How Lisa Will launched Stonz and turned it into an international brand

Stonz was launched in 2004 by Lisa Will after she discovered a need for simple yet functional outdoor gear designed specifically for kids. Beginning with the Stonz Bootie, over the years Lisa has continued to grow the product line, guided by customer feedback and her own experience and needs while raising two children. With the goal in mind of keeping kids outside longer, comfortable and protected, Stonz now offers a variety of footwear, accessories, and apparel sold in over 16 countries. 

 


 

What inspired you to start STONZ?

I had always wanted to have my own business. I had run disco lessons, many garage sales, drink stands and summer schools as a kid. Although the latter was not very appealing to my sister, I had the bug even as a youngster!

The STONZ bootie came from multiple struggles I’d had with getting my son’s chubby feet into warmer footwear — and then having the shoes or boots stay on became my next challenge! The final straw was up at Whistler, Canada and it was about -7 Celsius. I had Lachlan (my son) in a backpack carrier. He was about 9 months old and he again had kicked off his little shoes and began working on his socks. Being cold he started to cry and then scream. We were a few kilometers into our outing, and we couldn’t turn back.

I began looking for something that could go on over his shoes — and stay on — and also be used outside if I put him down. I couldn’t find this item I had imagined anywhere. I had used outdoor slippers while camping, and thought that their concept of two toggles could would work well for little ones. 

I later met up with someone who had tried this approach, and we set out to make it happen on a bigger scale. Stonz was born in 2004 with the first booties being made for the Vancouver Gift Show.

 

You started in STONZ in 2004 with just one product, and now you have several product lines sold in over 16 countries. What do you think enabled you to grow into the success you are today?

I feel it was being in touch with what a parent needed and solving what their challenge was. I don’t believe in making more stuff — the world has enough! What I want to do is have Stonz give more time to kids and their parents outdoors. This means making the best and most simple gear to do just that. Every piece we do is designed specifically for kids, taking into consideration their movements, safety, outdoor play and desire for freedom.

 

What was the biggest lesson you learned through all that growth?

Don’t introduce things too quickly, but also don’t wait too long to change things up. It’s a challenge finding that balance of wanting to keep current and refresh, and having the original DNA as an integral part of the products we make. We need to be commercially viable but not deviate from building long lasting products that are tested through and through at labs and by kids and their parents.

 

Women entrepreneurs often have trouble securing funding. How have you been able to finance the growth of your company?

I unfortunately have fallen into that category of not being able to secure backing from a commercial bank. Where I have had help was Women’s Enterprise Centre, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), and Export Development Canada (EDC). EDC have supported me immensely the past 18 months. Having someone believe in you and support your vision has significant impact and serves as fuel and confidence to try new things.

 

“You must believe; believe that there is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and that it’s possible to get to that pot, and the journey in getting there is worth enduring because it will be quite a journey.”

 

This year, you participated in the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle of Innovation program. What tech problem were you tackling?

We were struggling with having too many systems. I am a big believer in systems and technology and also in planning your growth so you’re able to scale successfully. I knew we had adopted many systems but no longer could work with so many. The program enabled us to research an ERP system suitable to our stage now and growth into the future. We ended up trying several programs and selecting one which is going into implementation as we speak. A live date is scheduled for March 1, 2019 and represents a big turning point for us in integration and efficiency.

 

As part of the program, you were assigned to work with Brandon as your intern. What did he tackle for you?

We needed someone to research our needs and wants for an ERP system and also what is in the market. Brandon did just that — he also helped us transition from our e-commerce platform to Shopify. This too was a big move and went well with his support and technical help.

Brandon was fabulous! He came with parents that owned their own business so he understood what it was like being pulled in many directions in trying to both run a business and also grow the business. He is a 3rd year Engineering student so obviously bright, but he has personality and character and commitment beyond his years. We were fortunate to have him come out to Vancouver for a week. He fit right in like he’d been here for some time. Even bowling!

 

Would you encourage others to get involved as you have with this program?

I think the program is fabulous. As a smaller entity it can be costly to have interns working with us. Even the time can be tight, since everyone at a small business is normally fully occupied and wearing many hats, making it difficult to train someone of Brandon’s caliber properly. He made it very easy due to his initiative and desire to learn and also be helpful to us.

 

How has technology helped your business?

We thrive on it. I find even as I get older I’m excited by systems, apps, efficiency technology… even the phone wallet! I feel the same within Stonz. If we can be doing things day-to-day in a more efficient way I’m wanting us to look at it. We were using 16 different systems/apps and are now down to 11, mostly because many now integrate around our more crucial systems like our ERP or our B2C sales platform. Tech has allowed us to do more with fewer people, and look like a big company while doing it. I’ve been told numerous times that the types of systems we use are not often adopted by businesses at our stage or size. To me this is a compliment.

 

What keeps you inspired today, both as a designer and a business owner?

As a designer I love solving problems. I find I see the world a little differently. When I look around I see prototypes. I notice when something could be tweaked or changed slightly to make it extraordinary. I know not every product is meant to be extraordinary but I am really frustrated with the rate at which products are being made with little regard for their usefulness or long lasting properties. I feel by making something long lasting we are at the very least being earth aware.

I am excited when I get a phone call from a customer who has an 11-year-old bootie and just needs to have a toggle sent to her as the one on her passed-down bootie finally wore out. That to me is success as not everyone was meant to have brand new goods.

 

What piece of advice would you give to other aspiring women entrepreneurs?

You must believe; believe that there is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and that it’s possible to get to that pot, and the journey in getting there is worth enduring because it will be quite a journey.

 

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps, or try the BDC digital maturity assessment tool to find out in less than 5 minutes where your business stands compared to your peers, and how you can improve.

 

Out of the Box: How Heather Stewart transformed a supply chain service provider into a shipping software pioneer

When Heather Stewart took over at BBE Expediting a supply chain service provider and logistics company serving the Canadian North she knew she needed to diversify the “feast or famine” business. So they developed the GoBox app to enable carriers to bid live on shipping jobs, with the expectation it would be used by their own customers. But interest keeps growing, and with two successful white-label launches already complete, Heather is excited for the future of the platform.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

Growing up, Heather Stewart always knew she wanted to be a part of the family business.

In the early 80s, her father bought BBE Expediting, a supply chain service provider and logistics company serving the Canadian North, based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Heather and her brother spent their summers working alongside their dad, doing everything from cleaning warehouses to driving forklifts to loading planes with goods for transport.

“When you work for a family business, the common thing people think is, ‘Oh, you must have it good, working for your dad,’” says Heather, now President of BBE. “But actually, you don’t, because the expectations are higher with you over anybody else. We had to learn how to work hard and it was tough, but I definitely learned the business from the ground up.”

Heather fell in love with the business, but her father encouraged her to see what else was out there. After a degree from Mount Royal University in Calgary and a few years of outside experience, Heather found her way back to BBE in 2005. Her father sold the company in 2007, but Heather’s journey at BBE was just beginning. In 2011, the new owners asked her to be President of the company. Two years ago, she and four others on the management team did a buyout and became the owners of BBE.

“Now it’s majority-owned by women, which is very cool, especially in an industry like ours which has been male-dominated, through and through,” says Heather. “It’s a very unique part of our business.”

As a supply chain service provider, BBE provides logistics and freight services to the mining, airline, oil and gas and construction industries, focusing on remote areas in Canada’s North. In addition to their Yellowknife headquarters (and other locations in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories), they have strategic hubs in Edmonton and Ottawa, which are flight gateways into the Arctic.

While BBE has been going strong for four decades — they moved close to 70 million pounds of freight last year — there have been challenges along the way, says Heather.

“The tough part is that the North can be feast or famine. It’s based on resources and market price and getting environmental approvals to see projects going ahead,” she says. “It can either be foot on the gas or all on the brake, and so we had to figure out how to diversify the business.”

That desire to diversify BBE led to the development of GoBox, software that Heather says is “a little bit like the ‘Hotels.com’ of cargo.” With the GoBox app, users can enter a shipment going from point A to B, and all of the carriers in BBE’s network that could possibly pick up the shipment will live-price it, allowing the user to select the best deal.

“We said, ‘Let’s bring that network of carriers that we use everyday to our customers and let them pick what they want to move, at the cost they want to pay,” says Heather.

They initially designed GoBox thinking it would just be used in-house for their customer base, but interest started coming in from all over. Air carrier Canadian North asked them to white-label GoBox for their cargo network, which launched under the brand Fetchable in February. Canadian real estate company Ivanhoe Cambridge enlisted BBE to develop a white-label version of GoBox to power a “shop-and-ship” service in the Edmonton International Airport shopping mall. That product launched this past May.

