business, the journey as an entrepreneur and mother, and her experience with AWE and the PeerSpark program.

Sonia, tell us how your journey into entrepreneurship began.
Well, I worked at several of the big financial institutions in my 10 year corporate career and saw every aspect of what financial advice looked like. I learned all the cookie cutter tools and products being used. But all the while there was an internal conflict since I could never develop to the "mold" and constantly needed to learn more to do more for my clients whose financial lives depended on me. At the height of my corporate career my husband and I were flown to Denver to EACH be awarded as one of the top 30 advisors in Canada within the firm we worked at. It was a really cool moment, and we looked at each other and were so proud in sharing that achievement.

Then from there we went on to start our own retirement planning firm and it definitely wasn't an easy decision! Now we look back just a few years later and absolutely cannot believe the tremendous growth that we've had as a company, as individuals, as a married couple, and as parents.

What is the service you provide?
Our specialization is Tax Efficient Retirement Planning. So when somebody comes to see us, they're finished dabbling, and kind of guessing and hoping, and are now serious about not only completing a detailed retirement plan, but also ensuring that they achieve that plan. And the way we approach planning is extremely comprehensive so "no rocks are left unturned". Clients generally leave our office feeling that "weight" or "worry" being lifted about their financial future. It's what we've been doing for a long time, and we absolutely love what we do!

What would you say is the best part of having your own business?
The shaping of our business is the best part by far. I'm so deeply driven to consistently review how we provide value, and then 10x that. But sometimes as business owners we lose sight of what value really is. And it's so easy to lose sight because there's what you think your client values, and then there's taking the time to habitually ask clients what THEY value and so we've been doing this since day one and shaping our business based on their feedback and their needs.

What have you learned from working with others in the PeerSpark program?
It's definitely been one of the best experiences of my life meeting like minded women and sharing our deepest challenges to be able to work through them quickly. My growth today wouldn't be where it is had I not participated in PeerSpark, I'm very grateful to continue to be a part of it.

What are you most proud of in your business?
It was a tear jerker moment for me when we recently had a few of our long time clients volunteer to do a video testimonial. Listening to their words and what they'd experience has been made me the most proud. I had a good cry (laughing)

Would you recommend entrepreneurship to a friend?
I don't recommend entrepreneurship, just like I don’t recommend how to parent, or how to eat. These decisions should all be based on personal values in my mind. If a friend wanted to talk through the idea of it, I'm there!

How do you manage being a mom and business owner?
First things First by Stephen Covey, it's a good read! I schedule each week based on my core values. I get total fulfillment from being a Mama, a business owner, and all the other hats I wear.

Define your work life balance
Hmm, I'd probably say to maintain a level of homeostasis. To keep contributing to my family and my business, I need to make sure I keep my cup full so that I can perform at a high level, be present, feel healthy and organized in my life.

Would you recommend PeerSpark to other entrepreneurs?
I cannot speak highly enough about PeerSpark and the positive impact it has made on my life. If someone out there is thinking about it and needs to chat before making the leap I'm more than happy to share my experience.

To learn more about Sonia and Clarity Wealth Counsel Inc, visit their website at www.claritywealthcounsel.ca.

If you have questions regarding AWE or our PeerSpark™ program, visit our PeerSpark™ page to learn more. 

 

2018 Celebration of Achievement Award Winner Announced

Beauty tycoon, Eveline Charles, named 2018 Celebration of Achievement Award Winner

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is pleased to announce Eveline Charles as the
recipient of this year’s Celebration of Achievement Award, which recognizes an exceptional woman entrepreneur who has built a business in Alberta with a significant impact on the economy and the community.

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The Alberta-based Founder and CEO of EvelineCharles Salons | Spas | Beauty MD will be recognized at the 2018 Celebration of Achievement award reception on April 25th at the Sutton Place Hotel in Edmonton, sponsored by ATB Financial.

“We are honoured to recognize such a deserving person with this year’s Celebration of Achievement award. Eveline is a true business leader and inspiration; she aims high and remains focused on achieving her vision,” explains Marcela Mandeville, CEO of AWE.

With six successful salons and spas across Alberta and almost 200 employees, Eveline Charles has dominated the beauty industry for over 40 years. Eveline's determination to become the market leader led to the expansion of her business in 2005 to include the EvelineCharles Academy - a state-of- the-art facility where future beauty industry leaders could harness and perfect their trade.

The next venture for Eveline was expanding into custom product manufacturing with EC Labs. Founded in 2016, EC Labs is Canada’s newest beauty, health, and wellness product manufacturer. In addition, EvelineCharles Salons | Spas | Beauty MD has now begun franchising locations as a future expansion strategy.

