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Helping women start and grow their business

Jennifer Bessell is the Chief Executive Officer with NLOWE. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE) was founded in 1997, and since then has been doing its part to encourage and support women entrepreneurs throughout the entire province. Jennifer Bessell is the Chief Executive Officer with NLOWE. “What that means is that we provide advisory services for women entrepreneurs, and every phase of their life cycle in business. So for someone starting out, we have advisors that can assist them in reviewing their idea, their entrepreneurial idea, talking about the pros and cons, helping them do their research, helping them figure out what needs to go with a business plan, how to write a business plan. We provide advisory services and components.” The assistance is also available to those who already have an established business. “For women who are growing their business, we also have growth advisors, who again, are available free of charge to any woman in Newfoundland and Labrador, to really talk about their growth strategies. Where do they want to take their business next? What are some of the hurdles that may exist? How can they get around those hurdles? Is there financing available? What sort of options do they have as they grow their business,” explained Bessell. “The advisory services are foundational to the work that we do.” The organization also offers educational programming in addition to their numerous advisory services. “We have a Business Beginnings program, which is a program that takes a person through their business idea and putting together a business plan. We also have some exporting programs for women entrepreneurs who are considering export and how to write an export plan and consider their export strategies. And we have a number of one day seminars and workshops on things from everything like how to market my products, how to market my business, how to how to communicate more effectively, financial matters, what I need to know when I’m setting up my financial pieces for my business, all of those beautiful one-day seminars,” said Bessell. “We also have a conference that we do on an annual basis and an award ceremony, where each year we provide eight women entrepreneurs in Newfoundland and Labrador with awards that celebrate their unique contributions to the business community.” While the majority of services are free of charge, some services offered may have a cost attached. “Most of them are (free of charge) – the advisory services, certainly. We do charge some nominal fees for some services above and beyond that, but we ensure that we keep costs low to make sure that they are accessible to all women in business,” said Bessell. “We are a membership based organization. What that means is that any woman can be a member of NLOWE. But again, we keep our membership fees quite low. However, you do not have to be a member to avail of our services, but if you are a member, you receive discounts. And there are also some activities that are exclusive to members.” NLOWE has advisors in each region of the province to assist women entrepreneurs. “We have a business advisor in Labrador. We have a couple business advisors on the West coast, a few in Central, a few advisors in Eastern and a few here in St. John’s,” said Bessell. “No matter where you are in Newfoundland and Labrador, there is somebody within a short distance away that can help you, and that’s something we’re quite proud of. We ensure that we have the provincial reach required to provide services for the women that we help.” Bessell said NLOWE is well known for its networking. “As an organization, we put a lot of care and attention into providing opportunities for women to support one another, and to learn from one another and to network with one another. So we have many networking opportunities that are baked into the activities of the organization,” said Bessell. “In addition to that, we also consider ourselves connectors, so the more you get involved with our business advisors and our community, we also ensure that we provide the connections that women entrepreneurs need, both within our network and external hold to it.” The idea that an individual can learn from their peers within the business community is key. “We think it’s really important within communities when a woman is starting out in business, or even when she’s growing her business, that there’s often people that she could learn a lot from or that she could benefit from having a partnership or an opportunity to communicate with,” said Bessell. “She may not know how to how to get to know that person, how to reach them, so you can become a part of our community and before long, you realize that there is no one in this province that we can’t access. You just have to come and talk to the people that we have and we can make that connection for you.” Even though the COVID-19 pandemic caused challenges, Bessell said there was at least one positive that came as a result. “We very quickly had to pivot to an online environment. We learned very quickly that there was a lot of things that we could be doing online that we weren’t necessarily doing before. So even though things have gotten a little bit more back to normal, we still have continued to maintain that online presence. We’re trying to very evenly and appropriately split our activities between in person and online so that all Newfoundland and Labrador has a chance to participate.” Having these supports in place for women in business across the province also brings more representation that is needed. “The reality is that, when you look at the business world or when you look at women in leadership, we’re always under-represented. You can have many different debates about why that is, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. For every woman entrepreneur that’s out there, there are two more that could be just as successful if they were given a chance,” said Bessell. “There are many biases, unconscious as well as conscious. There’s many challenges and barriers for women entrepreneurs, and as an organization, we exist to help them get past those to overcome the hurdles that may be in their way, and to provide them a helping hand. For the women who are out there, you know, they’re so under-utilized there. We’re under-represented. If there were more women in business, we would have a stronger economy, so it just makes sense.” It isn’t just an uptake on their programs that is popular, but their membership is also significant. “We’re very proud of our membership. It’s very diverse. We have women who are in the retail sector. We also have women who are in the manufacturing sector. We have women who are in the tech sector, oil and gas. We have women who are in tourism and hospitality. We have women who are in finance. Every sector is represented amongst our membership. And we’re very proud of the fact that we’re able to provide a baseline of services to all these women that are very beneficial to them,” said Bessell. Membership is an option, and not just for women entrepreneurs. Categories are also available for other organizations who support NLOWE’s mandates and want to be a part of their community. “As an organization, we welcome everyone. We want our supporters and our champions. We do have some men who are members, and we welcome more to come on board as a member. We have a lot of businesses that are members that are not necessarily women run, but again, are champions that support the mission vision values of the organization,” said Bessell. “That’s the one thing that I am emphasizing as I go out in the community. While our services are directed towards a women and women entrepreneurs, we recognize that in order for conditions to become better for women in the business space that we need everyone to support our mission, vision and values. And we welcome everyone to the table.”

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