If you've been struggling to understand how business funding in Ontario works, this is the only guide you'll need to understand small business grants in Ontario!
Because in this comprehensive guide I outline the 28 major sources of grants, loans, tax credits, and in-kind support that are available to entrepreneurs in Ontario.
The sources are broken down into three groups:
- Government sources of funding
- Private sector sources of funding
- Non-profit sources of funding
To go straight to one of the 28 sources, click in the menu below.
Let’s get into the money!!
Government Funding Sources for Ontario Businesses
Solid numbers are hard to come by, but one in-depth study found that the Canadian federal government and the largest four provinces (including Ontario) spent $29 billion in one year on “subsidies” (including tax credits, grants, investments, etc.)
Bottom line: there’s a ton of money available from various levels of government to support businesses.
Governments provide grants, loans, tax credits, investments, and in-kind support in order to help businesses grow and increase employment, and they support a wide variety of industry sectors.
While governments support a wide range of business activities, government funding generally falls into five categories:
Let’s jump into the specific sources of government funding:
Federal Government Funding Sources
New Small Business Incentives for 2021
Federal Government Grants
Federal grants support Ontario businesses in industries ranging from agriculture to space, and for purposes ranging from R&D to exporting.
Below is a sample of federal grants for Ontario businesses, grouped by industry sector and purpose of funding:
Federal Grants for the Agricultural Sector in Ontario
Federal Grants for Publishers in Ontario
Federal Grants for Space Sector
Federal Grants to Support Technology that Helps Canadians with Disabilities
Federal Grants to help Ontario Businesses Improve Energy Efficiency
Federal Grants to Help Ontario Businesses Increase Exports
Federal Grants to Support Research & Development
(Interesting related fact: did you know that small firms doing R&D get about 43% of their funding from government?)
Federal Government Loans
The Canadian federal government loans money to Ontario small businesses for purchasing equipment and other assets, for working capital, to fund export expansion, and more.
Here’s a sample of federal government loans for Ontario businesses:
Federal Loans for Ontario Agricultural Producers
Federal Loans for Exporters & International Business Activities
Federal Loans for Ontario Young Entrepreneurs
Federal Loans for Film Producers
Federal Loans for Purchase of Equipment & Other Assets
Federal Loans for Working/Operational Capital
Federal Government Tax Credits
Many tax credits provided by the federal government help Ontario businesses defray the cost of hiring and research & development.
Here’s a sample a federal tax credits for Ontario businesses:
Federal Government In-Kind Support
In addition to grants, loans, and tax credits, the federal government also provides many types of in-kind support for businesses in Ontario.
One example of in-kind support is the Community Futures Program. This program of the regional development agencies FedNor and FedDevOntario assists rural communities in improving their economies and helping small businesses.
Individuals living in rural areas can get assistance in starting, buying, or expanding a business through loans and business support and planning services.
Provincial Government Funding Sources
Ontario Government Grants
Like the federal government, the Ontario provincial government also does its bit to give businesses a boost.
To that end, the Government of Ontario provides grants for starting a business, hiring, training, capital investment, and more. The province also has programs for specific regions, including the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, Eastern Ontario Development Fund, and others.
Below is a sample of grants for Ontario businesses provided by the provincial government:
Ontario Provincial Grants for Starting a Business
Ontario Provincial Grants for Hiring
Ontario Provincial Grants Specifically for Northern Ontario Businesses
Ontario Provincial Grants Specifically for Southern Ontario Businesses
Ontario Provincial Grants Specifically for Eastern Ontario Businesses
Ontario Provincial Grants Supporting Early-Stage Technology
Ontario Government Loans
Provincial government loans support a wide range of activities, including capital investment, green/clean tech, and more.
Here’s a small sample of the business loans offered by the Ontario provincial government:
Ontario Government Tax Credits
Like federal tax credits, Ontario provincial tax credits target hiring, R&D, and other purposes.
