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Barbara Stegemann: Ernst & Young Atlantic Entrepreneur Of The Year

Barbara Stegemann:  Ernst & Young Atlantic Entrepreneur Of The Year

Barbara Stegemann’s entrepreneurial vision was formed after her best friend—a soldier—was severely wounded in Afghanistan. Understanding that supporting Afghanistan’s economy was a key to building stability for its people, Stegemann created The 7 Virtues Beauty—a company that sources organic oils from countries experiencing the effects of war and poverty in order to create change. The Financial Post talks to Barbara about her recent trip to Haiti as a guest of the Clinton Foundation:

Barb Stegemann is excited. The successful businesswoman — she is the Halifax-based founder of The Seven Virtues Beauty Inc., a fragrance business that sources fair-trade essential oils from countries that are rebuilding, and the Ernst & Young Atlantic Entrepreneur Of The Year emerging entrepreneur category winner for 2012 — is just back from a trade mission to Haiti organized by the Clinton Foundation. She was the only Canadian entrepreneur on this trip of 20 hand-selected investors from France, the United States, Ireland and Germany. “I was there because SMEs are economic drivers and I had a long conversation with Bill Clinton about the power of SMEs to innovate and change lives,” Ms. Stegemann says. “We toured farms and factories, travelling across the country in UN helicopters. It was an amazing experience.”

It was also an amazing opportunity for Ms. Stegemann to build her network with influential and successful entrepreneurs and to find a new supplier in Haiti to help her continue to grow her business and, in the process, help the people of Haiti help themselves by building their own successful businesses.

In fact, The Seven Virtues’ four fragrances are carried in each Hudson’s Bay store across Canada and last month it was the sixth-top selling-fragrance among the prestige brands Hudson’s Bay carries. It was the No. 2-selling women’s fragrance in Air Canada’s in-flight duty-free catalogue.

The fragrances, which are sourced from Afghanistan, Haiti, Israel and Iran and are changing lives by creating economic opportunity, just sold out in Lord and Taylor in New York. “I want to be the No.1 fragrance,” Ms. Stegemann says.

It’s exactly that kind of big thinking and big ambition that Ernst & Young wants to foster with the its North American initiative: The Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women program. It is a competition and executive leadership program that got its start in the United States in 2008, and it has been extended to include Canada as of April 2. The goal is to help women entrepreneurs navigate what Ernst & Young has coined the missing middle — that point beyond startup where they scale up, achieve significant growth and become market leaders achieving their full potential.

“Women entrepreneurs are a driving force in the North American economy. If you look at the statistics, 46% of all private companies in the United States are at least half-owned by women, and that represents 16 million jobs. In Canada, the number of women-owned businesses grew by an explosive 208% between 1981 and 2001,” says Carrie Marchitto, Ernst & Young senior manager and Canadian program sponsor. “We see that real robust growth in the early stages for women entrepreneurs but then we don’t see them scaling up. Ernst & Young looked at why this is the case because we believe women-owned businesses have the potential to contribute significantly to the global economy. We challenged ourselves to go beyond simply talking about the issue and instead taking action and doing something different to change the game for women entrepreneurs.”

She points out that while there are many resources available at either end of the spectrum — the startup phase and at the point when a company is ready to launch an IPO — Entrepreneurial Winning Women aims to bridge the existing gap on the growth continuum. It targets women-owned businesses that are less than 10 years old with at least $2-million in revenue in each of the last two fiscal years.

Entrepreneurial Winning Women is designed to be much more than a competition. It is a customized, ongoing leadership program that allows participants to continue to engage as long as it benefits them. Among the highlights is an all-expenses-paid trip to the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, Calif., which brings together 2,000 of the world’s highest-growth company leaders, investors and advisors.

“We bring our resources to them with ongoing education, events, programs, access to advisors and investors all with the goal of helping them grow their businesses,” Ms. Marchitto says. In some ways, Entrepreneurial Winning Women is a stepping stone to Ernst & Young’s signature Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards. “While Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program is a celebration of entrepreneurial achievement, Entrepreneurial Winning Women is an endorsement of entrepreneurial potential.”

Most important, it’s working. According to a recent independent study of the program by the Babson College Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, revenues of program participants’ companies have grown almost 50% each year on average, with a corresponding 25% average annual growth in the number of jobs — and this during and post the global economic crisis.

The program was able to do this because it is built specifically around five critical things all successful entrepreneurs do: think big and be bold; build a public profile; work on the business rather than in it; establish key advisory networks; and evaluate financing for expansion.

“All entrepreneurs face challenges but it seems these five criteria are particularly pronounced in women entrepreneurs, and that’s why we see that missing middle,” Ms. Marchitto says. “The program really helps give women confidence to be bold, tell their story, build strong networks and access financing so they can take their businesses to the next stage.”

Ginny Dybenko, executive director of the University of Waterloo’s Stratford Campus and longtime Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards judge, has been watching and helping the evolution of women entrepreneurs for a number of years. During her time as dean of the Wilfrid Laurier School of Business & Economics she saw the number of women enrolled in business programs grow but she also saw a certain level of conservatism.

“They were less sure of themselves but I saw first-hand that once they had some encouragement and they get over that first hurdle, they are extraordinarily successful,” she says. “That’s why programs like Entrepreneurial Winning Women are so important. We need to create opportunities for women to build their confidence and provide access to the tools and networks that will help them move forward.”

Audrey Mascarenhas, president, CEO and majority shareholder of publicly traded Calgary-based Questor Technology Inc. and Ernst & Young Prairies Entrepreneur Of The Year clean-tech category winner for 2011, and a recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year National special citation for values-based innovation that same year, knows how hard it can be for women in business. A chemical engineer by trade, she was the first field operator at Texaco Canada and PanCanadian Petroleum before she went on to build a successful career in engineering and then become an entrepreneur on a mission to eliminate hydrocarbon emissions in a cost-effective way. She is working to take the business to its next stage of growth. In 2011, revenues were in the $6-million range, and she is hoping to grow them to $10-million plus.

“I believe women make good entrepreneurs. I also know as a woman in a male-dominated industry that I’ve always had to work twice as hard. I think it’s tougher for women to be connected and network, and I know how important it is to have good mentors,” Ms. Mascarenhas says. “I think the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program is wonderful. I also think if women are going to succeed the key will really come down to getting the same opportunities as men so we can show we are just as capable.”

The Financial Post/May, 2013