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!


Opportunity to Expand Internationally – Save the Date for WBENC 2019!

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs is pleased to share an opportunity to help you enter and expand into international markets.

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair is being held in Baltimore, MD on in June 25 – 27, 2019. If you’re looking to grow your revenue through international markets, then we invite you to join the Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) delegation.

What is the WBENC National Conference and Business Fair?

This event is the largest conference of its kind in North America with corporate and government buyers connecting with women business leaders from over 18 countries. Attendees will enjoy tailored Canadian programming and three days of speakers, executive workshops, matchmaking and networking opportunities, including the WBENC Business Fair– the largest of its kind with more than 300 exhibitors and procurement specialists.

This program is ideal if you:   

  • want to grow your business via export

  • have interest in or already have experience selling business to business

  • have the capacity to manufacture or deliver products or services in larger volumes

How much does it cost?

The Early Bird rates for the full conference for a small business owner (not WBENC-certified) is $799.

There are grant opportunities to help cover travel and conference fees. Please connect with AWE before registering to learn more.

Why should I go with AWE and Business Women in International Trade (BWIT)?

You could attend the conference on your own, but when you attend with AWE and the Canadian delegation, you’ll receive additional support and guidance.

By joining our delegation you can:

  • Tap into AWE’s knowledge and expertise of international markets

  • Identify the right opportunities for you and your business

  • Access personalized advice and support

When you are in unfamiliar territory, sometimes you need a tour guide. Our team has a wealth of experience and information on how to build strong connections and how to do business in the U.S. supplier diversity market.

We’ll start with a pre-conference meeting to get clear on your goals. Then at the event we’ll assist you to determine where to spend your time, and which activities are the most valuable.

Going alone to this massive conference can be very overwhelming, but we’ll be there every step of the way to make sure it’s productive and a valuable investment of your time.

Please let us know if you’re interested in learning more about the opportunity!

Client Feature: Claire Theaker-Brown


Claire Theaker-Brown is Owner and Founder of Unbelts, the progressively-made pant perfector. The company has recently undergone a rebrand and expanded into new markets.

Claire Theaker-Brown has had the entrepreneurial bug since she was a child. Always art focused, Claire started setting up tables and selling her drawings, even offering bulk discounts to her customers. While in university, Claire studied industrial design and Mandarin. Her business began in 2011 while she was living in Shanghai.

“My business started out of total desperation. I have always had a shape that meant jeans don't fit me properly. Belts were too bulky!”

The company’s original name, Flatter:Me Belts was changed in 2017. As Claire describes her choice to re-brand, “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.”

As the company embraced its new name, they also began to embrace new markets.

“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 partner with US-based retailers. The second way we are expanding is with our target customers. We have realized that our belts are perfect for those who play sports and require a belt.”

As an entrepreneur, building supportive community around you is essential.

I belong to a mastermind group and have belonged to a few peer mentorship groups, including PeerSpark™. In the beginning, I found business owners I really clicked with in Shanghai and we met every single week for a brain slam. It was hard to lose that community when I moved to Edmonton. My first Canadian phone call was to AWE.

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.”

Learn more about Unbelts and their story at

Contest: Share Your Business Challenge!

Are you facing a difficult challenge in your business? Share it with us! We’re looking for challenges to include in our Business Challenge round table sessions during Learning Day 2019. Chosen challenges will be worked on in small groups to come up with innovative solutions.

If your challenge is chosen, you will win a free ticket to Learning Day on May 14, 2019 (and you might just walk away with the answers you’ve been looking for!). You’ll also have the chance to be introduced at the event (optional).

Contest closed on March 1, 2019.

Client Feature: Crystal Janvier

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Crystal Janvier is the CEO and Owner of Sun Dance Enterprises Ltd., a facility integrity and quality assurance consulting business operating primarily in the oil and gas sector. Crystal participated in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series in Edmonton.

Crystal Janvier did not always have aspirations of being an entrepreneur, but her determination to achieve her goals is nothing new. Starting university when her son was just 10 days old, Crystal was focused on her education, completing a Bachelor of Arts Honors degree, and following it up with her Masters of Science in Public Health.

Her interest in owning her own business came later, after a career in consulting and working with Indigenous youth to help them get into trades careers.

In the early days of her career, Crystal admits that she did face some of the stereotypes that come along with being a young woman in business. “They called me the kid, because I was the youngest field director at that time. I had to prove myself.”

Crystal began her own oil and gas consulting business in 2009, and then launched Sun Dance Enterprises Ltd. with her husband in 2013.

Prior to joining the NextStep to Success program, Crystal had started writing a business plan but was looking for additional knowledge and resources to finish it. Crystal says she would definitely recommend the series to others.

“Before you invest time and especially before you invest finances towards something you’re not 100% certain about, it will help you determine how feasible it’s going to be. It gives you an ability to analyze your risk.”

In the future, Crystal is planning to expand her business and hire additional contractors. For now, Crystal is happy doing what she loves.

“Success to me means feeling fulfilled and happy with where you are in your life. I don’t really separate work and home life too much. To me, if you are doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work.”

