A trend of mid-life entrepreneurs idea to international sales potential with help from the free Export Navigator program
Imagine waking up from a dream with a business idea. You peel back the layers, the fog shrouding that dream dissipates and, in three short months, you’re running a successful business. It may sound like a fable, but for local export advisor Amber Piché, it’s a reality she’s seen come true time and time again.
“There’s a surprising number of entrepreneurs in the Thompson-Okanagan region who wake up with an idea that balloons into a viable business almost overnight,” says Piché, Thompson-Okanagan Export Advisor, Export Navigator.
The provincial Export Navigator program supports entrepreneurs with free advice from export specialists and helps entrepreneurs determine export readiness and develop strategies. Export Advisors also help businesses with everything from product development to marketing, financials, networking and logistics.
“Our unique market breeds passionate entrepreneurs who excel at finding success in an evolving business landscape,” says Piché.
June Alexander, owner of Sugar Free Please, embodies this type of emerging entrepreneur.
When Alexander started baking healthier treats made without sugar and gluten, she had no intention of running a business. The former interior designer loved making her sugar-free baked goods on the side. But, after selling out at farmer’s markets across the Okanagan, Alexander knew she had tapped into something bigger.
“I had no idea how many people out there ate a restricted diet like me,” says Alexander. “There was this whole silent world of people out there trying to avoid sugar.”
From humble beginnings as a lineup of delicious snacks sold at Okanagan farmer’s markets, Sugar Free Please has grown into a successful business with products available on shelves in local markets and retailers. Alexander quickly moved operations from her home kitchen to a commercial space in Kelowna. And, during peak business times, her team swelled to as a many as eight employees.
That’s when she met Piché. With the help of Piché and the Export Navigator program, business skyrocketed with Sugar Free Please more than doubling its revenue in 2021.
“You don’t know what you don’t know, and as I began working with Amber, she filled in gaps that existed in my knowledge because I was not coming from a grocery or manufacturing background,” says Alexander. “She had a lot of insight into that world that I did not.”
Piché works with select business across the gamut of industries to help them expand their product or services to reach new markets beyond B.C.’s borders. And for Piché, Alexander’s story of fast success is more common than people think.
In five short months, Kamloops rancher John Hollstedt turned his idea for a ground-adjustable support system for pole-mounted solar panels into a business with domestic sales projections nearing $1 million in his first year. Hollstedt reached out to Piché to help realize the potential for JH Solar Systems and is now scaling as the pair navigates interprovincial and international exporting.
“I love helping these entrepreneurs improve their business operations in the areas of marketing and business development,” says Piché. “It’s powerful to see others realize their dreams. I’m grateful that I get to be part of the process.”
For Armilla Tech’s Lance Heron, the idea for a new product actually did come to him in a dream: wearable football technology that empowers instant play-calling from the sidelines. Within a few short months of having his dream, the military veteran and football coach had a prototype.
“Most people can’t believe we created an entirely new system in such a short time,” says Heron, who quickly expanded beyond his home market in Salmon Arm with sales as far as Mexico and leads in Japan.
“Amber has been amazing and put us in touch with border brokers to help us bring Armilla Tech to international markets. She’s introduced us to people, helped us with our pitch, put us in contact with potential manufacturers, and started conversations with Canadian trade commissioners to really help us get out there and showcase our product.”
Through Export Navigator, Piché helps entrepreneurs tap into new markets every day.
“When entrepreneurs are getting started, even inter-community exporting can feel like a big step. These small steps are a great way to see what’s possible while building confidence in yourself and your business. It’s so inspiring to see entrepreneurs like June, Lance, and so many of my other clients turn their dreams into successful businesses,” says Piché.
“The reality is that you can export without me. A lot of companies export without using the Export Navigator program. But the purpose of the program and the reason why I like to work with clients one on one is to help make the process easier. We navigate the export process together as we work to bring your product, your service, your dream to new markets.”
To learn more about Export Navigator, book a free expert consultation with Piché, Thompson-Okanagan Advisor. Contact Piché via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-250-869-5323. Limited spots are available.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery & Innovation and the Government of Canada through Western Economic Diversification Canada.