In this complete guide to small business grants for Kitchener-Waterloo entrepreneurs, we cover the many funding programs and business support organizations that offer a range of benefits from grants and loans to professional advice, introductions to investors, and training opportunities.

Business Incentives Available in Kitchener/Waterloo

Kitchener-Waterloo Business Grants

While those in the GTA can also take advantage of this particular program, those in the Kitchener-Waterloo area are just a bit luckier because this program is actually physically offered in Waterloo.

So if you’re a business located and operating in Kitchener/Waterloo working on a smart cities initiative or clean tech project, this program is tailored for you.


Get your hands on $100,000 for your business. As the founder of an exciting new company working on exciting new projects in such areas as smart cities, agri-tech, green manufacturing, advanced materials, energy (solar, wind, water, biofuel), and energy management/storage/access, you qualify, so why not?


If you’re intrigued and ambitious and ready for the next level with the help of an intensive, milestone-based program, then fill out their online application form. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be invited to attend an in-person interview to determine if you and your work are a good match.


You can always email them your questions or give them a call at 519-342-2400.

Those Kitchener/Waterloo businesses not in the clean tech or smart cities industries may not be able to participate in the TD Sustainable Futures program, but other tech companies can still use the Accelerator Program to your benefit.

It may not offer tangible financial incentives, but it does provide many of the keys you need to start or grow your company faster than you would have if you hadn’t been part of it.


Get benefits such as mentorship, one-to-many sessions with business leaders and experts, office space, meeting rooms, and access to potential investors when you complete the program. You’ll even open up access to $400,000 in discounts from essential business partners such as Amazon and HubSpot!


Founders in Kitchener/Waterloo can apply by filling out and submitting the online application form and then attending an in-person interview.


And give them a call at 519-342-2400 or send them an email if you’d like more information before you begin.

To begin with, you do not necessarily have to be connected to the University of Waterloo to give this competition a shot. You only have to be a tech start-up in Kitchener/Waterloo to qualify for this competition that opens up 3 times a year. You could be 1 of the 12 lucky start-ups that could get $50,000 in investments. You could even get an extra $50,000 if you’re a health tech company!

So there are 3 ways to qualify for this competition: you have at least one University of Waterloo student or recent grad founder (within 10 years and started your company less than two years ago) who owns 20% of the company, you’ve been part of the program’s incubator program for at least 3 months, or you could apply independently—but you’ll have to apply for the incubator program within 4 months of the competition beginning.


Now that you’ve determined you qualify to even apply, be aware that you’ll also be required to have gotten less than $250,000 in funding from any source, including government grants of any sort.


You made it through all those hoops and you’re still interested. Now what? First, send in a written application that includes your business name, product concept, market opportunity, and team profile. Then you’ll take part in a 2-part, 15-minute interview that includes a 3-minute pitch and 10 minutes of super fast questions from your judges. You’ll have to be ready and think fast! Finally, if you make it through all that, you’ll get to pitch to angel investors and early-stage venture capitalists.


Early-stage start-ups in health tech may also be eligible to compete for an additional $50,000 investment from the Velocity Health Tech Fund.


If you’re up for the challenge and excited to get started, sign up for their mailing list to be notified when the next competition will open for applications. And getting in touch with them is as simple as filling out their online contact form.

Now that you’re excited for the pitch competition and know you’ll most likely have to be part of their incubator program, what exactly does that program give you?

Get office, lab, and workshop space and tools, mentorship, networking, and training when you work with the Velocity Incubator program. And the best part is you don’t have to be affiliated with the university in way to qualify. On that note, here’s your qualification criteria:

  • interest in or demonstrated progress in building a scalable technology company
  • working or will be working soon on your venture full-time
  • able to operate your business from Velocity incubator for start-up incubation during later stages (Though this is flexible. If this isn’t possible for you, just explain and justify in your application.)
  • willing to engage and contribute to the Velocity community

Get that application in fast though because the next application deadline is April 6, 2020, for an April 20, 2020 start date. So send in your application form now!


If you’ve got questions, just ask them using their online contact form.

If you do business in one of Kitchener’s 4 heritage conservation districts— Upper Doon, Victoria Park Area, St. Mary's, and Civic Centre Neighbourhood—and own the building you operate out of, you could be eligible for a grant to maintain and improve your building.

Even if you don’t operate in one of those districts, if your building has been designated as a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act, you could still qualify.


Grant amounts range from between $500 and $3,000, or up to 50% of project costs. Eligible projects include that which will restore significant, documented architectural features that have been lost, repairing deteriorated original property elements, or accurately restoring original building features.


