Archive for ‘Touring the US’

We’re heading west to San Fran & Napa

Posted by Debbie

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

In Denver, as well as San Francisco, we had several opportunities to meet Canadians who had decided to work south of the 49th parallel. An interesting conversation was particularly had when we met Marcy Grossman – Canadian Consul General in Denver (centre left in black & white) who during her career, has been posted in various Canadian consulates throughout the US. During our meeting, we learned about how these consulates are an instrumental resource referring and assisting Canadian businesses to create business relationships with American companies. “We can help vet and find appropriate American businesses in the various regions to work with,” Marcy explains. “$1.9 billion of trade crosses the Canada-US border.  And over 8 millions jobs in the US rely on trade with Canada”. Marcy highlighted that in Colorado there are 100+ Canadian and internationally owned business including Suncor, EnCana, Great West Life, Molsons Coors, Agrium & Enerplus.

Each consulate has a list of priority industry sectors.  In Denver, Marcy explained that they are:

  • North America Energy Security (pipeline, tar sands, etc)
  • Border Security
  • Agriculture and Trade Policies
  • Trade issues affecting competition

You can see the Rolex flipping in Marcy’s head as we explained the nature of our businesses. Without a beat, Marcy offered to make introductions, send useful documents and provide connections to firms that she and her team has existing relationships. What an incredible resource.  Marcy was ready to help in every way.

We then peeled back the Canadian flag (figuratively) and turned the tables to ask Marcy about personal experiences about being a Canadian businesswoman working in the US. Afterall, for the past 2 weeks we have been exposed to all of the resources and initiatives that the American government has geared towards growing women entrepreneurs in their country. Finally we had the opportunity to talk with another Canadian businesswoman & were curious of her perspective from a Canadian point of view. Let’s just say, we could have spent hours more with Marcy. I look forward to our paths crossing again.

Always a place at the dinner table…

Each city we visited, the 6 of us had the opportunity to meet an even further extension of people and to experience non-business setting. We all remarked about the unexpected kindness and generosity of the people in each city who opened their own homes for us and welcomed us for dinner and great conversations. All done completely voluntarily through their affiliation with the US Institute of International Education program office their respective city.

Not only did we enjoy this personal connection, I was inspired and in return, I will look into doing the same for international visitors to Ottawa. Thank you to whose who set a spot for me at your table – Anar & Todd in San Jose (Anar is seated 2nd from left & Todd is in back row), Roy & Laurie (in Denver), Marty (in Kansas City) and Katrina (in Austin)….and their friends who joined us at the table too. While the food on the table was good, it was the people in the chairs that were most memorable.

Go west young ladies, go west!

While Denver was fascinating and held many more opportunities and ventures to experience, San Francisco awaits! After nearly a week in Denver, we re-packed our luggage one last time and headed west to enter into another time zone and to see the western most coast.

I have visited to San Francisco several times for both fun as well as for wine related work. It is such a dynamic city, I was looking forward to see what San Francisco Institute of International Education had arranged for us. Their itinerary covered a lot of freeways and certainly did not leave much free time to explore this fantastic city. We’ll be back!

During our entire trip we have been trying to land dinner in Chinatown. We promised ourselves (and Amina as it was her birthday) that when we arrive in San Fran, it was the first thing we’d do. True to that plan, I asked the concierge at Park 55 Hotel not for his recommendations, rather for the Chinese restaurant he goes to. “The Capital on Clay Street has the best food and has the best chicken wings – hands down!” I was surprised by this comment, yet claims of San Francisco’s best wings was proudly plastered on the front door and the cover of the menu. And so…when in Rome, do as the Romans do…we ordered a plate of these mysterious wines along with an array of interesting Chinese dishes. Every mouthful was loaded with fresh ingredients, fish and spices. Delish!

Lending a hand to grow a business

The meetings in San Fran & the Bay area were different from the other cities. We were invited into businesses focused on kick starting small businesses, primarily for immigrants.

We met with Opportunity Fund (located in Silicon Valley) to learn how they help small ‘Ma and Pa’ businesses in the Bay area from dry cleaners to taxi cab drivers with microlending. With their regional, they are providing loans mainly to Hispanics – 55% are women, and 42% are under 35 years old. “We are the first stop BEFORE they go to the bank for a loan”, explained Devin McAlpine.

From there, we met with Joanne Gan at Kiva to learn about the impact of ‘crowd funding’ – individuals like you and me offering a minimum of $25 to an emerging business in a different corner of the world. They are currently lending $400 million by means of 800,000 lenders (aka you & me) around the world supporting budding entrepreneurs with uber low interest rates. “We are a website that provides connections to people with money to people who are looking for ways to make money” explained Joanne. And wandering around their open space office, Kiva demonstrated a novel workspace format that those of us from the east would coin as ‘very west coast’. Lots of photos were taken to remind us that a cube farm does not nurture a successful business.

Leaving the cheque book behind, we then moved away from lending funds to lending space in a commercial kitchen with our visit to La Cocina. This is an incubator kitchen primarily for immigrants to create unique foods from their homeland in a certified FDA kitchen with the goal to grow into a new business venture. Complete with all of the industrial kitchen equipment you can imagine, professional development courses and business coaching as well as a dedicated team focused on creating opportunities (farmers markets, catering, festivals) their culinary creations to sell. We were all impressed us with the commitment to create both the push and pull to help build a community of new businesses, or as renown business author & blogger Seth Godin would call it – a tribe.

We were interested midst of other communities at work when we visited the beautiful campus of Standford University. ‘It is so invigorating to be amongst young people learning’, Fiona mentioned as she looked around the campus & outdoor patio. Known as one of the most expensive universities in the US, I could not help myself from imagining what some of these young 20 somethings aspire to do once they graduated.

Do you know the way to San Jose?

Throughout my high tech career, rarely did a day go by when Silicon Valley goes unmentioned at the watercooler. In previous trips, I had driven past San Jose, but never stopped. This time, we arrived at our meeting earlier than planned, so we walked around the streets of San Jose and soaked up some California rays.

This Silicon Valley mecca that creates vibrant minds, innovative technologies and millionaires overnight was surprisingly dull and run down. Certainly there were corporate towers and campuses with familiar logos, but the main street lacked energy while the retail & restaurants were stagnate. Strange. The downtown core seemed to be somewhat ghost town, while surrounded by highrise corporate empires with logos of household names.

