The Best Sources of Small Business Grants & Loans in Ontario

Small business grants, loans, tax credits, and in-kind supports are available to business owners in Ontario through four major funding sources:

  1. Government sources, including federal, provincial, and municipal governments
  2. Private sector sources like incubators and accelerators, banks, and alternative lenders
  3. Non-profit sources such as associations, networks, and superclusters
  4. Regional Innovation Centres like Communitech, Invest Ottawa, or the MaRS Discovery District

It may seem simple, but these categories contain a number of different types of lenders, each offering their own unique grant and loan options. To complicate matters further, the numerous grants or loans each lender offers will have different application requirements and approval criteria.

If you’re looking for small business funding in Ontario, the first step is to determine which funding source and type of lender is best for you. Not all businesses will be eligible for funding from every type of lender—for example, many government programs, as well as commercial lenders like banks, will have very strict approval requirements that exclude most small businesses. Understanding the various options available from each funding source will help you narrow down your search so you can focus on preparing applications that are more likely to succeed.

Regardless of funding source, small business funding options in Ontario are typically categorized by audience type, city, and purpose of funding:

  • Audience type, such as creative-sector grants, grants for female entrepreneurs, start-up grants, disability business grants, young entrepreneur grants, apprenticeship grants, indigenous business owners, farm grants, and more.
  • City-based funding is available from municipal organizations in Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, and Toronto.
  • Purpose-based funding is targeted towards financing specific business actions, such as research and development, improving energy efficiency, employee training and hiring, and purchasing equipment and technology. Export grants, start up grants, marketing grants, and other purpose-based grants are also available.

With so many loan and grant options to comb through, it can be difficult to research and determine which funding is best for your business—ultimately, the right loan or grant depends on your goals, where you’re located in Ontario, and in what field your business operates.

To help you get the lay of the land and find the perfect funding for your small business, we’ve researched each of the four main sources of funding—government sources, private sector lenders, non-profit funders, and Regional Innovation Centres—and created this guide to small business grants and loans in Ontario.

Let’s jump in.

1. Government Funding Sources

“Government sources” include federal, provincial, and municipal small business loans and grants. Funding from government sources typically falls into five categories based on what purpose the funding will serve: hiring, training, capital investment, research and development, and business/market development. The province of Ontario also offers funding programs for specific regions, including the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, Eastern Ontario Development Fund, and others.

There are simply too many government small business grants and loans in Ontario to comprehensively list in one post—many of which are sector- or activity-specific—so this guide will provide a sampling of federal and provincial loans and grants that apply to multiple industries.

Federal small business grants in Ontario

Numerous small business grants are available from the Government of Canada. Businesses do not need to be based in Ontario to access these grants, nor do the grants need to be repaid. Application criteria varies based on the grant program you are applying for.

Here are four examples of federal small business grants in Ontario:

  • The Accessible Technology Program: This program provides matching funding for small businesses that are developing new technologies designed to help Canadians with disabilities more fully participate in the digital economy.
  • Natural Resources Canada: This federal department offers matching funds for businesses and industrial facilities that are seeking to improve energy performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re looking for this type of funding, note that these programs should be repeatable so they can be applied across multiple industrial facilities.
  • Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP): This program offers funding for businesses that are looking to research and develop programs between Canadian companies and foreign partners, with the ultimate goal of creating a commercial product or service. The grant covers a percentage of the costs associated with the developed program.
  • Strategic Innovation Fund: This fund provides small businesses with grants to fund a variety of different projects aimed at growing the economy, such as research and development, business expansion, and private/public sector collaboration. Funding is available up to 50% of the costs for eligible activities.

There are also sector-specific grants for agricultural businesses, publishers, and more. Check out this detailed guide to federal small business grants in Ontario for a complete list of available grants.

