Determined! Conversations with Canadian WBEs

WBE Canada’s certified WBE community has grown more than 20% over the past year – a year that has experienced incredible upheaval, hardship as well as triumph and head turning innovation. In the past year, WBE Canada corporate and government membership has also grown significantly. The importance and economic realities of increasing supplier diversity and inclusion in Canada’s supply chains is not a new conversation but in the past year, sudden disruptions to the normal flow of goods and services coupled with drastic changes in what products were suddenly in demand definitely resulted in game changers to both buyers and suppliers.

We talked to six certified women-owned businesses from across Canada – some have been certified for several years, others less than a year, to find out how they are doing, how they are using the benefits of their certification, what motivates them in their drive to succeed with corporate and government buyers, their tips and strategies to succeed, what they had to do differently as well as how they stayed the course as the pandemic unfurled. In short, what are these six WBEs doing to achieve success and how has certification helped to move their businesses forward through supplier diversity.

Michèle Leduc, President
ZIPCOM, Quebec

WBE Canada: As a successful Communication and Marketing Agency, you have landed many major clients. What is the key to winning contracts with larger corporations when you are up against bigger agencies?

Michèle: Better value is a key element. Smaller agencies charge smaller fees because of less overhead while providing the same strategic expertise and creativity as a large agency since most of us spent years in big agencies. A smaller team also means a more personalized relationship – more flexibility and genuine caring for our clients’ businesses. How we decide to position our services is also important. Once we’ve analyzed the need of the large corporation, we might focus our strength on one particular service — either branding, design, in-store communication or creative translation.

WBE Canada: The pandemic has definitely affected the marketing and communication world. How have your clients’ needs changed and how do you manage the continuing changing demands?

Michèle: Initially, Covid-19 brought a huge wave of unexpected work. Now, in year 2 of this crazy pandemic, clients’ needs and budgets are quite different. We manage the change by being extremely proactive in our market and adapting our services to support our clients.

Jamie O’Neill, Partner

WBE Canada: Uprise Consulting specializes in leadership training and business management, working with many clients across all sectors. The pandemic has drastically changed how organizations do business. What are your recommendations for women-owned businesses looking to work with the public sector?

Jamie: First and foremost, get involved. The silver lining of this pandemic has been that all events have moved on-line, for free or little cost. Get involved in all local on-line and WBE events that make sense to your business. Secondly, move your business on-line. Before COVID, 99% of our business was face to face, so we had to pivot, and pivot we did. We now offer training on-line and do meetings through platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

WBE Canada: What are your Top 3 tips for leaders during these complicated and ever changing times?


  1. Beware of fake news. Stick to trusted municipal, provincial and federal platforms and trusted news sources. For me personally, I rely heavily on my local Chamber of Commerce to provide me with trusted updates.
  2. You are not alone. Organizations like WBE Canada and local groups offer great online resources and opportunities to connect. If you are an extrovert like me, get out there and join others, safely.
  3. Don’t use COVID as an excuse. It would be easy to accept lowered revenues with COVID to blame, but what are you personally doing to chart your new path? Don’t let COVID define your success or lack thereof – drive your success.

Cathy Rella, Owner and President

WBE Canada: Kootenay Knit and Apparel has a strong focus on not just local and community initiatives, but on speaking to a purpose or supporting a cause. Why are you so passionate about developing that particular aspect of your business?

Cathy: Our passion for creating products and programs that support Causes is part of our brand and core values. We believe it is the right thing to do. Now, more than ever, we’re inspired to use our creativity and brand platform to make a difference. Our mantra is “Products with Purpose” and we put our hearts into campaigns that contribute to positive change. The “Pink Mitten Campaign”, which raised $1Million for Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, is an example of our passion to make products that combine creative design with function and meaning.

WBE Canada: What are the key benefits you see and experience as a certified women-owned business including adding the Canadian Women Brand to your products?

Cathy: A key benefit as a certified women-owned business is our direct access to Corporations that are truly committed to diversity, inclusion and women-owned businesses in their supply chains. Another benefit, especially during these challenging times, is the strong sense of community and the ongoing support. Kootenay products are identified with the Canadian Women Brand, which is a distinctive indicator that we are a Canadian women-owned business. A Corporation’s logo on a ‘Canadian Women Brand’ product demonstrates to their employees, customers and shareholders that they support a women-owned business.