Here’s a sample of Ontario provincial tax credits:
Ontario Provincial Tax Credit for Hiring and Labour Costs
Ontario Provincial Tax Credit for Research & Development
Ontario Government In-Kind Support
The Ontario provincial government also provides in-kind support to businesses through its network of Regional Innovation Centres. These centres are focused on tech start-ups and provide workspace, mentoring, and access to funding.
Here’s a list of all 17 Regional Innovation Centres, with links to each:
Name of Regional Innovation Centre
Burlington & Milton
Kenora & Thunder Bay
Sault Ste. Marie
Municipal Government Funding Sources
Municipalities in Ontario offer support to businesses mainly through:
Small Business Enterprise Centres. Small businesses can get in-kind support through 54 Small Business Enterprise Centres (which are actually funded by, and in partnership with, the provincial government).
Small Business Enterprise Centres help start and grow businesses through:
Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). The first BIA was created in 1970 in Toronto, and there are now more than 270 across the province.
BIAs are networks that bring retail business owners and commercial property owners together to improve and grow economic development in their district (which is typically an urban neighbourhood, or group of neighbourhoods).
While BIAs don’t offer the financial programs that the federal and provincial governments do, they support local business through events, planning, and advocacy.
You can find out more about BIAs at the website of the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association.
Chambers of Commerce. These age-old organizations offer some surprising financial benefits to small businesses (like “affinity” programs that provide group discounts on services like insurance) as well as the in-kind benefits you probably already know (like networking events and directories of businesses).
You can find a directory of Ontario chambers of commerce on the Ontario Chamber of Commerce website.
Utility Funding Sources
Utility companies in Ontario have a number of programs that encourage business owners to improve their energy efficiency, thereby reducing their energy bills. Businesses can take advantage of grants, loans, and in-kind support (e.g. advice).
The biggest program in Ontario is probably Save On Energy, which is run by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), the Crown corporation responsible for operating the province’s electricity market.
Save On Energy provides a number of options to help small businesses:
There are also programs run by the individual utilities. Below we list the utilities and link to their energy efficiency programs (if they have one).
Links to Energy Efficiency Programs of Ontario Utilities
Private Sector Funding Sources for Ontario Businesses
When seeking funding from the private sector, understand that some of these funds are grants that you don’t have to pay back, some are loans that you do have to pay back, and some will be given in exchange for a partial ownership stake in your company (i.e. an equity investment). Think carefully about what type of private funding is best for your situation.
There are many types of private funding sources available to Ontario businesses. We’ve listed them below based on the stage of business development:
Private Funding for New ONTARIO Businesses:
“Angels” are individuals (or networks of individuals) who invest their own money in your business. This may be a friend or family member, or, as mentioned, a network of angels.
Angel investors might not require a say in the control of your business, and they may or may not be looking to achieve a return (hence the term “angel”!) How much control, involvement, or return an angel expects varies from individual-to-individual and network-to-network.
Examples of angel investor networks in Ontario include:
An incubator is a program that helps a start-up with things like an initial financial investment, advice, mentorship, or access to office space or equipment. Once the business has its footing, an accelerator is the next step (see the next section).
Examples of Ontario incubators include:
Crowdfunding platforms are online funding sources that pool small amounts of money from individual investors who want to invest in business ideas.
Some crowd funders just want to back an innovative idea and don’t care much about earning a return, while others require a return on their investment or want a stake in your business.
Examples of crowdfunding platforms available to Ontario businesses include:
Private Funding for Early Stage ONTARIO Businesses:
Accelerators are the next step after the incubator stage. While an entrepreneur would typically approach an incubator when they have an idea and little else, accelerators take a new business to the next stage once the business has figured out its business model.
Entrepreneurs need to apply to get into an accelerator program. Programs usually come with mentorship and an equity investment, along with a fixed time period (e.g. 3-4 months) in which the business is supposed to “accelerate” to the next level of their business.
Examples of Ontario accelerators include:
Venture capital firms make equity investments in new and early-stage businesses (as opposed to private equity firms, which tend to invest in established businesses).