An afternoon in Napa with meetings of a different pace

Other flipside, in my wine career, Napa is the iconic mecca and I was thrilled that our last afternoon was dedicated to visiting the boutique wineries of Ceja Vineyards and St Supery Winery. Both businesses have a woman at helm. These two wineries are making an impression both locally as well as internationally with their wines. While for the past weeks, our meetings have been in boardrooms with death-by-Powerpoint slidedecks (ok, not that bad – it is just an expression!), I was excited to show the other ladies what a meeting in my wine world involved: sampling wines with the winery owner, talking about vintages, rambling through vineyards and visiting cellars.

Our tour was organized by Napa’s newest business (owned by 3 women no less!) – Verve Napa Valley Tours. First stop: Family run Ceja Vineyards where owner Amelia Ceja was holding down the fort at the tasting bar while juggling other buying clients. In contrast, our meeting at St Supery was in a private room overlooking 2200 oak barrels aging something amazing. Each meeting provided an educational & personalized tasting peppered with stories about the history of the business,  commercial growth along with mentions of the significant buildings on the estate …and whatever else came to mind over a glass of wine!

In keeping with our mantra to ‘go local’ at each city, I succumbed (yes, me of all people!) and the others too purchased some of our favorite Napa wines. These wines had connection to our tour and will be savoured & shared with those back home to remind us of our brief visit to experience first hand how California wine industry grows.

What? It’s done!?!?

Just like the day we started, we boarded our bus & conversations about our experience kept us entertained all the way back to San Fran. The only difference from before, was that was the end of our scheduled itinerary. Our last appointment. Our last day. Weird…our IVLP trip was done.

3 weeks and 5 cities with 6 phenomenal women had come to a close. It felt odd. The day that followed felt even more empty, as we departed at different times to back to our home city. Fiona left a day early as she was already booked for a vacation with her son in Mexico. Amina switched to an airport hotel to catch her 5am flight (which she did not make in the end). I set my alarm for 4:30am to surprise & see Nancy, Jennifer & Stephanie off, then went back to bed before getting ready for my flight at 10am.

Waiting for me in the lobby was Johnsy (middle row with black hat) – our US State Department representative – who was with us every step of the way – literally.  Johnsy made sure that we were always on schedule and stayed together. Thank you Johnsy for making sure that the trip went as smoothly as it did. I knew that you did so much more behind the scenes than you let on. Coincidentally, that once she was no longer watching over us, flights were delayed or missed & bags were lost. We all mentioned in email threads afterwards ‘where was Johnsy when we needed her?’

The best part of going away…is coming home

This saying is true of any holiday or time away from family for business travel. This trip was different though. While we arrived as strangers with a simple common thread of being Canadian, the experience that the US Embassy in Canada and the US State Department offered us by hand selecting the six of us to be part of their IVLP delegation focused on Women Entrepreneurs & Trade provided me personal growth, education that I probably haven’t realized its fullest impact yet, along with countless connections (not to mention a brick of business cards), and a greater appreciation for the importance of women being involved in growing the economy by starting their own businesses or breaking the glass ceiling – in any industry.

No post-trip report was required to be filed back to the US Embassy, rather I wrote this blog & tweeted as a way to give you a glimpse of my daily experiences as a proud women entrepreneur from Canada on the IVLP. Within days of my return, an email found its way into my inbox announcing that I was now an IVLP alumni and that there were still more connections and resources available in the months and years to come. The whirlwind trip may be done, yet the rest is only beginning.

In fact, last week, I had a quick voicemail from Amina saying that she was coming to Ottawa for a meeting the following day. I was excited to see her again! Picking her up at the station, we feverishly caught up all within 15 minutes while I drove her to her meeting. Little small talk was made and it was great to see her in her element….and later in the day, I found her ‘Afrique Expansion’ brochure left in the back seat of my car. She is definitely a businesswoman who never stops!

I imagine that this will be the way it is between the 6 of us now on. A friendly phone call to say hello, a tweet about an interesting tidbit or a group email to share the latest family or work news. I know that while we are spread across the country we will be inseparable.  We will always be there for each other. What a cool feeling to have of a group of women I had a hard time keeping track of their names less than a month ago.

Efforts to make plans to get together or arrange a quick rendez-vous when our travels brings us to our home cities of Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg or Prince George. Whatever may be the reason that our paths cross again, one thing is for certain, I have wonderful friends and business advisors who I can reach out to at anytime.

A million thanks!

Thank you to those at the US Embassy and US State Department who nominated and selected me to be part of the International Visitor Leadership Program featuring Women Entrepreneurs and Trade. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that you have created for me and look forward to those that are still to come.

With a glass of California wine in hand, I raise a glass to all of the people involved in making our trip memorable.  Cheers to you!

OK….so what is our combined shoe & luggage count now?

Total number of checked luggage: 12 pieces – increased now to include a case of wine from Napa – guess who that belongs to? 
Total number of shoes & boots between the 6 of us: 42 pairs total
Weight of each piece of luggage: well, we all ‘hovered’ at the airlines’ maximum 50lb mark per suitcase

Quotable quote & bloopers

Let’s just say that there are many inside jokes, stories and expressions that “will stay on the road”.

Continue to follow us on Twitter:

While we are not tweeting about our trip, we invite you continue to follow us on Twitter as we will be talking about #IVLP and the trip for a long time to come!
• @savvydebbie (me)
• @Halifax_Gateway (Nancy Phillips)
• @JenniferBrandle (Jennifer Brandle)
• @PillPak (Fiona Webster Mourant)
• @amigerba (Amina Gerba)
…while Stephanie had all of the latest tech gadgets in her purse, she never really got ‘onto’ Twitter…we’re still working on her!


What our fortunes say…


Denver: A mile high…& growing

Posted by Debbie

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Our travel itinerary had our time in Denver for the most days compared to the other cities on our 3 week IVLP tour. None of us had ever visited the city, except for touching down at the airport enroute to somewhere else.  The borders of this Midwest state are perfectly square, yet during the 5 days we were here, we found that they are pushing the boundaries with everything they do in this vibrant city.

If I were to pick one word to describe Denver, it would be ACTIVE.  From the meetings, events, dinners in peoples homes, networking functions and even at the Women’s Film Festival, it appeared that every level Denver-ites were actively involved in their city.

Actively promoting their uniqueness

As if perfectly timed, we excited to learn that we arrived just in time to take in the last 2 days of Denver Restaurant Week.  Over 300 restaurants across the city showcase a set multicourse menu of their signature dishes for a price of $58.20 per couple.  A strange number for a marketing promotion, I thought.

