Women are uniquely positioned to benefit from the opportunities that flow from trade. When women-led businesses export, they tend to earn more, pay more, employ more people, and be more productive.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration and NFTC’s Global Innovation Forum hosted their second annual Startup Global Women event. The virtual program was an opportunity for early-stage companies and small businesses to discover best practices, resources, and insights into the emerging opportunities in international trade.
A national audience tuned in to hear women entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and trade experts share how entrepreneurs can leverage the benefits of the global digital economy.
If you did not catch the live event or want to access the advice and resources shared by our speakers, below is a recap of the highlights from 2022’s Startup Global Women:
- Learn from women who’ve found global success
- Advice and resources for going global
- Government resources for international growth
Learn from Women who’ve Found Global Success
The opening panel featured two women entrepreneurs who have found success in global markets. The conversation was moderated by Melissa Graham, Director of Leadership and Social Impact for Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international non-profit that works with women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation, and human rights. In her role, one of Melissa’s responsibilities is the Vital Voices GROW Fellowship, a global accelerator program for women owners of small and medium-sized businesses—which aims to elevate women business leaders as drivers of economic growth and social change in their communities.
Claudia Mirza is the co-founder & CEO of Texas-based Akorbi, a group of companies specializing in building compassionate human connections through language, technology, and workforce solutions to help companies achieve success in the global economy. As an international provider of business solutions operating in more than 170 languages, Akorbi relies on the global trade in services.
Akorbi uses platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Ads to find and communicate with new customers. “Due to the number of different time zones [that we operate in], we have found that SEO and advertising online have really helped us keep our doors open 24/7,” said Claudia.
For the Akorbi team, tools like Google Suite and Microsoft are also essential to maximizing productivity internally. “We also use PayPal in countries where our linguists do not have access to traditional banking,” she explained.
“Relying on digital tools has been extremely important for us in the digital economy.”
– Claudia Mirza, Akorbi
Dr. Wei-Shin Lai is the co-founder & CEO of AcousticSheep, LLC, makers of SleepPhones, the first headphones for sleep, and RunPhones, fitness headphones. Since Wei-Shin and her husband Jason Wolfe started the Pennsylvania-based company in 2007, they have sold well over one million pairs of headphones.
“About one-third of our sales are international—we have distribution relationships with over 30 countries around the world, and through our website, we sell and ship directly to consumers around the world. We have sold to all seven continents, even Antarctica,” said Wei-Shin.
She also shared that it is important for entrepreneurs to identify the best e-commerce platform for their customer’s shopping and payment needs. “Our e-commerce platform is built on Shopify, we have our shopping cart, check out, and payments systems—all of the security issues— and then we run our own separate website as well.”
The AcousticSheep team uses Google Ads and all of the social media platforms to inform customers, and potential customers, about the brand’s mission and purpose. “We also use the entire Google Suite of digital tools, it’s how we communicate internally,” she explained.
“It’s good practice to leverage technology because it’s really necessary to be competitive globally.”
– Dr. Wei-Shin Lai, AcousticSheep
Advice and Resources for Going Global
Our second panel featured speakers from Meta, Wise, and UPS, who emphasized the opportunities that women-owned businesses experience when they go global and outline valuable resources that are available to help enable entrepreneurs’ success. The conversation was moderated by Jamaica Gayle, Executive Director of the Global Innovation Forum.
Reach new customers in global markets
With the help of digital tools, it’s easier than ever for companies to reach new customers anywhere in the world. Small businesses can grow globally by leveraging online advertising in new markets. Diana Doukas at Meta highlighted key resources:
- Sell internationally with Meta
- March 2022 Global State of Small Business Report
- Meta Invoice Fast Track
“When businesses are online they are not solely confined to customers who walk in the door— instead it’s who you can find across the state, across the country, and even across the globe.”
– Diana Doukas, Meta
Solutions to international banking
International banking and payments can be done efficiently and affordably with the help of the right financial technologies and tools. A Wise survey of MSMBs found that 51% of micro, small and medium-sized businesses that are put off from expanding internationally cited the complexity of managing international payments as a deterrent to venturing overseas. Rina Wulfing shared how entrepreneurs can use Wise to grow and expand to new markets:
- The no-hassle international business account
- A guide to global expansion
- Growing pains: how big banks block small businesses’ international ambitions
“Small businesses saw a markup of 2.3 billion in 2019 on buying and selling goods abroad because of inflated exchange rate markups. That’s just one example of a challenge that we can work on together, both on the payments side and with small businesses directly, to make sure those inflated exchange rates are not impacting small businesses, in particular, women-owned businesses going global.”
– Rina Wulfing, Wise
Supporting women supports economic growth
Empowering women-owned businesses to export helps unlock economic growth globally. To support women entrepreneurs, UPS offers tools and networks to help women increase their logistical and technical skills, enhance their visibility, and connect with new buyers. Maria Luisa Boyce highlighted some of the key resources that UPS has to offer:
- Survey – Supporting SMB Growth: Unlocking opportunities through e-commerce
- UPS women exporters program
“We need to help small businesses understand how to export. International trade was built for larger companies—many smaller businesses don’t know where to find regulations or understand the information—there is a need for more training.”
– Maria Luisa Boyce, UPS
Government Resources for International Growth
The final panel, moderated by Abigail Lantz from the U.S. Department of Commerce, brought together trade experts from the public sector to share the services and resources available to help small businesses succeed globally.
U.S. Commercial Service (CS): Whether you are new to exporting or expanding to new markets, the CS offers companies a full range of expertise in international trade. There are more than 100 CS offices nationwide and more than 70 around the world that can help connect U.S. businesses to global markets. Ludwika Alvarez, the Global Growth Lead for Tech Firms & Startups for CS San Francisco, shared important resources including:
- Learn more about the U.S. Commercial Service
- Exporting tools to get started
- Find local a local office near you
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): SBA provides small businesses with the resources needed to expand into trading and exporting—offering educational tools, financing opportunities, and local assistance. Christine Brown, the Director of Trade Policy for SBA’s Office of International Trade, outlined where small businesses can find critical trade information from SBA:
- SBA’s trade tools website
- Financing: SBA’s export products, export finance managers, and microloans
- State Trade Expansion Program (STEP)
- Guides to help optimize digital operations: business guide, “setting up an online business,” cybersecurity, and the Small Business Digital Alliance (SBDA)
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): The USPTO, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, develops and promotes reliable, predictable, and high-quality intellectual property (IP) systems. Through assistance centers, the agency provides information about the patent examination policy and procedure, as well as the trademark registration process. Branden Ritchie with the Office of Policy and International Affairs at USPTO shared various resources:
- Inventor Assistance Center
- Trademark Assistance Center
- Outreach education for patent applicants
- Resource hub for inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses & startup resources
- Patent pro bono assistance
For more resources and advice for early-stage companies, check out our past Startup Global events.