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

6 Things to Ask When Getting a Loan

You’ve written your business plan, you’ve done your research, and you’ve decided that your business is ready for financing. You are on your way to starting or expanding your business! This is an exciting time, but it is important to do your due diligence when deciding what type of lender is the best fit for you.

There are a numerous options out there when it comes to financing your business, and it is important to ask the right questions before you get too far along in the process. We have compiled a list of six key questions that you should ask when inquiring about a business loan.

1. Am I eligible?

Before you can decide if a lender is right for you, you first find out if you meet their basic requirements for eligibility. At AWE we have the following basic requirements for our loan program:

  • At least 51% of the business must be owned and operated by a  woman (or women)

  • You reside in the province of Alberta

  • Minimum credit score of 650

  • You contribute a minimum or have contributed a minimum of 25% owner equity on total project costs

  • You contribute a minimum of 30% security on the loan. This amount differs depending on the size, risk, and purpose of the loan. The loan may require up to 100% security.

Every lender is different, so be sure to ask them what their minimum criteria is. Just because you meet the basic criteria, does not necessarily mean you will get the loan (at AWE our lending decisions are strongly tied to our assessment of the viability of the business), but it will give you an idea as to whether or not you should invest your time in the application process.

2. What is the interest rate?

Not only do interest rates vary depending on the lending institution, but they can also differ based on the type of business (e.g. a start-up vs. business expansion). At AWE, our interest rate is the same for all our loan clients. Our interest rate is Prime +3%, and that rate stays constant throughout your repayment term. This means that even if the Prime rate changes during your loan term, you’ll continue to pay the same interest rate as initially agreed upon for the term.

3. What are the repayment options?

How long are the loan terms? Can you pay out at any time? At AWE our loan terms are up to 5 years, and we offer flexible repayment options. There is no penalty fee if you decide to pay out your loan early. This is not the case with every lender, so it’s important to ask about the repayment options before you go ahead with an application.

4. What fees are involved?

Nothing is worse than being surprised by fees you were not expecting. Ask about application fees, as well as loan administration fees, annual fees, or any other fees that could be associated with your loan.

For AWE’s loan program, there is a $100 loan application fee. There is also a loan administration fee of 1% of the amount loaned (up to a maximum of $500).

5. What limitations are there on how I use the money?

There will almost always be restrictions on what expenses can financed. AWE cannot finance:

  • Owner’s salary

  • Re-financing existing debt

  • Commission-based businesses, independent agents, or commissioned salespersons

  • Pyramid-based businesses including network or multi-level marketing programs

  • Franchise fees

  • Speculative ventures (i.e. Purchase of land for resale, unpublished books, etc.)

  • Business purchases that are solely share purchases

  • Intangible goodwill (i.e. business name or reputation)

  • Research and development

  • Purchase of stocks, shares, or other non-productive investment

Once again, restrictions will vary based on the lender so ask up-front what they can and cannot finance.

6. What other support do you provide for entrepreneurs beyond financing?

Depending on the lending institution, they may or may not offer additional supports for entrepreneurs. AWE has many programs and services to help business owners, including free business advising and various training opportunities. We are happy to say that many of our loan clients have had a long-term relationship with AWE – whether it be through advising, peer mentorship, or participating in training seminars.

This list is not exhaustive, and you will likely have many questions during the loan process (and the lender will have questions about you). If you would like to learn more about AWE’s loan program, join us at our upcoming info session webinar on November 30th, 2018!

Can’t make the webinar? Connect with an AWE Business Advisor to learn more about our loan program requirements and discuss if it is the right financing option for you. 

4 Reasons You Need to Have a Digital Marketing Plan

Blogging, SEO, social media, email marketing, Google Ads – the world of digital marketing is full of possibilities. It can be overwhelming even for a seasoned marketing professional, even more so if you are an entrepreneur wearing multiple hats on a daily basis!

The good news is that many digital marketing tools are easy to use and relatively low-cost. The hard part is using them effectively. Too often entrepreneurs dive right in to using the latest platforms and technology, but haven’t aligned their marketing tactics with their business goals, or an overall digital marketing strategy. It can be hard for small business owners to find the time to work on the business and not just in the business, but it is incredibly important to have a plan before you start executing marketing tactics.

We’ve identified four key reasons to have a digital marketing plan.

