Supplier diversity certification can help women entrepreneurs

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According to BDC’s latest research, only 28% of all entrepreneurs in Canada are women. BDC is working to increase that number and help women start and grow their businesses.

One of the ways we are helping is through our supplier diversity program, which was launched in 2019. It aims to increase the number of products and services BDC purchases from under-represented communities in Canada, including women, to help ensure our vendors are as diverse as the clients we serve.

An e-learning company based in Quebec, pardeux, is one of the first BDC clients and certified majority women-owned businesses to join BDC’s supplier diversity program. We sat down with president and co-founder, Nathalie Lessard, to hear her advice on why businesses that are at least 51% owned by women should consider certifying, and why they should also register as a supplier with BDC.

What is diversity certification?

“Supplier diversity is the practice of creating opportunities for traditionally underrepresented suppliers, such as women, minorities, indigenous and LGBTQ2+ persons, so they can be introduced into large corporate and public procurement supply chains,” Lessard said.

Why should a business complete diversity certification?

“There are so many benefits. We are certified as a majority women-owned business with WEConnect International and it has been a game-changer for the business,” she said.

“Our goal was to export and secure larger enterprise clients. Certifying helped us reach those targets. It helped us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, gave us opportunities to attend “Meet the Buyer” events and learn incredible insights into what large organizations buy and their criteria for suppliers. Most importantly, it allowed us to sit at the table with and pitch our business to the procurement teams of the large organizations we wanted to work with, such as Walmart, Sony, and Disney,” Lessard noted.

“Honestly, at first, we didn’t think certifying was for us, but within our first year of certifying, the benefits were tangible. We had new supply chain opportunities, increased visibility to potential purchasers, and new possible revenue sources. We don’t think twice about renewing each year,” she added.

How do you make the most of your certification?

“My advice is to take the time to attend the events and leverage the networking and coaching opportunities. Sometimes you’ll have to fly to attend a trade mission or a conference but it’s worth it based on the networking opportunities and the caliber of connections you make,“ she said.

“However, you need to follow up with the contacts you have made when you get home to maximize your networking and business development opportunities. The ROI has been exponential for us because we build time into our schedule to do the work when we get back from any event.

“Also, keep in mind contracts don’t close overnight. On the first mission we attended from the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), we had seven matchmaking sessions with large companies. It was unbelievable. So far, these connections haven’t converted to contracts, but we are still regularly communicating with the procurement teams at these companies and feel confident our time will come.”

Last year, BDC launched its supplier diversity program. What are the benefits of registering?

“We began working with BDC in 2014 on a small mandate. Following the launch of BDC’s supplier diversity program, our RFP opportunities increased and today, we are working on our 8th project together. Registering as a diverse supplier gave us visibility to more purchase decision-makers at BDC, and from there, those projects have led to more referrals within BDC and opportunities to service different departments,” she said.

“It’s also great working with BDC because you think like entrepreneurs and understand how to work with smaller organizations.”

Businesses interested in being a diverse supplier with BDC must either be a client, have completed a diversity certification through one of the recognized councils, or be a certified B Corporation. Interested businesses can register online or view a full list of what BDC buys.

Nathalie Lessard is president and co-founder of pardeux, an e-learning company that helps clients reach their businesses goals through engaging and efficient e-learning and serious gaming content. Find out more at pardeux.ca.

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