“It’s happened pretty fast,” says Heather. “It’s been a flurry of activity just to get the two products to market and it’s been a big push.”

The development of GoBox was the reason BBE first began working with BDC, Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs. “We were figuring how we were going to pay for all this R&D,” says Heather. “And they actually support tech innovation through loans, which very few banks or institutions will do.”

BDC supported them with a technology loan, and asked if they would be interested in applying for the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle of Innovation program, which matches female business owners with internship students from the University of Waterloo.

“I said yes, 100 per cent,” says Heather. “We have a whole bunch of people here who are really good at logistics, but not that tech-savvy. So we really wanted to help move our GoBox program forward and we thought tapping into Cisco would be a fabulous way to do it, and it really was.”

This summer, the Circle of Innovation enabled them to bring on an intern from the University of Waterloo, Stanley Wong.

“We had a project planned for the summer for him to work on, but he really outperformed anything we could have ever expected,” she says. “He was able to tap into the resources at Cisco really well for us and to move things along really quickly.”

Stanley worked on developing and improving BBE’s GoBox technology, completing projects like system load testing and building business cases to help BBE assess different technologies they would need to support and scale the system.

Heather says Stanley’s work was a huge benefit for the company, and she would recommend the Circle of Innovation program to any entrepreneur looking for a leg up.

“It’s a horse in the race that you didn’t have before,” she says. “It gives you someone to take on projects that are either currently in the queue, or projects that are sitting there and you know you need to look at. It was a real gift for us.”

With two new iterations of GoBox now in the market, Heather and her co-owners at BBE have lots of ideas about the future of the platform. The team is currently working on a strategic plan they will roll out in 2019.

“We’re not sure which direction it’s going to take,” she says. “But we’re pretty excited about it.”

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps, or try the BDC digital maturity assessment tool to find out in less than 5 minutes where your business stands compared to your peers, and how you can improve.

 

Being Fearless: How speaking up and embracing change has brought Martha van Berkel success in a new market

As the co-founder and CEO of Schema App, Martha van Berkel is helping organizations of all sizes to be found more easily on the Internet. Now a leader in the market with their tool that automates schema markup (the language search engines read), Martha traces her success back to an outspoken personality, and an ability to pivot.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

When Martha van Berkel was growing up in Vancouver, her father gave her some advice that stuck.

“He said, ‘Martha, you’re very outspoken, and I wouldn’t change a thing about you,’” says Martha. “And then he said, ‘Use it to your advantage.’”

As an entrepreneur working in the lightning-fast tech industry, Martha lives by that advice every day. She says that business ownership is a great fit for her personality because she likes being in full control of her company’s destiny and she’s not afraid to make herself heard

“I’m a person who likes to make decisions quickly, move fast and just get things done,” says the Guelph, Ontario based co-founder and CEO of Schema App. “I don’t want to wait six months for twelve people to make a decision.”

Martha is a passionate evangelist for her company’s central product, Schema App. It’s a tool that automates schema markup — the code marketers need to put into a website to help search engines read and understand content. Schema markup is based on a global vocabulary developed in 2011 by Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex — the Russian search engine —called schema.org. Companies who adopt schema markup perform better in organic search and have improved engagement across their website, while also being ready for voice search.

Schema App helps marketers ensure their website content is being explicitly understood by machines, Martha explains. This can include everything from simple Google searches to digital assistants like Siri and Alexa to machines talking to each other via the Internet of Things.

“Our software allows marketers to do that at scale, and without having to be technical or engage their IT team,” she says.

Schema App’s target market is mainly large enterprise and marketing agencies, says Martha, but their clients can range from Canadian small business owners to large U.S. health networks. Regardless of their size, these clients all have one thing in common: They are companies who rely on people finding their information on the Internet.

The concept for Schema App came from Martha’s husband, Mark van Berkel, who is a semantic technologist by trade. He began “noodling,” she says, and ended up creating the first iteration of Schema App. At the time, Martha was working at Cisco. But after taking maternity leave in 2013 with her newborn daughter, Ruth, Martha decided she wanted to make the leap with Mark into entrepreneurship.

At first, they ran a digital marketing agency, consulting with small and medium-sized businesses. But they soon realized the real future of their company was Mark’s app. So they pivoted, right around the same time Martha had her second child in September of 2015.

“We rewrote our website overnight and released our first product in 2016,” she says. “But it hasn’t been until 2018 that the market’s been ready, and now we are leading the market in how to do it at scale.”

Being a CEO is not without its challenges, says Martha. In fact, launching a business with a young family was “probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. Martha recalls the day when she had her second child in 2015.

“I took a customer call at 11am, then another one at 12pm. And I said, ‘You know, I don’t think I should talk to you, because I think I’m in labour.’ I gave birth at 5:00pm.”

Martha went back to work building her company after just two months off, with the help of some part-time childcare in the home. “It really is a different rhythm in entrepreneurship,” she notes.

When she got invited by Cisco to join the Women’s Entrepreneurs Circle (WEC) last year, Martha says it felt like “coming back home.” After graduating from Queen’s University in 2000 with a degree in mathematics and engineering, Martha landed a job at Cisco as a customer technical support engineer. It was the first of a series of positions at Cisco over 14 years, ranging from product management to strategic initiatives to senior management positions in global operations and technical support.

Cisco was a great learning ground to prepare her for her current role as CEO of her own company, she says. “I’m so thankful for the skills I learned at Cisco in strategic planning and in leadership.”

Being involved in WEC has been a three-pronged opportunity, says Martha. Firstly, she gets to continue her relationship with an organization she knows really well. Secondly, she gets to take advantage of resources, such as WEC’s internship program where they pair University of Waterloo students with female entrepreneurs. And thirdly: “The salesperson in me said, ‘Hopefully I can find someone from Cisco to buy from me,’” says Martha.

The WEC program has enabled Martha to bring on interns for two years, and she says it’s been a great benefit to the company. “They really did contribute to helping us accelerate initiatives that otherwise would have fallen by the wayside.”

Last summer, intern Jenny Jin did some branding and marketing work to help them raise their profile, particularly in preparation for approaching enterprise. This year, intern Brandon How-Tein Fat completed a project in four months that Martha says would have taken them six to 12 months to do on their own.

“We wanted to create a metrics dashboard that pulls from all of our data sources,” she says. “So he’s helped us move away from very siloed metrics to being able to look much more broadly at our metrics.”

Of being a woman in the male-dominated tech industry, Martha says she feels fortunate that she had many “amazing male mentors” who were very supportive throughout her career at Cisco. She notes that she’s also forged strong relationships with female colleagues along the way. For example, she meets every month with a group of female founders she met at the Fierce Founders Accelerator, an initiative of Waterloo, Ontario based tech hub Communitech.

“We solve problems, share wins and there’s lots of tears and laughter,” says Martha.

In her view, there’s no limit to what women can accomplish in the tech world.

“Is there a glass ceiling? I don’t think there is. I think we make choices, like having children, that take us out of the running for some things and that can be a disadvantage,” she says.

But women can overcome any challenges they face by being “greedier” about demanding and articulating what they want, both in their day-to-day work and in their career as a whole, says Martha.

“I think men tend to just ask for what they want,” she says. “My advice to women in tech would be: Don’t be so shy to say what you need and just ask for what you want. I think that will serve us all better.”

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

 

It’s in her nature: Why Allison Christilaw chose serial entrepreneurship over partnership in a professional services giant

When Allison Christilaw and her husband sold their successful management consulting firm to Deloitte, she was taken on as a partner in the firm. A few years later she was striking out on her own path to create Reddin Global — and she’s still on that journey today.  

 

 


 

By Shelley White

 

Allison Christilaw is a born entrepreneur.

She and her husband, Doug Emerson, successfully ran a management consulting firm, Managerial Design Corporation, for 18 years, helping leaders across five continents run their own organizations more effectively. When they sold their company to professional services giant Deloitte in 2011, Allison joined Deloitte for a few years as a partner. Deloitte was a great company, she says, but the fit just wasn’t right for her.  

“My sister-in-law at one point told me, ‘You’re a terrible employee,’ because I just kind of like to do my own thing,” laughs Allison, now CEO of Reddin Global in Oakville, Ont. “I work well with my partners. And in a smaller business you can you have a huge influence over the organization, whereas you feel like just a number in a large organization. I like to strike out on my own path, and my husband’s the same way.”

After leaving Deloitte, there was only one thing to do: start a new business to develop and grow.  