Examples of Ontario venture capital firms include:
Private Funding for Established ONTARIO Businesses:
Peer to Peer Lending Platforms
These platforms are an online funding source that match people who want to lend money with small businesses that need loans.
P2P lending skips some of the hassles of a traditional bank, but you still need to have a solid business plan and other ways to show the strength of your business idea.
Examples of peer-to-peer lenders available to Ontario businesses include:
Banks include the behemoths you’re familiar with, like Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust, etc.
Banks may provide interest loans to a business to help it get started, but they’re more likely to provide financing to an established business.
As well, some banks will not give out a small business loan unless you have the backing of a government agency, which mitigates the risk to the bank, should you default on the loan.
Finance companies provide loans like banks, but they’re often willing to take on a higher level of risk than a traditional bank, while charging you a higher interest rate.
Some finance companies only provide specific types of loans (such as loans backed by assets), or for specific purposes (such as equipment financing).
Examples of Ontario finance companies include:
Private Equity Firms
Private equity firms make equity investments in established businesses (as opposed to venture capital firms, which tend to invest in start-ups or early-stage businesses).
Examples of Ontario private equity firms include:
Non-Profit Funding Sources for Ontario Businesses
Non-profits provide a wide range of services for Ontario businesses, from networking to connecting businesses to funding sources to providing grants, loans, and direct investments themselves.
Here’s a comprehensive run-down of non-profit funding sources available to Ontario businesses:
An association is a non-profit group formed to support business in a certain industry sector. These groups may lobby government on the sector’s behalf, provide guidance on funding for businesses in their sector, and more.
Examples of associations supporting Ontario include:
Business Development Corporations
Business development corporations are non-profits that typically help businesses in rural regions of Ontario or help Aboriginal businesses.
Centres of Excellence
Centres of Excellence are non-profit groups that may have the backing of several large corporations from the same industry sector, such as high tech or food processing. These groups look to fund start-ups that have innovative ideas in their sector.
Examples of Centres of Excellence in Ontario include:
Foundations are typically non-profit organizations set up by a private company (and occasionally governments).
The mandate of a foundation may be to do charitable work (such as tackling social or environmental issues), support other organizations that do charitable work, and/or give awards to niche for-profit businesses. Foundations are usually very specialized, focusing on a specific purpose, sector, etc.
Examples of private sector foundations in Ontario include:
A network is a non-profit that can help a business with funding, but it also delivers partnerships and collaborations that support business.
Examples of networks that support Ontario businesses include:
These are non-profits that focus on a specific sector, target audience, etc., such as entrepreneurs who are disabled; who have overcome a specific problem in their lives, such as addiction; who have an Indigenous heritage in Ontario; who are part of a specific religious group; etc.
Examples of niche non-profits in Ontario include:
Sector councils are non-profit alliances of workers, employers, educators, and governments that focus on specific sectors of the Canadian economy.
Sector councils are HR-focused and work towards improving the labour force in their particular sector. They do this through research on industry trends, establishing occupational standards, and the creation of career development resources and training programs.
Here’s a complete list of Ontario sector councils:
Agribusiness, Natural Resources and Environment Sector Councils
Arts, Culture, Communications, Tourism and Recreation Sector Councils
Business, Administration and Sales Sector Councils
Technology Sector Councils
Transportation Sector Councils
Manufacturing and Trades Sector Councils
Construction and Service Sector Councils
These cool-sounding organizations are collaborations among for-profit businesses, non-profit groups, and educational institutions that help start-ups with groundbreaking ideas in cutting-edge industry sectors.
The official name of the federal government program that funds superclusters is the Innovation Superclusters Initiative, and they focus on five sector areas:
Some universities in Ontario offer support to new businesses, including incubation and acceleration funding and services.
Here are some examples of university programs in Ontario that support businesses:
Infographic of All 28 Funding Sources
Print this off and put it on your office wall! 😉