Small Business Grants Ontario (2021): The Complete Funding Guide for Ontario Businesses

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.  

At the end of this article there’s a snazzy infographic that summarizes all 28 sources (click here to go straight to the infographic).

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:

  • Hiring
  • Training
  • Capital Investment
  • Research & Development
  • Business/Market Development (including working capital, exporting, etc.)

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

  • With the AgriAssurance program, SMEs may receive funding to implement programs and certification projects that address international market requirements to help Canadianagricultural and agri-food products receive additional export opportunities.
  • The AgriScience Program gives funding for pre-commercial science activities and cutting-edge research to benefit the agricultural sector and agri-food sector.
  • The Canadian Dairy Commission provides matching funding for businesses and food technology centres that are involved in developing or improving products aimed at stimulating demand for Canadian dairy products and ingredients.
  • The Dairy Processing Investment Fund helps dairy farmers with funding to make investments designed to improve their competitiveness in the market, such as through capital investments or through access to expertise. Business/Market Development (including working capital, exporting, etc.)

Federal Grants for Publishers in Ontario

  • The Canada Book Fund delivers funding for marketing, professional development, internships, and technology projects related to the marketing and promotion of books with Canadian authors. Another arm of this fund exclusively gives book publishing firms funds for producing Canadian authored books.

Federal Grants for Space Sector

  • The Canadian Space Agency gives businesses funding for multiple types of projects aimed at improving space travel missions or technologies related to space exploration.

Federal Grants to Support Technology that Helps Canadians with Disabilities

  • The Accessible Technology Program provides matching funding for companies that are developing new technologies aimed at helping Canadians with disabilities more fully participate in the digital economy.

Federal Grants to help Ontario Businesses Improve Energy Efficiency

  • Natural Resources Canada provides matching funds for businesses and industrial facilities that are seeking to improve energy performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Programs should be repeatable, so they can be applied across multiple industrial facilities.
  • The Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund has grants for businesses working on projects aimed at providing significant benefits in areas like climate change, clean air, clean water, and clean soil.

Federal Grants to Help Ontario Businesses Increase Exports

  • The Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP) has funding available for businesses looking to undertake research and development programs between Canadian companies and foreign partners, with the ultimate goal being to create a commercial product or service. The grant will cover a percentage of the costs.
  • CanExport provides funding for research and development projects, where businesses collaborate with foreign partners to co-develop technologies for commercialization. Another CanExport grant is available for helping Canadian SMEs that are attempting to break into new markets internationally.
  • Creative Export Canada delivers funding for projects that help Canadian creative industries find new ways to export their products and services around the world.
  • The National Trade Corridors Fund has grants available for innovative projects that will increase or begin the flow of trade to foreign markets, including improvements to various transportation systems.

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?)

  • The College and Community Innovation Program has matching funding to help businesses collaborate with a researcher from a university for up to three years on R&D projects at the business. Another program delivers matching funding for similar types of research projects for up to five years.
  • EUREKA is an international funding program that supports research and development for Canadian companies seeking access to technology and markets overseas. Public and private funding together drive the grants in the EUREKA program.
  • Impact Canada is a funding program aimed to help businesses with the cost of finding innovative solutions to economic, environmental, or social problems throughout Canada. Multiple projects are available with millions of dollars offered.
  • The Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program offers funding for a variety of competitive projects related to national defence. The winning ideas receive funding. Calls for new projects appear regularly on the website.
  • The Innovation Solutions Canada program offers challenges to small businesses and innovators, seeking novel solutions. Winning ideas can receive a grant for proof of concept, as well as for developing a prototype.
  • NRC IRAP provides funding to support research and development with small and medium businesses (500 or fewer employees). Another program from NRC IRAP helps businesses with financial compensation to hire young graduates, who may be able to spark new ideas or ways of marketing the business.
  • NSRC provides grants that allow university researchers to collaborate with businesses for research projects that make improvements to the Canadian economy, such as through technological innovation.
  • Scale AI is a government and private sector funded program that aims to help SMEs create technology that accelerates adoption and commercialization of artificial intelligence (AI) for supply chains.
  • The Strategic Innovation Fund gives businesses grants to fund a variety of different projects aimed at growing the economy. Some of the supported projects relate to research and development, business expansion, and private/public sector collaboration.

