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

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

Find out how WEI lending is making a difference!

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

3 Reasons You Should Attend Learning Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Learn best practices to grow your business

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

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

Questions about the event? Reach out to us

Register today!


Interested in Export? Trade Missions are Key

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 8.47.00 PM.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional key highlights in the report include:

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

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

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

Media Relations Contact
Stephanie Woods
647-270- 7833

Client Feature: Claire Theaker-Brown


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Would you recommend entrepreneurship to a friend?

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

Q: What have you learned from other entrepreneurs?

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

My first Canadian phone call was to AWE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for 2018 – Thinking Back to Move Forward


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

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

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

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

Reflection questions

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

Other tips for reflecting on your previous year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who has the time to talk tech?

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

A familiar story

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

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

Digital transformation, defined

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

Canadian digital transformation stories

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

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

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

What about you?

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

Community Round-Up

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

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

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

Everything You Wanted to Know about Co-Working!

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

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

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

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

Co-Working Organizations in Edmonton

Co-Working Organizations in Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

How to Master the Art of Follow-Up

Post-Trade Mission Follow-Up
An effective follow-up procedure should be planned in advance before you attend a
trade mission. Follow-up should be frequent, consistent and should focus on building a
business relationship.

(Business Women in International Trade, The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service)

Best Practices for Follow-Up Success:

1. Make Time for Follow-Up

  • Don’t procrastinate! Set aside time in your schedule before the trade mission to organize your follow-up plan and put it into action when you return.

2. Organize your contacts

  • Intentionally organize your contacts in a way that will fit into your systems and align with your goals.
  • Ask the following questions to prioritize your contacts: Is this connection useful? How is this connection useful? Will they help you expand your network? Is this connection a possible sales lead?

3. Establish a follow-up procedure

  • Make an effort. Reach out to the connections you felt were the most valuable. Do research to figure out the best method to connect with your contact.
  • Be specific. Remind the person you are contacting about when you met and what the outcome of your conversation was. Try to use the same language from your initial conversation during the trade mission for your follow-up.
  • Ask for permission. Ask your contact when the best time is for you to contact them and how much of their time you can take. Ask if they require any further documentation for your follow-up, such as your capability statement.
  • Be persistent. Create a calendar system that will remind you to follow up with your contact and follow-up! Be sure to meet timeline expectations as promised.
  • Ask for a connection. If this isn’t the right contact for you, don’t be afraid to ask for the right person.

4. Set Goals

  • Be sure to set both short term and long term goals that you hope to achieve by working with your contact.
  • Review your goals. Have you met your goals or are there some goals you would like to reset for the future?

Dr. Linda Miller – Gaining Access to New Markets

Linda established EWI Works in 1991, a company that provides innovative ergonomic services and solutions to businesses locally, nationally, and internationally. She was a finalist for the 2016 AWE Upsurge Award.

In 1991, Linda established EWI Works, a company that provides ergonomic services and solutions to businesses. After 25 years in business, the team had become experts in their field, but Linda realized that gaining access to markets beyond Alberta’s borders would require new approaches through technology to extend the company’s reach. The decision to invest in innovation created a big shift in the business. Linda notes, “we really know our service business and yet, we’re like a start-up in the software realm.”

In 2015, Linda took part in AWE’s PeerSpark™ program. “We were now with a group that could support us in a logical pathway to make these decisions to change a business stream,” she said. “It felt like, to be absolutely honest, a safe place. We were able to actually talk about some of the concerns we had without feeling like somebody was going to judge us.” With AWE’s support, Linda and her team will be able to expand her business into the United States and beyond. To support this expansion, Linda secured a loan through AWE, which helped her business growth immensely. “I didn’t realize all the available financing options,” she said. “I think it’s quite common for female entrepreneurs to self-fund. I would do lots and lots of jobs, save up the money, and then self-fund the next step.” In addition to AWE financing, AWE’s team introduced Linda to other financial resources to support her efforts to build a market for the company’s new technology.

