WEConnect International in Canada hosted its annual Power the Economy conference on Oct 25th in Toronto. Attendees included multinational corporations, senior government officials and partner organizations ready to celebrate women-owned businesses and the growth of women’s entrepreneurship across Canada.

This year’s event opened with an evening reception on October 24th. Reception guests were treated to the red-carpet experience and photo opportunities. The conference kicked-off on Friday, October 25th. The popular St. Regis hotel in Toronto provided the perfect setting for this group of thought leaders and entrepreneurs to converge.

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Cathy, Mom Teresa, and Susy
Imbriglio of
Imbritech Industries.
    Jennifer Cooke of EDC and Dionne
Laslo-Baker of DeeBee’s Organics.
     Laura Didyk of BDC addresses 
Power the Economy reception guests.


Sheri Spinks served as our wonderful and engaging master of ceremonies, radiating enthusiasm and passion. Presentations began with the panel “Opposites Attract: Women Leading in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)” presented by BDC. Moderated by Mary Ann Wenzler-Wiebe (BDC), Cathy Imbriglio and Susy Imbriglio of Imbritech Industries Inc. shared the trials and tribulations of women leading in STEM sectors.

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Susy and Cathy Imbriglio, of Imbritech
talk to Mary Ann Wenzler-
Wiebe about the
challenges and
opportunities for women in the STEM sectors.
    Johanne Boivin, of The Bugatti Group and Céline Dion
Global Brand Manager, in a Fireside Chat with
WEConnect International CEO Elizabeth A. Vazquez.


Next on the schedule was the CEO Fireside Chat with guest Johanne Boivin (The Bugatti Group Inc. and Céline Dion Global Brand Manager). WEConnect International CEO Elizabeth Vazquez led the interview. Johanne took the audience through her story and her entrepreneur’s journey of overcoming rejection, making difficult decisions based on values and partnering with a global fashion brand. She went on to discuss the impact of being open to how your vision is realized. The interview was both emotional and insightful.

The morning was concluded with the second panel, “Growing a Global Business” presented by EDC. A fascinating insight of the path to a global presence. Moderated by Jennifer Cooke of EDC, the panel offered wisdom and experience from Pina Romolo (Piccola Cucina), Dionne Laslo-Baker (DeeBee’s Organics) and Suhayya Abu-Hakima (Amika Mobile)--3 WEConnect International certified women-owned businesses.

Suhayya Abu-Hakima (Amika Mobile), Pina Romolo (Piccola Cucina),
Dionne Laslo-Baker (DeeBee’s Organics) in a panel discussion with
host Jennifer Cooke, of EDC


Each year, WEConnect International in Canada presents 4 awards. It was a pleasure to honor the 2019 recipients with their awards:

  • Canadian Corporate of the Year: EY
  • Canadian Partner of the Year: EDC
  • Canadian Supplier Diversity Champion of the Year: Richard Pinnock
  • Canadian WBE of the Year: Dionne Laslo-Baker – DeeBee’s Organics
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Lori Benson accepts the award
for Canadian Corporate of the
Year on behalf of EY.


Jennifer Cooke accepts the award
for Canadian Partner of the Year on
behalf of EDC.

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Richard Pinnock, of Walmart
Canada, accepts the award
recognizing his individual contribution
to the Supplier Diversity movement.
    Dionne Laslo-Baker, CEO and
Founder of DeeBee's Organics,
accepts her award


The afternoon offered a range of concurrent sessions. There was a variety to choose from for women entrepreneurs and multinational corporations.

The ‘Corporate Track’ offered 2 back-to-back sessions. Starting with “Increase the Impact of your Supplier Diversity Program: Three Best Practices from the Field” guests heard from 3 different speakers. Casey Oakes (Marriott International) presented “Developing a Supplier Diversity Brand Internally and Externally. Award-winner Richard Pinnock (Walmart) presented “How to Create a Supplier Forum”. And Elizabeth Auceda (Sodexo) presented “How to Build and Grow Your Tier 2 Program). The presentations were followed by an interactive session let by Lori Benson (EY) and Kim Hutchings (ExxonMobil) entitled “Take Your Supplier Diversity Program to the Next Level”.

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Casey Oakes,
Marriott International
    Elizabeth Auceda,
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Kim Hutchings,
    Richard Pinnock,
Walmart Canada


The ‘WBE Track’ this year featured 4 workshops. The first “Raising Capital Through the Glass Ceiling as a Female Entrepreneur” facilitated by Dionne Laslo-Baker (DeeBee’s Organics), “How to do More Business, Create New Opportunities, Enhance your Reputation and Drive Social Change” facilitated by Cynthia Benedek and Bonnie Lester (HigherGround Agency). Third, “Expanding to the US Market” facilitated by Amesika Baëta (EDC) and Shannon Fisher (EDC) and “Develop your Company Philosophy to Guide your Strategic Decisions” facilitated by Sapana Patel (Kinamark Inc.).

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Dionne Laslo-Baker
of DeeBee’s Organics
    Amesika Baëta (EDC)
and Shannon Fisher (EDC)
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Cynthia Benedek and Bonnie
Lester of HigherGround Agency
    Sapana Patel
of Kinamark Inc.


The day concluded with concurrent sessions “In Conversation with The Big Push” sponsored by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and a fast-paced Facilitated Roundtable for WEConnect International, CAMSC and CGLCC Certified Suppliers to meet corporate buyers. Table hosts included: BDC, Enterprise Holdings, The Estee Lauder Companies, ExxonMobil, EY, Global Affairs Canada, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott International, Microsoft, P&G, RBC, Sodexo, TD Bank Group, and Walmart. The Roundtable offered networking for business deals and future opportunities for the certified businesses that participated.

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Women entrepreneurs
in conversation with
The Big Push team.  
    Jody Echakowitz, Sharon Zohar
and Sandy Perlman
of The Big Push.
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The conference was a full day profiling the stories and wisdom of women entrepreneurs who have excelled in their industries and insightful information from supplier diversity champions and procurement professionals.

Before the day concluded, we did a business card draw to give away a purse that was generously donated by Johanne Boivin. The winner was Dionne Laslo-Baker, of DeeBee’s Organics! Congratulations, Dionne, and thank you again to Johanne Boivin!

Dionne Laslo-Baker, winner of
the draw for a purse generously
donated by Johanne Boivin,
and MC Sheri Spinks.


Power the Economy 2019 Photo Gallery.

Power the Economy 2019 Conference Program.

We are grateful to our sponsors who made this event possible. See you in 2020!