“As entrepreneurs, you don’t ever say, ‘Let’s just go to the beach,’” says Allison. “You say, ‘What do we do next?’”

Allison and Doug created Reddin Global in 2015, with the aim of creating tools to help managers run their teams more effectively. Doug has largely left the business to do consulting, and Allison is at the helm of Reddin Global as CEO. The company’s main product is the Emerson Suite, a SaaS mobile platform that helps companies manage their teams more collaboratively, with objective-setting, action-planning, time management and other prioritization tools at their fingertips.

“It’s designed so that there’s transparency across the team,” says Allison. “So if you and I are teammates, we can see each other’s objectives. It’s a tool to get everyone focused on the right things and holding each other accountable.”

Allison says their clients tend to be medium-sized organizations, though they work with some smaller and larger enterprises as well.

“We’re still new, so we’re still trying to get our marketing and targeting right,” she says. “It’s hard starting a business and getting all those things clear. It’s an ongoing journey of learning and pivoting while trying to keep investors happy.”

One big source of support for Allison in her entrepreneurial journey has been BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada). She first got involved with BDC when she and Doug were looking for some funding for Reddin Global in the first year of the business, says Allison.

“We took a loan out from them, and the terms were very favourable for us given where we were as a business,” she says. “And I must say they’ve been great about staying in touch and keeping an open door. They’ve been quite supportive.”

On recommendation from BDC, Allison got involved in the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC), an initiative that aims to help women become more successful entrepreneurs by addressing some of the obstacles they face. According to Industry Canada, female-owned SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses) exhibit lower growth than male-owned SMEs. And the 2013 Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) showed that the majority of women founders struggle to access the capital, technology, networks and knowledge they need to scale their business.

Allison is participating in WEC’s Circle of Innovation program, which pairs female entrepreneurs with engineering students from the University of Waterloo in order to help them build their digital strategy and scale their business.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” says Allison of being involved with the Circle of Innovation program. “I’m also a huge believer in supporting young people and helping them get started in their career the right way. It felt like this was a good thing for us, but also for the student that we are bringing on.”

They’ve been working with their intern, 19-year-old engineering student Kira Wadden, since May, and Allison says it’s been a positive experience for all. “She’s fantastic,” says Allison. “We’ve had her working primarily with our UX [user experience] developers and she’s very capable. Without a lot of direction, she’s undertaken some projects, such as an accessibility audit of our website, and she’s done some really great work for us.”

Allison says she would definitely recommend the program to other entrepreneurs.  

“If all of the students are like Kira, you have nothing to lose,” she says. “And it’s great to have a young person on the team, sitting in on conversations, contributing their views on the product.”

As for Allison’s future plans for Reddin Global, she says they will continue to grow the business and expand their client base. She says the support of organizations like BDC and Cisco has been important, especially as she navigates the many challenges of marketing and scaling a growing technology company.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s fun too. I wouldn’t change anything,” says Allison. “I remember when I was leaving Deloitte, one of the partners said to me, ‘Are you nuts? Why are you giving this up?’ But I need that freedom of driving something forward, and knowing that it’s mine to drive.”

 

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

How Believing ‘Girls Can Do Anything’ Has Fuelled Erin Gertner’s Career

 

Erin Gertner is not afraid of a challenge. A successful IT sales professional, she is driven by achieving lofty end goals, and proving that despite working in a field of predominantly male colleagues, her gender does not hold her back. To what does she owe her unstoppable attitude? Environments — from her high school to her employer, Cisco — that unabashedly celebrate the power of women.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

For Erin Gertner, every career challenge has a silver lining.

She remembers a time earlier this year at Cisco when she juggled two jobs at once. While transitioning into her current role as Leader, Commercial Acceleration for Canada, Erin was still performing the duties of her previous role – Regional Manager for Territory in Central Canada. She started to feel overwhelmed, but then made a conscious decision to toss out any negativity and reframe the situation as a valuable learning experience.

“I just kept saying to myself, ‘I’m going to develop so much by the end of it,’ and I really do feel that way now,” says Erin. “It was such a great lesson for me to realize that there is a silver lining in everything that happens.”

It’s that kind of positive attitude that has helped Erin become a rising star at Cisco and a passionate champion of women in technology.  

Born and raised in Toronto, business is in Erin’s blood. Her grandfather and father were both entrepreneurs, and her mother was a pioneer in the business world, leading an organization that sold chocolate products within the George Weston Group.

“[My mother] got an MBA in the 70s, and she was very progressive and worked my whole life,” says Erin. “So I wanted to follow in [my parents’] footsteps. I just wasn’t entirely sure what that would look like.”

After getting a Bachelor of Commerce at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Erin got a job at Cisco, becoming one of very few women in sales at the time.

“I just fell in love with sales,” she says. “I loved the fact that I was in control of my own destiny. And I worked on some really cool deals over the years, putting wireless in malls and helping them enter the digital age.”

Though she started her career in a predominantly male environment (and went on to become the first female sales leader in Canada at Cisco), Erin says she never felt as if her gender was an impediment to her success.

I went to an all girls high school [Bishop Strachan School], so I was very comfortable going after what I wanted,” she says. “Their slogan was ‘Girls can do anything,’ and I think I was bred to really believe that.”

Erin says she felt encouraged to develop and grow her career from the very start at Cisco. In an environment where people were invested in her success, she benefited from mentors over the years – both male and female – who helped inspire and guide her career.

“I was very lucky to have sponsors,” she says. “I probably wouldn’t have applied for the role of [Regional Manager for Territory in Central Canada] had my boss not come to me and suggest I was somebody he thought could lead. He recognized something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”

After over 10 years in direct sales (eight as account manager and two as regional manager), Erin has moved to the strategy side of the business. As Leader of Commercial Acceleration at Cisco, she develops and leads Cisco’s strategy for growing their overall commercial business, focusing specifically on small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) – a big priority for the company.

 

“He recognized something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”

 

Erin points out that according to Statistics Canada, of the 1.17 million employer businesses in Canada, 98 per cent are small businesses (1 to 99 employees) and 1.8 per cent are medium-sized businesses (100 to 499 employees). “So it’s about, ‘How do we capture that opportunity?’” says Erin.

She’s excited to help SMBs get to where they want to go.

“I think SMBs, like all companies, are looking at how to digitize their business and give their customers the best experience,” she says. “But unlike larger companies, SMBs don’t always have the resources to invest in technology. So we offer a suite of purpose-built, affordable solutions that are simple to use, secure, reliable and scalable. I think it’s a great niche in the market and an area we can do so much more in.”

Erin’s also dedicated to supporting female enterprise in Canada. She’s involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC) – an initiative that aims to help female-led businesses scale and grow.

“Many female founders struggle with access to capital, technology, networks and the knowledge  they need to successfully grow their business,” she says. “The aim of WEC is to help bridge the gap by providing female entrepreneurs with increased access to technology, knowledge and resources.”

WEC operates three programs for female entrepreneurs. The Circle of Learning provides free online training courses on topics like Linux, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cybersecurity. The Circle of Innovation pairs University of Waterloo engineering students with female entrepreneurs of high-growth SMBs. And the Circle of Productivity gives female business owners access to Cisco technology.

Erin points out that Cisco supports women in its own organization, too, through initiatives like Connected Women, an employee resource group (ERG) that helps female employees develop their skills. There’s also Girls Power Tech, a mentoring initiative giving girls 13-18 the chance to learn first-hand about career opportunities in information and communication technology (ICT).

In order for more women to end up in executive roles at technology companies, we need to encourage girls to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in the first place, says Erin. Managers also need to “think outside the box” when it comes to recruiting. Erin notes that Cisco Canada president Rola Dagher often talks about hiring for EQ (Emotional Quotient) rather than IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

“How do we find people who we know can be successful, but maybe don’t have a technology background?” says Erin. “We can certainly teach them technology, as long as they want to work here and have the right set of skills.”

Having benefited from mentors and supporters throughout her career, Erin says she tries to “pay that forward” by championing talented young women she sees coming up in the organization.

“I think it’s important to push people into uncomfortable places and let them know they have potential,” says Erin. “They need to know there is opportunity for them to become a leader.”

 

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps, or try the BDC digital maturity assessment tool to find out in less than 5 minutes where your business stands compared to your peers, and how you can improve.

Leading by example: How Laura Didyk, VP at BDC, is supporting Canadian women entrepreneurs

Laura Didyk

 

Laura Didyk has spent more than two decades at The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). The supportive environment has allowed her to achieve success — and now she’s paying it forward, acting as National Lead for BDC’s Women Entrepreneur Strategy, helping the next generation of women leaders excel.

