By Julia Eskins
Photography by Aleyah Solomon
On the hunt for the perfect word to describe her company, Melanie Dowhaniuk found herself on the floor of Chapters with a Latin–English dictionary in hand. She settled on a name that conjures just the right amount of imagination to match the company tagline: “Out of the box thinking, in the box strategy.”
Fast forward 10 years, and you’ll find Dowhaniuk off the ground, but still partaking in brainstorming sessions. As the founder and president of Imaginis Marketing Inc., a Toronto-based business development company with a client roster that includes Telus, Dell Computers and Bell Canada, Dowhaniuk is an entrepreneurial prodigy.
“Having people recognize the name is big for me… I’m all about visionary thinking. I always map out where I want to be and work backwards from there,” she says.
The balance between commerce and creativity has always been a priority for Dowhaniuk, who also co-chairs Turnout, the National Ballet of Canada’s young professionals group.
While working long hours and attending several events, she can often be seen in one of her many “professional but feminine staple dresses,” accessorized for the occasion. When it’s time for glamorous National Ballet galas, the multitalented mogul favours Giambattista Valli, Prabal Gurung and shoes by Viktor&Rolf.
“I love to find those unique pieces that not everyone has. I’ve got my favourite boutiques, like Lileo in the Distillery District,” she says. “It’s always important to support artists; they’re pioneers of their own craft. I danced ballet for 16 years as a child, so I have an affinity to the arts.”
This patronage was what sparked Dowhaniuk’s idea to get involved with the National Ballet of Canada, share her marketing expertise and give back to the cultural community. She also actively connects, collaborates and supports other women business leaders and entrepreneurs.
“It’s always about how you can help the other person. Relationships evolve into partnerships. I never have the intention that I am going to a networking event to get business. It’s not like going to a grocery store where you’re going to walk out with something,” she says.
While studying business at York University, Dowhaniuk started working on a variety of marketing projects, including doing promotions for the hairdresser across the street. Soon after, Bell Canada approached her directly to assist them in their marketing programs. From there, Imaginis Marketing was born and continues to grow.
Her entrepreneurial work has also led to international projects in India, China, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, she was recognized as an RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year finalist.
“As an entrepreneur, you’re accountable to yourself, but it’s also about making sure you have a support network,” says Dowhaniuk. “Early on, I was taught to be an independent woman, to do everything for myself. Now, I am fortunate to have a great support network of friends and family. You need that as you continue to grow.”
Currently, she is diversifying her business by working on projects with small to medium-sized businesses, and helping collaborations between organizations. As a supporter of women entrepreneurs, Dowhaniuk recognizes the challenges that come with starting your own business — from cash flow to staying motivated.
“Dance also gave me a foundation for discipline, especially when you set goals and you’re working towards something. I’m accountable to my clients and my staff. Every morning, that’s what motivates me to do better.”