Capacity. Capital. Connection: Building better opportunities for women entrepreneurs

A conversation with Marcela Mandeville, CEO of Alberta Women Entrepreneurs

In 2008, business strategist and passionate community connector Marcela Mandeville, ‘14 MBA, joined Alberta Women’s Entrepreneurs (AWE), an organization founded in 1995 that helps women throughout Alberta succeed in starting or growing a business. She was originally called in to build a program for Indigenous women entrepreneurs as well as a program to support export and supplier diversity in supply chains, but today she is the organization’s CEO, leading a team that works to advance the province’s women’s entrepreneurship through access to capital, high-value network connections and capacity for business owners.

We reached out to Mandeville to learn about her work with AWE, what inspires her and her continued connection to the Alberta School of Business.

Can you walk us through a day in the life of a leader at AWE?

My days are a mixture of team meetings around marketing, programs, client services, funders, and meeting with people in the community that want to support women entrepreneurs. And of course, there's also the nitty-gritty of running an organization, like paperwork, email and so on.

Most notably, a lot of time is spent managing and ensuring due diligence with loan funds. AWE offers access to capital through various loan funds we manage, such as the Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan) loan and Alberta Women’s Economic Recovery – Capital Growth Initiative plan. 

What have your experiences with AWE taught you?

The importance of asking for help. This is not the kind of work that one organization or person can do solely — it is truly a team pursuit, both inside AWE and with partners across the entrepreneurship spectrum.

This experience has also shone a light on the importance of community not only to accomplish business or financial objectives but also for personal well-being. We need to be able to draw on the energy of good ideas and good people to help drive business outcomes especially when things are really hard.

Anything else you like everyone to know about AWE?

Yes, two things! First off, while we do a lot to help entrepreneurs get liftoff, we are also focused on scale-ups and growth businesses, helping them expand their products, customers, markets and business outcomes. 

Also, more than 800 women have been through our programs designed for and dedicated to Indigenous women. The program started in 2010 and remains responsive to the needs of the entrepreneurs and connects them to a network of like-minded business leaders from across the province. We are very proud of these programs.

Can you tell us how you stay connected to the Alberta School of Business?

I often give presentations and am a guest speaker at the school. I am also a member of the Business Advisory Council (BAC), offering leadership and advice to the school and its executive team along with other professionals. 

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

My parents are a big inspiration. My dad was an engineer and Indigenous from the Northwest Territories and my mom, who is originally from Mexico City, studied finance and accounting. They had very different backgrounds, but they shared strong core values and had a marriage that lasted 50 years. It taught me that people can be deeply connected no matter their distinct perspectives. Their love of one another, their cultural differences and their love of travel and exploring the world inspired my interest in global business, and the way business connects people.

This global flavour of my home environment which had strong roots in caring deeply for community drove my values that “humans matter.” 

Lastly, in your opinion, what’s the best way to wind down after a stressful day?

A cup of really great herbal tea, a cozy blanket, the purring of my princess cat Wanda and the sweet notes of soul-soothing music are the best way to end a challenging day.

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