Demand for your product or service in a new market is exciting but it doesn’t make the ins and outs of exporting and operating globally any easier.
BE Alink is the Founder and Inventor of the Alinker, a bright yellow, radically different walking bike and vehicle for change. With support from Tamaïka Jumelle, Regional Director of Quebec for Invest in Canada, we capture the Alinker’s global journey and showcase resources and support organizations that exist to support you to become export-ready.
BE Alink is the Founder and Inventor of the Alinker, a bright yellow, radically different walking bike and vehicle for change.
Tamaïka Jumelle is the Regional Director of Quebec for Invest in Canada, supporting entrepreneurs to find global opportunities to expand their companies.
- Startup Canada: Startup Women Advisory Program
- Trade Comissioner Services for funding and support, export guides and finding a trade commissioner
- Connect with Canada’s Trade Accelerator Program
- Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s Women’s Busness Missions
- Coralus (formerly SheEO) for funding, network and community
- Explore Module 9, Shipping in our Business Owner’s Toolbox
- Explore more resources for your business in our Business Owner’s Toolbox
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 01:15
Welcome to the Startup Women Podcast, a show where we connect you, Canada’s powerful cohort of women-identifying founders, to real stories and case studies of women building businesses supported by true tactical advice from thought leaders and industry experts. I’m your host, Kayla Isabelle, CEO of Startup Canada. Each month, I’ll be sharing the mic with one founder and one expert. Together we will dive into real stories and scenarios and uncover actionable advice for women entrepreneurs across Canada. From funding and hiring to sales and scaling strategies. On this show, we cover the most important topics so you can deconstruct the challenges of starting and running a business with the knowledge that goes beyond the surface level. Let’s get started. Not every entrepreneur has a plan to go international and expand their business into new markets. But sometimes demand from another country is all that you need to begin your journey to becoming a global business owner. This was the experience for me a link to the founder and inventor of the Alinker, a bright yellow, radically different walking bike and vehicle for change.
BE Alink 02:26
I never had a plan to go international. But what happens is that or what happened is that people from different countries started approaching us like, oh my god, this is gonna change my life. Like I had a woman in New Zealand. I need this thing. I’ve got MS. This is going to change my life. I need one what do I need to do, and without, you know, an admin person like that, in South Africa, we’ve got the same thing in Switzerland, in the Czech Republic in Italy, all a linker users who have initiated this thing because it will change their life and it has changed their lives. So the intent was never to go international, the intent was also not to go international. I didn’t have an idea about it, I just followed the energy of what was going on.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 03:12
Demand for your product in a new market is exciting. But it doesn’t make the ins and outs of exporting and operating globally any easier. That’s where our exporting expert Tamaika Jumelle comes in. Tamaika is the Regional Director of Quebec for Invest in Canada, where she supports entrepreneurs to find global opportunities to expand their companies.
Tamaïka Jumelle 03:32
Part of assessing if a company is ready to export relates to reviewing its financial health over the past, let’s say five years, but also assessing if it has the necessary capacity and the flexibility to endure that add those additional costs that will adversely affect the cash flow, as well as the current sales and operations. And so I think that companies should ask themselves if they can sustain with what they have the resources that they currently have, but also if they can obtain enough capital or credit to produce the product or deliver their services, and also how they will reduce the financing risk.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 04:15
In this conversation, we bring together BE and Tamaika to learn about the global journey of The Alinker, and the resources and support organizations that can help get you export-ready. Welcome to the show BE and Tamaika. We are so happy to have you! This is a topic that I am personally very passionate about in alignment with our Startup Global program and in line with our startup Women program as well as trying to profile incredible exporters navigating international markets and this is a challenging feat for many of the founders that we work with. So we appreciate you both joining us today for this startup women podcast episode b I want you to kick us off with a linker which is such a radically different walking bike. Can you tell us about your product and your business journey with Alinker?
BE Alink 05:06
Well? Where do I start? Next week is 10 years ago that I incorporated but it’s only the sixth year that we’re in the market right now. But it’s been a bit of a trip up fiercely. Bringing a complicated manufactured product to market is very difficult. And when I hear people saying, I always Googled for something else, there has to be something else out there. They say you find a lot of things, but it’s only a prototype and it never gets out of the prototype stage. So actually, designing something people said, I got two good ideas like no, it was a good idea 10 years ago, and it was a hell of a lot of work to get it actually to a product to get to people. Now 10 years after incorporation, and six years in the market, there are nearly 5000 Alinkers. With people in the world, we planted 65,500 trees, because we’re way more than carbon neutral. We’ve completed 219 campaigns with people because we do crowdfunding campaigns to make mobility accessible. Yeah, it’s an incredible trip. To build a company as I build it. I didn’t build a company to sell bikes. That’s why I always refer to the linker as a vehicle for change. Looking at what people need is how I designed the linker, it’s not the next technical solution for a body with a problem, because that’s stigmatizing and it’s minimizing people to become a body with a problem. But to design for people, who are we? And what do we want, regardless of mobility changes? We’re active and engaged people socially and physically, how can we continue to be that person? And what do I need to design to support that? So I designed for people I didn’t make the linker it is by engaging with hundreds of people, asking them what they want to experience, what they want to be how they want to move through life. What the current obstacles are with all the medical devices that are treating you It’s like your body with a problem that needs to be towed from A to be by designing for people. It’s also designing, and redesigning what healthcare looks like our company is, is designed to make mobility community and real food, which I see as the three components of real health. Accessible,
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 07:42
Incredible! And BE, because this is a podcast and we aren’t able to demonstrate or visualize what the Alinker looks like, can you describe the product just so we can put the kind of a visual together?
