Women entrepreneurs to focus on networking, business connections at vendors’ forum in Brazil
More than 500 women entrepreneurs from around the world will gather in São Paulo, Brazil, next week for the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum to accomplish two goals: network and make business deals.
Participants include Bushra Alam, Rezwana Khan, Natalie Kimbugwe and Rose Maghas, who are hoping to meet new business partners and clinch contracts for their information technology (IT) companies. The four are among 11 businesswomen who will attend the conference as part of the Netherlands Trust Fund (NTF) III programme, which underpins the IT and IT-enabled services sectors in Bangladesh, Kenya and Uganda.
The NTF III projects in those countries, funded by the Dutch government through the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), are designed to boost the competitiveness and export revenues of high-tech sectors.
The three-day event starts on 1 September with a roundtable during which business and government leaders will discuss ways to empower more women entrepreneurs to participate in global trade. The major draw of the event, however, is the 1,000+ pre-scheduled business-to-business (B2B) meetings that will take place over the two subsequent days.
With a limited amount of time to meet other entrepreneurs and build contacts, ‘you have to hit the road running’, said Kimbugwe, founder of the Ugandan IT company BDE Consults. ‘It’s really short, and that means it’s a bit challenging. But I’m also excited about it, and looking forward to seeing what comes out of this.’
Past forums have led to the signing of business deals worth more than US$ 20 million. This year’s event, organized by ITC in partnership with the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil), aims to beat that record.
‘I have never been to an event like this before and it’s a bit scary, because you don’t really know what to expect,’ Kimbugwe added. ‘Networking is a priority, but I’m more looking at the B2B meetings – I want to see how a B2B event takes pace. My main hope is that I’ll be able to make some real business, to find some real clients at this event. If I can talk to people who really matter, just one or two contacts, maybe they can turn into something valuable.’
Rose Maghas is the Managing Director of GreenBell Communications, a Kenyan digital marketing agency that provides creative website solutions.
‘My main priority will be networking to get more business and to learn from other people,’ she said. ‘I’m looking forward to the business initiative session, because we don’t have experience selling to other markets, and I want to learn more about that.’
Maghas has another reason to look forward to the conference: she’s one of the finalists in the WVEF Tech Challenge, a joint initiative of ITC, Google and IC&T that asked web developers to come up with the best idea for building a digital platform to help 1 million women entrepreneurs join global markets by 2020. The winner of the contest will be announced in São Paulo.
Bushra Alam, who represents Dhaka-based Windmill Group, says she is keen to learn about potential business opportunities in new markets. While Windmill is already active in Europe, she says that South America is a ‘completely new market for all of us’.
B2B events have catapulted companies into new markets. Rezwana Khan credited B2B meetings organized as part of the NTF III Bangladesh project with opening up the Netherlands market for her company, Star Computer Systems. While B2B events demand a great deal of time, she said, it’s an investment that pays off because such meetings offer the advantage of face-to-face contact and an immediate sense of partnership potential.
‘You have hundreds of B2Bs and maybe you just get one partner from that, but we need to make that investment,’ said Khan, who is Director and Chief Operating Officer of Dhaka-based Star Computer. ‘It’s definitely a good way, and B2B definitely works. My expectation is to find a new partner [in São Paulo] and have the kind of clientele who we can sell to.’
Women may face more challenges than men when it comes to running and building a business, Khan said, but the bottom line is that the big picture is the same for all entrepreneurs.
‘The industry is the same, the business challenge is the same, the financial aspects are the same,’ she said. ‘Just do it – there is no other option.’