It was later explained to me that 5820 refers to the number of feet above sea level that Denver is located….aka a mile high…up.  This unique geographical position with the Colorado Rockies Mountain range in the not too far distance (less than 1 hour drive from the city centre) coupled with the fact that it is in a dry desert-like climate area boasting 300 days of sunshine, this city we found takes advantage of its unique altitude that no other city in the US can hold claim to.

We had delicious discoveries in downtown Denver at Restaurant 1515 and inmearby Boulder where we enjoyed lunch at Kitchen [next door].  We learned that there is a growing trend for chef/owners to start their restaurant in a small location amongst a neighbourhood such as Highlands providing lower overhead costs & rent than a downtown address. This is similar in concept to the business incubator spaces that we have visited in other cities as the location offers low overhead & operational costs as the restaurant grows its reputation and eventually moves downtown. We went to Corner House and Old Major (on its 15th day in business as they were still ironing out their kinks).  Surprisingly, the restaurants were jam packed – even on Monday & Tuesday nights! Other restaurants we were tipped of as ‘must dos’ were: Squeaky Bean, Vesta’s Dipping Grill and Ace.  All the more reasons to return to Denver!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Our first day of activities in Denver could have taken place anywhere.  Back to back events to celebrate International Woman’s Day where we were the guest of honour along with keynote motivational speaker Deedee Corradini, whose list of accomplishments is outstanding.

Inhale… Deedee began her career working on Capitol Hill (while being a single mom of two kids under the age of 8), first and only female mayor of Salt Lake City, UT (where she spearheaded the winning bid to host the Olympics), President of US Women’s Ski Jumping Team (leading the charge & recently winning a controversial law suit against Vancouver Olympic Games – with the Canadian women’s ski jumping team in tow) and now she’s President of International Women’s Foundation.  Exhale…

I have one question –  How does she do it ALL?

Both Jennifer & I wrote separate blogs about our experience during this single day as our Denver blog would be far too long.  Click to read mine and Jennifer’s article: You can’t BE what you can’t SEE– that appeared in Prince George Citizen.

Time to unwind

By Saturday, we all desperately needed a break from our tightly scheduled itinerary.  Waiting at airports & the times in between meetings or traveling on our bus was really the only time we had to catch up on work or call our friends and family back home.  And even this time was peppered with questions about our meetings and sharing of ideas.  When Denver began to brace itself for a ‘big’ snow storm, I have to admit that I was relieved to wake up to a cold rain-mixed-with-snow Saturday. While usually a perfect day to go to explore the city or visit a museum, I opted to relax & tackle my work to do list with a vengeance.  Turns out that the others did exactly the same!

Denver’s active lifestyle

Sunday was carved out to be 100% ‘me time’.  With new snow, and the Rocky Mountains just an hour away, what do you think I did? Absolutely! I treated myself by leaving my name badge and laptop behind to break away from our tightly knit group for a day of skiing on 13 inches of fresh powder at Breckenridge.  As you could imagine, it seemed that every Denver-ite was doing the same thing!

Going from 5820 feet to 13,000 feet in a matter of a few hours took my breath away – literally. It was perfect conditions with not-a-cloud-in-the-blue-sky day, no wind, ‘fresh pow’ and the ultimate – ‘fat skis’ made my ‘me day’ absolutely heavenly in the above the treeline playground.  It certainly revitalized me for the last week of our trip ahead.

This day was a turning point for me, and perhaps for the other 5 women with whom I have become fast friends. We all did our own thing on this day – not spending every waking minute with each other, which is completely different from the past 2 weeks.  While I was in my element on the ski slopes, I was looking forward to seeing them to share my adventures and to hear about their day too.  The 6 of us have grown an incredible bond.  We have started planning our ‘reunion’ and figuring out when we will be visiting each other’s city.  One thing is for certain, I have a new board of advisors for my business as they know more about Savvy Company from our meetings and discussions. I am very grateful for this unexpected connection through participating in IVLP.

‘ACTIVE-ating’ the downtown core

Since we arrived, we all commented on the positive energy and great vibe in Denver.  The Denver International Airport is growing into an Airport City, there were loads of funky looking housing developments & old brownstone warehouses cleaned up transformed into offices or loft living.  Construction and cranes seemed to be everywhere. There was a blend of modern, historic buildings and some that were revitalized similar to what we saw in Kansas City. Ken Schroeppel was once an urban planner, now Instructor of Planning and Design at University of Colorado Denver and highly regarded blogger on Denver’s development Urban Infill –  gave us a walk through of the development plans for the city’s Union Station revitalization.  He explained that residents are active in the decision making process of major developments in City Hall.

We couldn’t believe it when he explained that residents vote on all aspects of developments of their city.  Yes, vote! “Denver is civic minded.  They haven’t met a tax increase they didn’t like”, quips Ken with a smile. Actively engaging Joe Public in the decision making process of improvements and changes in their city was impressive.  And Ken explained that the City immediately undertakes the approved change/project with a timeline to have it completed within 4 years. Mind boggling when I think how long City of Ottawa has debated the pros and cons of installing Light Rail Transit.  In Denver, the Union Station revitalization and development project is already breaking ground and Francisco Alonzo – Director of Innovation at the Airport proudly reported that the first train running from downtown to the airport will be in 2016 along with a network of other lines, hotels, office buildings, active spaces for fountains, farmers markets, restaurant, retail and rental apartments.

We stayed at Brown Palace Hotel – Denver’s historic hotel. In contrast, a few blocks away was the 16th Street Mall – a pedestrianized street with free modern shuttle service that is directly connected to the city’s main bus lines providing a quick way to jump on and off at each street corner in order to make it easy to shop & dine at the various retail & restaurants lining this street. In the summer, 16th street is the heart of the city where on World Music Day, anyone with an instrument are welcome to perform on stages that the City of Denver has built.  Beyond this one day activity, the Keys of the City is an innovative way to keep 16th  Street Mall active with pianos of all kinds colourfully painted by local artists throughout the spring & summer months. “It started several years ago with a couple of pianos, and this summer, we figure that we will have 30+ pianos donated and painted for anyone to sit down and play or simply tinker on”, proudly commented Brittany Morris Saunders, VP Public Affairs of Downtown Denver Partnerships.


Oh, there is so much more to tell you about Denver that I will leave you with this for now
& be back with part 2 of the blog – stay tuned!

What is our combined Shoe & Luggage Count?

Since we had Sunday ‘off’, while I was skiing, the others did some ‘retail damage’ in Denver.  Amina bought another suitcase, all the while the others bought new outfits (we were getting bored with our packed luggage) and new shoes & boots! At our Monday meetings, we had a whole new and refreshed look!