BE Alink 07:52
When I started designing it, the premise was to make it look so good. And cool, that people would love to use it. And that people would be the ones on a cool bike instead of like, Oh, what happened to you? So what it is, it’s bright yellow for one thing, and it’s an overarching frame with 26-inch wheels and you’re front overarching to the back to one small back wheel, rear wheel of eight-inch with a seating assembly on top, and it’s torn and it’s got Ackermann steering, it’s super comfortable. It hinges you can fold it up, you can take the wheels out, can take the seat off the quick release can put it in the back of any car, and you’re the one on the cool bike. And that is the word that comes up. Always when people hang around on the language like oh my god, that’s cool. What is it? It’s like, I’ll give you a clue I can’t walk. But at least you’re talking already. Because mobility devices create a social divide between people with and without disabilities. And that’s where I started designing the linker. Creating a social divide between people is a justice issue for me. So the justice issue around that became the motivation to design the linker to make it so damn cool that everybody would want to use is amazing.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 09:07
I could attest to that. And I think you know, I’m excited to bring this perspective globally and export this type of product and the growth that you’ve had internationally. This is not just a challenge that we have in Canada. And these conversations that you’re having internationally are just as important. So cannot wait to dig in more. Tamaika, you’ve worked all over the world of export of trade of global business for many, many years. Can you tell us about your previous roles where you are now and what you specialize in?
Tamaïka Jumelle 09:37
Yes, as you’ve mentioned, my career has been around international trade and investments, especially for Quebec and Canada, because I enjoy being a connector of people and opportunities. So first, I was at the Quebec delegation in Paris and then at the Embassy of Canada in France, and I was working to open market opportunities for Canadian products and services, then I worked as a consultant here in Montreal, helping Quebec-based companies build their export strategies and expand into emerging economies. After a few years of that, I joined EDC, Export Development Canada, where I worked for six years in different roles. And I contributed to bringing knowledge, resources, access to financing, to Canadian exporters. And two years ago, I moved over to invest in Canada, where I currently am the Regional Director for Quebec. And in my role, I promote Canada and Quebec, in particular, as a destination for investments from global companies. And we facilitate and accelerate those global investments coming here, from the first interest that companies have for Canada, all the way to the inventive investment being realized here in Canada. So as I say, I enjoy being a connector of people of opportunity. And I think that responsible, inclusive, and sustainable treated investments participate to better living for Canadians and citizens all over the world.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 11:08
So before we dive into the larger topic of exporting, looking at different supply chains, going global overall, was taking your business global, always something that you knew you wanted to do as this kind of global citizen that you are.
BE Alink 11:23
Not really, as I say, I never have a plan. I never had a plan to go international. But what happens is that, or what happened is that people from different countries started approaching us like, Oh, my God, this is gonna change my life. Like I had a woman in New Zealand, I need this thing, I’ve got a mess, this is gonna change my life, I need one, what do I need to do? And I was like, well, we don’t have distribution in New Zealand. And shipping one is ridiculous to ship that to shipping costs from Taiwan to New Zealand or, and then finally, after months of just not stopping, I got on the phone with her. And I said, let’s just get on Skype and get to know each other. And as we got to know each other, I was like, Oh, screw it, I’ll just send you one because this is gonna change her life, then she turned around, get the link or go on Radio New Zealand, and start advertising that whole thing. And then we need to look for a distributor because now would there are requests for linkers in New Zealand. That’s kind of how it goes. And without, you know, an atom in person like that. In South Africa, we’ve got the same thing in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Italy, all Alinker users have initiated this thing, because it will change their life, and it has changed their lives. So the intent was never to go international, the intent was also not to go international. I didn’t have an idea about it. I just followed the energy of what was going on.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 12:57
Listening to your customers, and what they’re asking for, I think that’s a really simple lesson there. Tamaika, when do you typically see entrepreneurs even just starting to get curious about going global and exporting? Is that kind of a natural milestone that they want to hit? Are some entrepreneurs motivated by different factors? What does that pathway look like for the entrepreneurs that you’ve served?
Tamaïka Jumelle 13:17
I think that many factors can come into play. And it also varies with the industry. And these examples. We’ve seen it very often Canadian companies who receive an inquiry or purchase offer from abroad, and they get one they get more they get from different countries, and then they realize, oh, there may be a market for me. And let me take advantage of that. And that’s how they start formalizing their export strategy. So this is exactly what he was talking about. For other companies, a factor could be the size of the Canadian market. So Canada is a big country, we are a G7 country. But with little over 37 million people, Canada has the smallest population of the g7 countries. So it’s a relatively small market. If you compare it to France, for example, with 1.5 times our population, or the US does not have nine times our population. So if you think about the retail industry or the aerospace manufacturing Life Sciences digital industries, at the end of the day, there are only 37 million people consume it in Canada. So, therefore, the Canadian market can become saturated very quickly, and companies want to accept bigger markets, bigger markets, sorry. Another reason could be to reduce risk. So by diversifying into new markets and being able to sell to more consumers, companies can avoid being vulnerable to economic downturn and cycles into one market, their home market Canada, and also by selling abroad, it will allow them to spread sales, for example, taking advantage of seasonality. And the last reason I would mention is innovation. So selling on global markets, a company is forced to keep up with foreign income in a market that don’t they don’t know, and selling to consumers that they don’t know either. And as a result, companies tend to be more innovative, so to differentiate themselves in the global market, and that also gives them a competitive advantage that they can bring back into their home market. So really, in summary, and this is per EDC commissioned a study that showed that exporters do better than non-exporters, they generate more revenues, they are more innovative, and they are more competitive. And all of this leads to longer-lasting and stronger Canadian companies. So really, I encourage companies to go abroad because there are so many factors that will help them become bigger, lasting Canadian companies.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 15:44
Fantastic, and you know, with our southern border, you know, us is very close to many, you know, major Canadian hubs, and entering into that market can often be the first steps we’ll chat about entering into the US market first later in today’s conversation when we look at B and your journey and the first time that you exported the Alinker, as you mentioned, went to New Zealand, then Australia, the UK, Canada, US. But before you started exporting at the very beginning of this journey, what were some of the questions or uncertainties that you had to think about before taking your business global or before even shipping that one Alinker over to New Zealand? What were you contemplating, in that kind of infancy of your export journey?
