Maria Locker had no idea that her invitation to bring mothers living in her Milton, ON neighbourhood together would be the start of something big.

During her maternity leave in 2010, Locker, then a teacher, would take her two kids to the park. There, she had a chance to talk to other moms: “I would ask them what they did and 8 or 9 times out of 10, they’d tell me they had their own business.”

As a mom and fellow entrepreneur who was doing some freelance marketing, Locker could relate. She understood the struggle to maintain work-life balance. “I wanted to put together a small group so we could talk about what it was like to run a business and a family at the same time,” she says.

At the first meeting, 20 women gathered in a coffee shop. The idea caught on, and grew into a business that Locker named Mompreneurs (theMompreneur.com), that she incorporated and became CEO of in 2011. Today, it has blossomed into an organization with 17,000 members and subscribers, with members from PEI to Vancouver.

Ultimately, Locker’s organization is aimed at shifting the discussion surrounding the average female entrepreneur, and legitimizing how many women entrepreneurs find success with their ventures outside of a classical corporate structure. “With Mompreneurs, it’s not just about how to write a business plan or close a sale, but it’s also about how those actions will intertwine and impact the family,” says Locker.

How learning creates success stories

While connecting with like-minded women is still central to its mission, Mompreneurs has evolved into so much more. The company serves as an inclusive support system for women of all ages and from all industries who are looking to learn how to make their companies more successful. It also provides a safe, welcoming forum where a wide range of women can help foster entrepreneurial talent.

Topics at both online and in-person Mompreneurs meetings run the gamut from how to cope with a hectic family life through time management resources to how to tap into e-commerce, marketing solutions, and accessing global markets. The education component is a key reason why Mompreneurs has flourished. It’s the cornerstone of everything from the organization’s yearly conference to virtual meet-ups through webinars and Skype meetings.

It has been a satisfying journey for Locker. Her children are now aged 8 and 10, and she hopes they too will see the benefits of being an entrepreneur. “I want them to see that it can be integrated into their lives in a balanced way so that there is time for family and for work,” says Locker.

Maria’s dedication to building strong communities for women has grown beyond her initial vision. Mompreneurs developed a non-profit side in 2015 called Mompreneurs Momentum Enterprise of Canada, supported by Status of Women Canada and The Coca-Cola Foundation, which supports programs dedicated to economically empowering women entrepreneurs. Coca-Cola has a goal to empower five million women entrepreneurs worldwide by the year 2020. This organization complements the Mompreneurs network and provides further educational resources, content, and tools to help women start and grow their businesses.

As Locker explains, “we’ve really been able to ramp up our efforts and offer quality education with help from Coca-Cola and our other partners. That’s been huge in terms of us being able to continue to support women from across the country. Through bursaries given to winners of our national awards, we’ve enabled women to hire staff, to attend conferences or trade shows that they previously couldn’t have afforded, and to conduct market research. Those are important strides to make.”