“I am very grateful to receive this prestigious award. It is really humbling to be a recipient of this award in the presence of so many female entrepreneurs and leaders. This honour means so much to me, as entrepreneurship runs through my veins. I am so passionate about driving, growing, and reinventing my business every day to be a leader in our industry,” Charles said of her win.

"Growing a business into a successful and sustainable enterprise requires passion, perseverance and a plan. Eveline is a trailblazing entrepreneur, whose vision and leadership has enabled her to grow her business in a lasting and meaningful way. She's an inspiration so many women, and entrepreneurs across this province and country," says Teresa Clouston, Executive Vice-President of ATB Business & Agriculture. "On behalf of the ATB team, I am pleased to congratulate Eveline and all the awards winners."

At the reception on April 25, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs will honour Charles and her role as a leader in female entrepreneurship, as well as announce the recipients of three other award categories including Emerging Innovator Award, Emerging Award and Upsurge Award.

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

2018 Alberta Women Entrepreneurs’ Award Finalists Announced!

Edmonton, AB - Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is pleased to announce the finalists for their annual AWE Awards which recognize women who have made a significant contribution to the business community in Alberta. There are three categories 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. 

The recipients of the awards will be announced and celebrated at the annual AWE Award Reception in Edmonton on April 25, 2018 at the Sutton Place hotel. 

Listed below are the award categories and finalists who have each demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit through perseverance, the courage to take risks and the ability to seize opportunity.

Awards & Finalists

AWE Upsurge Award

This award recognizes an entrepreneur who has a strong vision and passion for growth. The recipient has built a solid foundation for her business, has experienced growth, and has significant expansion opportunities.

Finalists:

AWE Emerging Award

This award recognizes an entrepreneur who has built a strong, scalable business foundation, has achieved early success and market traction.

Finalists:

AWE Emerging Innovator Award 

This award recognizes an entrepreneur who has built an innovation-based business and who has achieved early success with strong market potential.

Finalists:

Celebration of Achievement

Since 2012, the annual AWE Celebration of Achievement award has paid tribute to an exceptional woman entrepreneur who has built a business in Alberta with a significant impact on the economy and the community. This entrepreneur is an inspirational leader and a role model for women in business.

2018 Recipient: Eveline Charles

“This is our sixth year hosting the AWE Awards and the resilience and enthusiasm of our nominees continues to amaze me. We are excited to recognize outstanding women who have made significant contributions to our community and economy.” 

- Marcela Mandeville, CEO, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs

Presenting Sponsor

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Media Contact

Stephanie Woods
Marketing Manager
Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)
marketing@awebusiness.com 

 

Women Entrepreneurs Paving the Way

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On March 8, 2018 we celebrated International Women's Day. Now, more than ever, there's a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. There's a strong call to #PressforProgress motivating and uniting friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.

In a recent report on women entrepreneurs and innovation completed by the Beacon Agency, Government of Canada, Carleton University and BMO Financial Group, key facts and trends were identified on how important women entrepreneurs are to our economy and communities.

For example, did you know that women-led businesses today represent 50% of all new businesses? (BDC, 2017). In addition, among all small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), 47% are entirely or partly owned by women (Statistics Canada, 2012). 

In celebration of International Women's Day, we are very excited to announce our new partnership with BDC as a member of Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) to better support women entrepreneurs. 

The agreement adds on to BDC’s commitments to support women entrepreneurs, namely new targets of $1.4 billion in lending to women-led businesses by 2021 and $200 million in investments in women-led technology firms.

Read the full release here.

Client Feature: Wendy Kerkhoff

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We sat down with Wendy Kerkhoff, President and CEO of Intellidig to learn more about her business, her methodology and her experience with AWE and the PeerSpark program.

Q: Wendy, tell us, how did you end up becoming an entrepreneur?

There’s a part of me that just always knew that I would start my own business. While I was working the recruiting industry, I honestly felt there was a lot of dissatisfaction about how the service was being traditionally provided. I knew there had to be a better way, so I went out and started working to fine-tune my efforts.

I knew that eventually, companies would reach a point where they would recognize that all of their prospective talent came from the same data and talent pool. It was becoming a race to see who could get to that person and people became tired of it. 

That’s where research came into play. I knew that we had to find the people who weren’t looking and that the internet was an amazing place to find everything about people. This targeted approach about identifying candidates is what makes us different and is also why we have been in business for 15 years.

Q: Wow, 15 years! That is incredible. How many people do you have working with you now at Intellidig? 

