What inspired you to start your business?
I was completing my Ph.D. in Medical Sciences when I was in the kitchen with my two children in 2012. Our youngest was on quite a strict diet for health reasons, and he was making tea while our daughter was making fruit popsicles. The kids started rallying over who would get mommy’s attention when my daughter said, ‘Mommy let’s make tea-cicles!’ I had one of those ‘lightbulb’ moments, ran to my computer and realized there was nobody on the planet making organic tea-based pops. This was the catalyst behind DeeBee’s Organics.
For me, the soul of the company had to have meaning. If I was going to be called to make this change at that point in my life–taking myself out of my comfort zone and pushing every personal limit–it had to have real potential to fulfill ultimate life goals and dreams, which for me have always been linked to the people I love and the values we share. I could have comfortably settled into a career path as a Ph.D. Medical Scientist, and this had always been where I had thought I would make my impact. When my children had this idea, rather suddenly I felt called to keep pushing beyond that goal. The potential of channeling my knowledge and values into becoming an entrepreneur and using a business as a meaningful platform hit home.
What value has WEConnect International WBE certification brought to your business?
Being a certified woman-owned business has brought recognition from retail partners such as Walmart Canada and the USA, as well as Kroger – which is the second-largest retail grocery chain in the USA. We have now designated a key member of the DeeBee’s team to focus on supplier diversity, with goals and initiatives to seek partnerships with businesses that understand the importance of working with certified women-owned businesses.
How did you meet the corporate member/women-owned business that you have done business with?
I met with key buyers at Walmart after the WEConnect International Summit at the Walmart Canada Head Office. Following this meeting, DeeBee’s embarked on a significant partnership and launch with Walmart. DeeBee’s Organics has also negotiated a strong partnership with Disney that we anticipate will yield substantial success as the launch of DeeBee’s Disney Frozen II Ice Wands launch into markets in both Canada and the USA.
What made your business stand out to them?
DeeBee’s Organics creates innovative organic snacks that fill a need in the marketplace. Sourcing higher quality, certified organic food products that are manufactured by a woman-owned business met all the criteria that Walmart and Kroger have placed as priorities for their companies, yielding a positive relationship for everyone. Disney was looking for companies like DeeBee’s with the healthier food criteria, women-owned, and a woman with a background in STEM. The products DeeBee’s manufactures meet the needs of families looking for joyful, healthier, short, clean label organic treats for their families.
What steps did you take to achieve the new business, and what was the final result?
DeeBee’s has designated a key individual on the team to prioritize placing the company name on all applicable retail partners that have a supplier diversity portal. This is essential to speeding up the process of generating new business because it lets the company know what DeeBee’s does and how to get in touch with us in a simple manner. We also aim to increase the number of partner suppliers who are also women-owned.
What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur, and how did you overcome them?
There are specific challenges that come with being both an entrepreneur and a woman. For example, when it comes to raising capital, women face many barriers, including misogynistic unconscious biases, unequal access to influential social networks and gendered assessment criteria biased towards traditionally male qualities. Data suggest that all-male business teams are four times more likely to receive funding than all-women teams. This leads to fewer women involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activities and established business ownership, and disadvantages those who attempt to scale their businesses.
While many of the large lenders and government have high-level discussions and make pledges to support women in business, those working on the front line may not see those initiatives come into fruition, or at least not in a widely accessible manner. I have personally experienced this type of challenge, especially in the earlier years of the business, for example, when a male banker said my desire to be a successful entrepreneur was “disrupting the peace” of my husband’s career and family life. In essence, I left that meeting feeling disempowered and disengaged. I am not alone; whenever I share my story, other female entrepreneurs bring up their own experiences of misogyny while attempting to launch their dreams.
However, being a female founder also means that I have the tremendous opportunity and responsibility to be a leader by standing up to the challenges I have experienced – this simply spurs me on! Ultimately, there is a lot of higher-level discussion about supporting women-owned businesses and encouraging supplier diversity. However, day-to-day interactions remain significantly biased and make challenging roadblocks for female entrepreneurs. When I have spoken about my experiences and inspired other women founders to share their own stories, the executive leadership at banks and other organizations that provide opportunity to entrepreneurs are often shocked and want to work together to try to change this landscape.
What advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs?
As a female leader who has successfully raised capital both through equity and debt with large banks, I feel a responsibility to help educate women on what they should be prepared for. Capitalizing a company that manufactures on a large scale is very capital intensive, and I would recommend getting a sober sense of what the true scope of growth vision and understanding what it will take to get from a to b. I also think once you build this picture, it is wise to make sure your product is ripe for success. Is the margin strong? Is there a significant demand? Is it suited for e-commerce? We have in the past and continue to navigate these challenges as they arise. Looking back now, having learned this industry inside and out, I could have achieved success earlier with earlier objective analysis. This is an area where having influential mentors and advisors helps significantly, as many had walked this path before you and can help navigate challenges and be mindful of what lies ahead.