 

by Shelley White

 


 

 

In her 23 years at The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Laura Didyk has had a lot of mentors, both women and men, who have inspired and guided her along her career journey. One piece of advice from an early mentor stood out:

“It was, ‘Do what works for you and your family, and never apologize for the choices you make,’” she says. “There’s no one-size-fits-all. You have to decide what shape you want your career to take, and just go with it.” 

It’s advice that appears to have worked. Laura is now Vice-President, Finance and Consulting, Alberta South, at BDC, the only bank in Canada dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurs.

“I had two kids, I’ve been on maternity leave twice, and BDC has been really supportive when it comes to work/life balance and helping me juggle both parts of my life,” says the Calgary-based executive on the challenges of being a woman in business.

“That’s what’s kept me really loyal to the bank — they ‘get’ the fact that employees do have lives outside the bank and they are as important, or more important, than their careers inside the bank.”

As National Lead for BDC’s Women Entrepreneur Strategy, Laura is “paying it forward,” by helping the next generation of women leaders succeed.

“BDC believes that women entrepreneurs have enormous untapped potential,” says Laura. “So we provide the financing, network and management advice they need to invest in their companies and grow.”   

 

“BDC believes that women entrepreneurs have enormous untapped potential”

 

Laura first got involved in supporting women entrepreneurs in 2015 when BDC unveiled their initiative to better support women and their businesses. They committed to lending $700-million to majority women-owned businesses by 2018, and not surprisingly, ended up exceeding that goal.

With that in mind, they’ve kicked off their Women Entrepreneur Strategy for the next three years. It’s a comprehensive approach to supporting the needs of women entrepreneurs by offering a full spectrum of financing, advisory services and capital solutions. The lending target for women-owned businesses has been doubled to $1.4-billion, including a $200-million Women in Technology venture capital fund to help boost the number of women leading tech startups.

It’s an ambitious target says Laura, to match the ambition of women entrepreneurs across the country.

“Simply put, supporting women entrepreneurs is a priority for BDC,” says Laura. “Women entrepreneurs are becoming a driving force in the Canadian economy. About 50 per cent of all businesses started today are started by women. And women make up almost half of the entire workforce, a number that keeps increasing.”

Laura says that although she believes women have come a long way over the past few years, there are some hard realities that need to change. She points out that women are under-represented and under-funded, particularly in the tech startup ecosystem.

“We need to change the fact that only 5 per cent of Canadian technology companies have a woman CEO,” she says. “We need to change the fact that women make up less than 10 per cent of skilled production workers in Canada, and that only 16 per cent of all small and medium-sized businesses are majority-owned by women.”

Also, small and medium-sized businesses owned by women earn less than half the revenue of comparable male-owned businesses. Laura notes that part of this is a function of industry vertical — many women operate specialized consulting and service-oriented businesses that can be considered “boutique” in size.

 

“About 50 per cent of all businesses started today are started by women.”

 

“But that’s not the whole story,” she says. “Women often have a higher awareness of risk which can impact their decisions to seek the capital they need to accelerate the growth of their businesses. Negative perceptions about dealing with banks and other institutions lead many to avoid looking for external sources of funding.”

Laura says organizations like BDC can help change that negative perception. And BDC is ready to support ambitious women entrepreneurs.

“We want people to understand BDC’s role in supporting women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses and that we are here to help them succeed in today’s competitive environment,” she says. “The real challenge is getting more of them to know that we exist and that we can help.”

To ensure they are accessible for women entrepreneurs, BDC surveyed nearly 400 Canadian women business owners in late 2017. Laura says one of the things they heard was that women entrepreneurs want help in managing and growing their business, but they are often too busy to seek it.

“It can be lonely being an entrepreneur. They have to wear a lot of hats and get stuck working in their business and not on their business,” says Laura. “For women entrepreneurs, it can be even worse because there aren’t a lot of women entrepreneurs, so they may not have the network that men have. Time is very important and if you own a business and have a family at home, it’s difficult to get out to networking events and associations.”

In response, BDC is offering one-day boot camps across the country to help women entrepreneurs develop their management skills. To accommodate women who might not be able to meet in person, they’re offering free online learning on bdc.ca, including articles and tools women entrepreneurs can use to fine-tune their business knowledge.

In an effort to increase coaching for women entrepreneurs, BDC is also supporting hundreds of networking and learning events across Canada, specifically for women entrepreneurs in all industries and all stages of growth, says Laura. For example, to extend BDC’s reach and create a cohesive ecosystem, they’ve partnered with the Women Enterprise Organization of Canada (WEOC), which has a network of more than 90,000 female business owners across the country.

“We are all working to put the puzzle pieces together and support women,” says Laura.

Another important part of BDC’s commitment is the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle program — a way for participants to adopt technology and keep ahead of the competition, says Laura.

“Women are able to receive in-depth advice for a whole summer at no cost, so it takes away that barrier right there,” she says. Internship students from the University of Waterloo are paired with women entrepreneurs to help build their digital strategy and scale their business. The interns get a “real-world” learning experience, and business owners get to learn from the sharpest young minds.

“We’re helping build stronger businesses and the next generation of women in tech, so it’s a win-win situation,” says Laura.

But while BDC’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy will go a long way to support women entrepreneurs, Laura points that this is not enough. A recent study — “Everyday Innovating: Women Entrepreneurs and Innovation” (sponsored by BMO, Government of Canada, Carleton University and the Beacon Agency) — found that all partners in the business ecosystem, including government and financial institutions, play a critical role in changing their practices to support women entrepreneurs.

“BDC is committed to doing just that and lead by example,” says Laura. “We will not shy away from using our size and market position to influence others to join us in our efforts to inspire more women to become founders and business owners.”

More organizations need to realize that these kinds of efforts are not just good for women, she notes.

“When women succeed, we all succeed,” she says. “At the end of the day, the Canadian economy as a whole is going to win.”

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles female-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kick start your journey towards business success.

Twelve Entrepreneurs Confess: How will technology be changing their business for the better?

These 12 women entrepreneurs agree: technology has the power to change a business. As participants in the Cisco Circle of Innovation program, they’ve been paired with engineering interns to help build their organization’s digital strategy, scale, and impact in the marketplace. They’re sharing how their business will be getting better through technology this year — could it help your company, too?

 


 

Lara Autio, Experience

Lara Autio is the President (and owner) of Experience, an IT staffing solution company specializing in staff augmentation for time and material contracts and IT Project Staffing. Her company services the North American market from their IT Center of Excellence in Montreal a technology hub specializing in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Her website is ready for a refresh, so she plans to focus on digital marketing design and development.

 

 

 

Lise Snelgrove, This Space Works

Lise Snelgrove left her role as a marketing director in the telecommunications sector to pursue her business idea full time: giving innovative brands a simple way to transform their beautiful meeting rooms into powerful marketing tools. As co-founder and CEO of This Space Works, Lise places a strong emphasis on technology and innovation. Her plan is to implement a virtual assistant who will connect business clients who need meeting space with the beautiful offices of synergistic companies, creating a unique way to discover and connect with innovative brands around the world.

 

 

 

Tiffany Clark, Elements Mortgage Team

Tiffany Clark has worked in the finance industry for more than 14 years, entering the mortgage broker network in 2009. She now leads the Elements Mortgage Team under the banner of The Mortgage Group (TMG), helping homeowners in Grande Prairie, Alberta with their finances based on their unique needs. To help continue to grow her business, Tiffanywants to share her brand messaging through social media and search engine optimization.

 

 

 

 

Chantal Levesque, SHAN

Chantal Levesque founded SHAN in 1985 — a company that specializes in haute couture bathing suits, leisure wear, and accessories for both men and women. As president and designer, Chantal Levesque has been instrumental in transitioning SHAN from a promising company based out of Laval, Quebec, to a renowned luxury brand available in over 30 countries. With such impressive growth, SHAN is investing in a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, integrating an online platform and digital archiving.

 

 

 

 

Heather Stewart, BBE Expediting Ltd.

BBE Expediting Ltd. has been moving cargo into remote areas of Northern Canada for four decades. Under the leadership of Heather Stewart — president since 2011 — the logistics company has been reorganized and restructured, increasing their skills and knowledge of best practices of supply change management. Providing freight services to the mining, airline, oil & gas and construction industries, Heather understands that she can get a competitive advantage by staying on the leading edge. Her goal is to integrate the GoBox technology platform into BBE’s shipping services.

