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Where to find small business grants
Explore free financing available through the government and corporations.
Small business grants are one of the few financing options you don’t have to pay back. However, there’s a reason that businesses turn to other types of financing first. Grants can take a long time to find and are even harder to apply for – plus, the competition is fierce.
Is my business eligible for a grant?
Standard small business grants don’t operate like business loans in terms of eligibility requirements, and qualifications for both grants and loans can widely vary.
When you apply for grants, you aren’t just convincing donors to give you funding — you’re convincing them to give you funding over everyone else who has applied. That’s one of the big differences between business loans and grants.
Grants tend to have a larger social cause in mind, such as encouraging female entrepreneurs, increasing opportunities for minorities or helping out a particular community. You can also find grants specific to industries or regions.
Federal small business grants
The Canadian government provides hundreds of business grants at the federal level. Federal grants, however, don’t typically go to small businesses unless they’re involved in technology, development, scientific research or other issues of national concern. You can find a comprehensive list of business grant programs on the Canadian federal government website. Federal government grants to small businesses often focus on hiring and training employees. A good example is the Canada Job Grant program, which subsidizes training costs for new and existing employees.
It’s also worth highlighting the Canada Small Business Financing Program, or the CSBFP. This federally-run program provides loans of up to $1 million to startups and small businesses that gross $1 million or less per year. Small businesses need to apply for the loan via the major five banks. Ultimately, the amount you qualify for will depend on how the bank evaluates your loan application, your business plan and your credit score. Learn more in our detailed guide.
Provincial and municipal grants for small businesses
Provincial and city grants tend to offer less money for small business grants, but they can also be less competitive. Because they’re tailored to your community, these grants could have requirements that you’re more likely to fit. The Canada Job Grant program has provincial variations, such as the Canada-Ontario Job Grant, which offers up to $10,000 per person in support for job training costs. Another example is the Alberta-Canada Job Grant, which offers up to $15,000 per trainee if your company is hiring an unemployed Albertan. Your business can receive up to $300,000 in grant funding per fiscal year.
Mentor Works offers a comprehensive list of government grant programs in Canada that includes those available at the provincial level.
Zero in on industry-specific grants too: there are plenty. In this case, take stock of your specific industry and geography to narrow your search. Some examples include the British Columbia Buy Local Program, with a mandate to help with funding businesses engaged in the agriculture and food industry, and the Northern Business Opportunity Program, set up to help small businesses based in Northern Ontario. The Eastern Ontario Development Fund (EODF) is another initiative, in which businesses in the area can apply for grants and loans with interest forgiven to help them expand their operations.
Small business grants from companies
Businesses that don’t qualify for a government grant might want to turn to the private sector.
Many large corporations and national organizations run foundations that offer grants to small businesses, often within a specific type of industry or charitable cause. While not as plentiful in Canada as numerous government programs, they are available. For example, the TELUS Business Solutions $100,000 grant contest is an annual small-business and startup pitch contest that awards $100,000 in grant money to the winner. The contest usually opens every year in May, and closes on July 30th with the announcement of the winner at a live event.
Eligibility requirements vary with corporate grants. You generally won’t be able to get a grant if your business is less than six months old. You could also have trouble finding a corporate grant if you run a for-profit business or political organization. However, if you’re a for-profit business that’s involved with charitable activities or works to improve a community, you may still qualify.
Finding a corporate grant
Search engines are your best bet to find a corporate grant. Try searching for grants by industry and your financial needs, rather than corporate grants in general — it’ll take you a lot longer to weed through foundations that can’t do anything for you. For example, if you own a restaurant in Calgary, you could simply search for “restaurant grants Calgary” to quickly narrow your focus.
Entering grant competitions can be good for business
You can get your business’s name out there while you apply for funding by entering a grant competition in your industry. Even if you don’t win, you stand to get lots of free advice, feedback and exposure for your business by entering.
Didn’t get the grant? Compare small business loans instead
If your business doesn’t qualify for any grants, or you’re having trouble securing one, you may want to consider getting a business loan. The obvious downside of a loan is that you have to pay back the money plus interest, but the advantage is that loans can be much easier to apply for and receive.
If you’re considering applying for a business loan, look through the options in the table below.
Finding free funding for your business isn’t impossible, but the competition can be stiff, with many companies vying for the same grant. Make sure you’re ready to invest a lot of time and resources in researching and applying. You also might have to wait a long time to hear back about whether your application was successful. Also keep in mind that in Canada, some business grants may require you to put up money of your own in order to secure the funding.
And remember, there are other options for securing funds for your business, such as loans and government financing programs, like the Canada Small Business Financing Program (CSBF). You could also seek out government tax credits and wage subsidy programs that help you hire skilled workers at a lower cost through wage subsidies or subsidized interns.
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