Early Stage Exporters: Small Business Export Grants

Please Note: The Early Stage Exporters program is no longer accepting applications. Please explore the Export Market Access (EMA) program for exporting grants.

The Early Stage Exporters (ESE) program is an Ontario government grant that stimulates and de-risks export development projects. Through enhanced access to funding, startups and small businesses can travel to export markets and develop relationships with potential customers through attending trade shows. These types of projects are expected to lead to incremental revenue growth and help companies expand their Canadian operations.

Through Early Stage Exporters, applicants may receive up to 50% of eligible project expenses to a maximum $30,000 in Ontario government grants.

One of the main eligibility factors to consider is that all companies must be incorporated for a minimum of two years at the time of application. While the program is uniquely designed for startups and small businesses, incorporation is required of all participants. In addition, applicants must have export-ready products that can be sold in foreign markets.

Early Stage Exporters Funding for International Expansion

Export market development is a difficult, risky task for startups and small businesses. Although many have innovative, export-ready products and services, only 11.5% of Canadian small businesses export products internationally. This is mainly because young businesses lack the knowledge and financial resources needed to explore new markets confidently.

This is why the Early Stage Exporters funding program is so valuable for young, growth-oriented firms. ESE funding provides up to 50% of project costs to directly offset international travel and participation/marketing at foreign trade events. Up to three events can be included in one funding application. While these types of projects would otherwise be too expensive or risky, they can now be used effectively and affordably with up to $30,000 in Ontario government grants.

To learn more about the program’s focus and how funding is awarded, read our Early Stage Exporters overview blog.

Eligibility Factors for Startups and Small Businesses

To qualify for the Early Stage Exporters program, applicants must:

  • Currently produce export-ready products in Ontario;
  • Be incorporated for at least two years;
  • Have a minimum of 3 full-time employees;
  • Generate $300,000 to $500,000 in annual revenue;
  • Have capacity to fill export market demand;
  • Have strong growth potential; and
  • Have $2 million in commercial general liability insurance.

Ontario’s Priority Exporting Sectors

In addition to meeting the above criteria, applicants must be in an eligible sector, including:

  • Advanced Manufacturing;
  • Aerospace;
  • Building and Construction;
  • Clean Technology;
  • Exportable Professional Services (such as architecture, engineering, urban planning);
  • Information and Communications Technology (ICT); and
  • Life Sciences.

Early Stage Exporters Project and Expense Eligibility

There are four main types of projects/activities that can be included for funding through the Early Stage Exporters program. These include:

  • Development of Direct Contacts;
  • Development of Marketing Tools;

  • Conducting Market Research; and
  • Bidding on Foreign Projects.

Development of Direct Contacts

Supports participating in international trade shows and exhibitions, or outgoing/incoming trade missions where there is a focus on establishing export relationships.

Eligible costs include:

  • Booth rental and related exhibition costs;
  • On-site, local translation services;
  • Event-specific marketing materials such as show guide, pre-show mailer;
  • Return economy international airfare for no more than two company employees;
  • A per diem allowance of $125/person/day for up to two company employees to support accommodation and living expenses;
  • Matchmaking services for on-site meetings;
  • Product testing and market certification for international standards; and
  • Short term (<1 year) in-market office rental (maximum ESE contribution is $5,000).

Development of Marketing Tools

Supports the development of promotional materials used to increase awareness for an applicant’s goods and services for potential buyers.

Eligible costs include:

  • Developing marketing materials and other promotional collaterals through translation into the target market’s local language(s), or developing promotional material for an in-market distributor (maximum ESE contribution is $5,000);
  • In market communication support such as press releases and backgrounders (maximum ESE contribution is $1,000);
  • Developing display panels for booths at international trade shows; and
  • Development of promotional videos for in-market trade events (maximum ESE contribution is $3,000).

Conducting Market Research

Supports conducting market research to analyze market size and segmentation, growth rates, trends, buying attitudes, regulatory requirements, product requirements, distribution channels, and competitor activity strategy/performance.

Eligible costs include:

  • External consulting fees provided paid to an arm’s-length market intelligence firm (maximum ESE contribution is $5,000).

Bidding on Foreign Projects

Supports bidding against foreign competition for the provision of professional services such as engineering, construction, architecture and management consulting.

Eligible costs include:

  • A per diem allowance of $125/person/day for up to two company employees to support accommodation and living expenses;
  • Purchase of bid/tender documents; and
  • Return economy international airfare for up to two employees.

Apply for the ESE Export Market Development Grant

Companies with eligible projects are invited to apply for the Early Stage Exporters program during project development, prior to incurring any project expenses. Businesses may apply up to two times per year, however, expenses already incurred are deemed ineligible from funding support. To optimize the value of this program, it’s recommended companies apply well in advance of their exporting event.

Applications can be downloaded, completed, and submitted online, however it’s recommended to confirm your eligibility before getting started in the process. If you would like to further discuss your eligibility for Early Stage Exporters funding, please contact Mentor Works.

Apply for Canadian Government Funding

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Jeff holds an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Guelph. He is passionate about Canadian business, economics, and politics. As Marketing Coordinator for Mentor Works, Jeff educates business leaders about proactive funding strategies.

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