 

 

 

Rhonda Hewko, Elkan Environmental Engineering 

Rhonda Hewko is the president and owner of Elkan Environmental Engineering, based out of Grande Prairie, Alberta. She has nearly two decades of experiences as an environmental consultant and engineer, and the consulting company she founded has been providing environmental and wastewater engineering services in Western Canada since 2010. Rhonda is looking for new solutions for her company’s network.

 

 

 

 

Nicole Smith, Flytographer

Nicole Smith’s entrepreneurial inspiration came while she was on vacation with her family. She went on to create Flytographer, the first global marketplace connecting travellers with local photographers for fun, candid vacation shoots. The venture has been successful: as founder and CEO, Nicole has built a community of hundreds of local photographers in 200 destinations around the world. She’s looking to continue the growth with website development, including enhanced features for Flytographer’s booking application.

 

 

 

Allison Christilaw, Reddin Global Inc.

Allison Christilaw has more than 25 years of entrepreneurial experience. After selling the
management consulting company she was a partner in to one of the Big 4 firms, Allison once again took on a leadership role as CEO of Reddin Global Inc., home of The Emerson Suite — a technology platform offering a complete suite of mobile management tools for leader-managers to accelerate the performance of their teams. Integration with Microsoft and other business platforms is the next development focus, with the aim of enabling teams to work seamlessly.

 

 

 

Erifili Morfidis, iRestify

Recognizing that the cleaning industry was trailing behind many other industries in technological advancement, Erifili Morfidis co-founded iRestify, an online platform that provides an easy way to book and manage a trusted and insured cleaning service. By integrating advanced workforce management and logistics tools, the company has modernized the way in which commercial and residential customers hire cleaning experts, and made the market more efficient. Erifili plans to continue web development to improve their platform and their reach.

 

 

 

Debra Van Dyke, Frilly Lilly

In 2005, Debra Van Dyke opened the first Frilly Lilly boutique in Alberta, specializing in waxing, manicure and pedicure services, along with the distribution of signature bath and body care products. With the support of her children, Jeremy and Lisa, Debra has grown her business to include several locations, with products in stores across Canada. Debra’s biggest focus for 2018 is to establish a competitive advantage by leveraging technology. This includes revamping their website and  implementing an SEO strategy, streamlining computer and device management for all locations, and implementing a chat system for customer service — all while ensuring there are strict security and privacy protocols for employees and customers.

 

 

 

Martha van Berkel, Schema App

Martha van Berkel is a co-founder and CEO at Schema App. Schema App is a software as a service that translates content at scale to be understood by search engines and voice search resulting in increases in organic traffic and higher quality leads from their website. Prior to starting the business, Martha worked at Cisco for 14 years as a senior manager responsible for Cisco’s online support strategy. She leverages her experience at Cisco to partner with digital marketers at Enterprise and Global Digital Marketing Agencies to translate their brand at scale for machines. During this co-op,  Martha is looking to introduce more automation to scale and mature her operations and marketing.  

 

 

 

Lisa Will, Stonz Wear

It was Lisa Will’s own experience as an outdoorsy mom that inspired her to create Stonz Wear, a Vancouver company making high quality baby and kids’ footwear and apparel giving parents more time outdoors with their kids. Launching with the Stonz Bootie, the brand now offers a broad range of functional, innovative, and stylish products for all seasons — sold in over 500 stores and in over 16 countries. Stonz is already using technology to create its products, track their progress, market, engage with customers, understand their needs, ship and track product, and better service and surprise customers once they’ve purchased. Lisa’s goal is to continue to embrace technology whenever she can — it’s helping Stonz achieve its goal more quickly of being the go-to outwear for kids and baby.

 

 


 

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

 

 

Maximizing Potential: How Cisco and BDC are opening doors for women entrepreneurs

 

 

Women entrepreneurs represent just a small segment of business owners in Canada, but their numbers and impact are growing — and their potential is even greater. Cisco and the Business Development Bank of Canada have partnered to unlock it, using a unique internship program that’s now in its third successful year.

 

By Marie Moore

 


 

At first glance, the data is disappointing: just 16 per cent of Canadian businesses are majority women owned. They also tend to be smaller and earn less than those owned by men, based on 2014 data from Statistics Canada.

But the trend appears to be shifting. Today, 50 per cent of all new businesses are women-led, according to Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), and the gap between earnings is steadily closing.

The lag that still remains is not due to a lack of ambition. Studies have found a greater proportion of women entrepreneurs plan to expand their business as compared to their male counterparts. Unfortunately, many women struggle to access the capital, technology, networks, and knowledge that they need for a successful expansion — or even to just get their business off the ground.

It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, and not just for the benefit of entrepreneurial women.

“Women-led businesses are good for Canada. A small percent of all Canadian entrepreneurs are female, but we know that these female-led businesses not only boost Canada’s GDP, but also increase national well-being and competitiveness, improve women’s employability, empowerment, and gender equality,” says Rola Dagher, President, Cisco Canada. “Cisco is committed to helping women to become more successful entrepreneurs by addressing some of the barriers they face in building their IT capability and business resilience in this fast paced environment we live in today.”              

Having technical knowledge will not only help Canadian women entrepreneurs sustain and grow their footprint, but it can also level the playing field for entrepreneurs to compete with larger organizations. That’s why Cisco has partnered with like-minded organizations, including BDC, to work together to bridge this technology gap — using innovative and impactful initiatives.

Now in its third year, the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle champions the success of Canadian women leading high-growth businesses by providing them with increased access to technology knowledge and resources. One of the key elements of this initiative is the Circle of Innovation program, which pairs engineering students from the University of Waterloo with women entrepreneurs to help build their organization’s digital strategy, scale and impact in the marketplace. BDC has been instrumental in identifying business owners for the program, which has seen 14 successful partnerships completed so far, with 12 more getting started in 2018.

 

“Having technical knowledge will not only help Canadian women entrepreneurs sustain and grow their footprint, but it can also level the playing field for entrepreneurs to compete with larger organizations.”

 

The 16-week program enables the intern and entrepreneur pairs to address key issues, from technical deployments and challenges to application development, systems administration and help desk functionality. Interns work from the new Cisco Innovation Centre in downtown Toronto, are given access to Cisco’s DevNet developer community, and are provided with Cisco engineer mentoring opportunities throughout. Entrepreneurs benefit from the sustained access to an IT expert — an invaluable resource that enables big picture solution-finding, innovation, and significant development.

“We want to help women entrepreneurs embrace technology and that is exactly what this is all about,” says Maggy Tawil, Assistant Vice President, Partnerships, BDC. “For a third year we are partnering with Cisco to offer this program to some of our women entrepreneur clients. We find it of great value that these entrepreneurs are able to receive in-depth advice for a whole summer from knowledgeable university interns as well as Cisco’s experts.”

The 2018 cohort of twelve women business owners represent industries ranging from fashion to environmental engineering. Each of the entrepreneurs are entering the program with their own unique challenges, and they’ll be looking to technology to help solve them.

Deborah Assaly, who participated in 2017, understood the benefits technology could have for her family business, Paramount Paper. She was paired with intern Deanna Danelon, who worked on creating a website for her new consumer division, a network refresh, and implementing cloud technology — a key goal of Deborah’s.

As Deborah said, “It’s definitely a competitive advantage. As a whole our industry is not very technology advanced. I was very excited to have this opportunity and be one of the first to have improved productivity through modernizing our overall structure with the cloud for internal use. This is sure to have a positive ripple effect to our customers and increase sales.”

.

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles female-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

 

 

Five significant (and possibly surprising) ways that technology can help your business

 

 

Technology is already the heart of your business — and of all businesses. Its infrastructure houses your data and provides access to email, the Internet, and applications. Are you taking advantage of all that it can do for your company?

 

By Marie Moore

 


 

In a BDC study of Canadian entrepreneurs’ investment intentions, technology — including computer hardware, software, and e‑commerce — was cited as the number one area for planned investment in 2017. So, if you are like the majority of business owners in this country, you already recognize technology’s importance. The question is, are you taking full advantage of the ways it can help your business succeed?

Consider the following five areas where technology can make an impact:

 

1. Attracting and retaining talent

If retaining high-performing employees is a priority for your business, it’s time to recognize how much technology can play into employee satisfaction. Consider the frustration caused by using slow, outdated devices, or the gratification and success that comes from having the right equipment to perform their job — in the way they want to perform it. Technology is key to employee morale.  

Especially as the labour force includes more millennials — who value flexibility even more than compensation — the way your employees prefer to work and communicate is shifting, as is their use of and attitudes toward technology. The expectation is that the tech they use for their job will be as intuitive and always-available as their personal devices, enabling simple and seamless access from anywhere. And if you have a multi-generational staff, your business needs to cater to these different work styles and cultures, or risk losing talent to competitors.