Here’s the latest count…

Total number of luggage: 11 pieces that we checked in…don’t even ask how many we carried on!

Total number of shoes & boots between the 6 of us: 42 pairs (up from last count of 38)

We are women after all! 🙂


Follow us on Twitter

For in the moment tweets about our tour, follow our group on #IVLP and

  • @savvydebbie (Debbie Trenholm)
  • @Halifax_Gateway (Nancy Phillips)
  • @JenniferBrandle (Jennifer Brandle)
  • @PillPak (Fiona Webster Mourant)
  • @amigerba (Amina Gerba)



You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Posted by Debbie

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Did you see me at the hockey game in Denver where Edmonton Oilers had a shut out on Stanley Cup winning Colorado Avalanche? I was the one with a red maple leaf painted on my face, a Canadian flag held high, getting tackled by a group of dedicated Avalanche fans. Perhaps you didn’t catch that game and maybe I’m overindulging in my description of the evening, but it certainly was a thrill to be in Denver enjoying our Canadian national past time. (Proud Canadian gals in photo on left from front to back: Amina, Debbie, Fiona, Jennifer, Stephanie & Nancy)

It is my final week, of the three-week International Visitor Leadership Program, as a guest of the U.S. Department of State, with only days remaining in Denver before heading to San Francisco for the final stop. Washington, D.C.; Kansas City, Missouri; Austin, Texas, and now Denver: my experiences in these cities have taught me priceless lessons about Women in Business and the spirit of entrepreneurship. The inspiration I’ve received to dream big, lead boldly, and speak proudly will certainly affect my personal resolve and future contributions to Prince George and northern B.C.

Denver is known for many things: the mile high city existing 5,280 feet above sea-level, the world-class skiing in the nearby southern Rocky Mountains, and the wild blue mustang sculpture with glowing eyes greeting passengers at the Denver airport. Ironically, none of the things I knew about Denver have made much of an impression on me. Rather, I’ve spent the past three days here being inspired by women in business and by a civic-minded entrepreneurial city that has written its own story. But March 8, International Women’s Day, was a difficult paradox for me.

As guests of honour, our travelling group of six Canadian women attended the Denver World Affairs presentation of The Gender Agenda Gaining Momentum with guest speaker Deedee Corradini (in centre of photo), former mayor of Salt Lake City and president of the board of directors of the International Women’s Forum. I felt torn and conflicted as Corradini implored women to consider running for elected office. She spoke passionately of the need to increase the number of women in government, in decision-making positions as she was as the first and only female mayor of Salt Lake City. Then, fast forward to later in the day as I watched part of the movie Game Change in my hotel room, documenting the political life of Sarah Palin. While on one hand I believe women should consider politics as a career option, I wonder how attractive a political career is for anyone with a desire to make a difference.

And finally, part of our Denver program was to attend the Women + Film VOICES Film Festival in order to view the movie GIRL RISING, a new feature film about the power of education to change a girl and the world. This movie demonstrates that there is so much work to be done in helping women contribute fully and equally within all parts of life, work and community. These goals are supported by a strong business case too. Various studies, including those by the Reibey Institute, McKinsey & Co., and others, demonstrate a direct, positive relationship between the percentage of women on corporate boards and the company’s fiscal performance. Whether women choose to go directly into business or into politics, it is absolutely necessary for men and women alike to work towards achieving gender balance in every arena of life, it just makes sense at every level.

We are certainly making headway in women’s corporate and political representation in Prince George. With examples including women holding high ranking positions as mayor, newspaper publisher, minister of justice and attorney general of British Columbia, president and CEO of Northern Health, and CEO of Northern Development Initiatives Trust, as well as hundreds of business owners and managers, Prince George is no garden of shrinking violets. Our future is bright, but brighter still with the contributions and sacrifices of so many strong women.


This post was written by Jennifer Brandle-McCall (in photo left).  Jennifer is the CEO of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce and one of the dynamic women selected to participate in the IVLP tour across the US. Jennifer wrote this article for her weekly business column “Business in the Black” that appeared in the Prince George Citizen newspaper on March 14th, 2013. Jennifer also has a blog about her experience & discoveries while ‘on tour’. Her blog can be found at:


Think BIG. Be BOLD.

Posted by Debbie

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

We kicked off our IVLP Denver experience by celebrating International Women’s Day – March 8th – with several events where we the guest of honour alongside with the highly regarded Deedee Corradini, President of International Women’s Forum. You may be more familiar with her name as the woman who was recently in the headlines for her un-ending media, negotiations and law suit all in order to secure Women’s Ski Jumping as a Olympic event in Sochi Russia in 2014.

“It was the hardest and most rewarding endeavor”, Deedee told the crowd of 300+ women from WorldDenver and the Denver Eclectics  during her talk at the historic Denver Country Club.  Deedee is no stranger to the Olympic Organizing Committee as she was mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah (the first and only female mayor) and was instrumental in winning the bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.  She was obviously proud of this undertaking too as her smile lit up the room as she recalled the story about ‘the split second energy level went from silence to ear numbing roar as soon as the President of the Olympic Committee said the word ‘Salt….’ as Salt Lake City was announced as the winning city.  “Olympics is about world peace.  It brings the youth together for a few weeks and breaks down international barriers.”

Neither Olympic size challenges were no small feat, Deedee stressed the importance of International Women’s Day to recognize how far we have come in a short time in achieving. “Women rights are  human rights…all around the world”.

Left group – Kelly, Stephanie, Amina & Jennifer (in pink). Right group – Marcy Grossman (Canadian Consulate General), Nancy, Deedee Corradini (far right), Fiona & me (back)

We can do so much when more of us are engaged…

Did you know that there are countries such as Russia where the entire country celebrates International Women’s Day as a national holiday? “We can do so much more when more of us are engaged.” Deedee explains, “When women are provided access to education and training, it has a large impact.  Women flourish, families flourish and countries flourish.” The audience representing women from 30 to 80+ years old nodded in agreement. This was a remarkable moment for me to see from my front row seat.  And these active women were not just from Denver either.  There was a IVLP delegation – just like ours – who were visiting Denver from various African countries, focused on learning about US women in politics.

