Alice Chen
Founder and CEO, Export Ventures Group. Established in 2010

"We innovate and optimize the distribution of goods, services and capital through our diversified holdings and partnerships."

How did you start exporting?

We cemented our footing in international trade initially through exporting Canadian wine to the Greater China Region. It was a cost-prohibitive endeavour for wineries to set up their own export department and yet the export market is too big to ignore. As such, we pioneered the outsourced agency model and became the de facto in-house export department for Canadian wineries looking to export and handled all marketing, sales and logistics details.

Why China?

My first pick is always the Greater China Region due to sheer market size, BC's geographic proximity to it, as well as my language and cultural fluency. I would suggest exporting first to your country of origin or where you have a trusted partner on the ground. Running a business is challenging already; adding the export layer brings even more complexities to the picture.

What challenge did you face when starting to sell internationally?

Accurately positioning ourselves in the supply chain based on an honest SWOT analysis. I believe each of us is uniquely suited for just one of these positions. Vertical integration in international trade often leads to lost of focus and inefficiencies across time, cost and network.

What's one lesson you wish you had learned before starting to export?

Making sure the export market for your offering is big enough to make the exercise worthwhile. While we had attained 8% of the Canadian total dollar of wine exports to China at the peak of this business, the total Canadian wine imports market share over there was still too small to make it a sustainably worthwhile exercise.

How could an initiative like the Trade Accelerator Program, which provides access to public and private sector export expertise, have helped when you were starting out?

When I started, there was not a single "go to" resource for exporting. I had to cobble together knowledge gleaned from FITT (Forum for International Trade Training), Small Business BC and countless coffees with anyone remotely related to exporting in order to design and implement an effective export model. It would have been great to be part of TAP which offers a practical framework (versus academic knowledge) and a peer group to encourage and keep you accountable.

What has your experience taught you?

Certain markets change rapidly. We were caught off-guard in 2013 when the Chinese alcohol import market took a nose dive after anti-extravagance social policies got enforced. The market that made us dissipated overnight.

We quickly responded to requests from our clientele to assist with overseas direct investments and orchestrated a successful pivot into cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Agile adaptation is a must when working with fast-changing markets.

Do you think enough B.C. companies consider exporting as an option?

No. Most absolutely should consider exporting, whether they are a product, service or technology/intellectual property business.

What market is next for you?

We are currently partnered with all-star North American private equity and venture capital firms as general partners on forming funds with international capital partners who bring not only money but the export markets (for global scalability and higher-multiple exit potential) to the table. China is still a logical favourite—but we are open to all markets that make sense.