  1. It helps you look at the big picture

    Two common mistakes we see with entrepreneurs’ digital marketing efforts are: they either try to do everything all at once, or they put all their eggs in one basket and over-rely on a particular channel or tactic. Before you can decide what marketing tactics to use you need to think carefully about who your customers are (age, gender, profession, etc.), where they are online (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.) and what your marketing objectives are (brand awareness, engagement, or purchases). Knowing these key things, and writing them down in a marketing plan, will help you determine what social media platforms you should be on, if it makes sense for your business to have a blog, and where you should spend any digital advertising dollars.

    Looking at the big picture will also help you identify potential gaps in your marketing. Relying exclusively on a third-party platform for your digital marketing is risky for your business. Third-party platforms such as Instagram, Google, or Amazon can change their rules and their algorithm at any time. As Avery Swartz notes in the Globe and Mail, platforms come and go, but “the tried-and-true method of building your own digital presence, that you can control, always wins in the end.” Having a clear digital brand with a multi-faceted strategy, will help ensure that your digital presence can prevail, even if platforms make changes.

  2. You will be able to use your time (and dollars!) more effectively

    Haphazardly posting to social media when you have a spare moment might seem like a fast and easy solution in the short-term, but it is not an effective strategy in the long-term. It is important not to waste time on marketing activities that don’t help you achieve your marketing goals in some way. The first step to doing that is determining what those goals are.

    Additionally, planning ahead can actually reduce the amount of time you spend on digital marketing. There are many tools out there that allow you to schedule content in advance, so instead of having to post every day, you can sit down once a week, decide on what content to share, and then automate! Just remember to still check on your social media platforms and website regularly in case there are customer comments.   

  3. It provides you with greater accountability

    Consistency is so key with digital marketing. If you have not posted to social media in over a month, or you have outdated information on your website, your customers might think you have gone out of business! Having a plan allows you to be accountable for executing the things you say you are going to do – whether that means sending out an e-newsletter every month, or posting to Facebook every day. It also makes it easier for a business partner or employee to assist you if things are written down. A publishing/editorial calendar can really help with this.

  4. Evaluating your results will be easier

    John Wanamaker once said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” A lot has changed in the hundred years since he said that, and we now have the ability to measure marketing ROI better than ever before. Instead of trying to guess how many of your customers saw your ad in a flyer, you can now see how many people clicked on your ad and went to your website, and even how many of them saw your ad and then made a purchase.

    The relatively low cost of digital marketing allows for lower barriers to entry for advertising, and allows you to experiment with different channels and ad copy, with fairly low stakes. However, you can’t effectively measure your results, if you don’t set objectives first.  Once you set your goals, then you can work on executing them, and decide on the best tools for analyzing the results.

Taking the time to develop your digital marketing strategy now, will have benefits for you and your business in the future. If you are not sure where to start, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs can help! Our Digitally Solid program is designed for entrepreneurs who want a more strategic approach with their digital marketing but haven’t taken the time to plan. You will also learn how to use technology to execute your strategy, and walk away with optimized digital platforms, content ideas, a publishing calendar, and much more!




Client Feature: Laura Asham

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Laura Asham is the Founder behind Asham Creations, an award-winning company that sells puppets for educational purposes. After getting her entrepreneurial start creating beadwork projects, Laura saw a market opportunity for educational puppets and embraced the potential for a new business concept .

Laura Asham has been beadworking since she was seven years old. After learning the art from her mother and sister, Laura found a love for the craft. In 2008, she began designing various beadwork projects as a part-time business while she finished her education in social work.

“Beading was a hobby, but something I am very passionate about. I love making things that people enjoy. I have sent beadwork as far as New Zealand, and created medallions for three Ministers of Canada.”

In 2010, Laura’s daughter was entering a princess pageant at her school and needed a talent to compete. “I suggested that she use a puppet to showcase Blackfoot words. Me being the person I am had to go above and beyond. It took me two days and 11 hours to create one puppet. I ended up having extra material left over, so I decided to create a native set for the elementary school on my nation.”

Her newfound hobby quickly shifted into her greatest business opportunity. She started selling puppet sets to schools across a variety of First Nation communities in Alberta. Since then she has had requests from schools as far as Peguis First Nation in Manitoba where they had a school-wide naming ceremony for the characters.

“It has been so good to see that the puppets are not only bringing joy to people, but they are teaching children how to speak Blackfoot. Many schools on the Siksika Nation are now teaching full immersion programs.”