BE Alink 16:25
We launched a crowdfunding campaign in the Netherlands, a pre-sales crowdfunding campaign in the Netherlands because to enter the US with a new device that you don’t know what the liability issues are around, it’s kind of an interesting thing. So when you want to launch a new product, the Netherlands is a great country to do that, not because people are susceptible to innovation, but because they’re stubborn. And if you make it in the Netherlands, you’ve got a very good chance you can make it anywhere. So I can say those things. So you can explore the market in a relatively safe way and get feedback from people like oh, this works, this doesn’t work. I also didn’t know if it was going to sell, and I didn’t know who our customers were. I didn’t know anything. I just had an idea that manifested into after 14 prototypes, a bike that was not sellable. So I didn’t know what the price was going to be. I mean, the price that we needed to have to make it feasible as a company. I didn’t know if that was a sellable price. We’re not medical devices. So people cannot like the whole mindset thing around. Oh, I’m in the disability world. Now I get stuff back from insurance. That doesn’t work, because we’re not a medical device and by design, because now we’re selling the bike for two and a half 1000 our ish. And if I were to sell this through certified suppliers, I would probably have to charge six to $7,000. I don’t believe that model is made to serve the people that use the devices. So I do not want to participate in that world. Hence that I say like, we need to create something that supports the health and wellness of people. And as a company, then I tried to make it accessible. But so launching in the Netherlands taught me a lot of things that made me comfortable with them the year after in 2007 1617. Launch in Canada and the US instantly, that was the second pre-sales crowdfunding campaign. And I’ve been flabbergasted that people pay $2,000 at that time. Before the pandemic, and all the inflation and all that kind of stuff, we had to increase our prices. But pay $2,000 online for something with our credit card for something that I haven’t even traded. I was like, oh, there has to be a bit of demand. Because if people do that, then that’s, then there’s way bigger market out there. And I’m learning that that is the case. There’s a dire need for stuff that is designed with people in mind. Not just for people as the next, you know, the thing that people can buy, but really with them in mind with them involved in the whole design process.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 19:21
Incredible. So Tamaika, what are the biggest struggles that you’re seeing entrepreneurs face at the beginning of their global journey, specifically looking at women entrepreneurs, what do you do when you have no idea where to start and that export journey?
Tamaika Jumelle 19:35
Yes, you know, I will start with the positive news. So according to Government of Canada statistics, the proportion of women-owned businesses that export has increased dramatically, doubling from 5.7% in 2011 to 11.1% in 2017. Studies show that women start businesses at the same rate as men In a 10% increase in women’s sneeze would add $198 billion to the annual Canadian GDP. However, women continue to face barriers to the growth of their businesses in global markets. So women often cite a business, lack of business acumen, and mentoring, as well as the lack of connections and networking. So this is why organizations such as sort of Canada, or with Ottawa, and others, which we’ll talk about later, I hope play a vital role. And they can facilitate knowledge and mentor women in trade. And not a bar barrier is the difficulty to access financing. Here come the numbers, women are less likely to seek and receive financing than men and women-led enterprises in Canada receive only 5% of their financing from traditional banks. So they turned to personal savings, family, credit cards, and other means to finance their business. And as we said, women are starting businesses at the same rate as men, however, they only receive 10% of all venture capital funding in the country. And they are awarded 25% of the ask-for amount compared to 50% of men. So the numbers speak for themselves. And thankfully, I think that there is a greater awareness and understanding of these barriers, and government business organizations, and institutions are looking to rectify the situation by creating new programs that are specifically geared towards underrepresented groups, such as women, visible minorities, indigenous and LGBTQ plus entrepreneurs.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 21:43
And I think those stats have become even worse during the pandemic, especially looking at the amount of VC capital that’s being deployed to women entrepreneurs, looking at some of those scaling, sort of ceilings that we’re seeing, particularly around access to finance. And it’s challenging, it’s daunting to see you know, there are such incredible ideas and women are building such lucrative and scalable businesses. And we see this actually through our startup global program. We’ve gender parity in that program, which I find so fascinating. When you look at the total number of women exporters that exist in Canada. It’s not there’s no shortage of ideas or great businesses that are out there. How do we increase and get that actual gender parity up and running? Because, you know, time’s up here. But thank you so much for providing some of those stats, because I think it paints a helpful picture of the long way that we still have to go to ensure that women are leveraging export and the scaling potential that that kind of comes within those international markets.
