Opening Doors

Two perspectives on how women-owned SMEs can find success

Following the conference that was held during the First Canadian Women-only Business Mission to Japan, we had the chance to put a few questions to the mission’s co-chairs, Janice Fukakusa and Beatrix Dart.

Why should women-led Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) reach out to Asian markets — particularly Japan?

Asian markets are rapidly growing and provide a great opportunity for Canadian entrepreneurs to export, partner and raise capital with their growing firms. Canada and Japan are among the largest economies that are signatories to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partner­ship, so it is a natural combination.

What are the specific opportunities and challenges for Canadian SMEs that are planning to expand to the Japanese market?

The biggest opportunities are expanding the customer base and forming valuable partnerships. I think the biggest challenges for these SMEs is accessing the “right” companies.

How can gender diversity improve the pros­pects of Canadian SMEs that are planning to expand to Japan?

Gender diversity is a very big imperative for Japan today, so companies are very motivated to promote the diversity of their suppliers and partners.

How are the struggles of women leading SMEs different in Japan and Canada?

Actually, I think there are a lot of similarities in the difficulties they face in both countries: access to networks, partners and customers as well as unconscious bias.

What do you most want to see achieved through the mission?

SMEs are the backbone of the Canadian economy, but only 16 per cent of these enterprises are women-owned or women-led. Women entrepreneurs face many barriers, such as accessing capital, expertise and networks, which also hinder their export read­iness. This mission is offering Canadian women en­tre­­preneurs amazing opportunities to enhance their international networks and open doors to new business relationships and future growth. At a minimum, we will enable Canadian women entrepreneurs to gain valuable business insights and contacts through this mission. But I have no doubt that we also will see some concrete business deals emerging during their stay in Japan.

What advice would you give to women SME owners who are looking to expand into Japan?

Women entrepreneurs are ambitious and results oriented. However, establishing new relationships and learning about a new business culture requires patience and resilience. Negotiating business deals in Japan might take a longer time than in the North American culture, as multiple layers might need to agree and be brought into the deals. But once they are signed, there is comfort in follow-through and delivering on the promised deal, as honesty and honourable behaviour are cornerstones of Japanese culture.

Are there plans for future missions like this, and on what other industries might you like to focus?

Absolutely! We already heard from women entre­pre­neurs that they would appreciate a similar supported entry into other Asian countries. Colla­borating with the Canadian Business Women in International Trade, a service program offered via Canada’s Trade Commission, has been a very successful approach for the Japan mission. In addition, the support from the Canadian embassy and the personal networks and contacts via the Asia Pacific Foundation allowed us to open doors for the women entrepreneurs beyond what an individual could accomplish. We hope to replicate this in other markets.

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