Laura participated in AWE’s NextStep to Success Program for Indigenous Women this past year. She said it was great to have the assistance she needed to create her business plan.

“As I plan to expand my business and build-out a commercial space, I knew that I needed to get my business plan together. The NextStep program was very helpful to me.”

Laura is in the process of finishing her business plan and securing funding to open her first commercial space.

“Right now I have been so focused on my local market and keeping up with that. I hope that in 10 years time we have covered Canada and moved into international markets.”

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New Women Entrepreneurship Fund Announced

Exciting news for women entrepreneurs in Canada!

Last week, the Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion announced that the Government of Canada will provide direct funding to women-owned and women-led businesses through the Women Entrepreneurship Fund. The fund will invest $20 million over two years, and will provide up to $100,000 in non-repayable funding that women can use to grow their businesses. The fund is part of the larger Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, which also includes an ecosystem fund created to strengthen capacity within the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

In order to be eligible the business must be:

  • Women-led and women-owned

  • A for profit organization

  • Up to 499 employees

  • In business a minimum of two years

Priority will be given to entrepreneurs in one of these applicant groups:

  • Diverse women entrepreneurs (such as women with disabilities, Indigenous women, women in rural or remote regions, recent immigrants, visible minority women, women from Official Language Minority Communities)

  • Businesses with products or services related to one of the Economic Strategy Tables sectors

  • Projects seeking to pursue market opportunities abroad

The funding can be used for a variety of things, but you should note that it cannot be used to refinance debt, purchase assets above fair market value, land acquisition, the cost of amortization, or goodwill.

Applications are being accepted online and the deadline to submit is November 15 at 11:59pm PST. The detailed criteria and information on how to apply can be found on the Government of Canada website.

Client Feature: Nicole Matos

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After years of working in the construction space as a project manager, Nicole Matos made a major change in her professional life. She branched out on her own and became CEO and Founder of Rivet Management, a firm that creates unique and branded spaces for commercial and residential clients.

While many businesses saw economic challenges in 2009, Nicole Matos saw opportunity.

“I focused on project managing tenant improvements at a local construction company, but in 2008, we really started to feel the economic slowdown. I knew this was the perfect time to start working on building my own business.”

When Nicole was laid off from her job, it could have been devastating, but she embraced the change head-on. Nicole launched Rivet Management, and never looked back. What started as a one woman show has turned into a team of four full-time employees, and many subcontracted trades, with the intention to hire an additional two to three staff this year alone.

While her business has significantly grown, Nicole still has the same values as those early days.

“I am not a believer that business is just business. People are behind the business and I do business with those people, not just those businesses. I still use the same electrician from back in the day at my first company. I know his entire family now. The same goes for my employees. I value them and ensure they feel respected.”

Nicole admits that the male-dominated construction industry can be slightly old-fashioned at times. “I’ve been to meetings where people assume that I am the Interior Designer and my husband is the Owner of the company. People are surprised when they learn that I managed all our construction for 8 years before my husband joined and although I do the design, I actually have more education and experience on the construction side of our business.”

With eight years under their belt, Rivet Management is preparing for rapid growth in 2018. A new commercial space is in the works, and Nicole hopes to become part of a community.

Working with AWE’s Business Advisors regularly, Nicole has been able to define her marketing strategy, gain valuable advice and find a support network. “As we started to grow, I realized I wanted to align myself with other women entrepreneurs. As a Métis woman, I wanted to ensure that we started building relationships with the right types of groups, including AWE. AWE has been such an amazing resource for me and my company.”

To learn more about Nicole and Rivet Management, visit

Building Export Markets in Europe and the U.K.

by Nancy Brommell, Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba

What: An exciting trade mission!

Who: Canadian women business owners who want to expand their business via export

Where: Germany and England

When: November 4-10, 2018

How: email the BWIT team to sign up

Business Women in International Trade  (BWIT) is part of the federal government Trade Commissioner Service (TCS). The team is made up of federal government trade commissioners who specialize in helping Canadian women entrepreneurs internationalize. Trade commissioner Lynne Thomson (third from right), attended SHEday 2018 in Winnipeg and connected with export-oriented women business owners Cindy Boissonneault (second from the left), owner of Poco Inspired and Pina Romolo (third from the left), owner of Piccola Cucina.

