It’s not often that a business pledges to do so much good with an unexpected cash influx.
The first-place award winner in the province-wide Meridian Small Business Awards will use their $15,000 prize to finish developing an innovative software app that will help homeless people, and others in need, to access the ID required for employment, housing, and health care.
What can we say? Northern Village Inc is just that kind of company.
The 20-year-old business creates user-friendly websites and software to help social impact organizations make a difference in the communities they serve.
Arni Mikelsons, Founder and CEO of the Guelph-based business, says he intends to use the award money to complete the development of their software service dubbed Access2ID. This project takes aim at an issue facing many people experiencing homelessness: they don’t have official government identification.
“It's hard to get health care without a health card, it's hard to get an apartment without a birth certificate,” he says. “So, we wrote software agencies can use to help homeless people recover their ID so they can secure employment, housing, health care, and other essential services.” The company works with social service agencies like Street Health in downtown Toronto.
“We're going to be using the prize money from Meridian to finish some coding on the software so we can get the project off the ground,” explains Arni.
A long history of helping others
Arni earned a degree in environmental studies and computer science at the University of Toronto before starting his career helping non-profits in Zimbabwe to get on the internet.
Creating websites since “the beginning of the internet,” Arni launched Northern Village Inc. in 2002 as a website company with a focus on providing services to social benefit organizations, including charities.
“We take a village approach to website development, which means that we work with the clients and use what resources they have, whether that be designers, whether that be content creators, whether that be brand people – and work with them to make the website or software development project as affordable as possible,” explains Arni.
“We love to work with organizations that are making a difference in the lives of the people they serve,” he adds.
For example, Northern Village developed custom software for the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington to help the organization manage their Adopt-a-Family Program, which helps 1,400 families during the holiday season.
With its team of six people, the company has done some impressive work creating user-friendly websites for community organizations such as the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (Guelph and Wellington Branch), Guelph Wish Fund For Children, Street Health, and others.
In addition to clients in the Guelph area, Northern Village also has clients in Toronto and Chicago.
A pandemic pivot to software development
In the Spring of 2020, when COVID was on the rise, the demand for websites suddenly declined. In response, Northern Village pivoted to focus on creating custom software for social impact organizations.
“There was a lot of uncertainty at that time, so we decided to turn it into opportunity. We thought, OK, we have this software, so we’re going to try to make the business into a software-as-a-service model,” recalls Arni.
A worthy contest winner
Held in October 2021, Meridian accepted over 1,000 applications for its Small Business Contest.
“We were blown away by the quality of over 1,000 entries for our Small Business Contest, and all the nominees deserve a shout-out,” says Jason Teal, Vice President of Business Banking at Meridian Credit Union. Even so, he states that “Northern Village was the unanimous choice” for first place .
Meridian created the contest to reward businesses demonstrating resilience, innovation, and community spirit, which are at the heart of Northern Village.
Arni and several clients talk about these company values in the video created to enter the contest.
Community betterment as part of a company’s DNA
Northern Village is a registered B Corp, certifying that they are using business as a force for good.
A Certified B Corporation designation verifies that a company meets high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. B Corporations focus on balancing purpose and profit – and are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on the environment and their stakeholders, including workers, customers, suppliers, and community members.
B Corps include major brands such as Patagonia, NOW Magazine, Kickstarter, and Danone.
Proud Meridian Member
Northern Village has been a Meridian Member for almost 14 years.
For his business, Arni has credit cards, chequing accounts, and a US dollar account with Meridian. He also has a personal chequing account, mortgage and a line of credit.
His loyalty to Meridian is quite clear.
Arni recalls a situation 10 years ago when Meridian really came through for him. He was experiencing some personal challenges in his life and needed a mortgage approved, but the numbers didn’t present well. “Meridian looked beyond the numbers and saw what I was actually doing – they believed in me, and approved my mortgage application,” recalls Arni.
“I've always enjoyed working with Meridian – people are always friendly and helpful,” he says.
Bringing in new business
When asked how Northern Village gets new customers, Arni says he uses several marketing methods.
“A lot of our new business comes from referrals. We do good work for other people and they go – you know what – this is the company that did it for us, and we recommend them.”
In addition to referrals, Arni focuses his marketing efforts online. “We do have a substantial website and we like to keep it up to date, which helps with making sure that the site stays in the search engines,” he explains. “We also have a social media person who targets prospects on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.”
Northern Village is also a member of their local Chamber of Commerce in Guelph. Meridian is partnered with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC).
Celebrating the past and embracing the future
Arni and his team are looking forward to celebrating 20 years in business in 2022. They’re also busy planning for the future of the company.
“We're really excited to develop the software part of the business,” says Arni. “We’re making a switch from being a pure website development company to also creating software, and our first priority is to use our Meridian prize money to get the Access2ID software out there this spring.”