Check out their program guidelines for a more detailed list of eligible and ineligible projects, and make sure you connect with their heritage planner early in your application process.


All you have to do to get started is fill out the online application form. And while ordinarily, the application deadline would have passed for this year, it has been extended to April 30 this particular year.


To learn more, just send them an email or give them a call at 519-741-2200 ext.7839.

Have you noticed your storefront is lacking lately? Is it in need of maintenance, sprucing up, or a bit of a lift to improve both your neighborhood and your reputation?


If you operate in certain areas in the Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge region, you could get yourself a grant to help ease the cost of improving your storefront.

These areas, which include Downtown Preston, Hespeler, and Galt; Downtown Kitchener; and Uptown Waterloo; each have their own version of this grant.


The Downtown Preston, Hespeler, and Galt grant is comprised of 2 parts: (1) a Design Guide Program that will give you up to $1,000 for the first façade and $250 for all other façades to a maximum of $1,750/building to hire a professional consultant to create a design plan for your façade and (2) a Building Revitalization Program that will give you an interest-free and partially forgivable loan for up to 50% of eligible costs to improve your storefront, up to $20,000 with $5,000 for each additional storefront.


For more information about this 2-part program and to learn how to apply, read pages 9 to 17 of the City of Cambridge Incentives package, give them a call at 519-621-0740, ext. 4213, or send them an email.


Downtown Kitchener’s Façade Grant Program offers a grant of up to 50% of the costs, to a maximum of $10,000/storefront. Just apply online if you haven’t received funding from this program in the last 5 years. For more information, just call 519-741-2200, ext. 7197 or send an email.


With Uptown Waterloo’s Façade Improvement Grant Program, business owners could get themselves a matching grant of $10,000 per street-facing façade to a maximum of $20,000/property to improve the appearance of their storefront. If you’re interested or want to learn more, just call 519-747-8706, send an email, or read through Waterloo's Uptown Community Improvement Plan page.

No, this grant isn’t to be used by students or for professional development. This grant program is to help businesses with the costs associated with preparing and submitting high quality professional urban design studies and drawings, heritage feasibility studies, and heritage assessments.

If one of these goals in your sights, you could get up to $3,000/property. All you have to do to learn more or apply is call 519-747-8706 or send the program an email. It’s also a good idea to read through Waterloo's Uptown Community Improvement Plan page.

Uptown Waterloo created this grant for property owners who wish to renovate or expand the buildings on their property, including business owners. The goal is to help ease the pain of the fees usually associated with renovation and construction.

If you qualify, you could get up to $10,000 per project or property, and all you have to do to get the funding is visit Waterloo's Uptown Community Improvement Plan page, give them a call at 519-747-8706, or send them an email. They’ll let you know what to do once you get in touch.

There’s just no end to the financial incentive programs for businesses in Uptown Waterloo!


This one will get you up to of $50,000 per project or property in the form of either a loan or a grant, to be determined by an economic development officer after a discussion and receipt of your application.

Use this grant or loan, whichever the case may be, to build or expand your building(s). Plus, you could qualify for even more funding if your plan includes heritage conservation and/or sustainable building design.


For more information about the program, whether you’ll get a grant or a loan, and to apply, first visit Waterloo's Uptown Community Improvement Plan page, then call 519-747-8706 or email the program.

Designed to encourage large reurbanization projects over 5,000 square feet that include office space in Uptown Waterloo, this program offers grant money to help you create new floor space to be used for employing workers in an office environment.

The amount of funding you could receive is dependent on an assessment by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. There is no minimum or maximum amount for this one. As with the above program, you could get even more funding for a sustainable design or heritage conservation.


To get started, just send the program an email or give them a call at 519-747-8706, and be sure to read through Waterloo's Uptown Community Improvement Plan page.

Investments & Loans for Kitchener-Waterloo Businesses

Sorry, entrepreneurs in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge, this loan program is solely for businesses in your rural outskirts. Choose from the CIP Matching Loan, the Rural Women in Business Loan, or a Small Business Loan.

The CIP (Community Improvement Plan) is much like a combined façade improvement and minor activity program, but you get a loan rather than a grant. This loan will help cover costs related to physical, structural, and aesthetic improvements to existing commercial, industrial, mixed-use, and office buildings and properties. This one could give you up to $20,000 with a 3% interest rate!


If this loan has caught your attention, simply download and fill out the application form and email it back to them. Need help or have a few questions? Send them an email or give them a call at 519-846-9839. Make sure you get approval for the project itself first though!