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One of the primary ways that BWIT helps business women expand internationally is by organizing informative trade missions, like this upcoming one to Europe. With stops in Hamburg and Stuttgart, Germany and London, England, this trip will feature a series of events designed to open new markets in Europe for Canadian women business owners.

Why Europe?

With the renegotiation of NAFTA currently in process, we hear a lot these days about international trade agreements. In recent months, Canada signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe.

In general, it is an advantage to you as an export-oriented business when Canada has a trade agreement with the country to which you want to export. As explained on the Government of Canada Export Market Research web page, “trade agreements help to eliminate or reduce tariffs on Canadian exports, which can increase your competitiveness in foreign markets.”

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A trade agreement does not create excitement about export opportunities, but trade missions do! If you choose to invest and participate in this upcoming BWIT trade mission to Germany and England, you will benefit from on-the-ground market research, making business connections, learning the nuances of the market place, and having a better understanding of how your business could penetrate that market.

For more information on this exciting trade mission to Europe, email or visit the BWIT website.

The four women’s enterprise organizations, Women’s Enterprise Centre in BC (WEC-BC), Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WESK) and the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba (WECM) work collaboratively with each other and with BWIT to support women business owners who are interested in exporting. All organizations are members of the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC).

About the Author

Nancy Brommell is a Business Advisor with the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba. Blog post originally published September 2018 at

Fall Message from Marcela Mandeville

“A rising tide lifts all boats”, is an expression I have heard and said a lot lately. It applies to so many things, to business, to entrepreneurship, to inclusivity, and in the case of the words used by the Hon. François-Philippe Champagne while on a recent trade mission to Detroit, international trade.

Anyone who knows me knows I love international business. Over the course of my professional career, I have worked to build relationships and business success across borders. AWE’s participation in trade missions has fuelled this passion and showcased the exceptional ideas and talent that can be shared to build innovative, viable solutions to challenges around the world. This year’s Business Women in International Trade mission to the WBENC Conference and Business Fair brought me back to Detroit, which holds a special place in my heart after living there for too short of a time. “Lifting all boats” was especially meaningful when I looked across the Detroit river at our Canadian flag in Windsor and thought about all the trade that moves across the busy border between our two countries.

People often ask me what I love about the Motor City. It really is simple, I loved the people I called friends and the determination, scrappiness and resiliency of a city that continues to fight to rise from the ashes of very difficult economic times and reinvent itself. As someone who has experienced dark times in Alberta during busts in our economic cycle, I can appreciate the importance and difficulty of facing this challenge. The Detroit I admire is a proud, resourceful city full of a beautiful mix of diverse, hard-working, and innovative people who work hard to improve their community because they love where they live, similar in many ways to Alberta, the place we call home.

Working together to achieve goals is something we live everyday at AWE; whether it is through our relationships with entrepreneurs, partners, volunteers, funders, or amongst our team. There is such value in building meaningful connections to achieve success. For example, on the trade mission I witnessed and participated in an incredible amount of inspiring and informative conversations from which you could feel the energy created, and see relationships and opportunities being formed.

It is impressive to see how a community gathers to support each other, to learn, to make new connections, and to embrace change and opportunities. I hope you’ll join me in continuing to work together to lift all boats, especially those with women entrepreneurs at the helm, to build success for Alberta businesses and our community.

Always with gratitude

Client Feature: Ellen Christopherson

Ellen Christopherson is the CEO of clearGRID. clearGRID is focused on data collection and analysis to solve business problems for utility companies. By using technology to replace manual activities with automation, Ellen is paving the way for significant change in the utility industry, one meter at a time.

Ellen Christopherson is proof that age is just a number. At 31 years old she has started two successful companies, earned her private pilots license, and completed her Master’s Degree in Sustainable Energy Technology in Holland.

“After graduating from my Master’s program, I decided to stay in Holland and work in the utilities industry. My job was focused on data and custom software solutions and from there I was able to really understand how the utilities industry works.”

After some convincing from her dad, Ellen decided to move back home to Canada where she started Elevated Robotics, a company that provides UAVs (drones) for surveying, mapping and inspections. The use of these aerial images and video found Ellen back to her utility roots, and she quickly realized that she had a new business solution on her hands.

In 2015, Ellen launched clearGRID. Rather than using drones, clearGRID uses their fleet of aircraft and pilots to fly at 4,500 feet above ground to read utility meters.