How to Stand Out From the Crowd with Branded Design

by Rivet Management

If you’re a business owner, you know how important the word differentiation is. You likely started your business after experiencing some gap in your market and thought, “we could do this better.”

While your business model may be different from your competitors, we see many entrepreneurs take a like-minded approach when it comes to the design and overall look and feel of their commercial spaces. Why is that? Well, for starters, it’s easy.

Many businesses reach out to the same commercial designers to support their renovations, which is why you see so many dental and medical offices that look the same. To truly live your brand, you need a space that reflects who you are, what you stand for and why your customers should choose you over the competition.

Here are three ways to help you stand out from the crowd with branded design.

1. Know Your Target Market

Your target market isn’t anyone and everyone. Be specific when it comes to your target market and give them a brand persona. Ask yourself the following questions:

●     What does my ideal client need from my company?

●     What frustrations does my client deal with?

●     What challenges does my client deal with?

●     Does my space align with my client’s expectations?

For example, your target audience could be women from 35-45 years of age from Sherwood Park who are mothers. Are 35 year old mothers and 45 year old mothers the same? No. Do they have different frustrations and expectations? Maybe. Think specifically of Martha who is 37 with three kids in full time school and a part-time job.

This is also important to your space. A 35 year old mother may have younger kids with different needs than the 45 year old mom with teens needing charging stations and free wifi in your waiting room. What does Martha, your ideal client, need from you to make her experience memorable?

2. Create Conversation Pieces

Let’s be honest, a TV cannot be your focal point of conversation in your waiting room. It may seem like the easiest option, but it’s by far the most generic piece of technology we see in every other office space. Find a way to stand-out and create something that keeps your clients talking, even after they’ve left the building.

Conversation pieces could include:

●     Artwork;

●     Selfie wall or photobooth;

●     Fish tanks;

●     Charging stations;

●     Mirrors; or

●     Treadmill desks.

3. Keep Your Brand Experience Consistent

Lack of consistency is what can kill your brand. If you’re walking into a fast food restaurant that charges $15.00 for a burger versus $3.00 for a burger, you probably have a different level of expectation when it comes to how the restaurant looks and feels. Think back to your ideal client, what do they expect when they visit your space? If you’re charging a premium price, your client likely expects a premium experience. How can you add value to their time at your place of business?

Branding your space is more than just plastering your logo on everything. It’s incorporating design elements that speak to your ideal customer while ensuring your brand’s values are properly reflected.

Join Alberta Women Entrepreneurs and Rivet Management for two workshops in early 2019 as we cover:

●      How you can maximize your dollars

●      How you can create a space that both you and your customers love

●      How to increase your overall revenue while providing an awesome experience

Register for Edmonton’s session on January 24, 2019.

Register for Calgary’s session on February 21, 2019.

About the Author

Rivet Management is an Edmonton and area based firm focused on creating unique and branded spaces. We specialize in commercial spaces including dental/medical clinics, restaurants and more! Learn more about us at

Holiday Greetings from Marcela Mandeville, CEO

In an earlier message, I asked “what is holding you back?” Now I wonder, “how are you feeling about your progress?” Moving through change is a challenge, but as I have been reminded, especially this year, bringing in support, being open, and listening offers great opportunity. As we bring 2018 to a close, I look back on this year as an incredible journey with an amazing team of Board members, staff, and partners, all of whom are committed to supporting women entrepreneurs.

This year, in addition to offering our Let’s Build Your Business Plan Series and Performance Learning Series, we launched a new program called Digitally Solid, which focuses on building digital marketing strategy and tactics in a world of rapidly changing technology. We also continued to expand existing programming such as our NextStep to Success program for Indigenous women and our PeerSpark program for women with emerging growth ventures.

Late in November members of our team traveled to AWE’s PeerSpark retreat, which brought together both the new PeerSpark cohort as well as PeerSpark Alumni. The retreat was a chance to reflect and refresh. The conversations and connections made over the weekend showed that great things can be achieved when you bring together entrepreneurs who are eager to learn and share their knowledge.

As I wrote about earlier this year, having a mindset of abundance and understanding that opportunities are not finite is important. At AWE, our experiences throughout the year have shown that by sharing opportunities we create more pathways to success and create better connections. As we move into 2019, we are looking forward to continuing to help women entrepreneurs seize opportunities and move toward achieving their aspirations.

On behalf of our team, I wish you a safe and happy holiday season. Thank you for being a part of our community.

Always with gratitude,


Client Feature: Deidra Helmig


Deidra Helmig is the Founder and Senior Consultant with Boreal Services Group, a safety and construction engineering company. Recently, Deidra has embraced change on her entrepreneurial journey, and started a brand new venture: Trivas International.

Deidra Helmig always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. After working in her family business, she ventured out on her own in 2013 and founded Boreal Services Group, which she is still at the helm of today.

While working in the occupational health and safety space, she saw a new opportunity that could not only transform her business, but also create a new scalable company. In 2018, the idea for Trivas International became a reality. Trivas provides an online program that allows organizations within any industry, of any size, to develop and implement customized psychological health and safety programs.

