Four Years ago, I wrote about resources available to help diverse businesses grow business globally. Now several years and a pandemic later, I was able to take advantage of some of these resources to expand my connections and grow my business.

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers and to my global readership, wishing you a pleasant kick off to the festive season!  I spent the beginning of November in London, where I met up with fellow business owners from the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and met up with a friend from WEConnect International who is now making businesses in London more sustainable.  The trip itself was wonderful – and productive. And it was supported by a STEP grant from Maryland, where my business is headquartered. Let me tell you how that happened.

When I worked at WEConnect International, many U.S. companies that got involved with the organization were interested in going global. As WBENC certified companies, their certification had helped put them in front of large companies.  As they grew with their corporate partners, many had started working outside the U.S. and some had been invited to work internationally by current clients. Others wanted to partner with certified women business owners located outside the U.S.

Government Resources for Exports

WEConnect International and their organizational partners made resources available to U.S. businesses from the federal government with the goal of incentivizing small businesses to export.

One of the resources that I learned about was a STEP grant which subsidizes certain costs of marketing and travel to boost small business exports.

I had initially recommended the grant to my husband Jason, whose business is already global by virtue of the fact that his business partner is France.

I realized, however, that there were opportunities for my business in the UK, as well.

Supplier diversity is relatively new in the international space but my experience as part of the WEConnect International team gave me some understanding of the international market. I talked to a representative at the State of Maryland department of commerce to learn the process which was pretty straightforward.

How to Apply for a STEP Grant

The applications are accepted on a rolling basis. An applicant needs to provide a description of their trip, the approved expenses they expect to incur, and the business outcomes – exports – they hope to achieve. One approved, the grant package outlines accepted expenses (travel, marketing costs, conference fees, lodging) and unaccepted expenses (food, alcohol, and entertainment). Upon submitting the receipts for reimbursement, the applicant can receive reimbursement for 2/3 of those costs, up to a total of $5000.

For me, the grant allowed 12PointFive to solidify contacts and expand my network in the UK. COVID taught us while that zoom can collect us,  in person meetings really connect us.

International Connections

As a WPO Chapter Chair, I am part of a global network of successful business owners and the fellow Chapter Chairs who lead their groups. In planning my first international trip in over two years,  I planned to attend a UK meeting of WPO with their chair, the inimitable Karen Tracey, whom I had met at the WPO conference in Montreal last May.

At the WPO meeting I met with the WPO members from the UK as well as a visiting member from South Africa.  I told them about my business and we had a valuable conversation about the similarities in business cultures between the US and the UK and the differences.  In order to continue to establish connections between the business owners across the continents, we agreed to put together a symposium to bring the UK members together with WPO members in my DC, Greenbelt and Baltimore chapters.

I also connected with Maggie Berry, OBE the former Director of WEConnect International in Europe and the new Director of Heart of the City which helps SMEs in London with sustainability plans. Since I just launched a series of courses helping business owners measure their sustainability impact to tell their story, it was a very timely meeting.

Maggie and I had worked together for many years when I was in the WEConnect International HQ office and she was Director for WEConnect in Europe. It was wonderful to catch up with her and learn about her new role.

I look forward to working with these other champion connectors to identify more opportunities for current and potential clients in the US and the UK.

Domestic Connections

When I returned home, I went right to the Innovate with WBENC conference here in DC where the main topic of conversation among corporate supplier diversity professionals was Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Goals.

Supplier diversity fits into the “S” part of ESG. In addition to that, Pam Eason, President and CEO of WBENC and the corporate representatives WBENC brought together from Wells Fargo, Raytheon, Capital One, Robert Half, PepsiCo and others made the point that for corporate members regulations and guidelines for meeting the ESG standards are still evolving. Those vendors and suppliers who can evolve with corporate partners to help them meet their goals and tell their stories will differentiate themselves in the years to come.

Finally, I finished up the week with another chance to connect in person, this time a little closer to home. My WPO Baltimore chapter held their retreat in Rehoboth Delaware. As their Chapter Chair, I was able to arrange a large house for connections and conversation, private yoga and chef sessions, and the chance to get together up close and personal.  As I told my husband when he asked about the agenda, over the past two years, we’ve been able to get content – connections have been harder to come by.  I was able to facilitate a mini-meeting but more importantly, we got to deepen the relationships we’ve been building together in a relaxing atmosphere.

Quick Takeaways

I look forward to taking the time to connect these seemingly loose threads in the upcoming months. My quick takeaways are that 1) In person meetings are so important and have been sorely missed and 2) ESG and sustainability are critical for small businesses who want to grow their businesses with corporate relationships, especially within the supplier diversity network.

Given the whirlwind that’s been November so far, the Thanksgiving break will give me the opportunity to reflect on these connections and re-connections and ramp up to make them even more meaningful in 2023.