There is a long list of federal, provincial, and municipal government funding available to support the growth of Canadian businesses. This can seem intimidating for business owners new to the Canadian government funding landscape, but once you know the “anatomy” of government grants and incentives, it makes the process of selecting the best programs for your business fairly straightforward.
Canadian Government Funding Categories
Businesses can first narrow down government funding programs based on their focus areas. Small business grants and funding were created to support specific activities. We break these down into four categories: (1) Hiring & Training, (2) Business Expansion, (3) Research & Development, and (4) Capital & Tech Adoption. In order to access most funding programs, your business must be prepared to invest in at least one of these relevant funding categories. Selecting the categories most relevant to your business’ growth strategy will help to narrow your funding options.
For example, if a business is looking at international marketing expenses, they should consider Business Expansion programs. CanExport is a popular small business grant created to help businesses expand their reach into export markets, supporting a variety of marketing expenses. We would categorize this program as a Business Expansion fund because the program requires applicants to submit their export expansion strategy and related costs. CanExport will then cover a portion of those outlined business expansion costs via small business grants.
Canadian Government Funding Types
Once you are aware of the funding category that’s most relevant to your business, it’s time to compare the types of funding provided by these programs.
We dive into this topic more in our Types of Government Funding Slide Deck.
Some government incentives are provided as non-repayable grants, while others are repayable funding in the form of low-interest or no-interest loans. While funding that an applicant doesn’t have to pay back might always seem like the better option, the interest savings on some of the very large, multi-million dollar repayable funding programs can easily surpass some of the smaller grants and be transformational to the business’ growth trajectory. Some of these programs allow stacking multiple funds together up to a limit, such as 75% of eligible costs. When utilizing multiple programs for the same project, keep these limitations in mind.
Canadian Government Funding Snapshot
Now that you’ve narrowed your options down by category and type of funding, it’s time to get more granular. There are four elements to consider when comparing and contrasting Canadian business funding programs: amount, eligibility, timeline, and impacts.
Consider both how much you can receive as an applicant, as well as the total funding pool that the program has to award collectively to all successful applicants. Most programs have caps on the percentage of eligible expenses covered by the program, with the applicant being required to float the rest of the costs themselves. Programs also have a maximum dollar amount that they can pay out to an applicant.
In addition, the total funding pool provided through the program must be considered. Larger pools of funding will mean more applicants have access to the program. This can affect the competitiveness of a program and the number and length of the program’s intake window(s).
Finally, keep an eye on reimbursement timing. Proactive funding typically requires the businesses to front the costs before the funding agency reimburses a portion of those costs, however timing on these reimbursements varies widely between programs.
If the amount provided through a program is attractive, make sure that your business, project, and expenses are eligible. Government funding programs will often have specifications on the type of businesses that can apply based on their industry, location, size, ownership, and/or maturity, in addition to many other possible eligibility factors. Eligible projects and expenses will also dictate how much of your upcoming costs can be covered under the program.
While tax incentives are retroactive, most other government funding programs focus on future projects and expenses. Businesses must be proactive with their funding applications in order to apply, since these programs will require applicants to hold off on paying eligible expenses until they are approved for funding, though some will allow expenses to be made after the application is submitted. Find out what your chosen program’s specifications around expense timing is before you jump the gun and make them ineligible.
Also consider that programs will often only accept applications for a certain period of time, called an “application window.” It’s common for funded projects to have limits on their duration and require impacts (eg. job creation, export sales increases) after a certain period of time. Programs that allow applicants to be funded multiple times for different projects sometimes have a waiting period between applications as well.
Each government funding program was created with specific objectives, such as job creation, export sales, innovation, and overcoming specific industry barriers. When completing your application, always keep this objective in mind. Your project’s impacts should align with the program’s purpose and you should be able to forecast and quantify these impacts.
Build Your Proactive Funding Plan
Now that we’ve dissected the anatomy of a government funding program, you’re ready to build your Proactive Funding Plan. Building a plan will allow your business to target only the funds that are most relevant to your unique growth strategy.