BE Alink 22:42
Can I just add to that, that the work of Mary Ing has been exceptional over the last few years, and a network like Shijo, now called corollas, or coreless, is exceptional support for women? And in a world where men don’t want to surrender their power, we can see that as a problem that women don’t have access, but they don’t want us to have access. That’s, that’s the structure so you can try and focus on all the problems to try and fix them. The system that holds the power doesn’t want you to fix those problems. Oh, great.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 23:19
Yeah, the Women’s Entrepreneurship strategy and in close partnership with Export Development, Canada as well. And Mike will tell you more about it. Tell us more about the offerings of EDC was a long-standing partner of startup Canada as well, I’m sure we can go into a whole different conversation here, around women specifically in exporting. But what I think we can do next is go into some actionable advice in looking at the preparation, the research, and the first steps that you need to look at before your export journey, that to make I’m gonna pass it to you in looking at that big step for entrepreneurs that they’re taking. There’s a lot that they need to know before they potentially make that first sale in the US in the UK, or somewhere, internationally. When it comes to research when you’re just organizing that data. Looking at the competitive analysis, what is step one in that process? what do entrepreneurs need to figure out? What questions should they be considering? And what answers should they try to find before they prepare to export that product or service?
Tamaïka Jumelle 24:18
Yes, in my opinion, when companies are considering going abroad, it’s imperative to answer two basic questions. The first one is why am I exporting. And we talked earlier about some of the reasons and factors that motivate companies. So accessing a bigger market, reducing the risk realizing economies of scale, and becoming more innovative, but by answering the question of why I am exporting. This will help set objectives, goals, and the Ben benchmark to see if this was successful. The second question is, am I ready to export? So this is where companies look internally at their product and services. They’re very As you proposition, the resources, the staff that they have to see if, with the capacity that they have, they can sustain the additional demands that come from doing business abroad. So and there’s great wisdom on Trade Commissioner Service website, maybe we can share the link after where companies can take that quiz. And this will give them an indication of their readiness. So these are just, you know, starting point questions. Companies need to do a bigger dive. And this is where an export plan will come and answer those questions, but also serve as a blueprint strategy.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 25:36
Amazing, we love the Trade Commissioner Service, it’s such a fantastic resource that is free through the Government of Canada. So definitely recommend checking out what is called TC s or the Trade Commissioner Service for that tool, which is helpful.
BE Alink 25:49
I agree. Trade Commissioners are awesome. And it’s the place to start. They’re everywhere in the world. And wherever you go, reach out to them. And it’s unbelievable what they do the research the support network and the introductions that they can make locally. It’s amazing. And there’s one book that I would recommend to everybody, it’s indie genomics. And it lays out very clearly what the mainstream world is and how that measures what the values are in competent competitive stuff. And you know, all that ownership rates, IP that we often talk about when exporting IP is always a thing. That’s all a western concept, and a western concept to make lawyers which, honestly, and, and leaves out the indigenous view of the world. If I look at that book, now, we tick all the boxes in what we do in indigenous views, because that are values that resonate with us, humans. We don’t live in a society that is a culture, we live in an economic model, a binary economic model that meets Europe and allows people to accumulate more wealth than they need to take more than they give back. That’s not okay. So that book, Indigena omics is a good, easy to read, and a very majestic resource, I think for remembering who we are and what we need to do together
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 27:29
Tamaika, over to you, what resources do you recommend to entrepreneurs that are looking to export looking to go global, or to B’s comments looking to, you know, really identify the values of their company and what they are trying to scale and bring into new markets?
Tamaïka Jumelle 27:44
Yes, there are many, many resources and it’s just a matter of finding, finding them, and the right ones that work for us. So we talked a little bit earlier about the Trade Commissioner Service, TCS. So this is a network of the government of Canada agents. They are all over the world in 160 cities around the world. And they help Canadian businesses engage in trade, whether for export imports or investments by connecting them with international opportunities, funding, and support programs. So I will quickly mention three aspects of their mission, which I think are super important for our conversation. The first one is the support for market research. So the DCS has built over the years an extensive network and a wealth of information, knowledge, and connections that in they have export guides online or in demand. They have strategic profiles as well, which is very helpful to help companies with their export plans. The second aspect is the connections. So they very often participate in trade shows around the world. And participating companies can be under the Canadian pavilion, which increases the visibility that they can have to other global companies, suppliers, customers, etc. Often during those trade shows, there are also matchmaking sessions organized. So these are really important tools for Canadian companies to be able to speak to potential buyers. The third aspect is the can export program. So they can export programs support Canadians and exporters by providing them with financial support and personalized advice to connect with potential foreign partners pursue business opportunities abroad and attract foreign investment into Canada. So the eligible companies can apply online to receive some financing to cover some of the international market development activities such as going to a trade show hiring a specialist or service providers, etc. So these are very, very important resources that I encourage our listeners, to look into. The second resource is x for Development Canada EDC, so EDC is Canada’s export credit agency. I worked there for six years. As you mentioned, this is a Crown Corporation that is dedicated to helping Canadian companies of all sizes succeed abroad, EDC supports Canadian company’s export, but also their foreign tires with different export financing solutions, risk mitigation and insurance, trade knowledge, and global connections. So and I also want to mention that for Canadian exporting businesses that are owned and led by people who identify as women, indigenous black in order dimensions of diversity, EDC has under its inclusive trade investment, committed $200 million to invest in companies that are founded and led by diverse Canadians. So such a good tool, as well. A great program is the trade accelerator program. So this is a program that helps me access the knowledge and resources that they need to go on the international market, and will help them with their export plan as well. So tarp is a program that is run across Canada, as in multiple CD is a very good program. And I encourage people to look into it as well because you get access to those experts, industry experts, the big EDC is their retreat Commissioner BDC is there. And so there is that opportunity to have one on one conversation and advice from them, but also get their input and their feedback on the export plan that the companies are looking to build at that moment during the program, as well. Another organization that is aware of it is the oh the Organization of Women in international trade. This is a global association. And the goal is really to foster international trade and the advancement of women in business. So there is a growing network. I think now that we are in 20 countries, and there are growing chapters all over the world. And so it’s really about providing a collective form to support education, facilitate information, exchange, and promote networking. So in Canada, there are two chapters there’s one in Ottawa, which is the CO president of the board, but there’s also the good one in Toronto as well, and also a great tool for companies to look into.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 32:23
Fabulous! I love a good rundown of some great resources that is a fabulous list. And for anyone looking for additional support. Through the startup global program, we have connections with the Trade Commissioner Service Export Development Canada, ups for shipping and distribution and logistics, understanding many of the trade tariffs and you know some of those dimensions of exporting several financial institution partners, MasterCard, Scotiabank, etc. So definitely check out the startup global program for additional resources there too.