Continuous learning and adapting to new challenges are not new to Linda. She began the business with an Occupational Therapy degree and in order to better understand how products were developed she completed her Master’s in Environmental Design followed by a Ph.D. in Occupational Therapy from Boston University. Her curiosity and adaptability are two of her biggest strengths as a leader.

Her visionary approach to growing her business was captured in her selection as a finalist for the 2016 AWE Upsurge Award. “If there’s a new technology or a new way of doing something, I’m not scared to go out and try it.” Linda said. An example of this is seen in Linda’s interest in expanding EWI Works into the United States after twenty-five years inside Alberta’s borders.

“I went on a trade mission with AWE last year to understand the market and how people do business in the U.S.,” she said. “We’re going to want to penetrate into Europe and Australia down the road as well.” The team at AWE has the utmost confidence that Linda and her team at EWI Works will quickly become experts in their new field. 

We're hiring a Business Advisor!

AWE is looking for a Business Advisor with a strong business background, sense of understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities that business owners face, a desire to assist women entrepreneurs, and a passion for building community to join our Edmonton team.

The Role

  • Helping clients achieve their dreams by providing advice and solutions
  • Following up and responding to inquiries
  • Planning and facilitating quality learning/training sessions for groups of entrepreneurs
  • Promoting AWE programs and services
  • Staying informed of relevant programs, services, information, and resources
  • Maintaining open lines of communication and collaborating with team members and community partners
  • Keeping client information up to date in our CRM
  • Completing reporting requirements well and on time

Desired Skills, Experience and Attributes

  • Degree in business or related field or equivalent combination of diploma in business with 2 years of experience
  • Strong business acumen and understanding of small business and entrepreneurship
  • Flexible in the hours you work to meet client needs and willingness to travel
  • Continuous learner
  • Relationship builder and connector
  • Excellent communicator (French language skills are an asset)

A combination of education and experience will be considered.

How to Apply
Send your cover letter and resume to with subject line Advisor by September 12, 2017. Resumes will be reviewed as they are submitted. Only suitable candidates will be contacted.

About Us
Alberta Women Entrepreneurs is an organization dedicated to enabling women to build successful businesses. We provide unique programs and services to women in business through mentoring, advising, financing and skills and network development.

You Don't Have to Go It Alone: 5 Reasons Joining a Peer Group Can Be Beneficial for Entrepreneurs

Who do you go to for advice and support? Who do you bounce business ideas off of? Who pushes you to think bigger?

If you don’t have an answer to these questions, maybe it’s time to consider peer mentorship.

Peer mentorship is a way for entrepreneurs to discuss their goals and challenges, and learn from each other. Unlike a traditional relationship between an experienced mentor and a more junior mentee, peer mentorship takes place between people who have similar levels of expertise and similar concerns. Having a peer group of like-minded people provides emotional support and encouragement, while providing access to a variety of ideas and perspectives.

Without a strong network, entrepreneurship can be isolating, and at times lonely. Being surrounded by your peers in a safe and supportive environment can be really valuable to both you and your business.

Here are five benefits to joining a peer mentorship group:

  1. You might find out flaws in your strategy. Even if you have a business partner or employees that you can brainstorm with, there is a benefit to gaining an outside opinion. Peer mentors provide a fresh perspective and this allows you to realize potential problems with your strategy and make changes. “Other entrepreneurs have a special insight and mindset that is hard to find. They willtell you what may not work and provide unbiased feedback. They are not your customers and they are not your competitors.  The entrepreneurial group allows you collaborate on ideas,” says Shannon Lenstra, President of Kon-strux Developments Inc., and an alumni of AWE’s peer mentorship program.
  2. Create more holistic long-term plans. With a peer mentorship group you receive a higher level of feedback on your business planning, and you get to hear a variety of perspectives. With more people to bounce ideas off of, you are less likely to have gaps in your decision making.
  3. They can provide you with the confidence to push forward, and to fail. No entrepreneurial journey is without mistakes. Being surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs can boost your confidence and encourage you to seize opportunities, without being held back by the fear of failure.
  4. Build long-term relationships. Unlike a contracted business advisor or consultant, peer groups build community. Many entrepreneurs maintain relationships with those in their peer mentorship group long after the formal program has ended.
  5. They don’t just care about your business, they care about you. Running a business can be stressful at times, and other entrepreneurs understand that! A peer group can provide that emotional support and allows you to talk openly with people you can trust.

