About Business Sisters

Business Sisters aims to bring rural women entrepreneurs together to learn from each other. By providing tools and peer-to-peer learning opportunities through virtual and at in-person events and at fun networking events, we overcome geographical distance and inspire each other.

In rural areas, business in its many forms has its own challenges. Overcoming the isolation of distance by removing the invisible barriers between communities so that women talk to each other is one of our goals. We need to recognize the business challenges of inadequate rural internet service and the lack of urban-centre resources.

It’s all about getting real. Women’s personal experiences in business and home life – shared with one another – form the basis for connection, learning and ultimately: happiness. It’s a kick-start to strengthening community businesses and their owners.

Under the name Business Sisters, several successful events have taken place in 2018 and 2019. As of fall 2020 we continue to build with a new social enterprise model to support rural women business owners. This, we hope, will translate into fewer empty storefronts, more amenities for our small towns and villages.

Real help for women entrepreneurs so that their businesses are stable and sustainable. Imagine a thriving rural business environment that makes young people want to start a business here or work here?

Business Sisters is a connection point – for live and online gender-smart business information, peer-to-peer learning and mentorship. While we are working in a virtual environment during this time, we will once again host in-person conferences and informal meet-up opportunities to continue our work when it is safe to do so.

About Our Founder

You can tell a lot about a person when you know what is important to them. For Doreen Ashton Wagner, it’s all about being real, especially when it comes to something she is passionate about: women entrepreneurs. In fact, she cares so very much about women in their entrepreneurial roles that she has decided to go back to school to study it.

Doreen is currently conducting interviews to collect information for her MA thesis – which will focus on resilience in women entrepreneurs. Already the first few interviews have surprised her. How? Aside from the incredible resilience she is witnessing, Doreen was impressed by women entrepreneurs choosing women in their own communities as their role models. She has considered why this is so. 

“These women tend be practical. They don’t want role models on a pedestal, whose achievements can never be reached. They look for relatable role models. People who are good, maybe even great at what they do. But they are not perfect. Yet they have started a business, persevered through hardship or have done something that my interview participant is hoping to do,” notes Doreen. 

That hope, inspiration and the possibility of connection is something that resonates with Doreen. In fact, it’s at the core of her mission to work alongside others to grow Business Sisters as a social enterprise. Business Sisters will help women to connect with each other and permit the exchange of learning, fellowship and mutual support which can be the remedy for rural isolation. She hopes that the connections formed will also improve women’s mental health and happiness, with the extended benefit of economic sustainability and longer-term development.

She has her own career story, of course. “I have been in business with my husband since 1998 and we have been together since 1985. At one point we grew our business to 21 employees – and we’re still married,” she adds.

She quit the corporate world years ago. At one time the VP of Marketing for Sutton Place Hotels, she left quite simply because she couldn’t be the mom she wanted to be. 

Doreen’s roots are francophone; she surprises people when she tells them she did not speak English before the age of 10. “I grew up calling some of my neighbours “les maudits anglais.” When she did pick up the language, she maintains, it was “street English”. It was only when she attended Laurentian Regional High School in Lachute that she really lost her French accent. “Probably out of fear,” she explains. “There was a lot of animosity between Francophones and Anglophones in 1976 Québec.”

Proud of her roots and the bilingualism that she relishes, Doreen looks forward to supporting Business Sisters activities in both of Canada’s official languages.

Coaching or providing all the answers is not Doreen’s aim. She wants to be a facilitator of connections – from welcoming a team to be the driving force behind the Business Sisters social enterprise, to helping women entrepreneurs form valuable connections essential for life, work and happiness. 

What is Doreen’s biggest lesson? She mentions a quotation she saw online recently. It said, “Start listening to your body before it starts screaming at you.” She says she had to learn that lesson the hard way and had to change her life at one point when her body was, indeed, screaming at her. Weight loss, living alcohol-free and adding healthy practices to her life became a priority, and changed her outlook and her world. 

What is her biggest regret? “Not backpacking across Europe as a university graduate,” she laughs. “Especially now… who knows when we’ll be travelling again?”

Where is her happy place? Doreen says she finds peace and happiness surrounded by the beauty of her perennial garden in North Glengarry, as well as biking quiet country roads and walking the many beautiful trails throughout Eastern Ontario.