Interview with wegg® Board Secretary Molly Bañuelos
Meet wegg® Board Secretary Molly Bañuelos! Molly has been an exceptional asset to the wegg board since 2018 and is currently a Trade Commissioner at the Canadian Consulate in Chicago in the life sciences industry. Communications Intern, Lucy Brooks, interviewed Molly on her experience in international trade, how entrepreneurs can establish cross-border relationships, and the value of having a global perspective in business.
Lucy Brooks: How did you get involved with wegg as a board member?
Molly Bañuelos: I met wegg’s President Laurel Delaney a few years ago at one of her many engaging workshops on global trade, and we instantly connected. I joined the board as Secretary in 2018.
LB: What made you want to be on the board of wegg and why have you continued?
MB: I have been working in international trade for over 12 years and have seen firsthand both the challenges and opportunities that companies, large and small, have when considering global opportunities through exporting. A lot of them try to “go it alone” without being aware of the various resources that exist from government, industry partners, and other organizations.
wegg is one such organization that does such a great job of identifying successful female-owned businesses, working with them to highlight and share their success stories, and matching them with other women-owned businesses who are at a much earlier stage of their global experience. When we look at the statistics that highlight the disparities of women-owned businesses in terms of funding, mentoring opportunities, and exporting capacity – I’m happy to be part of an organization that can help change the status quo!
LB: As a Trade Commissioner at the Canadian Consulate in Chicago in the life sciences industry, what are the business benefits of cross-border trade relationships as well as those of technology and research collaboration between different countries?
MB: The pandemic has shed even more light on why it’s so important to develop productive cross-border relationships – and especially in the life sciences and healthcare technologies, where the end goal is improving patient outcomes and encouraging healthier populations, which I don’t think any country could argue with. The COVID-19 virus was obviously “borderless” in its spread around the world, and early on in the pandemic so many countries experienced a shortage of PPE and other necessary medical devices like ventilators.
Supply chains experienced extreme disruption in so many different industries, and this really highlighted gaps in many domestic and regional supply chains. I think there is an enormous opportunity for North America to build a more mutually beneficial, resilient, and integrated network around critical industries and supply chains – and a lot of this starts with technology and research collaboration at the early stages, which is one aspect of my job that I really enjoy – making the right introductions between potential partners at the right time.
LB: What factors are necessary for businesses to establish commercial growth opportunities across various countries?
MB: There are so many elements to consider! First, market research (can be at a very basic level or more of a professional engagement) – to get a grasp on the market potential, demand, potential customers, and competition. Then a company needs to take a look at any regulatory barriers, the distribution model, logistics, partners, and of course understand any key cultural or “doing business” differences between the foreign market and their domestic home market. Beyond those elements, a company really needs an internal champion and personnel resources to be devoted to pursuing commercial growth abroad. And come to wegg for inspiration and guidance, of course!
LB: I know you taught English in France for a year before settling in Chicago. How do you think traveling and having a global perspective have influenced your career?
MB: After working at Target HQ in Minneapolis for two years after college I decided to move to France to teach English through a French government program. It was a fantastic program that really helped me get out of my “American bubble,” by developing relationships with friends from around the world and improving my French. When I then moved to Chicago I wanted to find a job where I could use my French skills, and I ended up at the Invest in France Agency, which basically kickstarted my career in international trade & development. Very happy with how that has worked out!
LB: In your career, what has been a meaningful project or experience to work on and be a part of?
MB: When I ran the SBDC International Trade Center at ICNC in Chicago, I had the pleasure of participating in a fellowship through World Chicago, an organization that supports citizen diplomacy through practical, global exchanges. I hosted a fellow from Croatia who was in Chicago to learn about best practices in supporting entrepreneurship and small business growth through public/private partnerships, and in turn participated in a reciprocal exchange to Croatia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I toured local start-up hubs, learned about the tense history in this part of the world, and enjoyed some thoughtful discussions around how challenging it can be to develop a truly entrepreneurial ecosystem in countries with such a different socioeconomic history than the US. It made me realize how much we take the ability to pursue entrepreneurial ventures here in the US for granted, actually.
LB: What part of wegg’s mission, “To educate women business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide on how to go global so they can run healthier businesses and create a new future for themselves, their families, and their communities,” resonates with you, and how does your work connect with or support this mission?
MB: I think the “education” part is absolutely key and is what makes me the proudest of working with wegg. There are a lot of “how-to” guides and regulatory documents to read about exporting, but the very special piece that wegg brings is the entrepreneurial, honest, and raw stories of women business owners who share their global growth stories through wegg’s many platforms (wegginars, workshops, podcast, etc.) and thereby inspiring and offering practical advice to other female entrepreneurs.
LB: What strides do you hope wegg takes on in the coming year, amidst and after the COVID-19 pandemic?
MB: I am so proud of how wegg has kept up, or even increased, its momentum throughout the pandemic – and showed that the organization is not dependent solely on in-person workshops or networking events. The pandemic has truly encouraged wegg to go more digital, without losing those personal connections that are so important in business relationships. Our reach expands well beyond Chicago, and female business owners can find and access wegg content from anywhere, which is great. I am most excited about the How She Went Global podcast that wegg recently launched, as well as upcoming plans to offer coursework and even more dedicated engagement to our followers.
LB: What is the best advice you have ever received?
MB: When I worked for the Invest in France Agency, I went to Paris bi-annually for training, and one of the most memorable sessions we had was around how to conduct successful one-on-one meetings. It sounds quite basic, but one of the most interesting takeaways for me was the advice to take stock of, and essentially mirror, your interlocutor’s body language. We quite literally performed physical role plays on reading and reacting to body language. It is honestly something that I use to this day and it has helped me adapt to particular meeting situations and create a space for better, more open dialogue with a business contact.
It is a privilege to have Molly on our wegg board as secretary, and we are honored that she has shared some of her insight on global perspectives and international markets with us. Thank you, Molly, for all you do!