Roxanne Whiting – Owner | Director of Video Interpreting
SLIAO INC., Ontario

WBE Canada: You have been providing sign-language interpretation services across Canada for the past 20 years. Are you seeing greater demand for your services especially from larger corporations and government organizations since the pandemic?

Roxanne: The COVID-19 pandemic caused a change in our economic environment as our in-person interpreting consisted of 40% of our revenues. But this work came to a grinding halt. Communication is critical especially during a pandemic and our services were deemed essential, a lifeline for the Deaf community. To continue our services, we swiftly transitioned to Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) and established a remote workforce. Although in-person interpreting requests decreased significantly, we experienced 43% growth overall. These services are provided to government agencies and other large corporations in the private sector.

WBE Canada: Your business was hit with a sudden increase in demand for your services and the need for technology evolution – what are your tips for businesses that need to scale up quickly?

Roxanne: Be prepared! Thinking ahead and drafting a plan will help when you suddenly need to service the demand on your business. Research tools and technologies that fit your business and try several to determine which is the best fit for your organization. Understanding your current requirements along with looking ahead to future growth to predict what your business and workforce will need to scale is important. When choosing a technology service or software consider the capacity of the provider to incorporate new features, provide you with customer support and work with you as you grow.

Gertrude Bradbury, B.Sc. B.Ed. GSC, President
LOCKE’S ELECTRICAL, Newfoundland & Labrador

WBE Canada: As a major provider of vital assets to the construction industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, what sets you apart when bidding on major projects such as health and education facilities in local communities?

Gertrude: Locke’s provides throughout Atlantic Canada comprehensive utility/power construction and maintenance that allow our clients to provide power to their customers/users. We care about the communities in which we work and we support the same through the company by developing and following our corporate Local Inclusion Plan & First Nations Inclusion Plan. We aspire to be an industry leader by developing strong partnerships that provide local communities economic success, social well-being, and we respect the people, culture and land where we work.

WBE Canada: What are some of the biggest changes you’re seeing in terms of women entrepreneurs in male dominated industries such as yours, what are your biggest challenges and your biggest inspiration?

Gertrude: Biggest challenge – balancing work and family. I was mentored in the business by my father but he always said “If I have taught you anything I hope it is family comes first”. That goes both ways and a supportive family has certainly made the difference in my career.

Biggest inspiration: I am a member of a WPO chapter and inspiration comes just by being in the room with these women from different sectors keeps everything in perspective – the safe environment provided and support network has definitely allowed me to grow.

Aja Horsley, Founder

WBE Canada: You founded “Drizzle” out of passion and concern for the environmental impact and sustainability of the beekeeping industry. What was the biggest challenge you faced going from your original concept in 2015 to today where Drizzle is sold across Canada and how did you overcome it?

Aja: One of the biggest challenges we initially faced when launching was getting our product ready to adhere to regulations set out through the Canada Food Inspection Agency. Because Honey is a raw agriculture product there are multiple steps required to bring a food safe product to market that can be sold across provinces and countries. We had to work hard to find the right product inputs, facility, labels and packaging and be patient as many of these steps had to go through slow government approvals.

WBE Canada: Getting your product to store shelves as well as capturing the lucrative on-line market can be a complicated and often tedious journey. What is your key advice to women entrepreneurs seeking success in both retail and on-line markets?

Aja: Make sure you have a consistent brand, marketing story and quality product in place across all retail channels. To build trust with customers it is important that brand details are coherent and well-presented whether this be online or offline, and whether they are seeing it on a store shelf, social media or a website. Customers should know it is your brand at a quick glance without even seeing your logo.

WBE Certification helps Canadian Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) get access to corporate and government supplier diversity leaders and buyers in organizations in Canada, the USA and beyond. Certified WBEs belong to a powerful business network and gain a market edge, allowing them to accelerate the growth of their firms.

There are many benefits to becoming a certified WBE, including access to corporate and government purchasing programs, opportunities to network and build partnerships with buyers and supplier diversity professionals; tools and resources to grow your business including training and education to help you leverage your certification and increase your business capacity and more.

If you would like to find out more about WBE Canada Certification and if this is the right move for you, click here.