It ranges depending on the size and scope of project we are working on. On some projects, I’ve had as many as 20 contractors. My core team is made up of five to seven people.

Q: What are you most proud of in your business?

There’s a lot of things that I look back on and am proud of, but I have to say surviving in business is something to be very proud of in itself. Many businesses don’t make it past the five year mark, it’s a milestone.

I’m really proud of what I have developed in the business and the high-profile organizations we have served. I’ve built a company that’s both functional and operational while surviving the odds.

Q: Would you recommend entrepreneurship to a friend?

It’s definitely not for everyone, but for me it’s the right thing. It’s something I was always trying to work towards and identify the right time to do it. Eventually, I just took the leap of faith and decided I was going to do my own work.

I would recommend it to people who feel they can think outside the box and wear many hats. I love the freedom and flexibility it provides.There’s really no constraints of job or position. It really is what you make of it!

Q: What would you say you have learned from other entrepreneurs?

Definitely how lonely it can be. You don’t have the same support that you get internally in a corporate job when you’re an entrepreneur. Being involved in entrepreneur organizations, like AWE, really surrounds you with other like-minded people. There is so much value in that. You begin to recognize that everyone has challenges and that regardless of industry, my challenges are not much different than other entrepreneurs.

Q: How did you find out about AWE?

I’ve known about AWE for many years, but became more involved a few years ago. When I found out about the programs for established businesses, like PeerSpark™, I joined right away.

Q: What do you want Intellidig to be know for?

I want us to be known as a trailblazer. We really started with the concept of providing something different, a different model to a traditional industry. The most consistent challenge has been trying to break the mold and let people know that there are alternatives to recruitment. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve stuck with it and paved the way!

To learn more about Intellidig and the work they are providing, visit their new website at www.intellidig.com or visit them on Facebook.

If you have questions regarding AWE or our PeerSpark™ program, visit our PeerSpark™ page to learn more. 

NextStep to Success: Business Plan Learning Series for Indigenous Women

With the New Year of 2018,  we look back with great admiration for the Indigenous Women who have participated in the NextStep to Success Business Plan Learning Series, which was launched in September 2017. We want to share some of the comments from the Siksika Nation participants.
 


“AWE is a great organization, which is truly focused on building Indigenous Women’s skills. Thank you so much for the opportunity.”
Sara


“Bev, our facilitator ensured a great environment
for learning. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the sessions
& hope nothing but the best for all of my colleagues”
Tracey


“To succeed in operating your own business you
must take risks. And that is to think outside the box,
always.”

Janis


“With this training, one can plan for a successful
business. The course renewed the dream of owning
your own business. Stay positive, be confident and
be proud of your vision”

Kathleen McHugh.
 

“Informative, Informative, Informative!”
T Yellowfly


“Definitely going to utilize the knowledge that was
planted in my mind and reap what I can from the
soil. Wonderful and inspiring experience working
with these ladies. Nothing but encouragement for
each other, loved it.”
Erin B

In March 2018, AWE will be opening sessions for registration for new and ready to start Indigenous entrepreneurs in Calgary and Edmonton. Please contact Bev Latter, Special Projects at 403-862-3490 or bev.latter@awebusiness.com to register.

2018 Award Nominees Announced

AWE is honouring female entrepreneurs from across the province. Nominated by their peers, these inspirational women are achieving growth and success in business. This year, we had over 75 applicants for our 2018 Awards!

Finalists will be announced at our upcoming nominee receptions happening in March.

On April 25, 2018 we will announce the recipients for this year's AWE Upsurge, Emerging, Emerging Innovator and Celebration of Achievement Awards.

The nominees for 2018 are:

  • Alyssa Lau

  • Amanda Hamilton

  • Angela May

  • Anita Dyrbye

  • Carina Ludgate

  • Carmela Gennaro

  • Charity Callahan

  • Cheryl Taylor

  • Christina Forth

  • Colleen Rice

  • Connie Stacey

  • Deborah Barrett

  • Diana Frost

  • Donna McTaggart

  • Glori Meldrum

  • Jessica Maurice

  • Jill Boychuk

  • Julie Boake

  • Kathryn Kolaczek

  • Kathy Leskow

  • Kelly Smart

  • Kimberly Orlesky

  • Kirei Yasunori

  • Kristina Vanderwater

  • Laurie Wright

  • Lorena Prakash

  • Louise Vernal

  • Lucy Dunne

  • Maureen Newton

  • Merena Johnson

  • Nicola Kozmyk Jones

  • Sangeeta Sharma

  • Shannon Lenstra

  • Sheena Johnson

  • Tracey Einarson

  • Tricia Arsenault

  • Vanessa Hernandez

  • Voula Martin

  • Nan Thiessen

  • Shanna Mawer

  • Vicki Zhou

  • Teresa Kiyawasew

  • Kim Titchener

  • Akosua Nyarko

  • Kimberly Carson Richards

  • Karen Murdock

  • Stacy Maurier

  • Florence Murota

  • Corinna Clark

  • Rosanna Fischer

  • Debra DeBernardo

  • Victoria Armstrong

  • Julie Flint

  • Crystal Brown

  • Pauline Robinson

  • Kemi Ogundipe

  • Dr. Jacqueline Shan

  • Erika Serbu

  • Annalee Butterwick

  • Kathryn Valentine & Leanna Mohan

  • Jesse Szymanski

  • Emma Demaer

  • Yvonne Irnich

  • Shawna Miller

  • Shani Gwin

  • Lianne Ensminger

  • Chelsea Barlow

  • Sara Tharakan

  • Dannah Davies 

2018 Reboot

I’m a big believer in the saying, “when one door closes, another opens,” but I will admit that sometimes it is the latter half of Alexander Graham Bell’s quote that rings true: “…but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

For me, and maybe you too, 2017 was a challenging year. In addition to the loss of incredible people and other heartbreaks, I felt uncertainty swirl all around us as change happened rapidly and we were surrounded by an overwhelming amount of information. Personally, the year ended with events that forced me to slow down, reflect, regroup and refocus my priorities and my attitude.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s AWE Learning Day is Enhancing Opportunities. To my earlier point, identifying and tapping into those opportunities can be easier said than done. Many of us tend to have #FOMOOO (fear of missing out on opportunities) without really evaluating whether the opportunity should be a priority to pursue and what is the actual cost of letting it go.

In my first year as CEO of AWE I felt as though I needed to stretch myself much too thin based on FOMOO. What if I am missing something really important? What if I let someone down? I used to be guilty of these thoughts until I shifted my mindset from scarcity to abundance.

I realized that there are not a finite number of opportunities available so if one thing does not happen as planned, it is not the end of the world. In fact, it could be a good thing since you now have the space to open yourself up to something that is a better fit.

I have learned a great way to avoid the #FOMOOO is to ask for help by calling on your team or network to take on opportunities that do not best fit your priorities instead of taking everything on yourself. In the end, you have embraced the opportunities that are a priority to you and created new opportunities for others.

We can’t always be prepared for the challenges life throws at us, but we can choose how to we respond and manage through them. The power of positive thinking is a great place to make decisions. In my opinion, leading with optimism over fear and having the mindset of abundance is the best way to enhance opportunities.

What fear is holding you back? How will you enhance and embrace opportunities this year? I hope you will join the conversation at our Learning Day event on February 20 in Edmonton.

Always with gratitude,

Marcela

Find Out How Women's Enterprise Initiative (WEI) Lending is Making a Difference!

Women play an important role in the creation and operation of small businesses across Canada, yet they often face barriers and a lack of support. To help remove these barriers, Western Economic Diversification Canada established the Women's Enterprise Initiative (WEI) to provide business information and services to women entrepreneurs.

Find out how WEI lending is making a difference!

The WEI has offices in each of the four western provinces. These non-profit centres provide a variety of unique products for women entrepreneurs including advisory services, training options, networking opportunities, business loans and referrals to complementary services.

3 Reasons You Should Attend Learning Day

As an entrepreneur, you know that being in business for yourself is not always easy. Being an entrepreneur takes long hours, hard work and endless amounts of caffeine. It also takes a certain level of tolerance and the ability to make the most out of opportunities.

On February 20, 2018 we are bringing together the best of the best to present Learning Day: Enhancing Opportunities at the Chateau Lacombe Hotel in Edmonton. The day will be filled with countless opportunities to grow your network and grow your business with valuable advice from our kick-off speaker, Stacey Berger, specialists from within the entrepreneurial community and experts from organizations such as ATB Business and Business Link.

While there are many reasons to attend Learning Day, here are the top three reasons why we think you should attend!

1. Expand your business tool kit through a number of workshops

Education is the key to moving towards your goals. In a world that is constantly changing, continuous learning is vital as a business owner. At Learning Day you will be able to access a variety of workshops with topics including sales, human resources, marketing and scaling your business. 