How do you find the right group for you?

Talk to other entrepreneurs in your network, and ask them if they’re in any groups and what their experience has been like. Inquire with various entrepreneurial service providers in your community and see if they offer a group of their own, or if they can recommend any for your stage of business.

Finding a good fit might take some time and you might have to try a couple groups out before you commit to something. If you’re interested in a peer mentorship program aimed at women entrepreneurs with a strong desire to grow their businesses, be sure to check out our program. Applications for fall intake are currently being accepted.

Already have peer mentors? Share your best tips on finding mentors in the comments!

Client Feature: Tessa Martin

We sat down with Tessa Martin, Owner and Registered Psychologist at Serenity Now Wellness Center in Calgary to learn more about her new location, how she juggles her business and raising a family, and her experience with the PeerSpark™ program. 

Q: Tessa, tell us how you started Serenity Now Wellness Center

In school, I always knew I wanted to have my own private practice. It's a goal for many other Registered Psychologists. When I was finishing my residency, I decided to skip getting a job (since I was used to making no money!) and jump into my own practice as a solo practioner. This was in 2008 right before the downturn of the oil and gas industry. While many businesses were failing, I got busy- really fast! We are the opposite of most markets. When there's a downturn in the economy, there is an increase in the number of people seeking mental health services. 

In 2010 I decided to expand to a new location and bring on other practioners into my business. I knew by expanding I would have more leverage and not have to solely rely on my own income as I continued to grow the business.

In April 2017, we opened our newest location that offers both mind and body wellness and I am very excited about it! We now currently have 14 contractors working for the company.

Q: What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur?

A: It is definitely managing and motivating people. This is a completely different skill set! I would have thought as a psychologist that this would have been a natural skill but it is very different doing it as a psychologist and doing it as an employer. I am constantly re-inventing the wheel and finding ways to motivate those within my company to work harder and more effectively.

             The new Serenity Now Wellness Center is located at 1934 9 Ave SE in Calgary, AB.

             The new Serenity Now Wellness Center is located at 1934 9 Ave SE in Calgary, AB.

Q: What's the best part of being an entrepreneur?

A: (laughs) Being an entrepreneur is crazy at times, but one of the best parts is not having a limited income. I feel like if I was in a job, I would feel stuck and not as free. With having my own business I can always take on more clients, innovate and find new streams of income to add to my business.

Q: How do you juggle being a Mom of young children and a business owner?

A: I am always mindful. I make sure that my kids aren't getting the short end of the stick. It's so important to be present as much as possible, however it doesn't always happen. I've been really good at setting clear boundaries for my work and my home life. I make sure that weekends don't include meetings or clients and that I am checking my phone minimally. 

Q: How did you hear about AWE?

A: My Mom and Sister were building a business at the same time I was. They were looking for different resources to help them succeed and that's how I found out about AWE. In the beginning, I started out with $5,000 loan and since then have used every service possible. 

The ladies in PeerSpark™ are my life line. When I need encouragement the most, I reach out to them for words of wisdom.

Q: What have been some key takeaways from the PeerSpark™ program?

I joined the program in 2016. I've learned so much from it, but most of all it comes down to being really clear on the business side of things. This includes being more strategic in determining my growth plan. In my education, there wasn't a business component. I would read a book here, and take a webinar there to help learn as much as I could about running a business. PeerSpark brought the business knowledge together in a more coherent way. 

Another amazing part about the program is the other women entrepreneurs. The ladies are my lifeline. When I was transitioning into the new space, I was feeling overwhelmed. I sent out an email to the group for words of encouragement and had an influx of emails back. Those positive words kept me going. It's nice to be surrounded by women that actually know what it's like. We are all working towards growing our businesses, not just stay complacent.