Financing from friends and family helped clearGRID get off the ground, however, in 2017 they realized they would need more capital in order to reach new heights.

“It has been hard to find financing for the business if you don’t want to give up everything right away. With most private equity companies and angel investors, you quickly find that everything is owned by someone else. I was strict that I wanted to stay in control of clearGRID. That’s when I came to AWE."

Since receiving a loan from AWE, clearGrid has continued to grow, and has secured a contract with their biggest client, ATCO. They are now working with them to read over one million utility meters per month across the province.

With international expansion on the horizon, clearGRID is showing no signs of slowing down. They now have a team of 20 people, and Ellen plans to expand extensively across North America in the next three to five years.

“My advice to anyone just starting out, especially in the innovation space is that sometimes it takes 100 no’s to get a yes. Keep trying and re-invent your business model with feedback. Everything you do in business is an experiment, not a failure."

To learn more about Ellen and clearGRID, visit

Why You Should Take Branding Seriously

by Jocelyn Davis, The Virtual Effect

It took courage didn’t it? You needed to be courageous enough to believe in your business idea and maybe even more challenging was to find the courage to believe in yourself. To believe that you are more than capable of making this happen. To believe that you are enough to make your dream a reality. It isn’t always going to be pretty and glamorous like many social media feeds lead us to believe it is, but when you are doing what lights you up it will absolutely be worth it.

Now that you have made the decision to go for it your to do list grows exponentially and the overwhelm sets in. With all that you need to do why is branding so important and why does it deserve your resources?

You know who you are, you know what your business is about, what you stand for, and the impact you want to make on your clients, but the question is, do you know how to effectively and consistently communicate this? You may fear choosing the path and focus that is authentically you as it might drive people away and you’re right, it will. But this is nothing to fear, this is what you need to embrace as it will draw in the right clients and elevate the overall experience.

Branding is the foundation from which this authentic communication of what you do, who you are, and what you stand for is built. Branding is far more than just a logo, it includes other elements such as:

 Logo
 Fonts
 Colours
 Graphic elements
 Brand Believer (my coined term for
your ideal client)
 Brand voice
 Social media handles
 Website address
 Email address
 Customer experience map
 Imagery style guide
 Vision statement
 Mission statement

Some of the above are considered tangible branding elements, some are intangible. The biggest intangible, and the indication of branding success, is how a client’s interaction with you made them feel. You want their experience with you to elicit all of the words you associate with your brand and in order to achieve this you need to do all of the above and more on brand. When you are consistent it builds trust and people will begin to believe what you say and feel like they are getting to know you. And we all know that people do business with people they know, like, and trust.

Here is a quick checklist you can use to assess where you are at in your branding
journey and what might need your attention:

Answer Yes or No to the Following Questions

Do you have a vision and mission statement?
Have you detailed out your ideal client?
Do you have brand colours you consistently use?
Have you identified your brand voice?

If you have answered yes to the above take it to the next level and evaluate your website and social media with the above details in mind. Be objective and don’t be afraid to ask others for their opinion.

If you answered no to most of the above set aside some time to go through the branding process, either on your own or with a professional. By establishing this foundation your communication and decisions become a lot easier.

Happy branding!

About the Author
Jocelyn Davison is the founder of The Virtual Effect. The Virtual Effect provides event
planning and branding services to startups, small, and medium sized businesses.
Impact and experience is at her core as she makes the connection between vision and
image for business owners.

Client Feature: Perla Pereira & Myrna Saramago


We sat down with AWE Loan clients, Perla Pereira and Myrna Saramago to learn more about their new business, Oh My Dog Spa located in Edmonton, AB.

Myrna and Perla were both born and raised in Brazil, however, in 2013, the two met for the first time in Edmonton. 

Perla was temporarily living in the city, while Myrna had re-located to Edmonton full-time with her family. Myrna, a Business graduate and Perla, an Engineer had no idea five years later, they would be opening their own dog grooming salon in Edmonton.

"My family and I moved to the Windermere area and realized very quickly that there were no grooming solutions similar to Brazil. In Brazil, the pet industry is second in the world. Every week you take your dog for a grooming. Here in Canada, it's every four to six weeks. After testing out a number of groomers, we realized what we had in Brazil would be amazing to bring to Edmonton."

While Myrna conducted her market research, Perla worked on obtaining her visa. They found their location and knew that this was going to be the spot for them.