“With so many abuse stories and movements, including #MeToo, I realized that there are no programs to support employees and their psychological health in the workplace. I feel like Trivas is not just my business it is my rallying call. If people went into work every day and believed in what they were doing and felt respected in their company, the world could be a better place and businesses and individuals would be more successful.”

Deidra has been involved with AWE since 2015, participating in PeerSpark™ and the loan program. Most recently, she attended AWE’s trade mission to the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Conference in Detroit, MI.

It was there she discovered that if she wanted to expand internationally, she would need to make some changes to her business model. While Boreal’s work is often defined by health and safety legislation, Trivas has the ability to have an international reach.

“Psychological health and safety is a global problem, but it’s not insurmountable. While I’m still exploring which international markets I will target, I have been very connected to WEConnect International and I am now a certified women-owned business. This network has allowed me to connect with thousands of people all over the world.”

When asked about what is next, Deidra says it comes down to launching Trivas International, which heads into BETA testing this year.

“Trivas has made me realize how important it is to follow your passion, and that passions can change. AWE has been so supportive and valuable to me in re-defining my business path with their advising and support.”

To learn more about Deidra, visit or

'Tis the Season to Go Shopping

The lights are twinkling, the music is playing, and the stores are packed. Love it or hate it, we are in the midst of the holiday shopping season. It’s a busy time for many Canadians, but especially so for many small-business owners.

There’s no doubt that in a world of rapidly changing technology, increasing consumer comfort with online shopping, and the influence of American shopping habits (looking at you Black Friday), the way Canadians shop has changed dramatically in the past decade. However, sometimes the things that stay the same can come as a bit of surprise!

We’ve rounded up a few facts on holiday shopping to keep mind this season:

  1. Online isn’t everything

    With the constant talk about growing e-commerce businesses, it is easy to assume that most consumers are migrating online for their gift purchases. While it is true that online shopping has become mainstream in Canada, most shoppers still plan to visit brick-and-mortar stores in 2018. In fact, according to a PwC Canada survey, 63% of Canadian consumers consider brick-and-mortar retail to be their primary holiday shopping channel, and 98% of shoppers expect to visit more than one store this season.

    However, more than half of Canadian consumers like to do their research online to get ideas for gifts and to check prices. Retailers who have both a strong digital presence and offer a great in-store experience have an advantage when appealing to these omni-channel consumers.

  2. Millennials enjoy tangible items

    The flexibility and convenience of gift cards have made them popular in recent years, but most millennials actually prefer to receive physical gifts. Only 21% of Canadian millennials plan to buy a gift cards for others (compared to 38% overall), and only 30% would like to receive them as a gift (compared to 43% overall).

    If you expect to be a gift-destination this holiday season, make sure your staff are well-versed in the products or services you offer and that they feel comfortable making recommendations if shoppers need some guidance. As well, a digital gift guide with some options for different price ranges can be a great addition to your email marketing.

  3. Holiday spending is not limited to just gifts for family and friends

    Gifts for our furry friends are big business too! The average Canadian pet-owner will spend $65 on gifts for their animals.

    Additionally, holiday spending goes beyond gift-giving. Travel makes up a big part of holiday spending, as well as food and entertainment.

  4. Shopping happens throughout the year

    This may come as a surprise to all the procrastinators out there, but a 2017 study by Accenture revealed that 24% of consumers randomly purchase holiday gifts throughout the year. There are still plenty of last-minute purchases though, with 28% of consumers shopping right up until Christmas.

  5. Big sales are not for everyone

    Boxing Day sales are a well-established shopping tradition, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday have crept into Canadian shopping culture as well in recent years. While a lot of spending does happen on these big discount days, not everybody partakes. According to the 2017 Accenture study, there is a growing trend of Canadians being less likely to shop during Boxing Day and Black Friday than previous years.

    What does this mean for retailers and service providers? You should carefully consider who your customer base is, and whether or not it is worthwhile to offer big deals during Boxing Day and Black Friday. Depending on your customers’ price sensitivity, as well as your profit margins – you might be better off skipping it and instead focus on conveying your value proposition.

    If you are going to offer big deals during Black Friday or Boxing Day, think twice before announcing it ahead of time. Shoppers who were planning on paying full-price might delay their purchases if they know a big discount is coming.

The holiday shopping rush can be overwhelming for small business owners, but it can also be lucrative if you play your cards right! Remember to always consider who your target market is when planning your holiday promotions. Do they need a sale to motivate them? Or are they willing to pay full-price for excellent value and great customer service? Are they going to purchase a gift card or are they going to be looking for gift recommendations at various price points? It’s also key to consider customer experience during the shopping frenzy – both online and in-store (if applicable). Being thoughtful about your commercial space, making staff training and knowledge a priority, and ensuring your website is up-to-date and optimized for success is a great place to start.

If you’re looking for help with things such as market research, digital marketing, or creating revenue from your commercial space – AWE can help! Check out our calendar of upcoming workshops and training.

Happy shopping season and more importantly, Happy Holidays!  


2018 Canadian holiday outlook

A very Canadian omnichannel Christmas 2018 holiday insights report

Study predicts online shift for 2017 winter holidays in Canada