Get up to $250,000 to start or grow your business if you’re a woman entrepreneur in the area with the Rural Women in Business Loan program. They’ll even help you put your business plan together, which is important because the amount of your loan is dependant on the strength of your business plan.


To apply for this program, all you have to do is download the application form and submit it via email. Just send them an email or give them a call at 519-846-9839 with questions or for help with the application process.


Finally, if you’re just interested in a regular, everyday small business loan, just email the program to arrange an interview. Be sure to bring all these required supporting documents with you when you go to your interview:

  • business loan application document 
  • business plan including projected cash flow, balance sheet, and income statements
  • personal financial statement for each partner/shareholder
  • copy of your Business Registration and/or Articles of Incorporation
  • copy of your income tax return
  • copy of birth certificates for each partner/shareholder

Then just sit back and wait as their board of directors makes their decision, which will be based on the strength of your business plan, your ability to repay, your available security, the impact on job creation or maintenance, and the impact on long-term growth for the community.


So, rural Waterloo-area businesses, if you could use an influx of funds for whatever reason, get to work putting together a strong business plan and your financial statements (and/or financial forecast) because those are the 2 essential components you’ll need to apply for one of the association’s small business loans.


If you’ve got questions or could use some help applying, you can send them an email.

Calling all quantum information science entrepreneurs! Here’s an investment program tailored just for you.

This investment program is funded by only 2 managing partners: Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, otherwise known as the “Smartphone Industry Founders.” Their goal is to continually develop the “quantum valley” region—or the Waterloo region.


They may just invest in you if you’re an entrepreneur working on new research that could reasonably lead to new technologies and applications that could be commercialized.


The amount they’ll invest in your product is always dependant on the quality and potential of it. But in addition to their funding, you’ll also benefit from their expertise and support.


To apply, just email the partners a description of your technology or application. Make sure it’s not only no more than 2 pages long, but make sure it’s solid, edited, and inclusive to catch their attention—and their admiration.

Tax Credits & Rebates for Kitchener-Waterloo Businesses

Kitchener businesses who happen to own a building designated as a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act can apply for this property tax refund.


You could very well get yourself a property tax refund of up to 40%! To find out more and determine if you do in fact qualify, simply call 519-741-2200, ext. 7839.

The City of Kitchener and the City of Waterloo have partnered to deliver this tax grant program for owners of brownfield sites.


Should you choose to remediate and redevelop a previously contaminated site as part of starting or expanding your business, you could qualify for a grant to help offset your resulting tax increase based on post-development tax assessment increases.

Why would you choose to do remediate a site? There are many benefits that entrepreneurs with a bit of insight and some resources can realize because, generally, these sites have exceptional potential, offering prime locations, existing infrastructure, and a solid return on investment.


You’ll get payments yearly for up to 10 years when you do so, but you won’t receive your first payment until the remediation and redevelopment is complete and the site has been reassessed. You can also access this grant if you operate in Cambridge under the Contaminated Sites Grant Program.


And that’s not all. Because remediating a site must entail conducting a Phase Two Environmental Site Assessment, you can also access a grant from the region to help offset that cost.


To apply or get more information, you can call the program at 519-575-4757, ext. 3657 or send them an email.

Now here’s a program for those entrepreneurs who’ve been looking at improving their energy efficiency and reducing their carbon footprint.


This program will give you a reduction of the property tax increase that results from your energy-efficiency projects.

The reduction percentage you receive will be determined after a LEED sustainability performance of your as-built project. Once that’s determined, however, you could get this reduction for as long as 10 years!


To take advantage of this reduction, visit Waterloo's Northdale CIP Tax Increment Grant Program page, then send the program an email or give them a call at 519-747-8706 to get started.

Exemptions and Reductions for Kitchener-Waterloo Businesses

Again on the subject of remediating brownfield sites, if you’ve purchased, remediated, and redeveloped a contaminated property in the Waterloo Region (depending on the area you’re remediating in), you’re entitled to a Regional Development Charge Exemption, which was designed to help offset the cost of remediation.

The amount of the exemption is based on the total of direct costs of remediation plus 20% for indirect costs. They will reduce your amount equal to any other financial assistance you’ve received, however.


Only certain areas of Waterloo qualify, but all of Cambridge and Kitchener qualify for this exemption, so to learn which Waterloo areas qualify, for more information, or to apply, give them a call at 519-575-4818 or send them an email.

Entrepreneurs who purchase industrially zoned land from the City of Cambridge are exempt from the usual Non-Residential Development Charge applied to standard industrial land purchases.


You could even qualify for a Development Charge reduction when you build new buildings or additions on properties within specific designated employment lands.