2. Connect with like-minded professional women and the business community

Being an entrepreneur can sometimes be isolating. It can be hard to relate to friends or family about your business pains and peaks. At Learning Day you will be able to connect with like-minded women who understand what it's like to be in business for yourself. You will also have the opportunity to meet service providers and partner organizations who are doing amazing things to support entrepreneurs just like you! 

3. Learn best practices to grow your business

From accessing a variety of workshops to connecting with like-minded women and partner organizations, there is so much to gain from attending Learning Day. We are sure you will be inspired after attending the event and hearing from our speakers with topics ranging from digital marketing, human resources and more!

We are so excited to see this event come to life. It will be a day to remember!

Questions about the event? Reach out to us

Register today!

 

Interested in Export? Trade Missions are Key

There is a lot of attention on growing business via export these days, enhanced by things like the NAFTA renegotiation discussions and the signing of new trade agreements. Hopefully, as a business owner, you are asking yourself, “How can I benefit from these opportunities?”

All experts will agree that a good Export Plan should not be based on throwing spaghetti at a wall map of the world as the means of deciding where best to export your products and services.

Researching and planning are key elements to building your export strategy. “But how do I do that?” you are probably asking. Two words: TRADE MISSIONS. That what these women business owners did in 2016.

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Nothing beats meeting and talking with people, and that is the beauty of participating in a trade mission. There is a wonderful trade mission called Go For the Greens, which will be held from February 13-17, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. I describe it as wonderful because it is a smaller event than most trade missions or trade shows. As a result, it is an excellent opportunity for women business owners who:

1. Are at the early stages of researching the possibility of exporting as a way to expand and
diversify their business,
2. Learn best by meeting and talking with people, and/or
3. Have done some research and know that there is potential for their products and services in the Florida region.


During this boutique-style Go For The Greens trade mission, you will:

  • Learn about exporting into the U.S.
  • Meet Canadian government trade commissioners and learn how they can help you grow the export dimension of your business; there is a fun and dynamic networking reception on the Wednesday (Feb. 13) evening for all the Canadian delegates, trade commissioners and other support staff; it’s always my favourite part of a trade mission
  • Explore export opportunities in the Florida region, which is the fourth largest economy in the U.S.
  • Participate in B2B (business to business) match maker meetings and get a clearer picture of what potential buyers look for when choosing suppliers.
  • Meet other women business owners from across Canada and the U.S. that you will learn from and might also start doing business with (it happens!)

The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) has a free online guide called Step-by- Step Guide to Exporting, a must-read especially if you are at the early stages of growing the export dimension of your business. You may want to take a look at it before you attend Go For The Greens. If the U.S. is a market where you already know you would like to export, then you will want to check out the TCS online document on Exporting to the United States – A Guide for Canadian Businesses.
 

Written by Nancy Brommell, Business Advisor, Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba.

Canadian Women Leading in Early-Stage Entrepreneurship: 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor

Edmonton, AB, December 12, 2017 – Canadian women entrepreneurs lead in early-stage activity (TEA) compared to other innovation-based economies, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s (GEM) Canada Report on Women’s Entrepreneurship. Canadian women also ranked fifth highest for established business ownership (EBO).

Alberta continues to breed entrepreneurship, with the rate of early-stage activity (less than 3.5 years) in the province (15.5%) surpassing the national average of 13.3%, up from 10.0% in 2014. Alberta is also among the top provinces for established business ownership (over 3.5 years) among women with an activity rate of 7.2% compared to the national average of 6.6%, though this has declined since 2014.

“Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) believes our economies are strongest when women participate in entrepreneurship,” says Marcela Mandeville, CEO of Alberta Women Entrepreneurs. “This is a proud moment for women entrepreneurs in Canada who are breaking barriers and helping close the gender gap on both a national and global scale.”

The GEM Canada Report on Women’s Entrepreneurs highlights success stories out of Canada
including–Claire Theaker-Brown, the founder of Unbelts. Claire sought help from Alberta Women
Entrepreneurs to scale and grow her company, where she received financial support, as well as
mentorship support through AWE’s PeerSpark™ program.

“AWE services and programs, including PeerSpark™ , are designed to help women entrepreneurs build confidence, improve business acumen, and accelerate their business success by uniting like-minded entrepreneurs,” Mandeville explains. “By establishing an environment where women-led businesses can thrive, our economy will become stronger and more diverse.”

Additional key highlights in the report include:

  • In 2016, 85% of women indicated they were motivated to start a new business by opportunities, up notably from 70% in 2014.
  • Canadian women entrepreneurs are found across all age groups, though start-up rates are highest among women aged 25-44, while the majority of established business owners fall between 55-64 years of age.
  • Established business ownership (EBO) activity levels is closest to parity, with 1.07 men for every 1.0 woman. This is interesting and important since established businesses are ones with longevity and proven success.
  • With respect to industry location, early-stage women entrepreneurs continue to cluster strongly in consumer services (54.5%) and business services (28.2%), though global comparisons suggest that Canada has a strong presence of women in the high-tech (ICT) sector compared to other innovation-based economies.
  • While men are more likely than women to assess their human and social capital highly, there are no apparent gender gaps in fearing failure, where a notable gender gap was reported in 2014.
  • Exporting activity in start-ups also shows an increase with about one-third of women reporting that 25% or more of their customers are outside the country.
  • Amongst the key assets Canadian women bring to their businesses are positive attitudes, opportunity-based motivations, high human capital, and strong interest in internationalization and innovation.

The full report can be found at www.gemcanada.org. GEM Canada is part of the Global
Entrepreneurship Monitor, the largest and longest running survey of entrepreneurship in the world.

The report was written by Karen D. Hughes, a Professor at the Alberta School of Business and the
Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta.

Media Relations Contact
Stephanie Woods
Marketing@awebusiness.com
647-270- 7833

Client Feature: Claire Theaker-Brown

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We sat down with Claire Theaker-Brown, Owner and Founder of Unbelts to learn more about her journey into entrepreneurship, ethical fashion and business expansion.

Q: So, tell us more about how your journey into entrepreneurship began

A: I've been entrepreneurial since I was a little kid. It was a total shock to my family! I have always been arts focused, so I started setting up little tables and selling my drawings- even offering bulk discounts to customers. This is where my passion for buying and selling began. My family was completely taken aback. However, I did put the entrepreneurial dream on-hold when I enrolled in university. I didn't want to study business in school because it was hard to combine business with other programs. So instead, I studied industrial design and part-time Mandarin. I ended up starting my business in 2011 while I was living in Shanghai. 

Q: How did you start Unbelts (Flatter:Me Belts at the time)?

It was out of total desperation. I have always had a shape that meant jeans don't fit me properly. I have a proportionally smaller waist, which always resulted in a gap at the back of my jeans. Belts were too bulky! When I started making the belts, it never occurred to me that it could be a business. I started to talk to my friends about their pant issues and we all agreed that there was nothing out there that was remotely close to this.

My industrial design background has been super helpful. I was very objective about testing a lot of different ideas. Building a prototype was one year. I worked with as many kind of elastics and buckles as I could. After that, I put them on women and let them try them out. I had this elaborate spreadsheet of different prototypes and women. Winners began to emerge from there. 

Q: You just had a big re-brand. Tell us more about that.

Flatter:Me Belts was a name from when I was thinking small. When I first started, I couldn't imagine that we would be selling beyond the Canadian market. Our initial value offering was a flat belt. It became clear that the selling proposition was comfort and flexibility. Our company is totally non-judgemental about size and we're uniquely comfortable. I realized that we needed a name that would highlight the unbelts-ness of our products. A name that was also less focused on gender, because our belts aren't just for women.

Q: You mentioned that you're selling beyond Canadian markets. How are you expanding?

Right now we are expanding in a few different ways- geographically is one way. We had never really pursued wholesale outside of Canada because I knew Flatter:Me was trademarked in the United States. However, now that we are Unbelts, we are starting to parent with US-based retailers. The second way we are expanding is with our target customers. We have began to realize that our belts are perfect for those who play sports and require a belt. Including people who golf, ride horses, etc. These are new markets we are actively involved in. I find it super interesting that we have created this gateway to geographic expansion. Especially with equestrian retailers in the US. It has been the most amazing ride so far.

Q: Would you recommend entrepreneurship to a friend?

Depends on the friend (laughs). Some days, absolutely not. Other days, yes- especially when I hear about friends wondering if they are being challenged in the right ways. And then there are the days when my two year old is home sick and that means after she's in bed for the evening, that I am back to the office and get to spend a romantic evening with my spreadsheet. There are definitely highs and lows. It can be extreme at either end.

Q: What have you learned from other entrepreneurs?

I belong to a mastermind group and have belonged to a few peer mentorship groups, including PeerSpark (formerly known as the Excelerator program). In the beginning, I found business owners I really clicked with in Shanghai- we met every single week for a brain slam. It was hard to lose the community when I moved to Edmonton.

My first Canadian phone call was to AWE.

