In the horticultural nursery she opened 11 years ago with her husband, Arden Nering sells seeds and plugs for Alberta wildflowers and grasses – native perennials that appeal to gardeners who want eco-friendly and low-maintenance landscaping.
"Native plants are acclimatized to the region they're in and don't need that much to prosper, so you're not having to smother them with fertilizers," explains Ms. Nering, co-owner of Wild About Flowers in Okotoks, Alta. "And because they have well-established relationships with indigenous wildlife and insects, you end up creating a garden that has a purpose beyond visual appeal."
With its roots planted deeply in Alberta soil, Wild About Flowers is a proudly regional business, says Ms. Nering. Today, she and her husband have one more reason to feel proud: Wild About Flowers is among 10 regional winners in this year's Small Business Challenge Contest sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp.
"It means a lot to be recognized by the Challenge contest," says Ms. Nering. "We're a niche market business, for sure, but we believe we're doing something that has a great impact on the environment."
The regional awards recognize outstanding businesses in the country's Atlantic, north, west and central regions. Each regional winner will receive Telus services or devices worth $1,500.
This year's regional winners came up against stiff competition – and plenty of it. More than 3,300 small businesses from across the country entered the Challenge contest.
"The regional recognition highlights the amazing strength and diversity of the small businesses we have across Canada," says Katherine Scarrow, digital content strategist at The Globe and one of the Challenge judges. "The level of competition gets better and better, and I'm more impressed by the companies applying each year."
Innovative thinking, passion and a strong ability to engage an audience are winning characteristics that help companies stand out among the thousands of Challenge participants, says Suzanne Trusdale, a Challenge judge and vice-president of small business solutions at Telus.
"They need to be able to tell a good story and convince us they're addressing a need in the marketplace with an innovative product or service," she says. "And if they can demonstrate strong values around sustainability and social responsibility, then that really helps them jump out from the field."
This year's regional winners – who hail from Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and the Yukon – are a diverse group that includes a Toronto maker of whimsical covers for safety helmets and a Calgary patisserie that sells flash-frozen artisanal pastry dough ready to bake at home.
"We're only a little artisanal pastry maker, but we're doing something so unique that people often don't realize that the frozen lump of dough they're taking home was made by a master craftsman using an Old World technique," says Lison McCullough, co-owner of Calgary-based Pascal's Patisserie. "Because of this prize, we get on the national radar and that's super valuable to a business like us."
Lisa Alberico at Crate Designs Ltd., based in Chesley, Ont., which was selected as a regional winner in last year's Challenge contest, encourages the current cohort of regional champs to make the most of the publicity that comes with being recognized by the Challenge contest.
"It really raises your profile as a business and brings you to the attention of people who may not normally hear about you," she says.
Rebecca Taylor, president of Pearl & Daisy Natural Soap Co. in Londonderry, N.S., also has a piece of advice for this year's regional recognition winners.
"Keep dreaming big," she says. "This shifts your thinking about your own business and makes you realize that, while you may be operating in a small part of Canada and maybe not be seeing progress as fast as you might like, what you're doing is something that's different and worth noting."
This year's Small Business Challenge Contest regional winners:
Tail Wags Helmet Covers (Toronto): Designs and manufacturers helmet covers with fun designs to encourage adults and kids to wear safety headgear.
Wild About Flowers (Okotoks, Alta.): Sells seeds and plugs for wildflowers and grasses native to Alberta, promoting eco-friendly and low-maintenance landscaping.
The Healthy Butcher (Toronto): Specializes in organic meats, sustainable seafoods and gourmet prepared foods made with organic, local ingredients.
BJ Take Inc. (Lowbanks, Ont.): Manufactures energy-efficient LED and fluorescent lighting.
Fertile Images and Design (Vancouver): A photographic print company that produces wall art based on images inspired by Vancouver Island.
Snugabell Mom and Baby Gear (Coquitlam, B.C.): Designer and maker of hands-free pumping bras for breastfeeding moms.
MyFuneralDecision.com (Brandon): An online platform that provides step-by-step guidance on funeral planning.
Inkwell Modern Handmade Boutique & Letterpress Studio (Halifax): A letterpress studio, shop and online store that sells specialty printed products, such as greeting cards, and handmade keepsakes.
Sportees Active Wear (Whitehorse): Designs and makes athletic and dance clothing and accessories, including jackets that can be customized for fit and style.
Pascal's Patisserie (Calgary): Sells flash-frozen pastries, such as croissants and pain au chocolat, handmade by a French pastry chef and ready to bake at home.