"The builder only had two spots left in this development. He asked if we had a business plan for us to hold the space. I said yes, but I didn't even have it completed yet (laughs). After we had the space I worked non-stop to secure the financing and obtain all the required licenses and certifications. We opened our doors in April 2018."

Securing financing as a new business can be challenging for many entrepreneurs. The two found out about AWE through their personal banker and were able to secure financing with both AWE and ATB to open their business.

"The AWE loan has provided us with the working capital we need to grow the business and maintain our operations. Our Business Advisor has been great to work with and very supportive."

When asked what advice the partners would share to anyone looking to open their own business, both unanimously said: "do what you like and what you're passionate about. If you're doing something just for the money, the chances of it lasting long-term is slim." The two also added that being prepared to work long days in the beginning is essential as is completing market research prior to opening.

"The demand needs to be there. Do your market research and see who and where your competitors are. Location is key, especially as a retail business."

The goals for Oh My Dog Spa in the coming year is to keep operations running smoothly while hiring new employees and grooming 420 dogs per month.

To learn more about Oh My Dog Spa, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

To learn more about the AWE Loan Program, visit our financing page and our requirements.

Making the Most of the Summer Slow-Down

For many entrepreneurs, business slows down in the summertime. Now that you finally have time to breath, how can you take advantage of the extra time on your hands? Here are five things you can do to ensure your summer is both productive and enjoyable:

1. Get planning
Entrepreneurs are often so busy working in the business that they don’t have time to work on the business. If your day-to-day workload is slower in the summer, this is the perfect time to work on business planning. If you haven’t reviewed your business plan recently, you should do so. As your environment and your goals change, your business plan should be updated to reflect this. Summertime is also a good opportunity to focus on strategic planning, reviewing and setting targets for the upcoming year, and make a marketing plan if you don’t already have one.

2. Expand your knowledge
Regardless of how many years you’ve been in business, there is always opportunity for further learning and professional development. AWE is hosting some great summer workshops on topics such as marketing, market research, and accounting. You can check out our upcoming training events here.

3. Catch up with your contacts
Do you ever say “we should have coffee sometime” to a business contact and then never actually meet up because you’re both too busy? If things are less chaotic for you in the summer, this is an excellent time to call or email your connections and build relationships.

4. Support local businesses and the community
Alberta only gets a few months of hot weather so take advantage of it. Visit your local farmers’ market and check out the unique products that are being made close to home. Eat at a food truck for lunch – you’ll be supporting local entrepreneurs and the food is delicious! 

5. Take a break
Entrepreneurs often remark that for them there’s no such thing as work/life balance, so when you have time to relax, take it! There will always be items on your to-do list, but taking a break to re-energize can actually make you more productive. You can’t be your best self if you’re perpetually exhausted. Take a vacation, or even a staycation. Try unplugging for a weekend (or maybe just an evening) and stepping away from those non-urgent emails.

How do you spend your time during the summer slow-down? Let us know in the comment section below!

5 Things to Consider Before Applying for Business Financing

As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably considered financing at some point for your business. Whether it’s money to help start your business or grow your business, working capital is essential for business owners. At Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) we provide loans from $30,000 to $150,000 to help entrepreneurs start, build and grow their businesses. While many entrepreneurs are eager to apply for financing, many do not qualify. What is the reason for this?

Many entrepreneurs apply for financing, yet only a small percentage of them are actually ready for financing. How do you know that you are ready to apply for financing for your business? We’ve highlighted five important things to consider before applying for your business loan.

1. Business Plan

A business plan is essential to your loan application, regardless of if you are just starting or looking for money to expand. A business plan shows lenders that you have truly thought this through and have a clear, actionable strategy for growth. A good business plan should include:

  • An executive summary;
  • Extensive market research proving the rationale behind your company;
  • Marketing plan displaying how you plan to gain traction and earn sales;
  • Operations plan showcasing the management team, your administrative practices and more; and
  • Financial summaries, including projected cashflow for the next two years.

Writing a business plan can be an extensive task. AWE offers regular business plan workshops in addition, we highly recommend utilizing Futurpreneur’s Business Plan Writer. This templated system allows you to fill in the blanks for your own business plan.

A good business plan should be 20-100 pages. The more detailed you are in your plan, the more clearly a lender can evaluate the business and it’s projected success.