TIP: Security and secure access are the most important elements to consider when employees work off-site, and if you haven’t invested in products like Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs), an enterprise mobility management solution, or cybersecurity software, you could be putting your data — and your customer’s data — at risk.

 

2. Taking advantage of sales opportunities

There are inevitably times when your employees come into the office and printer X or server Y isn’t working. If it happens often, it means you’ve purchased an inferior product, or you’ve exceeded the capabilities of your current solution. How can your employees serve customers if they don’t know whether they will be able to use their phone that day or access email?

Even if your organization isn’t missing out on sales through lost productivity caused by aging or inferior technology, there may still be opportunities for upgrades or additions that can lead to actual, quantifiable sales. Consider the benefits of providing instant and intimate connectivity to customers, regardless of their location, using video conferencing, or the advantage of a timely response, enabled by giving your employees access to email and important documents wherever, whenever.

TIP: There’s no reason for your business to miss these opportunities when reliable, secure collaboration and networking products are available at a reasonable cost — and made more so with financing options.

 

3. Tapping into valuable customer data

Have you ever connected your phone to a store’s free Wi-Fi before? Every time you log in — or simply walk by another location — there is a connection made with their server that allows each location to understand internal traffic, street traffic, demographics, popular times, and more. This allows management to proactively staff for the busiest periods, push deals and samples when there is high foot traffic, and decipher what amount of goods they need at each location.  

As more and more devices connect, companies have the potential to collect tons of data that can transform their current business practices and create new opportunities. However, as the name suggests, “big data” can be daunting — and the struggle lies not only in how to best access it, but also in how to use it.

The best place to start is to consider how your business operates, and how you interact with your customers. Are you a retail company with inventory? Do you have a physical location or are you using e-commerce? You could be collecting data on in-store or online orders (or both). You could also be tracking a product’s popularity by region, for example, to understand purchasing trends and enable proper inventory management. Offering Wi-Fi to your own customers enables marketing push notifications for promotions and insight, plus data collection on volume, popular times, and popular locations. The better you can predict, the better and more profitable your business can be.

TIP: It’s technically possible to collect data from every connected device, piece of equipment, and asset — but you don’t have to jump in all at once.

 

4. Managing and making the most of growth

As your business starts growing, you’ll find a host of new opportunities become available — as well as a new set of challenges. Technology, when employed smartly, can help turn more of these nice-to-have problems into major wins.

Expansion could require outfitting a larger office, or balancing an increasingly remote workforce. The key is to evaluate your current space and the ways people interact and work within it, so you can make informed changes for the future. Business growth can also lead to supply chain and sales complexity. You may have started out dealing with a handful of suppliers or a predictable group of customers, only to enter a logistics nightmare as orders increase. When you can no longer rely on eyeballing inventory, it’s time to employ a technology solution.

TIP: As you are making plans for your company’s growth, consider how technology will play a role in that vision. That way, when upgrading your technology products, you can make sure you are addressing the needs that exist today — and the changing needs of tomorrow.

 

5. Keeping you in business

Businesses are rapidly becoming more digital — think about how you hail a ride, book a trip, and the bank account you carry in your pocket — and customer demands for seamless, immediate service are increasing. This is why you should be thinking about digital transformation — applying technology within your organization to deliver more profitable revenue, greater competitive advantage, and higher efficiency – even if you aren’t in the tech industry.

According to Gartner, 75 per cent of businesses will be digital businesses, or will prepare to become digital businesses, by 2020 — but digital transformation will not look the same for each one. What is most important is that you identify the areas within your organization that will most benefit from new technologies, and begin there. These projects will reap you the most success, and provide valuable learnings for subsequent initiatives.

TIP: The best place to begin your digital transformation is with your IT network. Digital transformation is all about using technologies that rely on connectivity — sensors, software, devices, and equipment — to make your business operate faster, simpler, and better than before. Those technologies cannot do what they are meant to do if your IT network can’t handle the data traveling across it.

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles female-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

 

 

Finding Opportunity: How two entrepreneurs got their inspiration from their former occupation

 

Dallas Mercer and Kathleen Mullally both launched their businesses after spotting a gap in the industry where they were employed. Brought together by the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle initiative, we spoke to them about the opportunities that inspired their leap from employee to entrepreneur, and the strategies they’ve used to make their businesses a success — from the services they offer to the technology they use.

 

 


 

Successful entrepreneurship always begins with a great idea. For Dallas Mercer and Kathleen Mullally, that idea came from gaining experience in their respective industries, and spotting an area where a key service was missing, or not adequately provided.

Dallas Mercer founded her eponymous consulting company in 2002. Originally providing disability management services, Dallas Mercer Consulting has expanded to offer occupational health and safety as well as industrial hygiene services to more than 460 organizations in a variety of industries across Canada.

Dallas built up her expertise in the field through a series of positions in her early career. First as a government employee handling workers’ compensation, then as an advisor for employers with the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council, focused on the areas of workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety. Having seen both sides of the equation, Dallas recognized a problem: “Employers didn’t really have the tools internally to know what they were doing and manage the system, and it was costing a lot.”

After her husband’s job transfer prompted a move from Atlantic Canada to Montreal, Dallas found a new role with a firm that was doing something similar to what she thought would be beneficial to employers. She launched Dallas Mercer Consulting just a few months later. “I started the business to help employers navigate the complex workers’ compensation regulatory landscape and sick leave process, and that’s still my focus 15 years later,” she says, adding that helping them manage claim duration and escalating expenses is an easy proposition to sell. “We’re actually no cost to our clients because they save much more than they spend on us, so it just becomes a natural fit.”

When Kathleen Mullally opened The Small Business Specialists in 1986, she had a specific target market in mind for the accounting services her company offers. It all began with a position at another CA firm, where she found she really enjoyed working with small business clients, but couldn’t convince management of the benefits of servicing them better.

“I could see that the advice we gave them was really critical for the operations of their company,” Kathleen explains. “Unfortunately, this company wasn’t interested in helping out the small businesses because the bottom line was their driver, and they weren’t making a lot of money on them. For me, that was a mistake. When small business owners are taught what they need to know, they become big business owners. When you work hand in hand with them, they become partners with you for a very long time after that.”

Kathleen has grown her Calgary-based firm on that premise — exceptional client service, offering more than just day-to-day accounting and financial statements. “My role, as I see it, is an educator. Entrepreneurs have a skill set and a vision, but don’t always have all the knowledge and skills required to make a successful company. Sometimes they need an outside perspective on how they are running the company or hiring, or helping them realize they can’t wear all the hats. They want to be successful, and I can help them be successful.”

Dallas and Kathleen largely credit word-of-mouth for enabling them to continuously add new clients over the years. It’s a benefit “that comes from doing really good work for companies,” Dallas says. But how have they been able to offer the same level of service, even as their businesses have grown? Both women point to technology.

“It is critical that we keep up to date with new technology and education,” says Kathleen. “It allows us to work more effectively, giving us more time to pass our knowledge onto our clients to help facilitate their growth.”

The Small Business Specialists keep their internal operations running smoothly by employing a software solution for their tasking system. This enables Kathleen and her team to know where a file is, who is working on it, what is outstanding, and when it’s due. Dallas and her team use video conferencing to talk to companies across Canada while being based on the East coast, keeping the costs of a national presence down. “Being able to have face-to-face meetings without flying out is pretty critical for us,” she says.

While both entrepreneurs are quick to point out that the use of technology has allowed their businesses to grow and scale, they are also aware that there’s more it could be doing for them. For Dallas, her ultimate goal is to employ technology “to get rid of paper.” She’s been working with Olivia Baker, the University of Waterloo intern paired with her as part of the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle program, to get the process started.

“Olivia’s been helping us with how the individual disability managers can improve some of their systems, creating forms and digitizing them,” Dallas says. “And as we move further in this direction, it will make a big difference from the perspective of being able to have disability managers from across the country communicate with each other and access information. I can’t grow without it.”

Kathleen also hopes to make more processes in her company digital — both internal tasks and paperwork for clients — but her immediate focus is on building a website, something she never felt she needed because of her past success with referrals. “What I realized was, the younger generation of millennials go online and Google everything. They don’t take their dad’s word that this is a good accountant. They want to seek this information out themselves. Because we didn’t have a presence there, what I discovered is that we weren’t getting as many new millennial clients as I would like.”

It was a learning process for Kathleen as well as her intern, Jenny Jin. “When people think of making websites, they usually think of the technical side — styling the theme,” says Jenny. “The project taught me the importance of project management. Now, I have both the technical and communication skills to create a website.”

