It’s abundantly clear that running a small business can be risky and the ongoing pandemic has only added to that difficulty. About 30% of small businesses won’t survive longer than two years, and 50% won’t survive longer than five years, according to a study by Industry Canada.
What is also clear, though, is that there are strategies that can help make sure your business is one of the successful ones. These strategies include taking advantage of resources provided at a local business incubator.
In fact, companies nurtured in a business incubator have a survival rate of 87%, much higher than that of unassisted companies.
What is a Business Incubator?
Business incubators are organizations and programs that give very early stage companies access to mentorship, investors, start-up funding, shared office space, and technical resources to help them get established. Incubators may be funded by the government, supported through membership fees, or provide support in exchange for equity in companies.
In addition to their other benefits, incubators help reduce the cost of launching and operating a startup by 40-50%.
Incubators differ from business accelerators in relation to the maturity of the companies they serve: incubators support companies that have just launched and are still refining their products and operational models, whereas accelerators are more likely to focus on companies that are scaling up. However, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and organizations that offer an incubator program may also offer an accelerator program.
While many incubators support new technology companies, there are also incubators that support businesses of any kind or specialize in other sectors.
Below is a description of a few of the many organizations across Canada that operate incubator programs.
Incubators in Western Canada
Location: Vancouver, BC
Launch Academy provides mentorship, resources, and networking opportunities. Two of its services are Launchpad, which provides programming for tech start-ups looking to learn and grow with other tech entrepreneurs in the same office space, and a VR/AR Hub, which offers desk space, training programs, VR and AR equipment rentals, events, and mentorship from Silicon Valley-based investors. While Launch Academy is a non-profit organization, participation is by paid membership.
Location: Vancouver, BC
Sector: Social Innovation
RADIUS is a social innovation hub based out of the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. RADIUS offers programs that develop, test, and accelerate innovative responses to difficult social problems. Some of its programs include the First Peoples Enterprise Accelerator Program and the Refugee Livelihood Lab.
Location: Edmonton, AB
Startup Edmonton provides hands-on support for entrepreneurs as they explore and move forward with tech products and company ideas. The organization’s flagship program, Preflight, is a year-round, part-time program that includes mentorship, guided sessions, and access to corporate partners to help get products to market.
Location: Calgary, AB
As the incubator centre for the University of Calgary, Innovate Calgary works with the Research Service Office to bridge the gap between discovery and creating economic and societal impact. Innovate Calgary provides services that assist with every stage, from ideation to commercialization, including intellectual property management; licensing or company formation; technology/innovation marketing; research partnerships; and accelerator programs.
Co.Labs Tech Incubator
Location: Saskatoon, SK
Co.Labs provides programming and support for tech start-ups at various stages. Its Co.Launch program is a three-month, province-wide pre-seed accelerator for early-stage tech start-ups in the ideation and prototype phase.
Manitoba Technology Accelerator
Location: Winnipeg, MB
Sectors: Science and Technology
The Manitoba Technology Accelerator is a provincially and federally funded incubator that supports science or technology startup companies, providing business coaching and mentoring, professional lab and office space, and business investing and financing.
Location: Winnipeg, MB
An innovation-based economic development agency and a powerhouse community to fuel Manitoba’s innovation economy, North Forge provides entrepreneurs with award-winning mentors, rockstar subject matter experts and a new four-stage founders program. Armed with Canada’s largest non-profit fabrication lab, the organization operates out of 27,000 square feet across Innovation Drive and Innovation Alley in Winnipeg, Canada.
Incubators in Ontario & Quebec
Location: Kitchener, ON
Backed by the University of Waterloo, Velocity is an incubator for early-stage, pre-seed tech start-ups. It provides tailored business advisory services, access to a fully equipped product development space, and other resources. The Velocity incubator program is divided into three stages: Discover (customer development and product strategy), Build (building products and attracting investments), and Scale (prepare to launch).
Research Innovation Commercialization (RIC) Centre
Location: Mississauga, ON
RIC Centre provides business services and space to entrepreneurs, start-ups, and mature tech companies that want to kick-start growth. Its incubator program helps high-potential tech start-ups develop their go-to-market capabilities, with help from top-tier mentors and advisors, expert-led workshops, and peer-to-peer networking.
Location: Ottawa, ON
Supporting entrepreneurs and firms in knowledge-based industries, Invest Ottawa delivers venture development and global expansion services, including small business training; mentorship; acceleration for tech firms; foreign business and investment attraction; local business retention and expansion; commercialization; and marketing.
