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Should your business be exporting?

Wendy Cukier advises not to leave this opportunity untapped.

Thanks to Canada’s 14 free trade agreements, your business can benefit from preferential access to approximately 1.5 billion consumers. And when it comes to exporting, women are catching up with their male-counterparts fast. Wendy Cukier,  Founder, Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute, shares her insights.  


By Wendy Cukier


Research has confirmed that women entrepreneurs face barriers at many levels. For example, one study found that when identical pitches were made by men and women, investors chose to invest in the man 60% of the time and in the woman, just 30% of the time.  

The difficulty in accessing capital is a perennial challenge for female entrepreneurs that forces them to be more creative in how they can attract growth capital. For instance, many women use personal equity to fund their businesses. Entrepreneurs like Delores Lawrence, for example, who founded her multi-million-dollar healthcare company by using $5,000 of her Canada Savings Bond.

And increasingly, women entrepreneurs are exporting to new markets, taking advantage of Canada’s 14 free trade agreements. That means preferential access to approximately 1.5 billion consumers from markets like the European Union, the United States, Asia and Latin America. In fact, a study by Global Affairs Canada showed that when it comes to exporting, the gender gap is closing and women are catching up with their male-counterparts fast. 

Women like Myra Sable, whose company Sable and Rosenfeld exports its gourmet food products worldwide, and Lyse Moreau, whose company Safety Clothing exports high-quality safety clothing to Mexico. 

All women should be exporting if their product lends itself to it because it makes good business sense. There are more customers in more densely populated countries for one thing, and diversifying your customer base protects your company and helps you weather economic downturns. Additionally, exporters are more productive, more competitive and according to some studies, 25% more likely to grow. And of course immigrant women entrepreneurs tend to export more than their Canadian born counterparts, leveraging their global knowledge and expertise. 

When you ask women-owned businesses why they aren’t exporting — a question that the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub is currently studying with its partners — they’ll tell you that they worry about risk. They’ll also tell you that they don’t necessarily know when to start or how to identify the international opportunities, navigate the rules and regulations, or form the partnerships they need to succeed at exporting.

There are so many excellent resources to help you export, from Trade Accelerator Programs at your Chamber of Commerce; to CanExport, a program that will pay for your market research; to the slew of programs provided by Export Development Canada (EDC); to the Magnet Export Portal; or the Business Development Bank of Canada’s Business Women in International Trade Program, all available and actively seeking more women entrepreneurs like you. And associations like the Organization of Women in Trade (OWIT) are always available and willing to support you with peer mentoring and advice. 

Exporting has never been more accessible than it is now with low cost and high return e-commerce platforms that provide a window to a world of potential customers — whether it is Etsy or Alibaba, e-commerce is changing the game by taking gender out of the equation and letting the goods speak for themselves. 

If you’re a woman entrepreneur, you already have grit and you’re certainly industrious and innovative — it wouldn’t be like you to leave an opportunity untapped.

So here are three tips to get you started: First, call up EDC and ask them if exporting is right for you. Second, ask your local Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade or OWIT how they can help you. Finally, build your networks: find an entrepreneur with exporting experience and ask for their advice. The world, after all, is your oyster.