How to Maximize Business Grants: The AAIR Framework

Governments hope to achieve their ultimate goals of creating jobs and growing the economy by providing grants that support specific business activities, audiences, industries, and regions.

When thinking about how to maximize grant funding for your business, it’s extremely useful to think in terms of these four categories:


Business activities that government supports include research and development (R&D) and business expansion activities such as equipment purchase, technology adoption, and exporting.


Governments provide grants to specific audiences that are viewed as underserved, such as Indigenous peoples, farmers, and women entrepreneurs.


Industries that receive grants include agriculture, arts/entertainment/media, energy (especially “cleantech”), and technology.


Governments encourage businesses to locate (or expand their operations) in specific geographic areas, such as Northern Ontario.

We call this the “AAIR” framework, and it’s a great way to organize your grants strategy:

AAIR Framework for Maximizing Business Grants

Keeping this in mind, here’s the single most important thing to understand to maximize business grants:

To get the most out of business grants you need to find grant programs that align with the AAIR (Activities, Audiences, Industries, and/or Regions) of your business

In other words, it’s all about eligibility.

Example of Maximizing Business Grants Using the AAIR Framework

Say you run a business with the following characteristics:

  • Woman- and Indigenous-led
  • Healthcare industry
  • Create software products
  • Based in Thunder Bay
  • In business for one year
  • Business goals are to:
  • Expand line of software products
  • Start exporting

You would look for grant programs that support any of the above characteristics:


Since your goals are to expand your line of software products and start exporting, you would probably need to hire more staff, do product and market research, buy more advanced computer hardware, and attend international trade shows to get foreign customers. To do that, you could look for grant programs that support the following activities:

  • Hiring
  • Training
  • R&D
  • Technology adoption
  • Exporting


Since your business is owned by women and people with Indigenous backgrounds, you could look for grants that support:

  • Women entrepreneurs
  • Indigenous entrepreneurs


Given that your business manufactures software for healthcare firms, you would look for grants that support businesses in these industries:

  • Healthcare
  • Technology


Since your business is based in Thunder Bay, you would look for grant programs that support businesses in all of the following regions:

  • Thunder Bay
  • Northern Ontario

A quick search of our database turns up 271 grants. Here’s a (very) small sample:


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    Example: Grants Available to a Women- and Indigenous-Led Software Business in Thunder Bay

    AAIR Grant Program Amount
    Hiring Women in Health Initiative $50,000
    Training Canada-Ontario Job Grant $15,000
    R&D ISED Strategic Innovation Fund Stream 1: R&D and commercialization 50% of R&D costs
    Technology Adoption Blue Sky Economic Growth Corporation BTIF Program $25,000
    Exporting CanExport – SMEs Program $50,000
    Women WomenNet Amber Grants $10,000
    Indigenous Indigenous Services Canada – Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program: Access to Capital $99,999
    Healthcare OBIO Early Adopter Health Network $250,000
    Technology ISED Strategic Innovation Fund Stream 2: Firm Expansion and Growth 50% of expansion cost
    Thunder Bay Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce – Economic Development Fund $10,000
    Northern Ontario Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation – INVEST North Program Up to $2 million

    And that’s just grants!

    There are literally hundreds of other funding programs that these businesses owners could take advantage of. In the last chapter of this guide, we cover 26 other types of funding (besides grants) that entrepreneurs can access.

    But before we get to that, we need to cover one more important aspect of maximizing grants: getting organized.

    Getting Organized to Maximize Funding: Grant Calendars & Stackability

    Approaching grant funding in a structured way will get you more money, and there are two important things you can do to get started:

    Set Up a Grants Calendar

    A grants calendar is a tool used by businesses to keep track of grant opportunities and deadlines. The key components of a grants calendar typically include:

    • Grant organization name and contact details.
    • Grant description: A brief summary of the grant, including the purpose, eligibility criteria, and any special requirements.
    • Grant deadline: The date by which the grant application must be submitted. This is obviously a crucial component of the grants calendar, as missing a deadline can mean missing out on funding opportunities.
    • Application requirements: A list of the materials required for the grant application, such as a proposal, budget, and supporting documents.
    • Application submission method: The method by which the grant application must be submitted, such as through an online portal.
    • Grant amount: The amount of funding available for the grant, as well as any restrictions on how the funds can be used.
    • Grant reimbursement method: Most grant programs do not remit funds until after expenses have been incurred by a business, so you should record when (and how) funds are distributed by the grant program.

    “Stack” Your Way to More Grant Money

    In the grants business we refer to the “stackability” of grants. Funding programs are stackable when grant recipients can combine multiple grants or funding sources to support a single project.

    In a stackable grant program, recipients may be able to layer multiple grants or funding sources on top of each other to create a more substantial pool of funding for their project. This can allow recipients to leverage multiple sources of funding and maximize the impact of their project.

    It’s extremely important to find out if a grant is stackable!

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