BE Alink 32:53
Can I add the Asia Pacific foundation because I have been invited which was introduced by the CEO, to the Asia Pacific Foundation that does trade missions, women-only trade missions to all sorts of countries? And I’ve been part of the first women-only trade mission to Japan, North Korea to Taiwan. And it’s fantastic and EDC and the government and marrying obviously, they’re all supporting that. And it’s unbelievable the openings that that gives. And the Trade Commissioners, of course, and the local embassies are cool.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 33:39
Tamaika, did you have another resource to add as well,
Tamaïka Jumelle 33:41
Not a new resource, but just to say that the program that you have, and for example, another one like the top is great when resources or colluded into the same place because there are so many resources, if you look online, and you know, the different website offers so many different things, but having sort of global or different programs like this, that bring those resources together and put them literally in front of Canadian exporters, I think is the best solution so that you have sort of a one-stop shop, and it’s easier for them to access and talk to the people they need to be talking.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 34:17
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Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada)
So let’s talk about the costs of exporting and expanding into new markets. Because this is one of the biggest questions that we get through our startup Global Program. Any new step in your journey as an entrepreneur, there are often has costs associated with it. Sometimes those are foreseen cost unforeseen costs. But using this episode to share some of these areas where entrepreneurs can feel a bit more prepared before they’re going on this export journey. Be How did you financially prepare to export? Were there any upfront costs that you encountered? You mentioned, you know, increased costs now with supply chain challenges or inflation. What were some of the costs specifically around exporting that you learned along the way? Either cost more or less or just about what you had budgeted for originally?
BE Alink 36:55
We didn’t budget for that at all? Of course, you knew that answer. One thing that was important in the journey of the linker, there was no tariff code, because it was a new thing. It was a new invention. So how do you get a tariff code that is not going to flag anything, and it’s going to be on the lowest possible International Tax import tax? Tariff when you import into wherever country, we created our tariff code. And it’s based on other vehicles. And then subcategories, subcategories, subcategories. And we’ve had some problems with that. But generally, that gets us into the country so far, for between 1.7 and 2.3%. import taxes, because it’s not a medical device, but it is another vehicle, and it serves people with disabilities. So but that was the most important work to do to prevent problems down the line. So when you got that baseline rate, the rest is just finding local partners relying on I didn’t know what a fulfillment center was. I did not know how to think about a distributor, I had no idea who that was, and I didn’t know what the sharing company was either. So you’ve got to learn a lot of things. And you’ve got to like I learned what a fulfillment center was, what a distributor does, and then we created our distribution model. Based on that. We don’t spend money upfront if we go to another country because the distributor will buy at least 20 linkers for distributor cost. And then sell them locally. So they pay upfront, what we do is invest in a website for that country, with a storefront on the website, etc, etc. And like I’ve been to Australia, I’ve been to New Zealand to launch the linker, that’s an investment that we’re making. It’s also my fun, that’s the only holiday that I’m getting that I get to drive through New Zealand for three weeks and do 40 presentations and stuff. That’s me that’s my kind of holiday. For the rest of the, the costs are not I mean a pandemic post a whole different problem because just to give a little breakdown on what to pandemic did to us. Previously, I was able to order 150 linkers we produce in Taiwan because Taiwan is an was and still is we’re trying to pivot to something else, which we’ll address later. But Taiwan is the country where you go if you want to have high-quality manufacturing, consistent quality manufacturing, and good partnerships. We’ve got a minute factory in Taiwan that pulls from 43 or something different suppliers, pulls all the components puts that in the frame making then into the paint factory and then in the assembly plant. And so that 150 linkers that we were able to, to order. Previously, before the pandemic, we got in four months in a warehouse here in the US or Canada, during the pandemic, that changed the minimum order quantity to 1000 units of which we still have to prepay 30% have an increased price by least 30%, their price went up because rubber, aluminum manufacturing all that stuff shipping insane. And then we would get them maybe in 24 months. So my delivery time went from four months to 24 months. How do you bridge that gap? How do you have stuck in your warehouse and bridge having to pay all that upfront with a minimum order quantity of 1000 units this is where EDC comes in. During a pandemic, EDC has secured 75% of my line of credit with Vancity. So I’ve got a $400,000 line of credit to bridge exactly that to the bridge supply chain. And 300,000 of that is secured and guaranteed by EDC. That is an incredible tool that helped us to be able to dig into the line of credit and then by revenue, fill that up again. Without that, I don’t know how we would have done that. Because the supply of the bridging gap is just insane. And it’s still struggling like we’ve got more in the warehouse now than we’re selling. And then the next shipment comes in December only like if we’re selling out by December, which we probably will, then we are on backorder. Again, because it’s so rough to estimate that and to manage that whole thing after it was disrupted so hard. And to indicate shipping containers, a 40-foot container cost us about two to two and a half $1,000 from Taiwan to the US, for example, to ship Seattle 40-foot shipping container. Now it was we paid up to $22,000 for one container. It’s insane. And it’s slowly coming down again, but it was completely insane. And there’s no way you can control that. And there’s no way nearly no way that you can explain to your customers what happened. Because people before the pandemic didn’t even know how to spell supply chain. Right? Setting or no supply chains to people that oh yeah, the supply chain to get my food to the supermarket because there were empty shelves and people like what empty shelves in the supermarkets like, yeah, I guess there’s a supply chain issues supply chain, where does that. And that is one of the huge advantages and benefits, I think of the pandemic. And I want to focus on the benefits of the pandemic, all the things that we have learned, all the things that have been unveiled.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 43:16
There’s so much uncertainty and entrepreneurship on a regular day, then add these, you know, this awakening around supply chain issues and all of these various challenges and costs and, you know, all of these various barriers that people were not anticipating. And we’re lacking community in so many ways. I think at the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen people come together and create support and create, you know, different types of infrastructure that have made a more meaningful difference. I hope that will kind of anchor post-pandemic, to your point, whatever that looks like to Mike, do you have any advice on how entrepreneurs can self-audit check-in and see what finance they need to get ready before exporting? What advice do you have about the finance prep?
