Mélanie Villeneuve of Urtica Design

Connecting Canadians

Farm, food brand strategies help grow local businesses

Jan 10, 2023

Parkland County entrepreneur and TELUS #StandWithOwners prize recipient behind Urtica Design is using her expertise and reach to help community players catch attention and improve their bottom lines

Mélanie Villeneuve knows first-hand how difficult it can be for local businesses to get off the ground. Not only does she own and operate Urtica Design, a boutique brand strategy agency located in Parkland County, just outside of Edmonton, but Villeneuve has also dedicated her business to assisting other entrepreneurs in need of a boost. Urtica specializes in helping food and farm-based businesses connect with the public and create buzz with brand strategy solutions, market research, copywriting, logo and packaging design, website production and e-commerce setup, as well as whatever else it takes to get some attention.

Villeneuve is an entrepreneur herself, but she’s also in the business of making sure other small companies succeed.

“I’m a big food nerd,” she says. “I like knowing where ingredients come from, and things like that. It’s become a very natural intersection for Urtica to serve the people that I just happen to love hanging out with and throwing down dinners with.” 

Urtica Design is supporting farm and food brand strategies to help improve their bottom line

Giving local businesses tools to grow

Villeneuve has been working in graphic design since 2008 and started the company that would become Urtica in 2011. She’s built the business into a small, all-woman team (which Villeneuve says was not by design, but she’s happy to work with other talented and enthusiastic women).

When she saw the application for TELUS Business’ #StandWithOwners program, which awards local business owners prizes of $25,000 in funding, advertising and technology, she was keen to apply. The program has invested more than $2.5 million since 2020, and this year 30 businesses that are using technology to grow their business and support their community were chosen through the program.

Villeneuve saw her application as a “shot in the dark,” but was “gobsmacked” to learn TELUS was impressed with her community involvement and use of technology to give her clients a leg up in a competitive consumer food market.

“Small businesses are the heart of our communities and economy. TELUS’ commitment to supporting Canadian businesses, like Urtica Design, through #StandWithOwners is also another step in our commitment to support local,” said Navin Arora, Executive Vice-president, TELUS and President, TELUS Business Solutions. “We want to support businesses that are bringing communities together and continuing to make the future friendly by supporting owners in a digital world.”

Villeneuve was more than grateful – not only for the resources, but also for the recognition.

“There’s definitely a degree of validation there that is really beautiful,” she says. “To think of this large company recognizing small businesses and putting their money where their mouth is, is awesome. The prize and the gifts that came with it were a really cool bonus. But the pat on the back was the best part for me.” 

Villeneuve is planning to use her winnings to reach out to small businesses that don’t meet Urtica Design’s current minimum-spend threshold

Building businesses that build community

It’s a pat on the back that is certainly well-deserved. In addition to the work that Urtica Design does to help food and agriculture businesses, the agency donates 3.5 per cent of its earnings to partner charities that rotate each quarter, usually focusing on the food and agriculture sectors. Recipients include a hot lunch program at the Marion Centre in Edmonton that’s facilitated by Urtica client Caramunchies, and the Young Agrarians, a resource network for young regenerative, organic, and ecological Canadian farmers.

Villeneuve says that running Urtica Design wouldn’t be possible without the help of technology – she and her team are able to connect with clients online. In addition, her marketing and branding work is so often dependent on digital communication with the public, which makes the #StandWithOwners prize incredibly valuable to her small team.

She’s planning to use her winnings to reach out to small businesses that don’t meet Urtica Design’s current minimum-spend threshold, shining a spotlight on products that may otherwise fly under the radar and help grow their brand of nourishing local communities.

“For me, having this business is about doing right by our clients and doing right by our team and taking really good care of them,” Villeneuve explains. “Everybody’s bills need to be paid in a practical sense, but the idea has always been to use our business as a vehicle to do something bigger than me and bigger than Urtica that will make a difference in our community.” 

To learn more about the #StandWithOwners program, visit telus.com/StandWithOwners.

Article originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal.