Nelson Naturals started in 2012 as a small vendor at local farmers’ markets in the Kootenays. That’s when co-founders Dana DiPonio and Kevin Hagell discovered there was high demand for their fluoride-free toothpaste. Seven years later, Nelson Naturals products became widely available to every community in Canada. The company even received international recognition for their plastic-free packaging – an industry first.

Staying local while growing internationally

Because of their successful growth within Canada, co-founders Dana DiPonio and Kevin Hagell eventually felt pressured to outsource production to a third party. But in the end, they stayed true to their vision and decided to remain proudly local. Keeping production local was a choice that created more jobs at home and supported the BC economy. At the same time, they were eyeing an international growth strategy through exporting to American, Australian, and Korean markets.

“We believed going international with Nelson Naturals was the logical next step for us. Our company innovated an effective, versatile oral health product that is appealing to global markets,” says Dana.

Making essential connections

As first-timers, Nelson Naturals couldn’t export alone. Exporting was a complex new world. It quickly became apparent that accurate information and reliable connections would be crucial to their success. Another piece to consider was funding. Dana and Kevin needed funds for growing Nelson Naturals’ product line. They also needed to expand their manufacturing and warehousing facilities.

Their local Community Futures office connected them with the Export Navigator program. That’s when they started working with the export advisor in the Kootenay Boundary region. This collaboration allowed Dana and Kevin to clarify their most pressing questions and start building their professional network.

“Our advisor introduced us to the National Research Council of Canada, which led us to partner with the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP),” recalls Kevin.

“IRAP has funded research and development for our new product Crush & Brush. They continue to support Nelson Naturals; in fact, we’ve already begun to plan new projects with them. This invaluable connection wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our export advisor.”

Their advisor also encouraged Kevin and Dana to apply for a funding program called CanExport.

“We saw right away that the CanExport program would be an ideal fit for Nelson Naturals. It was thrilling to find out we were accepted into the program. We are now receiving funds through CanExport that will help us enter the US market,” says Dana.

By participating in Export Navigator, Nelson Naturals validated its potential for export. In addition, their access to funding allowed them to execute their plans. The initial questions and doubts the company’s co-founders previously had about exporting were dispelled.

“Export Navigator prepared us for all possible scenarios we might face while exporting. Our advisor was immensely helpful in introducing us to the export community. I now feel well equipped to embark on my exporting journey knowing I have a network of people to rely on,” says Kevin.