Deedee challenged all of us to get actively engaged in our community especially by participating as a Board of Director to a growing business.  She cites that research has found when a board has 3 women members, it is directly linked to a positive bottom line. The IMF even has launched a program specifically to train, prepare and secure board level positions for women.  Switching to politics, Deedee noted that Congress is lacking female governors and representatives.  In response to that, Deedee has initiated ‘Real Women Run’ to train women to run for political office. Her messages were repeated during the lunch and evening cocktail reception, where we along with the African delegation were guests of honour. All combined, it was certainly an inspiring day reminding us of all of the opportunities, support and resources that are available to women. “We have become global.  This has only been in the last 20 years. The internet has made us –at all ages – connected. We have to be actively engaged,” were Deedee’s parting words before she left for the airport to return home to her family.

The incredible power of education for girls

These words echoed when we were invited to attend Women+Film VOICES Film Festival the first screening in any US city of the film Girl Rising.  While we have been parachuting into cities for the past 2 weeks, it was comforting to see some familiar faces at the theatre who we had also attended Deedee’s talks the day before.

I highly recommend that everyone see this documentary – men, women and teenagers too. Here is the trailer. Girl Rising showcases 6 pre-teen girls from developing countries – Thailand, Sierra Leon, Cambodia, Nepal, Haiti, Peru, India.  The thread that weaves these girls together is their common life story that highlights the power of education to change a girl, not only personally, but also their education makes an impact on their families and  today’s world.  It is not an ‘all good news’ film.  There were moments in the film when tears streamed down my face.

This film intimately exposes the hardships and mind numbing stats & facts about girls all around the world whose life would be dramatically different if they were able to go and stay in school.  An education system exists in the featured counties, so that is not the issue.  For various reasons school was unreachable for these girls and countless others too.

Some reasons are cultural, political & were hard for me to wrap my head around:

– boys get the priority to go to school while the girls in the family stay home and work

– it is common place in some countries for girls to be married by age 13 years old bear children soon after

– there are more girls working as slaves (yes slaves!) than girls at school

– only those with money can go to school (even if it only costs a little)

– girls are told that they can’t go to school and don’t question why not.

By making ways for girls to go to school can be the first step in solving poverty, the spread of HIV Aids, and promoting cultural change and ultimately women in business.  It is easy to see that enormous problems in the world could be on their way to be solved if girls are in school.  This message was repeatedly driven home with narration of A-list actors including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchette and Selena Gomez amongst others. This is certainly gets my 2 thumbs up for its powerful messages.

During the movie, we were reminded that:

– $1 in the hands of a woman is, on average, worth $10 in the hands of a man

– Research consistently proves that educating and empowering girls breaks the cycle of generational poverty

– Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children. And when more girls are educated, a country’s malnutrition and HIV rates decline. (UNGEI, the Council on Foreign Relations)

– When girls receive 7 years of schooling, they marry 4 years later and have 2.2 fewer children. (United Nations Population Fund)

– When women are educated and empowered, democracy is more likely to flourish and the conditions that promote extremism are reduced. (World Politics)

My little way to help girls with school

Provoked by the film, we naturally gathered to share our impressions and personal stories.  She doesn’t know this yet, but I decided that as a birthday gift to Amina (Amina Gerba is one of the participants in the IVLP tour with me) each year, I will make a donation to her Gerba Foundation that assists in building schools for girls and boys in Cameroon, Africa. This is my little way to celebrate Amina’s efforts and help girls stay in school too – the powerful message of Girl Rising.


IVLP delegation of African Women in Politics visiting Denver for International Women’s Day. Deedee in centre


Keep Austin Weird

Posted by Debbie

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Our third city to visit during our International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) tour crisscrossing the US was Austin, Texas. None of us have been before so we were learning about the city together. With temperatures ranging 70-90 F, we were excited to shed our winter coats from Kansas and trade them in for sundresses and flip flops. Good thing too that we packed some as Monday turned out to be a record breaking 88F – the hottest day of the year – and it was only March 4th!

After inaugurating our arrival on Sunday afternoon with a meal of Tex Mex and margaritas at Iron Cactus Restaurant & Grill, we settled in for 4 days of meetings with friendly hospitality and southern drawl that Texans are well known for. Austin is the capital of the state and as we were reminded me several times is the little blue oasis ‘blue’ (aka liberal) in the large sea of ‘red’ (meaning the rest of the state of Texas is republican). Everyone we met reminded us that Austin was different than the rest of Texas…to the point that the phrase was coined Keep Austin Weird and they are constantly reminding you with bump stickers & T-shirts.

Weird or wonderful?

As I observed, there were many similarities between Austin & Ottawa (where I was born, raised & have chosen to establish my business). Both are cities with a small town feel. It is easy to know at least one other person when you walk into a networking function. Architecture is a mix of historic and modern buildings. Both government and high tech companies are the main employers. The cities have calendars full of festivals – the annual uber hip South by SouthWest (SXSW) had their kick off as when we departed. Rivers run through both cities & there are mazes of pathways for cyclists, walking & runners. Both have about 1 million residents, steady housing market, moderate cost of living and suburbs are expanding. And it is super easy to get around downtown walking, on a bike or with public transportation.

As our meetings came to a close, I often posed the question to our host – what makes Austin weird? Their responses were varied, but all had a common thread – Austin does things differently that people coming to the city might consider weird. To me, I think these reason are more wonderful than weird.

Here are a few of the things that Austin-ites think make their city weird:

• they collaborate rather than compete
• people smile or greet with a friendly ‘hello’ on the street
• they support local & independent businesses rather than chains & franchises
• business is sealed with a handshake rather than a signed contract
• people actually meet in person to collaborate & help each other to get things done
• only city where hippies and rednecks get along
• Austin is recognized is a creative city (interesting to note that Austin ranks 4th for registered patents)
• it is not who you know, but what you know
• everyone is in a band
• artists are everywhere
• people leave work behind them and go do something that they enjoy like hiking, biking, running or kayaking (we’d call that work-life balance)
• Small business are prolific in every industry

To me, I questioned whether these attributes were really weird or were they refreshing?

Our itinerary was dizzying with meetings of varying business associations, chambers of commerce, as well as officials from the Governor’s office, Department of Commerce and City of Austin. All reminded us of how Austin has grown from 250,000 to 1.4 million people in the past 30 years and their city is appealing to businesses primarily in California to relocate because of Austin’s moderate cost of living and access to a highly educated work force.

Small city with big name businesses…

Case in point, Google, Apple and Facebook want ‘in’. Dell was founded in Round Rock (burb of Austin). and IBM has large operations here and Whole Foods started in a small shopping mall and now has the world’s largest organic supermarket with their headquarters towering over the store located near downtown (while at Whole Foods, several of us picked up the book – Conscious Capitalism by Whole Food’s Founder & CEO John Mackey as it was highly recommended during our meeting with Trace High – CEO of The Banks Group Inc). During our meeting with 1st VP Texas Women In Business, she proudly stated that the top Fiat car dealership is in Austin and is owned by a woman. And being in Texas, of course these are countless oil, gas and petroleum companies located here too.

