The Voice of Canadian Credit Unions
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Meredith Powell has designs on success

The B.C.-based entrepreneur is stylin’, thanks in part to a credit union

Nov2014_POI_Inset_RAW Take 2 19_[716x950]Meredith Powell is now the co-founder of The Next Big Thing (TNBT), a non-profit venture aimed at empowering young entrepreneurs.

There was a time, however, when this thriving 37-year-old Vancouverite was a young entrepreneur herself in need of guidance. In 2005, after five years of travelling the world for two Canadian fashion design and distributing companies, she felt she’d learned enough about sales teams and PR to launch her own business.

Finding funding

The only thing she lacked was capital. Just 26 at the time, she knew finding someone to grant her a loan wasn’t going to be easy. Then, she turned to G&F Financial Group ($1.3 billion assets, 26,000 members) and the credit union, which is headquartered in Burnaby, B.C., came through in spades.

“I’d heard great things about working with credit unions,” Meredith says. “They [had a reputation for being] more friendly to founders of small to medium-sized enterprises, account managers were easier to reach and they had more personalized services and attention. I’d also heard their fees were more flexible and often lower than banks.”

Juliana Yung, G&F’s executive vice president of credit, agrees with this assessment. “As a local, grass-roots organization we see great potential in local organizations who share our same beginnings.” So G&F’s East Hastings branch (since closed) granted Meredith a $100,000 line of credit. The account manager who supervised the LOC at the time described Meredith as “articulate, well prepared and possessed of a strong business sense and vision for her company.”

Building the business

Meredith used the money to move Powell & Company, her wholesale fashion importing and distribution business, out of her apartment and into her first office. Next, she hired a sales manager and applied some of the funds to cover her initial carrying costs.

Within a year, Powell & Company’s business and brand management services had grown exponentially and demand prompted Meredith to open a sister agency, Powell & Company PR. She quickly moved into the U.S. fashion market, working with global brands, including H&M, Saks, Urban Outfitters and Amazon, and receiving press in top-tier publications such as The New York Times, InStyle and Vogue.

“My team didn’t get much sleep in those days, but with G&F’s help, I was able to generate significant international growth and get cash-flow positive within 12 months,” Meredith says. She calls the experience of working with G&F phenomenal. “It exceeded my expectations in every way. [G&F] supported me in growing my business from a local Vancouver startup to a multinational agency. I couldn’t have achieved the growth I experienced without their assistance.”

“With G&F’s help, I was able to generate significant international growth and get cash-flow positive within 12 months”

Brands capture attention of stylish celebrities

The brands she represented also started garnering attention from big-name celebrities. Sarah Jessica Parker wore shoes from one of Meredith’s brands in Sex and the City 2 and gave pairs to all the women on set, while Julia Roberts requested a silk embroidered blouse made by another of Meredith’s brands and wore it in Eat, Pray, Love.

“My agencies specialized in creating cult status for designers,” Meredith explains. “We had a secret sauce for identifying the next big trend or brand before it hit the mainstream, then crafting exclusive brand and business strategies to scale their businesses to millions of dollars. From the outside, trends look like magic, but there is intense operational and growth strategy, process and intuition behind them.” All this hard work was the basis for the next phase of Meredith’s life.

She says that two years ago, she began thinking about being of service to more than just her clients. As a result, she “took a leap of faith and embarked on a new journey of paying it forward.”

Moving from fashion to technology

That meant shifting to consulting, then using her free time to dream up ways to inspire others. First she signed on as a mentor at Vancouver’s top tech accelerator, Launch Academy, then joined the boards of several fashion/tech startups.

In 2012, Meredith helped launch the world’s largest business-to-business e-commerce platform for fashion’s most powerful industry tradeshow group, Advanstar. Her next act: creating an event series called Founders Collective, which kicked off in April 2013 with an all-day conference featuring more than 30 female thought leaders as speakers. In the past two years, Meredith has spoken at 20-plus events in Canada and the U.S. about fashion and technology, women in leadership and how to harness creativity and innovation.

Creating TNBT with Hootsuite founder, Ryan Holmes

Then came TNBT, which she helped create with her friend, Ryan Holmes, founder of Hootsuite. TNBT is a non-profit dedicated to giving budding entrepreneurs aged 18 to 23 the tools they need to build Canada’s next success story.

“[The years] 2013 and 2014 were busy,” Meredith says of this hive of philanthropic activity. It’s not slowing down, either. In September, TNBT flew its first cohort of 10 young entrepreneurs to Vancouver to begin a six-month residency at Hootsuite’s headquarters, where they’re taking their startups to the next level. Another TNBT initiative, CodeCamp, which helps underprivileged teens learn computer-coding skills, took place in the fall of 2014.

Launching a reality TV series

Meredith is also developing a reality competition TV series about startups that she compares to Dragon’s Den, The Voice and Survivor. Last year at Holt Renfrew Vancouver, she co-hosted Canada’s largest Movember event, a fundraiser in support of men’s health. And she’s continuing to make time for lots of fun along the way. That includes playing classical piano – “my neighbours have to put up with my late night Beethoven and Schumann!” – hiking, travel and chasing new food experiences. This entrepreneur dedicated to good deeds has built a good life indeed. ◊