Be sure to follow Serenity Now Wellness on Facebook and check out their website If you're in the Calgary area, stop by their new space and check it out.

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

Mission Accomplished!

Last month, AWE accompanied four Alberta-based, women-led businesses to the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Las Vegas. They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but I am too proud of our delegates and what they accomplished not to share!

The BWIT trade mission to Las Vegas offered the chance for women business owners from across Canada, including our Alberta delegation, to explore the opportunities of expanding their businesses into the international supply chains with supplier diversity programs.

To prepare for the conference, we helped our delegates prepare a strong, impactful business pitch and capability statement to connect effectively into this network. On the ground, they had the opportunity to get to know Fortune 500 companies, other Canadian businesses, as well as businesses from China, India, Mexico, and the UK.

Our delegates made the most of this opportunity and initiated new business relationships or learned quickly that their targeted connection was in fact not the right fit for their business and they could pivot their focus elsewhere. Some of the best connections were made through informal conversations with new contacts and resulted in the potential for both sides to expand their business through strategic collaboration.

I was so impressed with this group of business owners who had really done their homework and were laser focused on identifying the right opportunities for them to grow their business. We will continue to work with each of these women to conduct follow up with their targets. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish!

If you’re interested in exploring a new market opportunity in a supported and organized environment, join us on our next Trade Mission, Go for the Greens, in September in Florida.

Happy sunny summer everyone!


How to Know When to Fire a Customer

The customer is always right. We hear this business cliché time and time again, but do we ever stop to think if it’s actually true? We’re here to tell you that it’s not! The customer is most definitely not always right, and it’s important to be able to fire a customer in the same way that you would fire an employee who is causing the company grief.

Some customers are simply not profitable, or cause more of a headache than they’re worth. You shouldn’t be trying to please everyone because this is ultimately a waste of time, energy, and resources. You’re better off understanding who your profitable customers are, and how to attract more of them. When you are attracting the right customers who are in line with your brand and what it stands for, you will be providing better service and fostering loyalty with these customers. The more loyal your customers are, the more frequently they will come back, and the more positive word-of-mouth they will spread.

So how do you know when to fire a customer?

  1. The customer abuses company policies and drains resources. Every business has experienced the customer who takes advantages of warranties, return policies, or sampling. These policies have been put in place to ensure great service for customers who will in turn be loyal and come back. If a customer is continually taking from a business and it is apparent that they will not be converted into a satisfied customer, they need to be politely turned away.
  2. The customer delivers a much lower return on income than others. This situation is more difficult to spot because the customer is not intentionally causing any issues. However, in the long-run your employees are utilizing more resources to serve this customer than the customer is contributing back in return. They can usually be phased out by reducing the amount of effort employees invest into them over time, which will guide the customer out the door without any hurt feelings.
  3. The customer abuses employees. Some customers can be real jerks, and it doesn’t matter how much they are spending with your business if they are draining employee morale while doing so. The toll this takes on employees will decrease productivity and leave them wanting to quit. You may suffer a short-term loss in revenue but in the long-run you will have created a more sustainable, profit-generating environment.

Now you’ve decided to fire, but how?

First and foremost you want to ensure you aren’t going to generate negative word-of-mouth by firing a customer unfairly or unprofessionally. Follow the next three steps to settle things amicably with the ex-customer.

  1. Try to clarify disagreements. Take the customer aside and communicate to understand both sides of the story. The customer may be acting out because they feel they have been wronged by the company. Don’t mistakenly fire a customer because they are upset with your service, and if there was a service mistake on your end, it’s important to rectify it. If you were not in the wrong and they are still upset, empathize with them, but explain rationally why you cannot help them.
  2. Be professional. Use a polite tone of voice and calmly explain why the business will not be a good fit for them in the future.
  3. Suggest alternatives. Guide them to a business who may be a better fit for them so they leave feeling like they have another option.

Most importantly, learn from the experience and define why the customer was a bad fit so that you can avoid getting into similar relationships in the future.