Tamaïka Jumelle 44:00
Yes, financing is one of the biggest challenges that Canadian exporting companies face, especially for new exporters that want to tap into new markets and export and try to increase their cash flow to complete a contract. So there are many costs associated with doing business abroad. For example, attending a trade show new marketing material, translating a website, new hires, traveling abroad to meet potential customers, shipping samples, etc. And the costs increased rapidly while obtaining that purchase order that first purchase order can take months and then you have to find that purchase order and then the payment can take months to come after that. Right. That’s what he was saying before. And so part of assessing if a company is ready to export relates to reviewing its financial health over the past, let’s say five years, but also assessing if it has the necessary capacity and the flexibility to endure that add those additional costs that will adversely affect the cash flow, as well as the current sales and operations. And so I think that companies should ask themselves if they can sustain with what they have the resources that they currently have, but also if they can obtain enough capital or credit to produce the product or deliver the services, and also how they will reduce the financing risks associated with international trade, for example, foreign exchange risk as well. And again, many resources exist. We talked about EDC and TCS, but there’s also the BDC, the Business Development Bank of Canada, and CCC, which is the Canadian Commercial Corporation. And, of course, the financial institutions that have a variety of solutions to support companies as they are looking to finance their export,
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 45:49
Amazing and dabbling into risk. Not that we want to be fear based in this conversation, but I think it’s important to, you know, be eyes wide open to some of the potential risks. What risks do you recommend Tamaika to be aware of as you’re exporting? You mentioned a couple of different examples in your last question and obviously, supply chains. A big challenge at the moment, what other risk areas should we be aware of?
Tamaïka Jumelle 46:13
Yes, there are many considerations to think about, but I will just keep it to the two main ones, in my opinion, which is the risk of not understanding the market, and as well as the risk of not getting paid. So the risk of not understanding the market is super important. We’ve seen companies export and invest abroad. And they are not just successful, because either they didn’t do a proper market analysis, or they miss key elements of that analysis. And so to mitigate this, proper market analysis in developing an export plan, with the help of industry experts, in my opinion, is essential. It’s important to analyze consumer preferences, even store layout, distribution, channel, cultural considerations, etc. Because these can become very costly mistakes and ultimately fail an expansion. The second risk that I would mention at this time is the risk of not getting paid. We talked about that a little bit. So there is the risk associated with sending a product or providing a product or a service anywhere around the world and not receiving the payment. Sometimes companies will ask for an advance payment. But this is this puts them at a competitive disadvantage to orders that can give open terms. And so again, to mitigate this risk, there is the opportunity to have accounts receivable insurance. And this covers companies in case of nonpayment by the foreign buyer, ensuring sales allow sellers to offer more competitive payment terms to win contracts without risk, etc, and offers a very the offer credit insurance solutions. So again, in my opinion, these are the two main ones, but there are also the intellectual property, political risks, legal and tax consideration, and labor laws as well that companies should consider and analyze as well. And again, this is one of the benefits of drafting an export plan to identify those considerations, the risk and having a strategy and a plan to mitigate those.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 48:22
Amazing those are helpful, even just terms to start being aware of as you’re navigating, and exporting, you mentioned IP. And I would love to go into that intellectual property piece because I think, often entrepreneurs might think, you know, I’m protected in Canada, that then protects me internationally. And that can potentially put you into some hot water. So when it comes to protecting your business, a product that you’re developing, and your company overall, what kinds of protection exist for business owners, what types of resources can we point them to in this conversation?
Tamaïka Jumelle 48:54
Yes, regarding IP, I think it’s essential to look into that the protection in Canada doesn’t mean as you said that you’re protected elsewhere. So it’s really important to understand how property rights vary from country to country from time to time, as well. So there is a Canadian Intellectual Property Office, which is an agency that delivers Intellectual Property Services in Canada but also educates Canadians on how to use IP more effectively, worldwide. There are different forms of IPs, I’m not gonna get into the details of the patterns, the trademark copyright, etc. But companies need to understand what it means for them how they are protected, and in which categories they fall because each of the categories is associated with different sorts of protections. And so that is something that I would recommend either going to two lawyers that are experts in that field so that they get the industry expert and be our company and make sure that they are protected. Because again, that can be a costly mistake to think that We’re protected worldwide when we’re protected here, we’d all have examples of, you know, big, big lawsuits that have occurred, because there were some copies elsewhere, for example, or just on the recipes, or the patterns of music and things like this, or just the logo and the visual. And this is important for the companies because it’s part of their immaterial brand as well.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 50:25
Great comment there when you look at your team at Alink or when it comes to exporting. Do you have the support that looks at IP that looks at some of these different dimensions? What is the support of your company around you helping to make these decisions as you grow?
