By Karen van Kampen
Growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Janét Aizenstros was exposed to “a lot of goodness” within her community-focused hometown. “I grew up in an environment where I was free to be myself, which being a woman of colour, given the current social narrative, isn’t always true for many women of colour,” she says.
As Founder and CEO of Ahava Digital Group, a women-led digital consultancy, Janét has built a conscious media company that provides ethically sourced and verified data to help companies connect with women consumers. What began as a one-woman operation in 2011 is now one of the fastest-growing companies in the Americas, with revenues over $1.5 billion (USD).
Like other entrepreneurs she has connected with over the years, Janét discovered early in life that there was something uniquely different about herself. “In childhood, I felt very present,” she says. “That level of presence, that level of insight is what has been able to carry me through life.” Janét’s high level of empathy has benefits as well as detriments, she explains. “You feel things on a totally different level.”
Janét was exposed to business in her teens when her mother started her own cleaning company. Janét would accompany her mother to commercial buildings and chat with owners about their business. “I was very fascinated by what they did,” she says.
Moving to Toronto at the age of 17 cultivated Janét’s passion to become a business person. She graduated high school early and got a retail job at the Eaton Centre, where she worked alongside many strong women. “I spent a lot of time walking the streets, seeing the business people, the hustle and bustle,” she says.
At 19, Janét completed a program called Master’s Commission, an intensive discipleship program. Her interest in spirituality began as a young child. “I was once an aspiring pastor,” she says. Yet Janét came to realize that entrepreneurship was the right path for her.
“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world.”
After many years building a professional career in banking, management consulting, and advertising, Janét left the corporate world to focus on her family. For 18 months, she stayed home with her two children — both under the age of three. She launched her one-woman creative agency, Ahava Digital, from her basement.
“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world,” says Janét, “And life circumstances — that I wanted to shift — which presented challenges that I would have to navigate and pivot cautiously through,” she says.
Influencers became interested in Janét’s work. Demand continued to grow as she worked with companies and then larger organizations. In 2013, as Ahava Digital focused on social media, Janét began connecting with her professional network. “This path led me to introductions to influential people I’ve known over the years that gave me an opportunity and opened doors for me,” she says.
In 2016, Ahava Digital became more data focused as clients sought pinpointed metrics on their ideal customers. At the time, Janét was working on her dissertation for her PhD in metaphysical sciences while simultaneously completing her executive MBA. While gathering data for her PhD research, Janét discovered an American data centre that was looking for an investor. In late 2017, Janét acquired the data company and its technology, and started on a growth path. Today, Ahava Digital Group has a presence in more than 15 countries with more than 550 employees, and their National Intelligence File contains data on 197 million American households — all ethically sourced and verified.
Ahava Digital has gained the moniker of conscious business, which Janét embraces. “Canadian values are what shaped who I am as an entrepreneur, especially as an employer,” says Janét, which includes putting people first and focusing on environmental, social, corporate governance, and sustainable development goals.
She carries those values beyond her company, too. In 2020, Janét established scholarship programs at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo to support people from marginalized communities who wish to pursue careers in business and engineering. Money can be a barrier to entry, dissuading many people from even applying, she says, adding, “Money should never be the reason why somebody does not fulfill their dreams.”
“We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well.”
Janét says it’s important to focus on how we can give back in life — but it’s also healthy to expect reciprocation. “We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well,” she says, adding, “Understanding those that pour out also need to be poured into.”
For Janét, giving back also includes mentoring other women entrepreneurs through an American organization that focuses on leadership from a biblical perspective. It’s about leadership, wellness, and mindset. “Honestly, it’s the best work I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she says.
Reflecting on a key takeaway for other women entrepreneurs, Janét says, “Successful women are not afraid of being themselves. I want to stress this concept to women.” In the beginning, Janét had people trying to steer her path, and if she had listened to them, Ahava Digital Group would not be what it is today. “It takes a very strong personality to stand alone and be that lone wolf,” she says.
Her approach has clearly worked. Among her many achievements, Janét’s company was ranked twelfth on Canadian Business’ 2020 Growth List, with Janét being the first Black Canadian woman sole founder to be recognized within the list’s top 20. That same year, Janét was also the first person of colour to win the Canadian Business Employer of the Year award. In 2021 she became the first Black woman to receive the Excellence Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has built and managed a successful business over a decade through timely innovation, strategic thinking, and smart execution.
Looking to the future, Janét is excited to focus on her legacy initiative — the institute that she created to support the wellness of women in business. The Wholly Living Research Institute focuses on emotional intelligence around business and explores leadership from a wellness perspective, providing a safe space for women to share experiences.
“Leadership is the place I was meant to be,” says Janét. “I come alive when empowering women. It gives me joy.”