Written by Lori Jestin-Knaus, Business Advisor & Growth Initiatives Manager, WESK
On Feb 1, 2018, Women Entrepreneurs Saskatchewan (WESK) and Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP) hosted a panel discussion, Build Your Business: Saskatchewan and Beyond. This event was an opportunity to learn about the business expansion and market access from the panelists, Angela Propp Schmitt, RedWillow Organics; Katherine Regnier, Coconut Software Corporation; Serese Selanders, Kasiel Solutions Inc.; along with moderator, Natasha Vandenhurk, Three Farmers Products.
Participation in export markets enables businesses to expand and grow their operations. Serese Selanders and Angela Propp Schmitt emphasized the need to ‘think big’ in your business. For Katherine Regnier, exporting was a natural step in the progression of her software business.
Serese’s mission is to be a world class company. When Serese was unable to find an appropriate alert device for her father in 2013, the ORA journey began. Kasiel Solutions Inc. develops innovative personal safety products. Kasiel’s first product, ORA, is designed specifically for seniors and lone workers. The ORA is lightweight, discreet, attractive, and leverages Bluetooth through a cellular app for extended range.
Angela Propp Schmitt ships her organic products to international suppliers. RedWillow Organics is a 2,500-acre dedicated organic family farm near Carrot River. The farm produces and processes certified organic cereal grains, forages and oilseeds. An On-Farm Seed Cleaning Plant provides seed cleaning and packaging for the farm production as well as offering custom services.
Since 2011, Katherine’s Coconut Software Corporation has quickly become the leading appointment scheduling platform that modernizes the customer experience and increases business results. Coconut Software Corp. provides an enterprise appointment scheduling solution that redefines how customers interact with organizations, while maintaining unparalleled levels of security and compliance.
As certified organic grower, Angela Propp recognized that the international markets were the only game in town for her operation. In 2012, Angela decided to phone STEP and before she knew it, she was on her way to Germany to attend a tradeshow. Subsequently, Angela attended two German tradeshows where she met potential buyers. Angela discovered that “tradeshows are key but don’t expect to go your first year and get orders.”
For Serese Selanders, she assumed an overseas hardware supplier was the way to go for the development of the components used in her ORA products. Often, the international suppliers can provide cheaper component parts for North American manufacturing companies. Serese found her solution to be Canadian and not international. Her hardware components are developed by a Quebec company.
In tech, Silicon Valley is where you eventually locate your business. Katherine Regnier went to the Silicon Valley to gain knowledge and make valuable connections. She can’t be persuaded to move to the Valley; she dug her heels in and she is committed to staying in Saskatoon. Katherine admits “she took a chance, got on a plane, and something amazing happened” and that is her advice for others. Take advantage of fortuitous opportunities to expand your markets and make those necessary connections. Then bring it back home.
Find Your Rockstar
Mentorship and networks are necessary for business development and growth. As a small business owner in Saskatchewan, Katherine found it easy to knock on doors. Approximately two years ago, Katherine expanded and set up an office in Toronto along with employees while maintaining an office in Saskatoon. Katherine soon discovered that management, culture and leadership was complicated and there wasn’t a playbook. Katherine sought out a rockstar in her industry and then asked for introductions. Katherine found her mentor in Toronto. “Mentors are the floodlight while you are fumbling in the dark. Find your market, find your leader and ask for help.”
Canadian, eh! Language, culture and business
As her business expands, Serese has found it difficult to build those relationships beyond Saskatchewan and she recognizes that there are cultural differences regionally in Canada and as one would expect, international business can be difficult to maneuver. Serese purposely sets out to make meaningful connections weekly in order to develop and cultivate her markets.
When dealing with international clients, Angela discovered that language and cultural values may contribute to miscommunication and misunderstandings that can impact your business. Angela affirms that relationships are paramount. Consumers are seeking organic products and they are looking for the farm to fork story. Angela’s story is key to effectively brand her company and to market her product as genuinely Canadian.
Find your supports and leverage their knowledge and expertise
All three women agree. Seek the advice and support of organizations starting with the ones in your own backyard. Gather information from the necessary resources and then do your research. Find mentors and advisors.
WESK empowers business owners with opportunities, resources, and a community to scale up their business. With invaluable business advising, a unique financing program, revitalized training programs, and exciting events, WESK is dedicated to guiding you on your entrepreneurial journey.
STEP is a member-driven, non-profit corporation dedicated to increasing Saskatchewan’s export activities while raising awareness of our province’s distinct products and services. Linking Saskatchewan suppliers with the global marketplace – STEP is your direct connection to expertise, markets, and global networks. STEP offers their members a variety of services and programs that can help diversify customer bases and grow business.
On May 8, 2018, WESK and STEP will host a second Build Your Business breakfast event in Regina featuring Brooke Longpre, Sound Solar Systems Inc.; Val Michaud, Gravelbourg Mustard; and Colleen Haussecker, Canadian Organic Spice & Herb Co. Inc. The event will be moderated by Janet Lee, The Story Co. Register here https://wesk.ca/e/build-your-business/
Written by Lori Jestin-Knaus, Business Advisor & Growth Initiatives Manager, WESKBack to News & Articles