2. Security

All lenders require some form of security for loans. At AWE we require a minimum of 30% security on our loans. Sometimes, we may ask for up to 100% security. This means that we ask applicants to pledge some form of assets as collateral for the loan, whether it is your property, vehicle or other form of asset.

We work closely with our loan clients to ensure the health and viability of the business. In the case that you cannot make your loan payments, we do have the right to take possession of the asset used as collateral to regain some, or all, of the amount originally loaned.

3. Owner Equity

Almost all business lenders require some form of owner equity for their loans. With the AWE loan program, we require that applicants have contributed a minimum of 25% owner equity on the total project costs. Here’s what we mean:

If you are asking for a loan for $100,000, we require that you, the business owner show that you will be putting in $25,000 or have already put money into your business worth this amount. Why? By contributing the 25% you are showing your lender that you are willing to invest and take on some of the risk as well. 

4. Credit Score

Your credit score is a record of your past ability to make your payments as required and manage your credit. Each lender has a different score they look for when it comes to loans. At AWE, our business owners must have a minimum credit score of 650.

We recommend requesting your credit score via Equifax prior to applying for lending in any form.

5. Business Activities That Cannot Be Financed

While each lender is different, there are a few commonalities on what banks will and will not finance when it comes to business loans. A few items that AWE will not finance include:

  • Owners salary;
  • Re-financing existing debt;
  • Commission-based businesses, independent agents or commissioned salespersons;
  • Pyramid-based businesses, including multi-level marketing programs;
  • Franchise Fees;
  • Speculative ventures; 
  • Intangible goodwill (i.e. business name or reputation);
  • Research and development; and
  • Purchase of stocks, shares and other non-productive investments.

If you have questions about financing for your business, we would highly encourage you to connect with an AWE Business Advisor or your financial institution to learn more about the requirements and how to ensure your loan application is successful. 

Accessing Federal Grants for Exporting

Changes to CanExport?
Did you know there have been changes to the CanExport grant?  If you were previously ineligible because you already had sales in the US or another market, we have good news! The government has modified the rules; small and medium-sized companies are now eligible for the CanExport grant even if they have had sales in the target market (aka country). 

Thus, you can be eligible for CanExport as long as you have had less than $20K sales per annum in the target market in the last 24 months, or if the target market represents less than 10% of your international sales.

What is CanExport?
CanExport is a federal government grant for small/medium size businesses, with annual revenues within the $200K-$50M range, who are interested in developing new export markets.

The grant can cover up to 50% of your market development expenses for new market development.  Expenses such as business travel, trade fairs, market research and adaptation of your marketing materials for new markets are eligible.  Note that there are ineligible expenses.

This is a 50/50 matching grant to a maximum of $100K. For example, if you spend $200K in market development activities, you may be eligible to receive up to $100K from the CanExport grant.  

CanExport is definitely a good opportunity for small businesses interested in exporting and there is a lot more to know about it. For more information, check out the CanExport program here.

What is the AgriMarketing program?  
Note: If your products or services are related to agriculture, you may not be eligible for the CanExport grant. However, you should check out a similar grant through Agriculture and Agrifood Canada’s AgriMarketing program

About the Author

Kath Britton, MBA, CPA CMA, is the Director, Business Development for Women’s Enterprise Centre. Women’s Enterprise Centre is the leading business resource centre for women entrepreneurs in BC, providing business loans, skills training, mentoring, advice and resources from its three offices in Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria.

WBENC 2018 in Detroit, Michigan is the place to be!

You will want to attend this year’s annual WBENC Conference and Business Fair if you are a woman business owner and you have:

  1. Visions of growing your business via export;
  2. Interest in or already had experience selling B2B and/or;
  3. Capacity to manufacture in larger volumes. 

The WBENC Conference and Business Fair is the perfect opportunity for women business owners in all industries to connect and talk with buyers and supplier diversity specialists of Fortune 500 companies about how your business could become one of their suppliers. Many U.S. corporations are interested in buying from women-owned companies. This year’s WBENC is being held in Detroit, Michigan. To take in all of the events, you will want to arrive in Detroit by late afternoon on Sunday June 17 and head out on Thursday June 21. The Business Fair is on Wednesday June 20th.  

To register for WBENC 2018, it’s as easy as 1…2…3. 