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

  • The Advance Payments Program is a federal loan guarantee program that gives agricultural producers access to low interest cash advances based on the value of their agricultural products. The advance is repaid when the producer sells the products.
  • AgriInnovate gives loans for projects that will help with commercialization of innovative technologies, products, or services in the agricultural sector.
  • The FCC Agribusiness program makes loans to businesses that provide input or add value to the agricultural sector, including food processors, oil refiners, equipment manufacturers, feed processors, and ag equipment dealers.
  • FCC Credit Line is a revolving, pre-approved loan that agricultural businesses can use for any operating expenses, giving businesses immediate access to working capital. Interest-only payment options are available. FCC also has loan programs available for purchasing equipment, creating environmental solutions, or purchasing land and buildings.
  • With FCC Input Financing, agricultural producers are able to receive loans to purchase items like crop protection, fuel, and fertilizer before harvest, and they’re allowed to pay the loan back after the harvest and sale of the crops.
  • The FCC Livestock program allows cattle producers to finance livestock purchases up to pre-approved lending limits using a small down payment or a security deposit account.
  • The Canadian Agricultural Loans Act (CALA) is a loan guarantee program that helps farmers obtain loans for establishing, improving, or developing farms. Agricultural co-operatives also can access loans for processing, distributing, or marketing farming products.

Federal Loans for Exporters & International Business Activities

  • The Direct Lending program from Export Development Canada makes loans aimed at helping Canadian businesses expand internationally quickly. Another arm of this program focuses on providing financing for investment projects that will be undertaken overseas.
  • The Export Guarantee Program provides risk sharing with your bank when it awards a loan aimed at helping your business expand its sales internationally through a greater level of exports.
  • Through the Buyer Financing program, businesses can obtain a loan to help overseas customers make purchases from them using financing, rather than being forced to use cash up-front. With flexible financing available to international customers, the hope is the Canadian business will increase its sales.
  • FinDev Canada offers direct loans or helps with loan guarantees for Canadian businesses that are operating in developing countries with a goal of providing sustainable social and economic benefits for the local communities in those countries.
  • The Foreign Exchange Facility Guarantee from EDC helps businesses operating internationally to receive a loan related to foreign exchange rate contract expenses.

Federal Loans for Ontario Young Entrepreneurs

  • Futurpreneur Canada helps young business owners secure loans for a start-up. The initial funding comes from Futurpreneur. If more funding is required, the organization helps the business obtain a loan with the Business Development Bank of Canada.
  • Another Futurpreneur program creates loans for those who have lived in Canada for less than 60 months and have a limited credit history, but who would like to start a business. There’s also the Side Hustle program, which offers loans for those ages 18 to 39 seeking to start a side business.

Federal Loans for Film Producers

  • Telefilm Canada provides loans that help with any aspect of creating, marketing, and producing a feature film in Canada. Telefilm Canada provides loans that help with any aspect of creating, marketing, and producing a feature film in Canada.

Federal Loans for Purchase of Equipment & Other Assets

  • The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) helps businesses obtain loans for financing the cost of new or used equipment. Another BDC program helps small businesses obtain a loan of up to $100,000 in a few days for purchases of new equipment, new software, or attending tradeshows. The BDC also has specific business loans aimed at purchasing technology, buying real estate, starting a business, purchasing a business, and transitioning a business.
  • The Canada Small Business Financing Program helps businesses finance the cost of improving land or buildings and purchasing new and used equipment. These loans are available to SMEs and start-ups with a reduced interest rate.

Federal Loans for Working/Operational Capital

  • The CFDC helps new or existing small businesses and social enterprises find loans for start-up, expansion, and stabilization. Local CFDC offices in Ontario play a role in making the decisions on loan awards.

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

  • Starter Company Plus provides a grant of up to $5,000 for starting a new business, expanding an existing business, or purchasing a business. You have to produce matching funds.
  • For students looking to start a summer business, the Summer Company program provides start-up money to eligible youth between 15 and 29 years of age for a summer business. Up to $3,000 is available to those who commit to a certain number of hours of work.

Ontario Provincial Grants for Hiring

  • The Canada-Ontario Job Grant Program delivers matching funds to help with training costs for all sizes of Canadian businesses. An eligible, third-party trainer must perform the training program.
  • FedNor will help businesses with funding to hire youth interns under either the Northern Ontario Development Program or the Economic Development Initiative. FedNor provides part of the cost for salary and employee benefit expenses for the intern for up to 12 months in a full-time position.