Client Feature: Alex Favret

Alex Favret LowRes.jpg

We sat down with Alex Favret, Founder of Powerhouse Print and former PeerSpark™ participant to learn more about her business, her adventure in growing a business and raising a family, and her experience with AWE.

Q: Tell us how you got started with your business?

A: I’m a serial entrepreneur! I started out in the event industry back in 2001 and those connections eventually led me into opportunities in the print world. I’m now also expanding my reach with my latest venture, Powerhouse CMO.

Q: What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?

A: The people and the flexibility. Each day I get to interact with interesting and inspiring people who I challenge me and help me grow. I also love the flexibility of my schedule which allows me to be nimble for my clients, while also not missing out on important moments in my children’s lives.

Q: Speaking of families, tell us how you balance raising a family and running a business?

A: The most important thing for me is staying diligent. Even though I often work from my home office, I am conscious of setting regular work hours and limiting distractions. My kids are officially on summer holidays now, but that doesn’t mean that I get to hang at the pool with them every least not all day!

Q: How did you get involved with Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)?

A: My relationship with AWE started back in 2007 when they purchased a conference for women that I produced (which is now their Learning Day). From there, I have continued to work with AWE on their printing needs and I also became a member of PeerSpark™ in 2013. I am currently in the PeerSpark™ alumni program. AWE has also hired our Powerhouse CMO team to be their outsourced marketing department.

Q: What would you say was the most valuable takeaway from the PeerSpark Program for you?

A: Most definitely the insights from other entrepreneurs within the program. Everyone has taken a different path and is able to offer sage advice for situations you might currently be facing. I also loved the facilitated discussions, particularly the Colours Workshop from Juna Consulting. That session gave me great insights on working as a leader and collaborating with others.

Be sure to follow Powerhouse Print on Facebook and Twitter and check out their website

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



Client Feature: Tracy Fortin

We sat down with Tracy Fortin, Founder of Flawless Interiors and current PeerSpark™ participant to learn more about her business, what she has gained from the program and what it takes to work with your spouse every day.

tracy fortin.jpg

Q: Tracy, tell us more about your business.

A: I once heard my job described as a conductor of a highly aesthetic orchestra.  I love that – and it’s so true.  Really what we do, is take people’s needs and wants as they relate to their home or office spaces and turn them into plans that can be implemented.  Our clients are super busy and don’t have time to be running around from supplier to supplier to determine what will function and look the best in their space.  So whether they are renovating an entire home, building a brand new home or remodeling an office – we take that stress off of them right from the start all the way to the finish.  From permit ready architectural drawings to the last placed accessory – we make sure their design projects are done right.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced as you started to grow?

A: By far, knowing when the right time to hire has been the biggest challenge, and still is.  Getting comfortable with making mistakes helps.

Q: What advice do you have for those looking to run a business with their spouse?  

A: Get really clear on each of your roles right from the start.  Define expectations and be sure to hold to each other accountable.

Q: How did you find out about AWE? 

I attended a Learning Day event and met an AWE staff person who was promoting the PeerSpark™ program.  I knew it was exactly what I needed at that time for my businesss.

Q: What is your biggest take away from PeerSpark

A: Being the architect of your own life takes fearlessness and a vision for your life plan.  You have to believe you can achieve and on the days that you don’t, have people in your corner who can believe for you.  That’s what PeerSpark™ is.  We were all in similar places emotional even though our businesses varied so greatly.  We are constantly lifted each other up and motivating each other to keep going.

Q: Who do you go to for advice? 

A: Well aside from my PeerSpark™ ladies, I read a lot.  There are so many inspiring books that have kept me excited about both running a business and the design industry.  My most recent favorite book is called “In the Company of Women” by Grace BonneyIt’s filled with inspirational advice from  female entrepreneurs around the globe.  I also have other friends who run their own businesses – so it’s a hazard of being an entrepreneur that we are constantly taking to each other about ways to do business better.

Be sure to follow Flawless Interiors on Facebook and check out their website

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