  1. Get on with booking your hotel room and paying your WBENC registration. Hotel rooms book up fast and registration is limited so do it sooner rather than later. Here’s the link.
  2. Also sooner rather later, connect with BWIT. BWIT is the federal government’s Business Women in International Trade program. Let them know you will be attending WBENC 2018. For the 10th year in a row, BWIT and the provincial women’s enterprise centres (WEC-BC, AWE, WESK and WECM) are working collaboratively to provide you with opportunities to find potential export markets. The sooner they know you’re attending WBENC, the more connections they may be able to find for your business. 
  3. Let your provincial women’s enterprise initiative (WEI) staff know you’re attending. If you’re in:

WEC - Women’s Enterprise Centre in British Columbia  

AWE - Alberta Women Entrepreneurs

WESK - Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan

WECM – Women’s Enterprise Centre Manitoba

You do not need to have supplier diversity certification to attend the WBENC Conference and Business Fair. However, it can be helpful to know what supplier diversity certification is before you go to this event as you will hear the term mentioned many times and you will probably be asked if you are a certified diverse supplier. Don’t know what that means, talk to your WEI staff; they will explain this “strange but true” opportunity.  

Finally, if you’re interested in growing your business via export but this whole blog post is super-confusing to you, start with point #3. Contact your provincial women’s enterprise centre; they will answer all your questions and help you decide what’s best for you and your business. 

This blog post was written by Nancy Brommell, Business Advisor with the Women’s Enterprise Centre Manitoba. The western Canadian women’s enterprise initiative (WEI), funded by the federal government’s Western Diversification program, works collaboratively each other and the Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) to support women business owners interested in growing their businesses via export. 

Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Announces 2018 Award Recipients

Edmonton, AB – Yesterday evening Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) announced the recipients of the 2018 Celebration of Achievement and Entrepreneur Awards at a reception in Edmonton. The annual AWE Awards recognize women who have made a significant contribution to the business community in Alberta.

Since it began in 2012, the program has expanded to honour one Celebration of Achievement recipient as well as female business leaders in three other categories: Emerging Entrepreneur, Emerging Innovator and Upsurge Entrepreneur. AWE is pleased to announce the recipients of the

2018 Awards:

Celebration of Achievement Award Recipient: Eveline Charles, CEO, Eveline Charles Hair Salons and Day Spas

This award pays 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.

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.

AWE Upsurge Award Recipient: Amanda Hamilton, Founder and Creative Director, Amanda Hamilton Design

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.

Celebrated for her tenacious and vibrant persona, Amanda Hamilton’s bold and unconventional approach to design and business has made her one of the most sought after interior designers in Western Canada. With over a decade of experience, Amanda Hamilton Interior Design has earned a diverse and extensive portfolio including custom residential homes, multi-family developments, restaurant, office and retail design.

AWE Emerging Award Recipient: Sylvia Cheverie, Owner, Chartier

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

As an homage to her culture, Sylvia wanted to introduce French cuisine to her hometown of Beaumont, Alberta. She completed a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise a portion of the capital required to open the French-Canadian restaurant named “Chartier,” which to-date is the most successful restaurant kickstarter in Canada. She acts as a mentor and advocate for other entrepreneurs and local businesses in the area.

AWE Emerging Innovator Award Recipient: Dr. Gina Cherkowski, Founder and CEO, STEM Learning Lab

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

Dr. Gina Cherkowski is an educational game changer on a mission to ensure all students have access to high quality STEM learning experiences, so they are aptly prepared for our technology-rich world. Dr. Cherkowski believes that all kids can and should be proficient in math as well as the other STEM fields and fights to make this a reality through her work at STEM Learning Lab and Million Women Mentors.

Quote from Alberta Women Entrepreneurs:
“We believe outstanding women deserve to be celebrated. The recipients of this year’s awards have made impactful contributions to their communities and Alberta's economy, and we are proud to recognize them as business role models and inspiring members of our community.”
- Marcela Mandeville, CEO, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs

Quote from Presenting Sponsor, ATB Business:
“Congratulations to all of the incredible entrepreneurs who were named recipients of the AWE Celebration of Achievement and Entrepreneur Awards this year. Small and medium sized businesses are essential to driving our economy forward and the diversity of this year’s finalists showcases what a world class entrepreneurial centre Alberta has become. This year’s winners are each helping to grow our province in their own unique way and ATB is proud to support them and other female entrepreneurs in partnership with AWE.”
- Teresa Clouston, Executive Vice President, ATB Business & Agriculture



Client Feature: Sonia Egey-Samu


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

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.