Ontario Provincial Grants Specifically for Northern Ontario Businesses

  • NOHFC (Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation) gives funds to Northern Ontario businesses seeking to perform applied research or activities required to develop new technologies and bring them to market.
  • Use the Pilot Demonstration and Commercialization Projects program from NOHFC to receive matching funds to reduce the risks associated with demonstrating and scaling up new technologies for commercial production in targeted sectors.
  • Also through NOHFC, the Northern Community Capacity Building Program helps communities in Northern Ontario with economic growth. This program is only open to for-profit businesses that are in partnership with municipalities, other government agencies, or educational institutions.
  • The NOHFC’s Strategic Economic Infrastructure Program funds strategic infrastructure projects that have a demonstrable net economic impact in Northern Ontario. For-profit businesses must form partnerships with municipalities or non-profit groups to be eligible.
  • The Business Expansion Projects program from NOHFC allows existing businesses in Northern Ontario to receive funds for projects aimed at expanding operations through items like capital construction, training costs, or technology investments.
  • With the NOHFC’s Small Business Start-Up Projects fund, new businesses in Northern Ontario may receive contributions to help with commencing operations in existing or emerging priority economic sectors.
  • Another NOHFC program is the Northern Event Partnership Program. It provides matching funding for events that promote economic development in Northern Ontario. A for-profit business must partner with a government agency, educational institution, or non-profit organization to be eligible.
  • The NOHFC Northern Ontario Internship Program provides wage subsidies to help businesses hire first-time, full-time employees who recently graduated.
  • When seeking a business loan and grant combination, the NOHFC has a program called Business Expansion Projects, which helps businesses improve competitiveness and create jobs.

Ontario Provincial Grants Specifically for Southern Ontario Businesses

  • FedDev provides funding for innovation and growth of businesses in Southern Ontario, including those seeking to commercialize innovative products, technologies, and processes with the Business Scale-Up and Productivity Program.
  • Use the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund to find funding support for business projects that help with job creation, investment from the private sector, and business growth in the Southwestern Ontario geographic region.

Ontario Provincial Grants Specifically for Eastern Ontario Businesses

  • The Eastern Ontario Development Fund provides funding support for projects that create jobs, attract private sector investment, and encourage innovation in the Eastern Ontario geographic area.

Ontario Provincial Grants Supporting Early-Stage Technology

  • ENCQOR will give funding to SMEs in Ontario that develop, demonstrate, or advance new technologies, products, processes, and services related to 5G technology.
  • OCE, through its Market Readiness Fund, provides investments in early stage companies in Ontario in sectors such as information technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, health, and advanced manufacturing.
  • Another OCE program is called the Collaboration Voucher Program. It generates funding for companies to partner with research hospitals, universities, and colleges in Ontario for developing ways to address industry challenges and improve productivity.
  • The AV R&D Partnership Fund provides matching grants for projects related to the development and demonstration of technologies in the connected and autonomous vehicle sector. Another arm of this program gives matching funds for commercialization of Ontario-developed technologies.
  • The Ontario Disability Support Program Employment Supports fund provides financial help toward costs for business equipment, supplies, licenses, and certification requirements for those with disabilities.

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:

CityName of Regional Innovation Centre

Burlington & Milton

HalTech Innovation Centre

Guelph

Innovation Guelph

Hamilton

Innovation Factory

Kenora & Thunder Bay

Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre

Kingston

Launch Lab

London

TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario

Markham

ventureLAB

Mississauga

Research Innovation Commercialization Centre

North Bay

Innovation Initiatives Ontario North

Oshawa

Spark Centre

Ottawa

Invest Ottawa

St. Catharines

Innovate Niagara

Sault Ste. Marie

Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre

Sudbury

Northern Centre for Advanced Technology

Toronto

MaRS Discovery District

Waterloo

Communitech

Windsor

We-Tech Alliance


Municipal Government Funding Sources

Municipalities in Ontario offer support to businesses mainly through:

1

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:

  • Review of business plans
  • Workshops & seminars
  • Info on licenses, permits, etc.
  • Mentoring and networking opportunities
  • Info on small business funding

2

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.

3

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:

  • The Retrofit program helps businesses upgrade their equipment, swapping out old systems for newer systems with better energy savings results.
  • The Small Business Lighting program provides incentives for up to $2,000 when you install more energy efficient lighting at your business.
  • The campaign also has multiple resources aimed at helping you figure out how to save energy (and save money) at your business.

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

Alectra Utilities

Enbridge

Greater Sudbury Hydro

Hydro One

Kitchener Wilmot Hydro

Toronto Hydro

Hydro Ottawa

Waterloo North Hydro

Oakville Hydro

Synergy North

London Hydro

Cell

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
  • Private funding for early stage Ontario businesses
  • Private funding for established Ontario businesses

Private Funding for New ONTARIO Businesses:

Angel Investors

“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:

Incubators

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

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

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 Capitalists

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

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

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:

Associations

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

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:

Networks

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:

Niche Non-Profits

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

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

Superclusters

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:

Universities

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! 😉


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