To determine where those employment lands are and to apply for an exemption and reduction, email the senior economic development officer or give the program a call at 519-740-4683 ext. 4535.

Utility Grants & Rebates for Kitchener-Waterloo Businesses

Change is hard, and change can be more expensive than you’d like. But one of the simplest changes you can make to your business to save money is to switch out your old, inefficient lighting for new, more efficient lighting.

Not only will your new lighting last longer than the old, but new, energy-efficient lighting will also help you save money, even if you do need to shell out an upfront cost first.


Waterloo North Hydro and Save on Energy can take some of the sting out of that upfront cost though. When you sign up for their Small Business Lighting Program to replace your old lighting, they’ll give you up to $2,000 in financial incentives.


For more information, just send them an email or give them a call at 1-866-932-8283.

Small business owners in the Kitchener-Waterloo who use commercial-grade refrigeration systems can take advantage of this program to decrease their energy use and save money as a result. You could even save $100/month on average!

You could qualify if you’re also a current customer (or sign up and create an account), have an average peak electricity demand of less than 250 kW/year, own or lease your building (if leasing, you need landlord permission), and haven’t participated in the program before.


If you fit these criteria and want to improve your systems, such as replacing inefficient motors, just send an email to their partner, Burman Energy, to schedule an estimate. Alternatively, you can call 1-833-274-7378. Don’t worry, a licensed contractor will do the work and arrange their schedule around yours.

While Waterloo North Hydro used to administer this program, policies have changed recently, resulting in the Independent Electricity System Operator taking charge of the program. As such, it’s now only Save On Energy that offers this retrofit program for businesses.

Businesses can use this program in 1 of 2 ways to improve your energy usage and reduce the amount of money flying out the window every year. The first option is the prescriptive track. Use this program for smaller, easier projects such as switching out your lighting controls. While it’s meant for smaller projects, you’ll still have to make sure you project costs allow for the minimum incentive of $500.


The second option is the comprehensive track. This option is meant for bigger, more complicated projects such as HVAC redesign or automation system overhaul—or both.


As a Kitchener-Waterloo business owner, it’s likely your building qualifies as any industry is eligible as long as you want to improve your energy efficiency, you have an eligible project, and you want to save money every month—and get money for making those changes.

If you’re ready to get started, just download the program requirements, take a look at the required documents, worksheets, and guides to help your through the application process, and then create an account in their Retrofit Portal to apply.


Check out their FAQs if you have questions. But if you find your question still goes unanswered, just get in touch with them through the portal. You could even call their general information line at 1-844-303-5542 if you prefer.

For those businesses who require and are ready to undertake more in-depth energy efficiency projects that need the services of an engineer, this is the program for you.

Examples of projects that qualify for this financial incentive program are such things as replacing your current systems with energy-efficiency technology such as lighting and lighting controls, HVAC, and VFDs.


Because this one is project specific, your incentive will also be unique and tailored to your needs. But the first step is easy. Just get in touch with Save On Energy to schedule an engineering feasibility study so you and the program know exactly what projects to undertake to create the largest money- and energy-saving opportunities. Don’t worry, there’s a financial incentive for the study too!


All you have to do to apply is send them an email, and you can email your questions in too. If you need help preparing or getting through the application process or are still unsure if this program is for you, you can always download and check out their program requirements guide or give their general information line a call at 1-844-303-5542.

Hey! Want to save, on average, 6.5% on your business energy costs every year? Then sign up for this financial incentive program, provided you’re not in an industrial or manufacturing business.

You could get your business a $1,500 modelling incentive for every single building you enroll in the program on top of a pay-for-performance incentive. This program only offers a maximum of $15,000 for 10 buildings, however.


You have all the power with this program. You decide which improvements to make and which areas to invest in to achieve the greatest energy savings at the lowest cost. Once you’ve made your decisions and changes and done your initial measurements, Save on Energy will send you regular payments equalling up to 20% of the annual baseline electricity consumption of your building(s).


There’s a little leg work to do and a few forms to fill out first, but then it’s smooth sailing. Start by filling out and emailing the Energy Performance Program Agreement and the Application Form along with one Facility Application Form for each building you want enrolled. Then fill out and send in the Baseline Energy Model Validation Reports Tool. This will create your baseline. It means recording your hourly usage, but they give you the tool you need to do so.


Finally, you’ll have to regularly send in a Savings Report for each building to get your money.


Questions? Just email them to the program.

Here’s a unique way to save your business money, even though it sounds counterintuitive at first: hire an energy manager. Yes, hiring someone costs money, but in this particular case, Save On Energy will pay you up to $150,000/year to pay for an energy manager. They’ll even give you $40,000—immediately!