At our meeting with the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce were quick to point out that over 50% of start up businesses in their area are run by women. They shone the spotlight on Light Bohrd (a light accessory born out of a mother who had a son who would skateboard into the dark hours of the night). They started in the family’s garage and now house a manufacturing facility in Round Rock. Body Arts Forms business of nose rings, piercing and other body art accessories grew so fast that they built a unique technology that enabled quicker tracking of inventory by lighting the drawer in the warehouse where the small product was located. They now commercialize this technology for other businesses that have vast inventories of parts and small items.

Many of these start-ups were assisted by federal or state funding or are connected in some way to the numerous entrepreneurial networks – BiG Austin (BiG = Business Investment Growth), Texas Women in Business, Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Texas or even Rotary Club International. There are numerous conferences in town that support Austin’s ‘weird’ characteristic of sharing knowledge and resources (one that I was particularly interested in is Rise Global where 100s of seminars across the city attract engineers, techies and entrepreneurs to exchange & learn about technologies. And the conference is free of charge to anyone. ‘Rise’ as it is known has expanded from Austin (takes place this May) to include New York City too. And for an ongoing support, there are several incubators across the city like EGBI who offer training, coaching, certification and office space for new businesses. There is a great infrastructure of resources here…does that really make Austin weird?

Looking over my notes, web sites I jotted down that were of interest:
Texas Wide Open for
Women Impacting the Nation (WIN)
Tech Ranch Austin

Nothing weird about Austin’s food & wine scene…

We enjoyed fantastic Tex Mex meals where ever we went (and great margaritas too!). Iron Catcus had fine Tex Mex cuisine and a fun patio. At Krave Wine Bar in Round Rock I had my first taste of Texas wine – McPherson Viognier and Becker Vineyards Chardonnay. Both wines were crisp & dry and true to their grape variety characteristics with a distinctive mineral finish. Curious to learn about other wines from Texas, I stopped in at Twin Liquors (a highly successful wine retail chain in Austin run by a woman no less!) and found over 15 other wines on the store shelves made with typical grape varieties including Sangiovese (Italian style red), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Riesling. Next time I visit Texas, I will keep on exploring their wines.

We took a break from Tex Mex one evening and had an incredible meal at Wink Restaurant. Highly recommended by several people, this restaurant and wine bar was hidden in a shopping mall across from Whole Foods. With their farm to table approach of using as many locally grown ingredients in their menu and friendly staff along with a variety of Texas wines on the list, made for an enjoyable evening. We even considered going back for a second meal. Take it from me, if you are ever in Austin – this is a ‘must do’ restaurant.

Is Austin really so weird?

Throughout our visit in Austin, there were a few comments said that I think sum up the business culture in Austin:
‘You can start a business if you support a community’ – Claudia Conner, Outreach Director of BiGAustin
‘In Austin, there has always been an ability to do business on a handshake’ – Catherine Crago, President Diversity Interactive

Our trip continues with 5 days in Denver, Colorado…

Follow us on Twitter!

For in the moment tweets about our tour, follow our group on #IVLP and

  • @savvydebbie (Debbie Trenholm) – middle
  • @Halifax_Gateway (Nancy Phillips) – 2nd on left
  • @JenniferBrandle (Jennifer Brandle) – far right
  • @PillPak (Fiona Webster Mourant) – far left
  • @amigerba (Amina Gerba) – 2nd on right

Oh…and by the way, after our cowboy boot shopping, we counted that the combined total of  the 6 of us, is 38 pairs of shoes and boots…for 21 days! Only women readers will understand 🙂


Kansas – the cool place Dorothy calls home

Posted by Debbie

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Next stop on our International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) tour zigzagging across America is Kansas City, MO.  The first thing we learned is a common trivia question – what US city can be found in 2 states?  Answer: Kansas City – there is a city in Missouri as well as in the state of Kansas….and they are not that close to one another either.  Confusing, I know.  I had a hard time keeping it straight.

While in our group, only Nancy had been to Kansas before, the rest of us were questioning whether or not we would make it. While we were in Washington, the unusual snowstorms and blizzards in the Midwest were top news headlines.  And for as much as we were aware, there was no plan B.  In the end, our flight to Kansas was smooth as silk arriving a few hours after the last sign of snow.  Mounds of snow & chilly temperatures reminded me of the weather that I left behind in Ottawa.

Full of surprises

I had no idea what to expect from Kansas City (aka ‘KC’ in local speak). Over the 4 days, I was surprised by:

– there is a winery – Amigoni Urban Winery – located in the heart of downtown!

– the number of businesses head quartered here – Hallmark Cards, Harley Davidson, H&R Block to name a few
the importance of railroad – trains & tracks were everywhere. The wail of trains blended into the background buzz of the city

– the downtown core was immaculate & a fantastic combination of modern architecture speckled amongst historic buildings that have revitalized with renovations  or as I learned from Stephanie who works with the City of Montreal who is a designer of public spaces, the architectural term is ‘reconversion’  (the Union Station was brought back to life and now houses KC Greater Chamber of Commerce, post office, law firms, museums and restaurants. Amtrak still has some scheduled trains that pass through this historic station.

– a vibrant arts culture – a brand new Performing Arts Centre, Kansas City Ballet had their own building & restaurants and bar everywhere were promoting live jazz and blues – every night of the week.

– small businesses are rapidly growing & being supported by private investors – not government funding

– business people we met were fiercely proud of the city’s growth and were eager to tell us about the innovative programs and resources that were going on.

– Kansas City – in both Missouri & Kansas is THE first US city to have Google Fiber installed ensuring highest internet connections available to support businesses, schools and homes. Impressive!

– every restaurant we went to was full…every night of the week!

– there are 5 James Beard award winning chefs  – the most in any city in the US (so I was told)

– people we met were happy to live in KC.  While some expressed that thought their arrival to KC would be a pit stop, they amazed themselves that after 10+ years, they haven’t moved!

and believe it or not, there are 111 wineries in the state of Missouri. That is almost the same as in Niagara!

The net-net…

I felt that there is a great vibe about this place.  And during our 4 day stay, we only brushed the surface of places to see, things to do and business opportunities to explore.  I leave KC with even more reasons to return – soon!

Different from Washington’s itinerary, where we were informed about the various federal processes and programs for small businesses and women entrepreneurs, in KC we delved into how these programs are implemented at the state level as well as at the city level.

