Calgary business leader and established entrepreneur Milena Radakovic, president and owner of Nexus Exhibits Ltd., has been appointed Canadian Ambassador of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO), the world’s largest grassroots movement dedicated to celebrating, supporting and empowering women worldwide. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is celebrated at the United Nations and in 144 countries and 65 universities internationally, and this year will be celebrated in Calgary with the first ever WEDO sanctioned Albert-based Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Summit being held on Nov. 14 at Mount Royal University.
What does it mean to you to be named Canadian Ambassador for the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization?
Radakovic: It is such a big honour as this is so dear to me and my personal core values. In my career, I have always striven to do my best and have my parents be proud of me as they gave up a lot to come to Canada and give me the opportunity for a better life.
As I moved up in my corporate career, I always knew that deep down I wanted to own my own business, and saw that there was a need to support women in business.
Now, as an entrepreneur, a wife and a mother, I know the struggles that I have gone through and I want to be an inspiration to my two daughters as well as to others.
I’ve always been passionate about supporting and helping women advance their careers and have been involved with various women’s organizations such as being on the board of Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT), Women in Leadership Foundation, and Entrepreneurs Organization (EO).
When I was told that I had been nominated to be the Calgary Ambassador for WEDO, I was excited and humbled at the same time, because their mission aligned so well with my vision to be a better person and to inspire others. When they called and told me that not only had I been appointed Regional Ambassador, but that they wanted me to head up Canada as the Canadian Ambassador for WEDO, I was stunned and speechless and couldn’t wait to tell my family about this great honour.
My belief is that we have to get the world to understand the importance of supporting more women in business and I’m excited to take on this challenge in Canada.
Tell us a little bit about your background in business and what you do?
Radakovic: Before joining Nexus Exhibits, I had my own consulting firm where we specialized in marketing and business development strategies, marketing plan creation, and project management.
In my corporate career, running various marketing departments in the oil and gas, energy and tech industries, and I had always used Nexus Exhibits for our trade shows and events. In 2010, I had the honour of going from client to an employee of Nexus. Then in 2013, I became the owner.
With over 25 years of professional experience, I have always had passion for the events industry and business development, and also have a competitive sales drive. As the president and owner of Nexus Exhibits Ltd., I love to lead through engagement, education, and empowerment.
I graduated with an MBA from Nova Southeastern University and have a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.
What challenges do women in business face?
Radakovic: This is a growing concern for Canada in its future competitiveness in the global market. It is widely recognized that women entrepreneurs are an important part of the international supply chain. It is also recognized that women face greater barriers when growing their business or expanding to external markets.
Women-led businesses remain proportionately underfunded, yet data reveals more diverse organizations greatly outperform homogeneous ones. Only 10 per cent of venture dollars globally between 2010 and 2015 went to startups with at least one woman founder. Yet companies with female founders outperform male-founded companies by 63 per cent in terms of creating value for investors.
Women entrepreneurs also need support in not only accessing capital, but accessing role models. Entrepreneurship has traditionally been a male-dominated industry and it has been difficult to find female business mentors and peers for support and inspiration. Statistics show that only 16 per cent of all Canadian small and mid-sized businesses are majority-owned by women. Therefore, we need an ecosystem for women to access information, access capital and a network of women who can educate, share stories, mentor, and connect with other women entrepreneurs.
Has the environment for women in business changed over the years?
Radakovic: It all depends on which country. Today, women account for 85 per cent of consumer purchases and control $20 trillion in global spending. At the same time, they perform 66 per cent of the world’s work (both paid and unpaid) yet only earn 10 per cent of the world’s income, so there is still a lot of work to be done.
One recent survey of 350 woman-owned tech startups revealed that 80 per cent of founders used their own savings to launch their businesses. At the same time, an increase of women in leadership positions from zero to just 30 per cent is associated with a 15 per cent increase in profitability.
Women are the world’s most responsible borrowers, paying back micro-loans worldwide today at a 97 per cent rate of return. Ninety per cent of the money they earn is used to educate their children and to provide for their families.
In Canada, I would say things are improving for women as business owners, but we still have room for progress with only 16 per cent of companies in our country being majority women-led.
What are the plans for the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Summit in Calgary and the purpose of the event?
Radakovic: Alberta’s first-ever Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Summit is being held at Mount Royal University on Nov. 14. It will feature prominent speakers, business leaders, and change makers, and will offer a community of support for women entrepreneurs and students across Alberta.
It will bring together like-minded individuals and organizations wanting to make a positive impact for women in business here at home and worldwide. The event will support the global Women’s Entrepreneurship Day vision to empower women and girls to become active participants in the economy by igniting a network of women leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to initiate startups, drive economic expansion and advance communities around the world.
When women are elevated financially, communities and countries prosper and a global blueprint to alleviate and eradicate poverty is built.
In an effort to support women in business locally, our Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Summit will be giving back to the community through a number of initiatives, including student scholarships for promising women enrolled in a post-secondary entrepreneurship program and a grant for an aspiring woman entrepreneur chosen in partnership with local women in business organizations.
We are a non-profit organization and as such are seeking community sponsorship to support our mission to empower women in business to be active participants in the economy.
For more information about the summit, to buy tickets or to become a sponsor, go to www.wedocanada.com.
Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.