And what did Olivia, Dallas’ intern, learn from her participation in the program? “Seeing my entrepreneur’s success has inspired me to pursue my own projects, and possibly start a business of my own in the future,” she says.  

To that end, the women have some valuable advice for those who hope to follow in their footsteps: “They really need to ask themselves why they want to do this,” says Kathleen. “What is their passion? Passion will help them move through all the obstacles they’re going to run into. Cash flow. Budgeting. Competition. It’s a really big learning curve.”

Dallas echoes her sentiments: “I don’t think it’s any one thing that makes anyone a successful entrepreneur. Certainly, I’m passionate about what I do, so I don’t ever feel like I work. I work hard, I work a lot of hours, but I don’t complain about it because it’s what I love.”

 

The Cisco Circle of Innovation program is one part of The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle initiative, which addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

 

The secrets of longevity: How two female entrepreneurs achieved success over two decades

 

Deborah Assaly and Adriana De Luca have both been leading thriving entrepreneurial ventures since the late nineties. Brought together by the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle initiative, we spoke to them about what has enabled their long-term success — from teamwork to technological investments — and their advice for other women looking to follow in their footsteps.

 

By Marie Moore


 

In the entrepreneurial world, longevity is one of the greatest testaments of success. And it’s an accomplishment that Deborah Assaly and Adriana De Luca can claim — they have both been leading and growing their respective businesses since the late nineties.

Deborah Assaly took over as president of Paramount Paper in 1996. Started by her father, the company had been providing packaging solutions to the Montreal market since 1958. Under her leadership, the family business expanded across Canada and into the U.S., offering an ever-broadening range of packaging, specializing in corrugated cartons and products, as well as poly bags, industrial papers, films, protective packaging, tape, shipping supplies, and sanitary and safety supplies.

Adriana De Luca started a natural soap-making business in her home in 1999, inspired by a family tradition and the birth of her first child. Today, Tiber River Naturals has multiple retail locations in Winnipeg, a thriving network of direct-sales consultants, and more than 300 bath, body, and pet care as well as home cleaning products — all handmade using naturally derived ingredients.

Interestingly, neither Adriana nor Deborah started their entrepreneurial journeys with any dreams or expectations of making it to where they are today.

Deborah describes taking over from her father as “quite a shock.” She was sharing office space with Paramount Paper for her own graphic design company, and started learning the business simply by being on premises. When her father passed away just a few years later, he left Deborah at the helm. “It was not my original goal, but when he passed on, I decided I would give it a shot,” she says.

For Adriana, the entire purpose of launching Tiber River was to make just enough money to be able to stay at home with her newborn daughter. “I knew I needed something that would be sustainable, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be what it is today. It wasn’t even a maybe.”

With entrepreneurial stories that now span across two decades, they each attribute their success to similar factors. For Deborah, it’s a broad combination — from her upbringing, to her work ethic, as well as the strong support of her husband and partner John, and her loyal support staff. Adriana also points to personality traits, like tenacity, that have made her well-suited to an entrepreneurial venture, but she largely credits Tiber River’s success to the people who have become a part of the business with her, such as her partner, Michelle.

“As an entrepreneur, there are so many times when you’re just feeling like it’s too much, and you can’t continue to give as much as you give, or do as much as you do, or find the right path,” explains Adriana. “And you really need a strong team around you to hold you up in those times, and you do the same for them. It’s a collective effort.”

Olivia Baker, the University of Waterloo intern paired with Adriana as part of the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle program, has certainly valued her time as part of the Tiber River team. “It’s opened me up to the world of entrepreneurship and given me confidence that I belong in the tech field,” she says.

 

“As an entrepreneur, there are so many times when you’re just feeling like it’s too much, and you can’t continue to give as much as you give, or do as much as you do, or find the right path, and you really need a strong team around you to hold you up in those times, and you do the same for them. It’s a collective effort.”

 

Deanna Danelon, the intern who worked for Deborah, also enjoyed the exposure to what running a business is like, and the chance for personal growth. “Working for Deborah provided the opportunity to learn new skills, such as developing a website for her new consumer division, Husky North. And I improved my problem-solving skills by creating a more efficient work flow for the business.” Deanna also assisted with a network refresh and implementing cloud technology — a key goal of Deborah’s.

“We were having difficulty with our paperwork internally, collaborating with staff, moving information effectively between the sales people, the purchasing department and our customers,” explains Deborah. “I knew there were programs out there to get it done, but I didn’t know how to do it. I wasn’t versed in the cloud, and I didn’t know what the first step should be. Deanna and I had many discussions on how we could accomplish it, and I’m very excited to say that Deanna implemented a winning strategy.”

Paramount Paper plans to continue the technological integration in the future, with the goal of networking information between colleagues and sales agents offsite, and eventually creating a client portal. Deborah sees it as a route to greater expansion, and a differentiating factor for Paramount Paper. “It’s definitely a competitive advantage. As a whole our industry is not very technology advanced. I was very excited to have this opportunity and be one of the first to have improved productivity through modernizing our overall structure with the cloud for internal use. This is sure to have a positive ripple effect to our customers and increase sales.”

Adriana also sees technology as integral to Tiber River’s future success, specifically the information that it can provide. “What are our customers looking for? What are they buying? When we started I made products that I wanted, which worked when my customers were only people like me. Now we have to look at the opportunities for growth.”

As the company gets bigger, Adriana also hopes to tap into the benefits of technology for resource planning, financial management, communication, and connectivity. But that doesn’t mean growth is coming quickly. Adriana and her partner Michelle are extremely committed to their business vision, but as mothers of three, they have not been willing to expand Tiber River at the expense of their family balance. “We made a conscious choice. We were both fine with slower growth so we could go to our kids’ hockey games.”

In contrast, Deborah saw growth as a necessary to her success. “We have a lot of competition in Montreal, and we knew right at the beginning — being young, being a woman, being a small distributor — we had to spread our wings and be innovative and do it quickly.” Not long after taking over, they were implementing strategies for expansion across Canada and into the U.S.

While they may have different ideas on growth, both Deborah and Adriana have been able to achieve long term success on their own terms. Adriana’s advice to entrepreneurs that are also hoping to be in business over decades? Get started on the journey now. “Just do it. Just dive in there. Don’t overthink things. Just get started and see where your path may lead you.”

Deborah adds that they should just be themselves. “When you’re young, you may feel you have to put on a show or talk a good game. There’s a lot of pretending to get through in the beginning years,” she says. “There are also a lot of people who want to offer advice on how to act or talk. It’s best to just follow your heart, be strong and have your own identity. You will learn and fail and learn again along the way. Learning from the failures is what will give you strength to allow you to keep going.”

 

 

The Cisco Circle of Innovation program is one part of The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle initiative, which addresses some of the obstacles female-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

One male-dominated sector, two successful female entrepreneurs

Joanne Johnson and Sandra Dussault each have a successful manufacturing company, despite not having a background in the sector. How did they do it? A clear vision and smart business decision-making, including investments in technology. Brought together by the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle initiative, we spoke to Joanne and Sandra about entrepreneurship, and their advice for other women looking to follow in their footsteps.

 

By Marie Moore

 


 

In Canada, women make up 47.5 per cent of the labour force. If you focus on the manufacturing sector, they represent just 28 per cent — a figure that hasn’t changed in 15 years. Which makes the stories of manufacturing entrepreneurs Joanne Johnson and Sandra Dussault all the more inspiring.

Joanne Johnson is the co-owner and president of Armstrong Monitoring Corporation, which manufactures life-saving gas detection and hazardous gas monitoring equipment. Purchasing the Ottawa-based business three years ago, Joanne and her husband have reinvigorated the over-thirty-year-old company, setting it up for future success. Sandra Dussault co-founded Vertical Suits with her husband in 2006. Starting out with one sewing machine in the spare bedroom of their basement apartment, the skydiving suit manufacturing company now has a fast-growing global customer base and their own facilities in Pitt Meadows, BC.

Neither Joanne nor Sandra come from a background in manufacturing, but their past experience and skill sets have been critical to their success in the sector. As an avid skydiver herself, Sandra was familiar with the product needs, and her background in graphic and web design enabled her to build a strong brand and online presence. Joanne didn’t know much about sensor technology, but as a seasoned entrepreneur with an ability to understand data, she knew she could add value to marketing, sales, finance, and HR.

