Doris Symonds Named “Women in Business Champion of the Year”

By Ken Klotz, Director-Programs,
Turner Center for Entrepreneurship


Doris Symonds, a long-time Turner Center client, has just been named the Small Business Administration’s “Women in Business Champion of the Year” for SBA Region Five.  She was selected from among dozens of nominees from Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.  Winning Region Five qualifies her to compete against nine others for the national award to be presented by President Obama in the fall of 2011.  The Turner Center nominated Doris because of her selfless commitment to improving the plight of women-owned businesses.  Her personal mission is to help women create small businesses, network, make referrals, and foster the growth of existing companies.

A mother of two successful adult daughters, Doris is a one woman networking tornado.  Spending just 30 seconds with her will result in the listener being swept up in her boundless energy and positive outlook on life and business.  Many have commented that spending thirty minutes with Doris is like running a marathon- you are completely exhausted, but absolutely fulfilled.  Doris is THE most well known women’s business advocate in the Peoria metro area.  Her philosophy on life is “To accept all the blessings that come my way and then give them back in service to the community”.

Retiring after a very successful 30-year career in secondary and higher education, Doris decided to commit the rest of her life to helping women entrepreneurs grow thriving businesses.  She began small in 1995- creating a “Women in Business Expo” where women-owned businesses learned from experts in their fields, networked with each other to build business contacts, and showcased their products and services.  Originally, the event was held in the small basement of a borrowed building. However, attendance and exhibitor response was so great that the Expo has grown into a bi-annual event celebrating women-owned businesses.  The Expos have become so popular that the most recent ones were held at the Peoria Civic Center and the Embassy Suites Hotel.

While serving groups of women at her bi-annual expos is important to her, Doris feels that her strongest calling is to provide personal, individualized care for women entrepreneurs.  She spends dozens of hours every month mentoring women business owners, with special time given to those just starting their businesses.  On dozens of occasions, she has invited new women business owners to “spend a day with Doris”, where they will accompany Doris as she mentors other women entrepreneurs, attends events and meetings, and performs the many tasks required to organize the expos.  Doris teaches them how to network their business to success by observing how she does it.  Many have reported sales, contracts, and long-lasting business relationships as a direct result of their day with Doris.  From Doris’ perspective, “I put people in touch with each other and advise them on who they should meet”.

For many years, Doris continued to receive requests from women entrepreneurs asking for additional opportunities for them to network and grow their businesses.  In response, Doris created a monthly networking program in 2008 entitled “Ladies Who Lunch Their Business to Success”.  Ten women business owners are selected to attend each event, with the intention to keep the group small enough to allow each participant to express their ideas and solutions.  Each woman who attends is required to come prepared to discuss a specific business challenge they are facing.  After explaining their challenge, Doris facilitates a brainstorming session to find solutions.  Since its inception, her “Ladies Who Lunch” program has assisted more than 300 women business owners.  

An additional program established by Doris to create networking opportunities is called “Who to Call for What”, a program that actively seeks to connect business owners each month so that they can learn about each other’s businesses and how they might be able to assist each other.   Doris takes the time to send each participant a monthly contact list, and distributes print versions of the “Who to Call for What” list at all of the events she attends.  

Doris has been a featured speaker at dozens of civic organization events, schools and churches. Additionally, Doris has been the subject of several articles published in CNN Money, and the Peoria Journal Star newspaper.  She is an author, having written a locally popular book entitled “How I Saved $10,500 With Only 4 Quarters a Day.”  Doris will soon be publishing her next book entitled “Raising Girls with Golden Minds”, which offers her insight into how to raise strong, independent girls with great moral character.  All of the proceeds of her books are donated to local charitable organizations that support programs for women and girls.

Doris has had a profound impact on the lives of women entrepreneurs.  Her motivations are completely selfless, only wishing to enrich the lives of others.   Her enthusiasm is infectious, her energy boundless, and compassion for others limitless.  Congratulations Doris!