OWIT-Toronto celebrated the end of 2019 in December with a festive networking and holiday reception hosted by Bennett Jones
. This inspiring event provided the platform for OWIT-Toronto members, key stakeholders and decision makers in international trade to network and celebrate all things trade. Three successful women exporters had podium time to shine a light on their journey in building their businesses, accessing and expanding into global markets. The session was moderated by OWIT-Toronto Board Member, Aylin Lusi.
Myra Sable, President of Sable and Rosenfield and recipient of OWIT-Toronto’s Woman Exporter of the Year award (2019), kicked off the discussion, explaining how her 50-year food business was founded in her kitchen while she worked as a part-time restaurant reviewer in Toronto. She highlighted her incredible journey from St. Lawrence Market to getting a business plan, and to her first scoping mission to Europe, in Paris and Brussels, where she collected various samples of beautifully packaged and designed gourmet products for inspiration. Initially, starting with a home recipe for Russian Mustard, which sold out in six weeks, she meticulously grew the product line into what it is today, specializing in gourmet appetizers and condiments, sauces and cocktail garnishes.
Kathy Smith, VP Operations of Sable and Rosenfield, complemented Myra’s story and elaborated on the niche markets that they had targeted which required making different unique gourmet product lines, for instance, no alcohol ingredients for the Dubai market. She also highlighted some of the challenges faced along their entrepreneurial journey including supplier delays, buyer challenges and logistical issues. On addressing challenges like language barriers, Myra recalled how she turned this into an opportunity to learn a new language - French - to be able to fully expand her business in France and Brussels. Giving examples of their San Francisco and New York food show experiences, she also noted the importance of trade shows which helped to identify what retailers were seeking. If the packaging was appealing to the buyers, they would buy the products on site and order more. She also said that the ‘Made in Canada’ label was a key marketing tool as it stood for authenticity.
Barb Wilmer, Director of Sales for Racer Machinery International, shared glimpses of her experiences in Cuba as a young girl, through to moving to Canada as an immigrant at an early age, studying and working to finally achieving top salesperson award in the steel industry in Canada. Her snippets of wisdom in becoming a successful steel industry entrepreneur included staying up to date with the latest technology, keeping in communication loops, networking and having strong perseverance. She noted the turbulent times that have rocked the steel industry with the initiation of the US steel and aluminum tariffs that caused an increase in the cost of raw materials and big reservations on spending, greatly impacting the industry. She welcomed the news of the conclusion of the re-negotiated NAFTA.
Barb also recommended participating in trade missions. She joined OWIT-Toronto’s trade mission in February 2019 to Monterrey, Mexico which provided her with a variety of networking opportunities and connections to different businesses. She subsequently took an independent follow-up business trip to Monterrey in September 2019 to continue the business engagements. Her ability to communicate fluently in Spanish is key in facilitating doing business in Mexico.
The evening included brief presentations by OWIT-Toronto partners including EntrepreneursPoint’s Olutoyin Oyelade who announced that their women entrepreneurship incubator development program is available to OWIT-Toronto members at a 10% discount. World Trade Center Trade Accelerator Program’s Frances Guo invited members who meet the criteria to a Women-specific cohort in January 2020. Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC)’s Neha Bahl announced plans to provide a customized free one-day advisory event for OWIT-Toronto members looking to build and scale new businesses and network with TBDC’s international clients that are part of the Start-up Visa program, TBDC’s mentors, national and international trade partners.
To crown off the evening, OWIT-Toronto President Helen Hemmingsen recognized Susan Baka, one of OWIT-Toronto’s founders. As a Board Member, a true OWIT-Toronto and OWIT-International champion, Susan has been instrumental in pioneering women in international trade both in Canada and abroad for over 20 years.
It was an evening of festive celebrations, celebrating the trailblazing women in international trade, their great achievements, and the unique platform that brings all these women at the table to support each other and share many lessons learned along the way. To spice it up further, Sable and Rosenfeld provided a token memento for everyone to taste and remember the occasion. A wide selection of beautiful jars of gourmet products from cocktail garnishes, appetizers, condiments and sauces, many of which were all-natural, Non-GMO certified, gluten free and Kosher, were provided to the participants to take home to appreciate a truly made in Canada experience.
The evening event was preceded by OWIT-Toronto 20th Annual General Meeting (AGM) marking the end of the year and a 20-year operational period. The 2020 OWIT-Toronto Board was reconstituted, with Board directors reelected and new directors coming on board forming a quorum.