Nita Tandon talks business, pitfalls and trials and tribulations

Recently we sat down with entrepreneur Nita Tandon, Founder and CEO of Dalcini Stainless — which create household use food-grade kitchenware to address the issues of leaching chemicals and overcrowded landfills from traditional food storage.

We talked about the ups and downs she’s faced during this process of getting her company up and running. The inherent biases women face in business, and the tools women need to be successful.

Here’s our conversation.

Tell us about your background and how your entrepreneurial journey began.

In 2009 Health Canada deemed BPA (Bisphenol A) toxic to human health and the environment and subsequently banned BPA in baby bottles (2010). The problem though, is the ban was only issued in the manufacturing of baby bottles. BPA is still widely used in food storage containers.

Knowing that I didn’t want BPA or any of the substitute chemicals to leach into the foods my family was consuming, I looked for a solution. When I couldn’t find it, I decided to create it and service this untapped market.

I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, I set out to find a solution to chemicals in the home and in our environment. That’s when I created Dalcini Stainless - which creates food-grade containers and kitchenware for the whole family in a sustainable manner.

Tell us about your company. What do you do and what is your vision for it? What have been your proudest achievements or biggest milestones so far?

Dalcini Stainless is an award-winning houseware company creating toxicant-free and infinitely recyclable food storage containers.

Proudest achievements/milestones — after being told it couldn’t be done, seeing Dalcini Stainless on store shelves, and being enjoyed by consumers across Canada and the USA is my proudest achievement. A business that focuses on health and sustainability from procurement to end delivery may not be the norm, but we’re doing it! 

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing women, and especially women of colour, in the entrepreneurial space? What are the biggest factors/contributors to these challenges?

Biggest challenge for women or women of colour is working within business structures that weren’t designed for them.

For example — If institutions are going to support women in business with financial grants, but only to businesses over a 3M threshold, it is near impossible when women-owned businesses only receive 2.8% of VC available worldwide and an estimated 4% in Canada. Women-owned businesses don’t have the same growth trajectory in comparison to their well-financed male counterparts and we get cut out of financial support because of criteria that were set up for different circumstances.

There are many unconscious biases also. Many women still hear things like “How will you manage a company when you have kids?” “Expanding to international markets requires occasional travel, how will you manage with your family?” No one asks dads those same questions.  And if you are a woman of colour, or have an accent, or are an immigrant, there are biases that you are not as knowledgeable or capable as your Canadian-born counterpart in achieving business success. This results in more difficulty getting loans and/or Venture Capital funding, harder to lease commercial spaces, and not getting selected for accelerator programs, all because of preconceived, often unconscious split-second judgements that are often untrue.

Generational wealth/Financial history. For new Canadians, many of whom had successful businesses in their home country, their financial history doesn’t travel with them. It’s very hard to get a loan with limited financial history. Also, as new Canadians or disadvantaged groups, there is an added barrier of not having generational transfer of wealth. For example, there is no summer cottage passed down, no trust fund provided, which means — a weaker financial outlook. 

From your journey so far, do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs, especially those from minority backgrounds, when it comes to starting their own business and following this path?

To new Canadians, I would tell you that you already have a great foundation in entrepreneurship. You’ve learned to create something out of nothing, learned to have a dream and chase it, learned to budget and scale to create the life that you want. These are the skills necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. I would also be honest and tell them that it may at times feel like there is no clear way to overcome the barriers, but that they should continue to be vocal and persevere. Canadians are genuinely good people, and most would be willing to help if they knew about the barriers. I would encourage women, and those from minority backgrounds to speak up, be vocal so that constructive changes can be made to make business accessible to all.

As a woman of colour, your entrepreneurial experience has been different from many others. What has been your experience and what do you see as the root of this? Do you have any thoughts on how this can be addressed (and supported by companies such as TD)?

My experience with TD has been very good. I have been a TD customer for over 20 yrs. I am foreign-born, but I grew up in Canada and communicate with ease in English and French. I am also well versed with writing and communicating a business plan. TD was the first to offer financial support for my venture with a small business loan. The difficulty I faced was attempting to scale my business. When a large retailer wants to do business and you can’t get the capital to increase production, that’s a tough pill to swallow. I am currently in the process from moving from Small Business Banking to Commercial Banking in order to access a larger line of credit which will be a game-changer for my business.  As I have sales outside of Canada, TD worked with Export Development Canada (EDC) to find a solution for my financing needs. The larger line of credit will enable me to work with larger vendors and supply me with the working capital so that I can order larger inventory quantities to meet their POs.  I never would have been able to do this with the small line of credit that I previously had in place. Like most foreign-born, women-owned businesses, I have been bootstrapping without the financial weight of generational wealth/equity like that of multi-generation Canadian-born entrepreneurs.

What can companies do?

Listen to the barriers from the mouths of those experiencing the barriers and work strategically to find solutions. That’s what TD did for Dalcini Stainless and I am so grateful. The dream of scaling has just become more attainable!

Consider an anonymized process for loans — name, gender and business name hidden and be transparent about the criteria needed to successfully access the various banking products. This would help many new Canadians!

Change the face of business. Business comes in all shapes, colours and sizes. Companies should do better to promote businesses that don’t look like the vast majority that make the media. The face of business should look like the faces in our community. I compare it to families — there was a time when a family portrayed on TV was 2 parents and 2 kids. Today a family can be adopted, mixed heritage, single parent, blended family, individuals with disabilities (parents or kids or both) and all valued. I look forward to the face of business being just as diverse and all will have strong trajectories to business growth.

Throughout your journey, how has TD supported you as an entrepreneur and business owner?

I’ve had a personal banking account with TD for many years, so when I had this idea of starting my new business venture, it was only natural for me to go with TD. I was referred to an Account Manager with TD Small Business Banking and after explaining my idea, he thought it was great and offered me a business line of credit to get me started. This was exactly what I needed and helped me in so many ways. 

What TD products, tools or services have been most helpful in this journey?

a. TD Small Business Loan

b. International Wire Transfers

c. General Business Banking

d. Line of Credit with the support of Export Development Canada (EDC) Export   Guarantee Program

I also have a Business Line of Credit (BLOC) which is really handy as I have over 100 stores in Canada and its always a (good) challenge to fulfill a large inventory.

TD’s Products and Tools

Whether you want to expand your line of products or services, increase your capacity and customer base, or are looking for ways to help maximize profits, explore our available tools, articles, and resources that could help you grow your business.

Get the most from your banking relationship when you work with a local TD Account Manager Small Business. You’ll have access to a variety of products and services, along with the convenience of over 1,100 TD Bank locations with longer hours, some of which include weekends.

We’re committed to helping our clients meet their small business banking needs through a variety of services, products and advice that we tailor to each unique business.

Get in touch:  

Deborah Cherenfant, Regional Manager Women in Enterprise, Eastern Canada

Jennifer Monaco, Regional Manager Women in Enterprise, Central Canada

Melanie Campbell, Regional Manager Women in Enterprise, Western Canada

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