As well as being honest about strengths and weaknesses, women need to have the tools that will increase the likelihood that their efforts to raise capital are successful. Understanding the financial aspects of their business, such as a profit and loss statement, forecast, EBITDA, COGS or balance sheet is critical. Lenders and investors are savvy and intelligent; if they see a weak point, holes in the data presented to them, or a poor understanding of the information at hand, you may not leave victorious. It is more optimal to come well-armed with accountant-prepared profit and loss (P&L) statements and forecasts. When well-educated and armed with this type of information, the likelihood of successfully raising capital increases. It is better to admit when you do not know something than to present the data inaccurately. In fact, if this is an area of challenge, seeking advice and guidance from an advisor (as I did) who is an expert in this area will help significantly. I connected with an advisor who was the CFO at a food company in the natural sector that had successfully scaled as I was hoping DeeBee’s would do.
What positive impact do you strive to make in your community?
DeeBee’s Organics is a certified ‘B’ Corporation, and we are passionately committed to using business (including the way we innovate, the products we make and the ingredients we use) as a force for good in the world. As a B-corp, we also follow very high standards of corporate social & environmental responsibility and employee care. Everything from our office waste-stream reduction program to our Employee stock option program reflects the B Corp philosophy on business. In both 2017 and 2018, DeeBee’s was named as one of the top B Corp’ Changemaker of The World”.
DeeBee’s supports a variety of charities and initiatives that we believe align closely with our values of uplifting youth and providing a voice to science. We publicly support regional LGTBQ+ and pride initiatives, in addition to donating to the Trevor Project. We are also active in encouraging young people in STEM learning and career paths, in particular by modeling how business and science can come together and make a difference in the world. We also support ORBIS, a flying eye hospital that travels the world to restore sight to the blind in developing countries. Our team has participated in several ORBIS fundraisers and we donate funds annually.
DeeBee’s Organics also has a special program called Dream Launcher, which provides employees with the resources to achieve their own philanthropic goals. At the outset of the year, each DeeBee’s employee identifies a philanthropic or ‘give back’ goal that benefits the community or the world at large. The goal is meant to be personal and driven by whatever feels most in-line with their own values. The goal must have measurable KPIs, and we encourage it to be ambitious and beyond a few days of volunteering. DeeBee’s supports these initiatives by providing resources such as startup funds, donation-matching, hours from other employees, in-kind donations, as well as a special initiative where team members become members of the Employee Stock Option Program in which Dionne adds an extra amount of options earmarked for each person’s Dream Launcher initiative. The employee must document their work and present to the team on how it went, what they achieved, and how it made them feel.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by the strong women in my life, including our Senior Director, Becky Julseth, who is my right-hand woman at work. Nicole Smith, the Founder & CEO of Flytographer, is a friend of mine who I am consistently inspired by. She is another mom entrepreneur from my hometown of Victoria BC, who has worked hard to create an incredibly successful business. I feel very fortunate to have her as part of my ‘sister’ circle, we know that we can call on each other no matter how challenging or exciting the issue we are discussing may be. I love watching her and other female leaders, both Nicole and I are members of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women. In this sisterhood, I am inspired by hearing how other founders lead their company, and I feel I am always growing and learning watching others succeed.
My children have also been a major source of inspiration for me in terms of what it means to be an authentic leader. Watching my children grow up in a world that consciously or unconsciously criticizes women and girls, seeing my children rise to the challenge of expressing their true authentic selves time and time again, encouraged me to dig deeper into my own goals and values in life. Ultimately, my children have inspired me to be a leader for positive change in the world.
What was one failure or set-back you’ve experienced in your career, and what did you learn from it?
A significant challenge I have faced as the Founder & CEO of DeeBee’s Organics was creating a product that sustains a healthy margin. This is difficult to accomplish across the food and beverage industry, and especially in the natural foods industry. I tend to see challenges as opportunities, so when our initial product didn’t have the margin we needed, it inspired me to work tirelessly alongside my team to seize the chance to create something genuinely surprising: the SuperFruit Freezie. DeeBee’s SuperFruit Freezie is an organic, shelf-stable, freezer pop made with no added sugars, artificial flavors, or preservatives.
Being shelf-stable, the product is convenient to store and very easy to retail, requiring no refrigeration or special handling. A blockbuster hit from the get-go, the SuperFruit Freezie has been embraced by retailers and consumers alike. When we launched this product with a major Canadian retailer in 2017, it became the highest velocity product ever launched in its category! I credit our success with the SuperFruit Freezie to our team’s understanding of the importance of strong, lasting partnerships with our suppliers, manufacturers, farmers and retailers. Also, we have been able to stay lean and focused by spending money intelligently, as well as creating tangible goals and refusing to stray from them until we succeed.
Approximately how much additional revenue has the business deal provided for your company, in terms of a percent increase in revenue?
Approximately 75% increase.
Has the new business deal helped your company hire more employees?
We have hired two more people as a result of the recent deal made with Walmart and Kroger. If the launch is successful and we gain more relationships as a result of the supplier diversity relationships, more employees will be hired to assist in the management of current and future partnerships.
What future plans do you have for your company as a result of the business deal?
DeeBee’s intends to grow the partnerships with Kroger, Walmart, and Disney while simultaneously seek future partnerships with both retailers and suppliers.
Are there any other ways that your company has grown as a result of the new business deal and/or WEConnect International?
The learning, networking, and support that both the team and I have received at WEConnect International meetings have been extremely beneficial to our company. The benefits are multi-dimensional and impact virtually every department at DeeBee’s!