BE Alink 50:41
Well, we’ve got a direct team, and we’ve got some people on a contract or per hour as we’ve got around the world, the linker distributors who are linker users, nearly all of them, except for one, I think, I love that. Yeah, well, that’s the best people that can sell the product because they live the life, right? They live the experience. We’ve got an old family friend, who happens to be a litigation lawyer for the European government. So he’s quite good and well-connected. And honestly, if it wasn’t for investors, and their first question, like, Do you have a patent, I would never have patents because I don’t believe in patents. Patents a few 100 years ago started as an information-sharing system. Nobody knows that anymore. But it was information sharing, when when the Drazin that two-wheeled walking bike 200 years ago came into the market, within a year, in every European country, there was a variation of the Drazin because the pattern traveled around. It wasn’t to keep it all for that’s the winner takes all concept. It was a sharing system. Like this is so cool. I want everybody to know this. And so the moment I’m not dependent on investors anymore to say like, Do you have a patent? I will release my patents as soon as I can. Because I don’t believe that that whole system that just serves lawyers, and is based on competition and greeting everything towards you is good.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 52:17
Absolutely. Fair enough. I think that’s an important perspective actually, and democratizing access to, you know, various products and how things are built are other examples. I think with, you know, much larger groups, I think with Elon Musk as well. There are so many different, you know, different leaders that are trying to champion that mentality, which is an important one to my gut. So looking at, you know, your role at invest in Canada, really identifying, creating, and developing new investment opportunities for global companies. I’d love to dive a little bit into this question as well. Can you share more about how Canada specifically is a reliable investment space for companies?
Tamaïka Jumelle 52:54
What the Canadian landscape currently looks like? And share your perspective from your role at invest in Canada. Yes, absolutely. Foreign direct investment in Canada is rich, with 15 years high in 2021. So global businesses put international expansion plans into action, and Canada was top of mine. Global companies invested $75.5 billion in Canada in 2021. And in fact, Canada was number three in the world for FDI. We had 736 new projects announced creating over 34,000 jobs. So what those numbers show is really that Canada is reliable, because we were already well positioned for a strong and resilient economic transition, which was only accelerated by the pandemic. Canada is recognized as the best country in the G 20. To do business, and for more than a decade, we’ve led g7 countries in economic growth. Canada is the gateway to North America. We are a trading nation, we have 15 signed a free trade agreement with 51 countries around the world, which will allow companies that are established in Canada to reach 1.5 billion consumers from Europe, North America, Asia, and beyond. We’re the only country of the g7 countries to have a free trade agreement with all the other g7 countries. And just a few assets that Canada presents and just to show how reliable we are as a destination for investments. Canada has a diversified economy and natural abundant natural resources. For example, our energy is clean, green, and reliable. Quebec in particular has 99.8% of its electricity coming from wind, solar energy, and hydropower. We have the lowest electricity rates in North America. We also have an amazing highly skilled workforce. Canada is the most educated labor force among the OECD countries. We have competitive operating laws, tax incentives, and a competitive r&d environment. So this is important in attracting companies to Canada. And I will just mention the government support at the federal level, but also the provincial level. The governments are dedicated to helping companies, there are strategies and specific programs to support sectors like life sciences, digital industries, Evie batteries, clean tech, hydrogen, etc. And so I think that global investors from all over the world are starting to understand better what Canada has to offer and invest in Canada, we are focused on finding the best to invest.
BE Alink 55:42
There’s one thing that I would like to address is like, at the beginning of the pandemic, when it became apparent that we had to order so many linkers in advance, we couldn’t order more than them, we had money, cuz there is a limit to that, that you can pay forward over two years. So we said to each other like, okay, so we cannot grow in the next few years. Fantastic, because now we can go deeper building or practicing who we are as a company. And something that I have dreamt about for a long time is redesigning the linker in such a way that we can locally produce it. Because previously, you couldn’t say all the manufacturing back to Canada? Oh, no, we can’t afford that because of labor laws and all that stuff. There’s a crack in that question right now. And I do believe that I can redesign the linkers such that we can bring back money manufacturing, back to Canada, or North America, for that matter, but on per continent, and then redesign it in such a way have Cradle to Cradle or cradle to grave, in mind, build it in the material choices, the labor choices, all that stuff. And make it such that it can be replicable, not expandable like we have globalization but which is growing out of your context. So you don’t know the scale, you’re not in contact with the scale anymore. If you think about a local economy, and then you replicate the local economy, then you could build the plant that we build in Canada, for example, also build that in Africa, that supplies and Africa eliminate all the international shipping. That’s what we’re doing right now. And that’s a super interesting process. We’re doing that with a partner company design company in Toronto cortex. And really exploring like, like, if we go into OLED, if we explore all the ways that we can manufacture in Canada, because there’s manufacturing happening in Canada, what do we need to do to translate the linker into manufacturable ways here in Canada, and then we can build a plant that assembles the linkers, for example, that is wheelchair level, for example. So whether you use a wheelchair or not, you use a wheelchair when you’re in that plant, for example, and then be able to employ people with disabilities. As we’re normal people with disabilities are just discarded as unemployable. I don’t believe that I think as an employer, we are we need to change to make our workplaces more accessible for everybody. So that’s the whole process. And that’s not a simple process. But I’m crazy. And I do things that I dream up and, and vision, in my experience is that if you dream hard enough in where you can see it happening already, you’re there, then you can work your way back. If you focus on all the problems on the road, you’re never going to get there because you’re just focusing on all the obstacles and then getting lost and all the obstacles. So I’m a dreamer. And imagine and dream is the words in history that brought us real change. Right? That is powerful because that’s living in abundance. So dare to dream, manifested back, dare to imagine and live there, and then manifest and back, and then way more is possible. Then trying to fix the problems, stop fixing problems. This is not a problem to fix. Everything that we’re facing right now is not a problem to fix. Stop. Imagine how you want to live to imagine who you want to be in that world going forward. To make it liveable with each other. Oh my god, we can have so much fun. We can have so much fun doing it. This is not a problem.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 1:00:00
Right. Oh, powerful statement V. I think that’s a great posted moment for the podcast today. And yeah, imagining and, you know, having that vision, there are so many, you know, great examples of other entrepreneurs just like yourself that are completely reimagining things and dreaming big. And we need that at this stage in so many different global crises that we’re faced with at the moment. And that type of spirit is well appreciated, I think, to me, as well today. So final piece of advice of this very, you know, colorful and really interesting conversation around global and exporting be what would be your key piece of advice to entrepreneurs that are looking to export their product or service.