From there, I began working out of the Startup Edmonton office. We formed such a wonderful community. The group that has formed around me here has been really extraordinary. Between friends that own other businesses, the Venture Mentoring Service at U of A and AWE, I have built a great network of support. I really try to be brave about asking for help, but also offering it when it's asked of me.

Q: Can you tell us more about your roots in ethical production?

I am so excited that ethical production is becoming more widely adopted in the fashion and apparel community. I am really committed to building a business that has benefited everyone along the supply chain. There is almost nothing more universal than getting up in the morning and getting dressed. How often do we stop to think, who made our clothes? Who made our accessories?

We are so excited to be Canada's Coordinator for Fashion Revolution and have the opportunity to bring Edmontonians, Albertans and Canadians into the conversation in a non-judgemental way. Sustainable fashion is so important. It is so important to have these jobs, not only in Canada but off-shore as well. We have a real need for jobs here for skilled sewers. In the new year, we are patterning with community organizations to start sewing in our Edmonton headquarters. At the end of the day, it's about quality not the location.

Looking for a great gift this Christmas season? Head to Claire's website at unbelts.com or visit them on Facebook.

Interested in learning more about the PeerSpark™ program and how it can help your business? Get in touch with us today! 

Preparing for 2018 – Thinking Back to Move Forward

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How reflecting helps you to slow down in order to speed up your business


Reflecting upon your business is an often overlooked but critical step to planning. Many business owners jump into planning and implementing for the next year before thoroughly reviewing the previous year.

Taking time to strategically reflect gives you space to learn, discover and create a foundation for future success. It may feel like you’re slowing down to do this work but rest assured can accelerate your success. Researcher and professor, Giada Di Stefano, PhD has found that “learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection - that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.”

Below are a list of reflection questions that you can use to help guide your process. Try doing an initial high level round, then focus key questions on different areas of your business – leadership, finance, product development, manufacturing, marketing, sales, human resources, distribution, information technologies, and communications.

Reflection questions

What did we accomplish this year?
Did we meet our goals?
What other wins are we celebrating?
What worked well?
What didn’t work well?
What did we learn? How will this help next year?
Are we operating and delivering in line with our “why”, mission, values and brand? If not, what needs to change?
What are we good at that we’re not taking full advantage of?
What are we missing in our organization that would have helped?
What feedback did we get from customers this year? Good? Bad? Ugly? Silence? What did we learn from that feedback?
What partnerships, suppliers, stakeholders brought the most value? The least?
What’s keeping us awake at night? What do we need to do to change this?
What do we need to spend more time doing?
What do we need to spend less time doing?
What could be automated or outsourced?
What expenses are too high? Too low? Great value?
If we had an extra $100,000 (or another appropriate number) to grow the business, where would we invest it in the company?
What market or environmental changes happened that impacted us? What might we do differently going forward as a result?
What’s one tough conversation I need to have before the end of the year?
What’s one gratitude conversation I need to have before the end of the year?

Other tips for reflecting on your previous year:

Create a space and time where you aren’t distracted or can be interrupted. Make sure you are fresh and doing this thinking work at your peak thinking time in a space you
enjoy.

Do the reflection yourself, or with your business partner, initially. Then consider opening the
process up with staff, as appropriate.  After writing your answers, highlight the key learnings or insights you want to bring into your 2018 business plans.

What do you do to reflect upon your year? What are some of your favourite questions? Do you have any advice for other Alberta women entrepreneurs? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

Digital transformation. What is it and why should you care?

By Emma Da Silva, VP of Marketing and Operations, Small, Medium and Corporate at Microsoft Canada

Digital transformation. Whether you work in the private or public sector, these two words should mean a lot to you. As the Canadian economy rapidly digitizes, the organizations that best keep up with the fast and furious pace of technological change will outperform those who don’t.

“Canadian small businesses who adopt the latest IT outperform their peers. They increase their annual revenue 15% faster and create jobs almost twice as fast as their slower peers.” – Boston Consulting

Who has the time to talk tech?

With so many technology trends coming and going, it’s hard for Canadian small business owners to know where to invest. Few people outside of the technology industry have the time to keep up with the dizzying amount of innovations in technology.

A familiar story

At least that’s what I hear when I sit down with the women and men running small businesses. I hear owners say things like: “We’re just so busy trying to keep the lights on. We don’t have time to keep up with the latest technology. Plus, we don’t really have the money to invest in new software or hardware. What we have works, so why change it?”

If that sentiment feels about right, I’d like to try to help cut through the static. We’ll start by talking about digital transformation today, and then in future pieces, I’ll get into the practical details of how to retool your organization for the new economy.