We met with individuals of the US Department of Commerce, World Trade Centre, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, American Business Women’s Association, Women’s Business Centre and even went to an early morning “Meet me for coffee” networking breakfast hosted by Entercom (radio stations), One KCfor Women and Smart KC Connect

Then, we stopped in to meet Jayne Torline (left) – one of the owners of Three Women & an Oven.  A premium bakery that has skyrocketed from a trio of neighbouring stay at home Moms who make birthday cakes for friends to a business with a 2000 sq foot operation 10 years later with over 15 full time employees.

I felt a natural connection with Jayne.  As she explained her business’ story of growth, it was similar in many ways to the growth of Savvy Company. Three Women & an Oven have marked their 10th year in business this year, they grew the business organically – without loans from family & friends, and have clients beyond the city where they are located. Focused on quality, every product is handmade with butter.  Jayne now hires artists to create the incredible cake designs.  We spent an hour oooohing & aaawwwhing over her creations of cookies, baby cakes and the elegant décor of the retail store.  Then we were invited ‘backstage’ to tour the production area to watch the creative process transforming plan cake layers into delicious masterpieces. Everyone in the team had a great smile and were obviously proud of their work.  And Jayne treated us to a box of goodies that I enjoyed with a cup of tea when I put my feet up at the hotel after a hectic day. Each mouthful of the Lemon Raspberry, Red Velvet, Decadent Chocolate Baby cakes along with the stunning Sugar Cookies (right) were simply delicious.  It was hard to eat them as each were gorgeous to look at and sparkled in any light.  It is no wonder that, as Jayne explained, most of the items purchased are given as gifts. And they ship across the US – overnight!

And while it was Friday – week one of the tour complete – we did not stop!  On Saturday, we visited the Harry Truman Library & Museum and drove past his residence (as he was a native of Missouri), the one-of-a-kind underground storage facility called Subtropolis.  A retrofitted limestone mine was transformed into underground offices, storage & distribution centres.  Businesses such as Hallmark, Jack Stacks and food distributors are located here.  The mine come storage facility is naturally cool with constant temperatures, secure and has already existing railroad tracks into the mine.  During the week, this place is apparently a beehive of activity. Very cool! I could imagine that it would be an ideal location to have a wine cellaring operation with its cool, dark and not disturbed.


The food and wine scene caught me by surprise too

Each meal we had was impressive – Harvey’s at Union Station, Jack Stacks was easily recommended as THE place to go for KC’s famous ribs.  We were told that the Majestic was THE restaurant & jazz bar for phenomenal steaks – and they certainly did not disappoint.  If only the walls of this historic locale could talk – upon entry we were taken back in time into the mobster & speakeasy era. Well worn ivory keys of the piano, black & white photos adorned the walls, sky high ceilings decorated with tin panels and a mahogany wood & mirrored bar. (group photo L to R Fiona, me, Jennifer, Stephanie, Amina & Nancy)

Consentino’s Market (KC’s only downtown grocery store) displayed all of the rib spices, steak rubs & spicy BBQ sauces that the city is known for.  A walk to Cellar Rats was definitely worth it where I discovered one of the top wine stores in KC.  Beautifully laid out, the staff was eager to share ideas with me about their wine club, their tasting events and artisan cheese selection.

Then we decided to ‘do as the Romans do’ by taking part in First Fridays where the Crossroads area of the city comes alive with  people wandering around & popping in and out of the art galleries in the area.  It was a lovely crisp winter evening, and we did not let the cold get in the way of having a fun Friday night.  To top it all off, we stopped in at the happening restaurant – The Jacobson  – that was recommended to us and we just happened to be around the corner at the time. Another place with great vibe & energy, the food was incredible.  Instead of wine, I adventure to the beer list to try the local Boulevard Beers.  Everything about this evening did not disappoint – culture, a much needed walk and great food along with lots of laughs with the girls as we tried to navigate our way through the neighbourhood.

And this tour is not all about business meetings, there is an element of meeting the locals too.  Fiona, Nancy & I were invited to the home of Marti Means – a renowned prosecutor who as described in her bio, “has prosecuted over 50,000 municipal court cases involving city ordinance violations, mental health and domestic violence issues as well as child abuse and housing cases.”  Marti explained that she frequently hosts IVLP participants in her home and invites more friends to make it into a fun dinner party.  Lively discussions around the dinner table compared US healthcare to Canada’s, news of Obama and his government, the timely news of the impact of the sequester and the opportunity to showcase our businesses with the others around the table.  This home hospitality was certainly a highlight of our time traveling around Kansas & Missouri.

As you can see, we left few stones unturned & made several discoveries during our visit to America’s Heartland.

Set the alarm clock as we have an early start in the morning in order to catch our flights to our next stop Austin, Texas.  The good news is that there is no snowstorm in the forecast.

Follow us on Twitter!

For in the moment tweets about our tour, follow our group on #IVLP and

  • @savvydebbie (Debbie Trenholm)
  • @Halifax_Gateway (Nancy Phillips)
  • @JenniferBrandle (Jennifer Brandle)
  • @PillPak (Fiona Webster Mourant)
  • @amigerba (Amina Gerba)



The Whirlwind of Washington

Posted by Debbie

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

This week has been a whirlwind…and it began with the start of a 3 week tour across the United States.  First stop: Washington DC where I was immersed in all aspects – political, culture, site seeing, music…and wine & food too!  The last time I visited this city, was in grade 8 – a while ago!  Memories of that school trip were few but impressionable including the inclusion of sign language in Lincoln’s hands at the infamous memorial & somberness of the hourly changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington Cemetery.

This time, my trip to Washington DC is far different.  I was nominated and selected by the U.S. Embassy in Canada to be one of six Canadian women to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focusing on Women in Trade and Entrepreneurship.  This is a huge honour as over 30 Canadian women were nominated and I was one of six who were hand selected to be part of IVLP tour & to be involved in the post-tour benefits of being part of the worldwide alumni.

During our 3 week tour, we are stopping in at Washington DC, Kansas City MO, Austin TX, Denver CO and San Francisco CA. Our days are fully packed of meetings with American women business owners who are recognized as innovative and outstanding in their fields.  In addition, we are learning from the feds about the resources & programs initiated by the US that are available to women entrepreneurs. This as a phenomenal opportunity to soak it all up, have my mind open to all kinds of ideas & have great discussions with the other 5 women in the group along with those who we meet along the way. Already on Day 3, my mind is buzzing!

3 weeks, 5 cities, 6 women & 8 suitcases….