BE Alink 1:00:41
Well, there’s something we haven’t mentioned yet about exporting you’re entering a different culture, people have a different perception of the world of who they are of how we live in very individuals. World. If you export to Japan, it’s a weak culture. It behaves differently, it behaves differently. How you negotiate contracts is very different here than it is in the Netherlands than it is in Japan. So learn your visitor only I did 10 years of international work have always been a visitor and there was a country. So it’s up to me to figure out what works and how it works and how people communicate with each other. And it’s a very, if you do that wrong in Japan, you can forget Japan, like that. So building relationships is the core, I mean, I built my company on relationships, we don’t have a contract, for example, with a manufacturer in Taiwan, if I’d had a contract would probably be bankrupt because there were finance, ways that I would have to pay. At one time I owed him $450,000. And he said, Don’t worry, I know this is going to happen. And of course, I paid him overtime, but had I had a contract with payment terms, I would have been bankrupt. So it’s building the relationship, understanding that you’re a visitor in a country. And it’s up to you to understand how you enter that market. And build relationships with people settle down, visit there have tea, or coffee, or Saki, or whatever with each other. But take time to build relationships, don’t jump into contracts and purchase orders and all that stuff. Nobody likes to be talked to as a bucket of money. No one. So build relationships and make friends.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 1:02:39
Great piece of advice be to make what would be your final piece of advice for potential exporters?
Tamaïka Jumelle 1:02:45
Yes, well, BE’s were amazing. It’s very important to those cultural considerations. And I think that companies and people here would consider this as part of their export strategy. Because part of the strategy is also understanding the orders, as you said, not only about the money, and you know, the very, the distribution, etc. But behind all of this, these are people and these are cultures, and it’s very important to understand that and to avoid making very costly mistakes as well. I would say that the piece of advice is really to network. We talked about the power of community, you gave a few examples of how this was helpful during the pandemic, but also just building that network of people that we can that companies can go to, for advice, not only the industry experts, but among other fellow exporters, I have seen a painting in the rooms of different programs for exporters and the relationship that are created amongst themselves not only with the industry experts but amongst themselves. And they kind of do business together as well because there is some synergy. But there’s also the opportunity to benefit from the advice that is given the best practices. Who did you go to? How do you do this? And I think that there is power behind this. And this is how everyone is helping each other to move forward. So I would say those five to sevens after work is a great way to connect with like-minded people, people from different industries as well. And this is helpful to move everyone forward in their expert journey as well.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 1:04:29
That’s a wonderful note to end on just the power of a community of tapping into these existing communities and knowing that you’re not alone, this is a very daunting, you know, potential next step that you’re exploring with it when in your business when you’re looking at exporting. But know that there is an entire community backing you from the government of Canada from formal programming from community-based organizations. There’s so much out there to help you navigate through this and I hope that that’s been reflected in today’s episode I hope all of our listeners are just excited. As excited as we are to enter into this export journey and feel supported along the way, be and to my gut. Thank you so much for joining us on the startup women’s podcast. It has been such a pleasure chatting with you both. And we can’t wait to see where both of you go next in terms of support to mica and also in terms of the evolution of the linker.
Tamaïka Jumelle 1:05:20
Thank you so much for having us. This has been a wonderful conversation I learned a lot and I will make sure to follow both of you and see where you go from here as well. Thank you for having
BE Alink 1:05:31
Likewise, thank you for having us.
Kayla Isabelle (Startup Canada) 1:05:36
Head to www dot the A linker.com. To learn more about BT, who the linker is for how it works. And for videos and talks from being about their design and thinking philosophies to connect us to mica and to learn more about investing in Canada and the O with Ottawa and Toronto chapters Head to www dot invest in canada.ca. And oh, it that’s o w I t.org. Thank you so much for joining us on the startup women podcast where we are committed to telling the stories of women entrepreneurs and uncovering actionable advice that goes beyond the surface level. The startup women podcast is produced by Lauren Hicks and Maddie styles and is made possible with the support of BDC and Scotiabank, so we can continue to power women-identifying entrepreneurs. Visit startup can.ca. To explore the startup women’s flagship program and access advisor support and free resources. Be sure to check out the show notes to access important links, resources, and information that we mentioned during today’s episode. Thank you for listening and we look forward to another episode next month.