Digital transformation, defined

For growing businesses, digital transformation translates into new applications of innovative technology that help businesses realize all kinds of meaningful benefits. Digital transformation can help create opportunities (often globally); boost productivity; spark collaboration; enhance internal communication; deepen relationships; cut costs while driving revenue and profit.

Canadian digital transformation stories

Need some inspiration? OK! Let’s share just a few short stories of Canadian businesses and agencies who digitally transformed how they operate using the cloud:

  • Kids labels creators Mabel’s Labels (a company founded by four moms that was recently acquired by Toronto-based CCL Industries) modernized their IT—empowering their team led by women to work from anywhere and reduce their IT costs from $21,000 to $7,000 per year.
  •  Interior design firm Bennett Design (also founded and owned by a woman) leveraged cloud services to empower their design team to create , collaborate, save & share files with confidence.
  • Diply.com a leading social entertainment publisher start-up got rid of the high costs, headaches & worries of managing servers. They now deliver a secure, smooth and reliable user experience to 1 billion+ web visitors per year.

For Microsoft case studies please check out Microsoft Customer Success Stories.

What about you?

Let’s get you started on your digital journey! In my next piece, I plan to offer readers eight ways to digitally transform your organization. In the meantime, check out the What I Wish I Knew ebook. In it, successful entrepreneurs share real-world advice based on running their businesses from the ground up!

Community Round-Up

Many members of the AWE community share useful and interesting things online, and we like to draw your attention to these posts from time to time on the blog. Enjoy!

  • Flatter:Me Belts Founder, Claire Theaker-Brown recently re-branded her company to Unbelts. Check out their re-brand video here.
  • Stacy Nehring, Tara Persson and the UTV Canada team are expanding their business into new markets with a new website launching very soon. Stay tuned!
  • The Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB successfully launched in September. Congratulations to Karen Unland on this great accomplishment.
  • Shannon Lenstra, President of Kon-strux Developments was recently awarded with an International Design and Architecture Award with Design Et Al for best Lighting Scheme.
  • Ashley Janssen, PeerSpark™ alumnus was recently awarded with an Avenue Magazine Top 40 Under 40 Award. Congratulations!

Do you have exciting things happening in your business that you would like us to feature? Be sure to share them with us on social media or send us a note to external.relations@awebusiness.com. 

Everything You Wanted to Know about Co-Working!

You may have heard about co-working spaces lately. But what are they?

Co-working spaces are places that for a monthly membership fees, members can
drop-in and work. For some, it’s an affordable alternative to renting office space to work, meet clients and have meetings. For others, it’s a social space, to meet entrepreneurs like them, learn, network, gain clients or suppliers, and brainstorm ideas. This can make it a great option for entrepreneurs who are currently working out of their home.

Some co-working spaces (like NABI Commons in St. Albert) bring in business experts (such as AWE) to help their members grow their business. Often, they have business amenities, like phone line and access to office equipment. They are frequently modelled in a modern open working environment.

Interested? Try out NABI for a $10 drop in fee or a $125 membership fee per month. Or check out the other co-working spaces in Edmonton!

Co-Working Organizations in Edmonton

Co-Working Organizations in Calgary

Fall Greetings from Marcela Mandeville: Back to Reality, Back to Business.

For most, Labour Day - the unofficial end of summer – is bitter sweet. It is the last big hoorah of summer, but it also represents “back to reality and back to business.” I personally am excited about what is to come for the rest of 2017. These past few months I have noticed an energy picking up – business in Alberta is buzzing and there is great opportunity for growth. For AWE and our clients, now is the time to seize those opportunities and focus on building for the future, which is why we are launching a new cohort for our PeerSpark™ program in early October.

AWE’s PeerSpark™ program is a peer-focused support system for female business owners who are ready to scale their business. Our interactive program provides the knowledge, skills and tools you need to build and implement business growth strategies and tactics, with the support of like-minded entrepreneurs. We partner with some of Alberta’s top business industry experts including Grant Thornton, BDC and Dentons to provide resources on topics ranging from financing to buy or grow a business, legal considerations, contract development, and tax and audit services, to name a few.

My favourite part of the program, though, is the peer connections. I know how lonely it can be to run a business so having a group of people who understand and support you on both a personal and professional level is invaluable. I have seen over the years how these relationships grow and extend beyond the program. They provide an elevated level of confidence as leaders and an upsurge in drive when it comes to pursuing new ideas and opportunities.

None of us know what the future holds, but I am certain if we work on building it together, great things will be achieved! If you are ready to grow your business and your network, get in touch to see if the PeerSpark™ program is right for you.