The IO Pre-Accelerator Program is a 10-week boot camp designed to help entrepreneurs validate their ideas and establish solid business foundations.
Location: Toronto, ON
Sectors: Science and Technology (with a focus on cleantech, health, fintech, and enterprise software)
In order to help high-growth companies succeed, MaRS offers a range of services, including connections to talent, capital, and customers, as well as access to the MaRS ecosystem, which is a community of entrepreneurs, academics, investors, corporate partners, and government partners. MaRS supports both start-ups and scale-ups.
LE CAMP de Quebec
Location: Quebec City, QC
LE CAMP is an incubator and accelerator dedicated to supporting growth and mentorship for tech businesses. It offers an array of services for companies at different development stages, from pre- start-up to internationalization. LE CAMP’s Mentor Validated Products (MVP) program helps tech companies validate their start-up plans and structure their approaches.
Centre d’enterprise et d’innovation de Montreal (CEIM)
Location: Montreal, QC
CEIM helps early-stage and growth-stage tech companies that have innovative projects and strong commercial potential. CEIM has a vast network of business partners and is supported by key governmental collaborators, including the Ministry of Economy, Science and Innovation; Canada Economic Development; National Research Council Canada; and Global Affairs Canada.
Incubators in Atlantic Canada
Location: St. John’s, NL
Genesis offers programming that supports start-ups from the ideation stage all the way to scaling their business. It is well-known for its flagship incubator program, Enterprise, which assists technology-based ventures that have high growth potential.
Location: Halifax, NS
Sectors: Technology (with specialized locations and services for clean technology, life sciences, and ocean technology)
Innovacorp’s incubation facilities offer emerging technology companies space, infrastructure, flexible leasing, and access to an entrepreneurial community. Innovacorp manages three incubation sites in Halifax and Dartmouth, NS, and has additional locations at Acadia University (focusing on rural innovation) in Wolfville, NS, and on Cape Breton, in Sydney, NS.
Location: Fredericton & Saint John, NB
ArtsLink NB offers New Brunswick’s only arts business accelerator. Its CATAPULT Arts Accelerator program provides business skills training, career development, workshops, and mentorship so that artists have the tools that they need to build prolific and sustainable careers.
Location: Fredericton, NB
Planet Hatch supports entrepreneurs and start-ups, with the goal of helping establish companies that are well-positioned and globally competitive. It offers various programs, as well as mentorship and coaching, funding, and events.
Location: Charlottetown, PE
Through its Resident Company Program and its new Accelerator Program, Startup Zone offers entrepreneurs help with business model development, information sessions, and support in legal, accounting, marketing, and sales.
Incubators in Northern Canada
Location: Whitehorse, YT
Yukonstruct provides makers and entrepreneurs affordable access to space, equipment, and knowledge to help establish and grow businesses. The Yukonstruct community embraces both individuals and businesses to support innovation; provides space for tinkering, prototyping, and manufacturing; and offers educational opportunities.
Location: Yellowknife, NT
Sector: Varies by cohort (previous two topics were land- and marine based products, and tourism)
EntrepreNorth offers programming to empower Indigenous and community-based entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses and livelihoods across Northern Canada. Its six- to nine-month program helps take early stage ventures to the next level, with each program delivery focused on a cohort theme. Participating entrepreneurs develop business leadership skills and become prepared for investment, markets, and growth.
Location: Ottawa, ON (head office, with services at locations in Nunavut)
Inspire Nunavut is an entrepreneurship training program designed specifically for youth living in Nunavut. Integrating Inuit culture and values, Inspire Nunavut provides youth in Nunavut with an opportunity to create new solutions in their communities via entrepreneurship.
Start-up Funding and Small Business Resources
There are numerous other incubators across Canada; those listed above are only a sample of what is available. Interested entrepreneurs may want to explore options at their local universities, for example, as research institutions often include business incubation programs to complement student and faculty research projects. The Incubate Innovate Network of Canada (I-INC) is the country’s leading university-based incubator Network, and includes incubators at 13 different institutions.
Entrepreneurs in Ontario may also want to explore the province’s Regional Innovation Centres, which offer resources to accelerate start-ups.
Be sure to download our free Canadian business startup checklist to run through the best practices for establishing a foundation that will lead to government funding opportunities in the future.