Aboriginal Business Financing Program: Plain English Guide for Canadian Entrepreneurs

Indigenous entrepreneurs looking to start or expand a business can take advantage of the Aboriginal Business Financing Program to seek a grant. Such grants do not need repayment, which makes them especially beneficial.

Aboriginal businesses can use the grant for a variety of business needs. This grant’s versatility means you aren’t tied down to funding one type of benefit for your business. You have the ability to use the grant money in the way that you see fit. (Being able to control your own destiny and make your own choices like this is probably one of the reasons why you decided to start a business in the first place, so this is a nice benefit!)

As long as you meet the eligibility requirements for receiving the grant, you can apply with the help of Aboriginal Business Financing Program’s administrators. We will help you understand the steps you can take to apply for this grant.

What is the Aboriginal Business Financing Program?

The Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF) administers the Aboriginal Business Financing Program. NADF was officially established in 1987. Funding for the program comes from the National Aboriginal Capital Corporation (NACCA).

The NADF’s mission statement is to advance the well-being of Aboriginal entrepreneurs in Northern Ontario in terms of their business and economic development opportunities. NADF provides programs and services to First Nation communities and wholly owned or majority owned Aboriginal businesses in Northern Ontario, either on-reserve or off-reserve.

How Does the Aboriginal Business Financing Program Work?

The Aboriginal Business Financing Program provides grant money for many different kinds of projects, including:

  • Business startup costs
  • Adding technology to the business that improves competitiveness
  • Business acquisition costs
  • Development of new products for a business
  • Costs related to financial services
  • Costs related to business skills training
  • Operating costs in association with capital costs
  • Business planning costs
  • Business expansion costs
  • Business marketing initiatives that are local, domestic, or export-oriented
  • Development of new processes for a business
  • Costs related to business support
  • Costs related to mentoring services

This is an ongoing grant program with a rolling deadline, so qualifying Aboriginal entrepreneurs can apply at any time.

How Much Can I Get From the Aboriginal Business Financing Program?

The amount you could receive from the Aboriginal Business Financing Grant Program will depend on the viability of any project you have in mind. Additionally, you, as the Aboriginal business owner, may need to contribute some of your own money as a matching amount to receive funding from the grants.

NADF also offers debt financing for Aboriginal businesses, and you may need to accept a loan for part of the cost of the project before you can receive some grant money for the project.

The maximum grants the NADF will provide under Aboriginal Business Financing Program include:

  • $99,999 for individual Aboriginal entrepreneurs, fully owned Aboriginal businesses, and majority owned Aboriginal businesses
  • $249,999 for community owned businesses

The actual amount the NADF will contribute to the project depends on several factors, including:

  • Scope of the project
  • Proof of need for financing
  • Accessibility to other sources of financing
  • Precise amount of funds required for the viability of the project
  • Percentage of funds your business will contribute to the project
  • Percentage of funds you’ll borrow for the project

Calculating exactly how much you could receive in grant money is a challenging process. If you have any questions, just reach out to NADF.

Aboriginal Business Financing Program Eligibility

To be eligible for the Aboriginal Business Financing Program, you must:

  • Be a Canadian Aboriginal
  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be operating a Canadian business registered as a corporation, partnership, association, or another legal entity
  • Be operating a business either fully owned or majority owned by Canadian Aboriginal people

The NADF defines Canadian Aboriginal individuals as:

  • Status Indian
  • Non-Status Indian
  • Inuk
  • Métis

Should you want to apply for the Aboriginal Business Financing Program for a business that has an Aboriginal individual with a minority ownership, you may still qualify for the grant. However, any funds you receive will be prorated to reflect the level of ownership and control by Aboriginal individuals.

How to Apply for the Aboriginal Business Financing Program

Even though you may believe you qualify for grants as part of the Aboriginal Business Financing Program, you will need to contact NADF to ensure your eligibility and to apply for the grants.

You can call NADF at 1-800-465-6821 to speak with a Business Support Officer. You also can click the Book an Appointment button on the homepage for the Aboriginal Business Financing Program to make an online request for an appointment.


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    After you speak with a Business Support Officer, you can submit an application. An Account Manager then will be assigned to your case and will review your application. If the Account Manager approves the application, it then will go to a Screening Committee for a final decision. The committee may take one of three steps.

    • Proceed: If your desired project meets the criteria for the Aboriginal Business Financing Program, you will move forward in the process. This includes you submitting a business plan and the committee assessing your application further. You then could receive an approval or denial of your request for funding.
    • Deferral: The committee may defer your request, deciding that it needs more information about your desired project before it can determine whether to proceed with or deny your request.
    • Denial: The committee may decide that the project does not fit the criteria for the Aboriginal Business Financing Program, and your request will go no further.

    You can send an online message with your contact information through the NADF website to ask questions. The website also includes telephone numbers and the mailing addresses for the two NADF offices. The primary NADF office is in Fort William First Nation in Ontario, while there’s also an office in Timmins, Ontario.

    Tips for Maximizing Your Aboriginal Business Financing Program Funding

    When you receive an Aboriginal Business Financing Program grant, you want to be certain you make the most of the money you receive. Because you don’t have to pay back this grant, this amounts to “free” money, which can be extremely valuable for the long-term health of your business.

    As part of the application process with the Aboriginal Business Financing Program, you do have to specify how you plan to use the money. You also must have a detailed plan that shows the amount of money you need, as the NADF awards an amount based on the merits of the program you want to do.

    To receive grant money, you may need to accept a loan from NADF, and you may need to put up some of your own equity. Once you find out how much of your own money you will need to contribute and what kind of a loan you must accept (along with the interest rate), you can determine whether the return on investment (ROI) for the project is worth it.

    Most of the time, it will be because the grant money is “free” money, as we discussed earlier. However, it is worth your time to study the project and to make sure it is a smart use of your finances.

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