As if we had known each other for years before, I instantly felt a strong bond within the 6 of us.  Since Saturday when most of us arrived in DC, there have been lots of laughs along with many questions about each other’s business. I know that I am amongst a dynamic group of women who I will call friends for a long time to come.  Joining me are:

Jennifer Brandle-McCall – CEO, Prince George Chamber of Commerce (British Columbia)

Stephanie Jecrois – President, Young Haitian Chamber of Commerce (Montreal, Quebec)

Amina Gerba – President & Founder, Afrique Expansion (Montreal, Quebec)

Nancy Phillips – Director of Investment and Trade, Greater Halifax Partnership (Nova Scotia)

Fiona Webster Mourant – President & Co-owner, Manrex Ltd.


What is the trip all about?

Since 1940 when it began, the IVLP has given hundred of thousands of emerging leaders – including thousands of Canadians – the opportunity to experience first-hand American culture and business society on a personal level. As explained by our hosts in the pre-trip briefings and in our first meeting in Washington, the IVLP recognizes Canadians who are emerging leaders and invite them to participate in the delegation to observe U.S. institutions and culture, and meet with professional counterparts to explore issues of common interest.  Some twenty Canadians travel each year under this program on different themed trips.

To get a feel of the lay of the land – of Washington that is – we were invited to come early to Washington for a private tour of the city.  We were definitely in for a treat as our guide – Jeannie Fogle – is a highly recognized historian and has authored many historic guide books of the city.  A woman entrepreneur herself, she started – A Tour de Force – and I would highly recommend for anyone to call on Jeannie when you are next in Washington.  She definitely knows her city!   During the unseasonably warm Sunday, we wound our way through the historical sites by stopping in at the White House (of course!),  Capitol Hill, The Mall, monuments galore – Grant, Lincoln, Jefferson, the new Martin Luther King and the impressive black wall paying tribute to those who fought in the Vietnam War.  Jeannie had fantastic stories to share.  Eager to learn more, I spent the afternoon wandering through Smithsonian museums including the National Portrait Gallery, Space and Aviation Museum, National Art Gallery and finished this whirlwind day enjoying an after hours chamber music once the National Art Gallery had closed.

Let’s get down to work!

Our meeting itinerary for Monday & Tuesday was built to provide us familiarity of the inner workings of the US federal government at all levels, the who’s who to contact for resources to grow our businesses in the US and to leverage resources of existing programs.  We stepped outside of government office buildings to meet with Professor Clyde Wilcox of Georgetown University & learn about federalism and the various levels of government.  Then were whisked off to meet Dr George Solomon from the Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence at George Washington University.  Every last minute – including a to die for lunch at Vidalia Restaurant was organized by the Institute of International Education and the Department of State.

After the full day and with our heads exploding with information, the 6 of us celebrated ‘day one done’ with a fantastic meal at The Source – Wolfgang Puck.

Tuesday started with high security meetings with a large group of people involved in Canada-US relations and global womens’ programs at the US Department of State followed by a meeting and lunch in the US House of Representatives.  Here, the hallways were chaotic with anyone who came to meet or lobby various government officials. And on the TV screens  in every office were abuzz about the Dow Jones plummeting 200 points and the wild winter storm in the Midwest – especially Kansas City – our next stop!

Before I left Washington, I went to one of the hippest wine bars in town – Proof.  This night was all about sampling great wines with my long time friend Mark Chandler from Lodi.  I thought I would be seeing Mark at the end of the tour when we visit Napa, however as luck had it, he had just started working for Wine America as their new CEO only 2 weeks ago…and was in Washington the same week I was visiting.

Next stop…a 4 day visit to America’s heartland (and Dorothy’s home) – Kansas City.

Follow us on Twitter!

For in the moment tweets about our tour, follow our group on #IVLP and

  • @savvydebbie (Debbie Trenholm)
  • @Halifax_Gateway (Nancy Phillips)
  • @JenniferBrandle (Jennifer Brandle)
  • @PillPak (Fiona Webster Mourant)
  • @amigerba (Amina Gerba)




NEWS: Debbie selected to participate in Women in Trade & Entrepreneurship IVLP

Posted by Debbie

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Re-posted from the Embassy of the United States Ottawa 

Six business women from across Canada are visiting Washington, D.C. and several other U.S. cities this week as participants in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focusing on Women in Trade and Entrepreneurship. The visit began on February 24 and concludes on March 15. The program is organized by the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Our guests were personally invited by U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, for whom innovation and entrepreneurship are key themes.

“Innovation has been the engine of economic growth for millennia. It is our hope for a better tomorrow. It allows us to learn faster, reach farther, work better, dream bigger, and live longer,” said Ambassador Jacobson. “In order to pass a strong North America into the hands of future generations, we need to seize the opportunity to innovate, create, and discover. Programs like this one provide leaders with the tools to do just that.”

The program participants are CEOs, presidents, and founders of Chambers of Commerce, consulting firms and other companies that facilitate global trade. During the program, they will examine entrepreneurial efforts initiated by women in the U.S. and the factors that influenced their success. Participants in this program are:

  • Ms. Jennifer Dawn Brandle-McCall of Vancouver, CEO of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce
  • Ms. Stephanie Jecrois of Montreal, President of the Young Haitian Chamber of Commerce
  • Ms. Amina Gerba of Montreal, President and Founder of Afrique Expansion
  • Ms. Nancy Phillips of Halifax, Director of Investment and Trade at the Greater Halifax Partnership
  • Ms. Deborah Trenholm of Ottawa, President and Founder of Savvy Company Inc.
  • and Mrs. Fiona Webster Mourant of Winnipeg, President and Co-Owner of Manrex Ltd.

The IVLP enables Canadians who are emerging leaders in their professional field to observe first-hand U.S. institutions and culture, and to meet with professional counterparts to explore issues of common interest. Some forty Canadians travel each year under this program on three-week study tours as guests of the U.S. government. Their visits better inform their views of the United States, link them with American colleagues, and influence public opinion or policy in Canada for mutual benefit. Founded in 1940, the IVLP has given hundreds of thousands of emerging leaders — including hundreds of Canadians — the opportunity to observe and interact with American culture and society on a personal level. For more information, please visit

More information on the program will be available on the U.S. Embassy website following the participants’ return to Canada.

Media wishing to speak with the participants when they return can contact the Embassy press office at  One of our participants, Deborah Trenholm, will be blogging occasionally during the trip; anyone interested in hearing about her experience as it happens can follow her on Twitter at @savvydebbie or follow her blog at