For both Sandra and Joanne, it was the entrepreneurial lifestyle — including the freedom to pursue their own vision — that drew them into business ownership. “I like to be able to create my own environment and set the tone for how people interact with each other,” explains Joanne, “and focus on treating each other well, being innovative and having fun. When you own the business, you can make sure that those are key priorities.” 

Being the kind of person that’s well-suited to the ups, downs, and unknowns of entrepreneurship was also a big factor, adds Sandra. “For me, it has lots to do with personality. I always needed a challenge when I was working in a day job. I am very adventurous, so for me, entrepreneurship is more like an adventure and a challenge for myself. This is what makes me love running a business, and entrepreneurship.”

There’s also common ground between their very diverse businesses: both women point to technology as having played a role in changing how they operate. The gas detection equipment manufactured at Armstrong Monitoring used to be all analog signals, and Joanne and her husband have focused on transitioning to digital (now common in the industry). It allows for a lot more data capture, which has enabled them to better understand their customers, their environment, and their product’s performance. “It’s allowing us to design better equipment, manufacture better, and service our customers better,” says Joanne.  

Sandra, who leads IT decisions for Vertical Suits, oversaw the introduction of a robust online ordering system — saving countless hours in administration time that used to be spent manually entering information from PDFs. She looks forward to the day they can utilize body scans to take quick and accurate custom measurements, improving the process further. “If we could start working with those, it would be life-changing in our business,” she says. But while the technology exists, the challenge is making it available to the 98 per cent of her customers that aren’t local. In the meantime, she’s working with programmers to create a custom inventory system.

Knowing technology will play a role in their future success, they are both excited to be taking part in the Cisco Circle of Innovation program. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, the program pairs internship students from the University of Waterloo with women entrepreneurs. The aim is to help them build their digital strategy, scale and impact.

Marisa Duncan, their shared intern, points out that the program has been beneficial to her as well, providing access to mentorship and inspiration. “It’s helped me think a lot more about what I possibly want to do in entrepreneurship,” she explains. “And seeing people who have actually done it, makes me think that I can actually do it.”

Their success as entrepreneurs — especially in a male-dominated sector like manufacturing — can not only inspire the next generation of women business owners, but also help guide them. As role models, what advice to do they have for other women looking to follow in their footsteps?

Sandra believes a big key is sticking to your vision. And while you need to make sure you enjoy what you’re doing, “don’t be afraid to work hard,” she adds.  

Joanne looks to the pillars that have led to her own success as an entrepreneur: authenticity, persistence and courage. “Authenticity is really important — in every business, I always had a role that was aligned with my values and my skills so I could be me. The persistence — you just have to keep going. Whatever roadblocks you hit, you just have to go under them, go over them, go around them. And courage — not being afraid. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you think is right.”

 


The Cisco Circle of Innovation program is one part of The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle initiative, which addresses some of the obstacles female-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kickstart your journey towards business success.

 

 

 

Do you know a successful female entrepreneur who deserves recognition? Nominate her for the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards!

Five Tips For Financing Your Tech Purchase

In today’s business environment, you can gain a significant competitive advantage with the right technology investment. What do you do when you don’t have the funds to support the purchase? Follow these five tips for financing your tech purchase, courtesy of BDC.

 

By Marie Moore

 


 

As an entrepreneur, you know your talent and your ambition are limitless. You may find it surprising, then, that female-owned companies in Canada tend to be smaller and grow more slowly than those owned by men.*

And this lack of scale can be a limiting factor to your business’ success. To remain competitive, it’s important to wisely invest in your business — especially in the fast-evolving area of technology.

If you don’t have the cash on hand to invest in technology, these five tips can help you finance your IT purchase:

 

1. Create a budget that factors in all costs.

The first step in purchasing technology for your business is preparing a budget. To create an accurate estimate of the project’s cost, be sure to look beyond the sticker price. In addition to buying the technology, you’ll need to factor in implementation, training, maintenance and updates. You also need to consider how the IT purchase will impact your business. For example, a new website could generate significantly more sales, which will require greater spending on raw materials, production, and inventory – and which could create a cash flow delay before the sales dollars roll in.



2. Match the duration of the loan to the lifespan of the asset.

All technology has a lifespan. When looking for a loan, aim to have the payment period be equal to the expected lifespan of your new asset – the amount of time it should function optimally. Otherwise, you could still be paying off your loan when the time comes to replace your purchase. As a rule of thumb, computer hardware typically lasts three to five years, but do your research or ask your IT sales representative to help determine a reasonable lifespan, then look for a loan duration to match.



3. Understand what type of financing best fits your desired purchase.

The type of financing you qualify for will be impacted by the type of technology in which you are investing. Why? It comes down to collateral. A hardware purchase will offer you the most options, simply because the hardware can be used as collateral for the loan. In this case, your options include: an equipment term loan, which requires the hardware to be used as collateral; a working capital term loan, which may or may not require collateral; or a line of credit, which is most often secured by your accounts receivable. You may also be able to lease the hardware through the supplier or a financial institution. There are fewer options for software purchases or digital marketing projects, like creating a website, because, unlike with hardware, there are no assets that can be put up as collateral. Look into financing these technology purchases with a working capital loan or line of credit.



4. Go into your bank meeting well-prepared.

Before meeting with your banker to request a loan, be sure you have compiled all the information they’ll need to make a decision. That includes your financial statements, the thorough budget you created for the planned tech purchase, and your broader business plan — demonstrating what impact the IT investment will have. You will also need a personal credit score and a credit bureau report on your company. The process can be lengthy, so don’t approach your banker when cash is tight and timing is critical. Instead, reach out well before you need to make the purchase.



5. Consider options from several financial institutions.

While it’s true that increasing the amount of collateral you offer will generally lead to a lower interest rate, this shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when evaluating a loan. Reach out to a few institutions and see who can offer the best terms, from repayment options to required guarantees. You’ll also find variances in the amount of financing that will be made available to you.

 

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle addresses some of the obstacles female-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. In partnership with organizations including the Business Development Bank of Canada, Cisco is connecting women to the expertise and knowledge needed for their entrepreneurial ventures to thrive. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for the free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy, and kick start your journey towards business success.

 

 

* Canada Works Limited presentation of Women Entrepreneurs in Canada: Gaps and Challenges, Allan Riding, July 2014

Get ready for the office of the future

An aging workforce, the explosion of new mobile devices and cloud-based applications, availability of ubiquitous and inexpensive Internet access, and the changing nature of work are rapidly transforming the workplace. Is your business ready?



Change is closer than you think: over the next ten years, a few key trends will rapidly transform the workplace, reshaping how companies are organized, how they operate, and how they attract and retain talent.

The first driver is demographics. The oldest of the baby boomer generation — those individuals born between 1946 and 1964 — reached retirement age in 2011. And in North America alone, a staggering 10,000 baby boomers will reach retirement age each day for the next two decades. This exodus will lead to a dramatic shift in the demographic of the workforce, which will become much more diverse — ethnically, culturally and, most importantly, generationally.

The nature of work is also changing. Over the past 20 years, companies have automated and outsourced much of their structured or process-oriented work. What work is left is unstructured, complex, and highly collaborative. Combine that with continued technical innovation — an explosion of mobile devices, coupled with the widespread availability of ubiquitous Internet access and cloud-based applications — that has redefined where and how work is being performed.

Although the fallout from these trends may seem overwhelming, the fact that they are occurring simultaneously creates a unique opportunity. With planning and investment, adapting your workplace to meet the technological demands of the future can enable your business to thrive. So what does the office of the future look like?

A broader demographic means more technical solutions, working together. Organizations will need to provide a greater variety of tools and devices to meet generational preferences, but will also need to ensure that there is functional parity, interoperability, and a consistent user experience in the services they offer.

The rise of unstructured, complex, and highly collaborative work means an end to one-size-fits-all workplace design. Organizations need to allow for the different workspace experiences that are necessary to accommodate both collaboration and concentration work functions. Without addressing these issues productivity and innovation will suffer, also resulting in employee dissatisfaction and leading to increases in employee turnover.

Technical innovation has created the expectation of being “always connected.” Securing sensitive data is a top priority, but mobile security will take an even more important role as both company-owned and employee-owned mobile devices continue to grow in the workplace.

Leaders will need to effectively marry workspace design, technology, and workplace policy, creating a workplace that is flexible, adaptable, and engaging. This journey will not be easy, there are plenty of organizational, technical, and cultural hurdles, but those who are successful will propel their companies into a new era of efficiency, innovation, and profitability.

 

Is your company ready for a connected workplace? Sign up for the Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Academy, with over 90 hours of free training on the technology basics that can help you understand the opportunities available to you and your business. Simply fill in this quick survey for access.