Canada’s Regional Development Agencies: Could They Help Your Business?

Explore Canada’s Regional Development Agencies

One of the more challenging elements of Canadian government funding can be understanding where and how funds flow, and which agencies offer and oversee funding programs.

Some of the key players in government funding are Canada’s Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).

Created and funded by the Government of Canada, these agencies offer federal programs at a regional level, striving to create environments where businesses can grow, entrepreneurs can start new businesses, and communities can thrive.

There are six Regional Development Agencies serving areas across Canada:

  1. Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario)
  2. Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor Ontario)
  3. Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD)
  4. Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)
  5. Canadian Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED)
  6. Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor)

Understanding the RDA for your region and the services and funding programs it provides can be a real boon to your organization.

How Does RDA Business Funding Work?

Each of the RDAs offers several funding programs and services, for both businesses and not-for-profit organizations. Some funding programs are national—that is, all RDAs administer them—while other programs are specific to individual RDAs, based on the needs of their regions.

Below is a review of the national programs, followed by a description of each RDA and their unique programs.

Funding Programs Offered by All Regional Development Agencies

Regional Economic Growth through Innovation (REGI)

One of the main programs offered by Canada’s RDAs is Regional Economic Growth through Innovation (REGI). In 2017, the federal government amalgamated 22 programs offered by RDAs into just two program streams – the Business Scale-up and Productivity program and the Regional Innovation Ecosystems program.

  • Business Scale-Up & Productivity (BSP) offers funding to help companies adopt innovative technologies in order to scale up operations, increase productivity, and enter new global markets.
  • Regional Innovation Ecosystems (RIE) helps not-for-profit organizations that aim to fuel entrepreneurial environments, as well as stakeholders who support entrepreneurs from under-represented groups, such as women, Indigenous business owners, and youth.

While the essential purpose of REGI is the same across all RDAs, funding amounts and other details vary from region to region.

For example, FedDev Ontario’s BSP will cover up to 35% of project costs to a maximum of $10M, while WD’s BSP covers up to 50% to a maximum of $5M.

Additional Canadian Government Grants for Small Businesses

Another funding program offered by all RDAs is the Economic Development Initiative, which supports businesses and encourages economic growth in Official Language Minority Communities.

Past federal programs administered by RDAs include the Canadian Experiences Fund, which supported development of tourism initiatives, the Women Entrepreneurship Fund, for women-owned or women-managed businesses, and the Steel and Aluminum Initiative, which provided financial support to Canadian SME steel and aluminum users.

FedDev Ontario

FedDev Ontario is the RDA for southern Ontario. Over the last 10 years, FedDev Ontario has invested over $2B in southern Ontario’s economy, and has recently received additional federal funding of $1B to continue its programs. FedDev’s headquarters are in Waterloo, and it has offices in Toronto, Peterborough, and Ottawa, so it can serve organizations across the region. FedDev Ontario delivers funding for businesses, not-for-profits, and communities.

One of FedDev’s recent success stories through the BSP program is Ontario biometrics company BioConnect, which was awarded almost $4M to develop innovative security applications.

In addition to administering national programs for the region, FedDev also offers unique programs, such as the Community Economic Development & Diversification (CEDD) program, which aims to create sustainable economic growth in small and rural communities in southern Ontario. Applicants can be businesses or not-for-profit organizations who are working to diversify and transform their local economies.

Successful applicants to CEDD can receive up to 50% of eligible costs to a maximum of $5M.

FedNor Ontario

As the federal government’s RDA for northern Ontario, FedNor offers programs, services, and financial support to businesses and community partners to create jobs and spur economic growth.

Applicants can receive up to 33% of eligible capital and up to 50% of eligible non-capital costs for projects focusing on community economic development priorities; or up to 90% of eligible costs for projects in which communities hire a qualified individual to help develop the local economy.

One of FedNor’s main funding initiatives is the Northern Ontario Development Program (NODP). NODP provides financial support to projects led by municipalities, First Nations, and other organizations and institutions in order to drive community economic development and diversification, job creation, and greater self-reliance for communities in northern Ontario.

Western Economic Diversification Canada

WD promotes economic growth in Western Canada, offering programs and services to businesses, not-for-profits, and communities. It promotes the development and diversification of Western Canada’s economy, and advances the interests of the West in national economic policy and practices.

For example, in 2019 WD awarded over $18M in funding to 10 businesses in Alberta through BSP, and over $6M in funding to eight projects in Edmonton through RIE.

Unique offerings administered by WD include the Western Canada Business Service Network, a group of independent organizations that WD funds; the network provides services to help create and develop small businesses across Western Canada.

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

ACOA drives economic growth in Atlantic Canada through business development, community development, and advocacy for Atlantic Canada at a national level. ACOA focuses on programs that foster productivity, commercialization of innovative technologies, global competitiveness, and skills development.

One of the programs offered by ACOA is the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF), which supports projects by businesses and not-for-profits that lead to the development and commercialization of technology-based products or processes.

Successful applicants to AIF can receive conditionally repayable funding of up to $3M.

ACOA also offers the Business Development Program, which provides interest-free loans to help organizations start up, expand, or modernize.

Canadian Economic Development for Quebec Regions

CED is the key economic development player for Quebec’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). CED strives to ensure the long-term economic development of Quebec by giving special attention to those areas where slow economic growth is prevalent or opportunities for productive employment are low.

One of the key programs offered by CED is the Quebec Economic Development Program, which aims to help communities take advantage of economic expansion and diversification opportunities. There are a variety of program streams under this umbrella, including one for businesses and non-for-profit groups to foster official languages and another for developing community infrastructure.


CanNor labours to develop a diversified and sustainable economy across Canada’s three territories. The agency delivers economic development programs to expand key economic sectors, including mining, fisheries, tourism, cultural industries, and community and business development.

Two of CanNor’s main programs are Inclusive Diversification and Economic Advancement in the North (IDEANorth), which supports businesses and other organizations in bolstering sector development and capacity building, and the Northern Aboriginal Economic Opportunities Program (NAEOP), which offers two funding streams, one for Aboriginal communities and one for Aboriginal entrepreneurs and business owners, to help them seize new economic prospects.

Funding for Businesses Through Regional Economic Development Agencies

As part of the federal government’s Innovation and Skills Plan, RDAs are a key force in growing the Canadian economy and developing business innovation. Every year, RDAs make substantial financial contributions that support for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. For instance, in 2019 CanNor invested over $2.2M in economic development projects to support SMEs in the Yukon, and FedDev Ontario alone awarded over $39M in funding to businesses through the Steel and Aluminum Initiative.

Leaders who understand the potential of working with RDAs stand to gain the financial backing they need to scale up their organizations and gain a competitive edge.

Next Steps to Learn More About Canadian Government Funding

Many of the initiatives offered through Canada’s Regional Development Agencies are discussed in Mentor Works’ funding webinars – we cover all of the basic criteria for you to gauge if a program may be an appropriate fit with your strategic growth projects.

Registration is open for all 2020 webinars; make sure to sign up today so you don’t miss out on potential funding opportunities!

Register for A Canadian Government Funding Webinar


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