So it’s worth putting some thought into. Hire a professional energy manager and watch your energy bills go down. At the same time, you’ll even see other benefits from using an energy manager, such as finding new financial incentives to take advantage of and learning about new energy investments to benefit from.

 

However, hire wisely because the energy manager is required to meet certain criteria throughout their tenure for you to receive your funding.

 

Getting started is as easy as downloading the application form and emailing it to the program. You’ll also have to include the energy manager agreement form.

 

If you’ve got questions, just call 1-844-303-5542 or shoot them an email.

Additional Resources for Kitchener-Waterloo Businesses

Don’t forget about your local business improvement area as a good, solid resource base!

So many people, let alone entrepreneurs, have even heard of a business improvement area, but they can do a lot to help you start, grow, maintain, or expand your business.


You can access resources such as training and mentorship, introductions to investors or experts, discounts, and localized, specialty programs. You could even use their extensive information stashes and/or advertise on their websites for a small fee. Others offer meeting spaces, awards, and more.


Take a look at the Uptown Waterloo BIA, for example. In addition to all the services and resources listed above, they also offer a program to fund one-time events at local businesses (up to $350), a graffiti removal program, and an Uptown Dollars program whereby citizens can buy gift certificates in various amounts to be used at local businesses belonging to the BIA. Check out their website to learn about everything they offer.


Don’t operate in Uptown Waterloo but curious about joining your local BIA? You can also find one in Woolwich, Kitchener, and Cambridge.

Another superb place to go to access programs and benefits to help with your business needs is your local Chamber of Commerce.

Get help with creating a business plan or with business planning itself. Or unlock training, education, and professional development opportunities. Mentorship programs and networking sessions are also common themes among Ontario Chambers of Commerce, and you should only discount these nonmonetary benefits to your detriment. We could all use a little extra knowledge and a few more connections!


You can generally advertise your business on their website for a fee, rent meeting space if perhaps you’re working out of your basement for now, and even gain access to the provincial exporting workshop series, TAP, at a seriously discounted price.


Take, for example, the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. They offer everything from a Chambers Toastmasters group to a step-by-step guide to starting a business. They’ve even got a Peer2Peer Group that offers guidance from seasoned professionals or just the opportunity to bounce your ideas of others.


Find your local Chamber of Commerce to see where their tools, resources, and connections can take your business.

And then there’s the organization that exists solely to help small businesses find success: your local Small Business Enterprise Centre.

Each centre offers a plethora of resources designed from the experience of successful entrepreneurs. Take advantage of free information on patents, copyrights, trademarks, licences, permits, registration, and regulations, tricky and complicated as they are.


Or, get them to review your business plan and offer advice or set you up with a referral to accountants or lawyers. Just getting started? Use their computers and internet—for free!


And that’s just the beginning of what you could use for the benefit of your business when you join your local Small Business Enterprise Centre, so check out the one in your area:

Regional Innovation Centres are sprinkled throughout Ontario and offer a space where you can bring your proprietary technology to life in rapid fashion.

Unlike BIAs and Small Business Enterprise Centres where you pay a membership fee to join, with an RIC, you compete for membership, so your idea, your abilities, have to be top-notch and full of potential.


Enjoy benefits such as access to angel and venture capitalist investors, opportunities to take part in pitch competitions, free business tools and office or lab space, and timely market intelligence with an RIC. These benefits—and more—will allow you to grow your business exponentially when compared to building it alone.


Communitech is the Kitchener-Waterloo region’s RIC, so give them a shout at 519-888-9944 to learn about how you can join.

The Bottom Line

So Kitchener-Waterloo entrepreneurs, what are you waiting for? After you’ve researched and taken advantage of all possible federal and provincial financial programs, take the next step and find more funds to start, grow, or maintain your business.


Join your local BIA, RIC, Chamber of Commerce, and Small Business Enterprise Centre to reap all the total benefits. Make some invaluable connections and learn some tips from the experts: the people who’ve walked the same path you want to or are walking now.


Then apply for every possible grant or loan, no matter how big or small, that suits your purpose. Remember to claim all potential tax credits or reductions and keep sustainability and heritage conservation in mind because they pay just that little bit more.


Most of all, never embark on a project or goal without looking for funding to reduce your financial burden first!


About the author 

Maurice

Maurice (Moe) Muise learned the ins-and-outs of government while an employee of the Government of Canada in Ottawa for 10 years. His current focus is helping small businesses in Ontario to identify and maximize government grants to grow their business.
Click here to learn more about Moe's background and how he can help your business.

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