Federal small business loans in Ontario

The federal government also offers a number of small business loans in Ontario (and across the country). Here are some of the most popular:

  • Futurpreneur Canada helps young business owners secure start-up financing. The initial funding comes from Futurpreneur, and if more funding is required, the organization will help the business acquire a loan with the Business Development Bank of Canada. Another Futurpreneur program provides loans to new business owners who have lived in Canada for less than 60 months and have a limited credit history, but would like to start a business.
  • Business Development Bank of Canada Loans: The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is a crown corporation that functions similarly to a traditional bank. The BDC offers several types of financing to small businesses, including small business loans, start-up financing, and more. Each type of BDC business loan works differently, with different qualification requirements, terms, and ideal uses. Learn more about BDC small business loans.
  • Canada Small Business Financing Program Loans are technically provided by private lenders, including most commercial banks, but are guaranteed by the federal government up to 85%. Up to $1M in funding is available through the Canada Small Business Financing Program, but funds can only be used for specific purposes. Applicants must have a strong financial and credit history and be prepared to submit a detailed loan proposal that outlines how much money they are seeking, how they intend to use the loan, and how they plan to pay it back. Collateral or a personal guarantee may be required, potentially up to 25% of the loan amount. Learn more about Canada Small Business Financing Program loans.

GREENBOX TIP: Government small business loans typically offer the largest loan amounts, longest terms, and lowest rates, but they are also often among the hardest to acquire, with the strictest eligibility requirements and longest approval timelines. Collateral is also often required. Most small businesses are rejected, especially if they have been operating for less than 2 years, have a lower credit score, or are in a higher risk industry. If you’re having trouble getting funding through government small business loans, alternative funders like Greenbox Capital® offer a streamlined online application with flexible approval requirements. Learn more about alternative funding.

FedNor and FedDev—two federal government regional development agencies in Ontario—also offer small business funding, including loans targeted to manufacturing businesses, no-interest loans for projects aimed at transforming and developing the local economy, and loans for development in green and clean tech. FedDev operates in southwestern Ontario, and FedNor operates in Northern Ontario.

Provincial small business grants in Ontario

The provincial government offers a number of small business grants in Ontario. Some grant programs are specific to geographic areas, such as southwestern Ontario or northern Ontario, while many others are designed for specific sectors or business activities. Here are some examples:

The provincial government also offers purpose-specific grants for start-ups, businesses that support early-stage technology, or businesses that are hiring. Get a comprehensive list of provincial small business grants in Ontario.

GREENBOX TIP: If you want to improve your business’s energy efficiency, there are also dedicated grants offered by the Save On Energy program. The Save On Energy program is run by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), a crown corporation that is responsible for operating the province’s electricity market. These programs include a Retrofit program to help businesses upgrade equipment, a Small Business Lighting program to help businesses install more energy efficient lighting, and other resources to help you reduce energy usage.

Provincial small business loans in Ontario

The provincial government also offers a number of small business loans in Ontario. Some loans are offered in partnership with federal government programs and Regional Innovation Centres. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Southern Ontario Fund for Investment in Innovation (SOFII): This fund provides financing to SMEs in southwestern Ontario to help them grow or create innovative products. These interest-bearing loans can be made for up to $1M.
  • Business Scale-up and Productivity Program (BSP): Available through FedDev, This program aims to help southern Ontario businesses offset up to 35% of upfront project costs related to adopting new, innovative technologies that support scale-up, productivity, and the development of and entry into new markets, up to a maximum of $10M.

Other loans for specific industries are also available, including loans for agriculture businesses, manufacturers, automotive businesses, tech companies, tourism businesses, and more.

Here’s a comprehensive list of other provincial small business loans in Ontario.

Municipal small business support in Ontario

Municipal governments also offer small business support through Small Business Enterprise Centres (which are funded by and work in partnership with the provincial government), as well as through local Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) and Chambers of Commerce.

  • There are 54 Small Business Enterprise Centres in Ontario, offering in-kind support to small businesses.
  • There are more than 270 BIAs in Ontario, working to bring retail business owners and commercial property owners together in order to improve and grow their district.
  • There are over 135 Chambers of Commerce in Ontario, offering in-kind benefits like networking events and directories of local businesses.

Research municipal funding and support options online for your city to learn more.

2. Private Sector Funding

Many types of private sector funding are available in Ontario. This type of funding is typically based on your stage of business development, and includes funding types like grants, loans, and equity investment (ie. funding offered in exchange for a partial ownership stake).

Approval criteria can vary widely depending on the specific lender. Banks, for example, will have strict approval requirements, while alternative lenders have more flexible approval requirements that are typically favourable to more small businesses.

Funding for new businesses

Private sector funding for new businesses is available from:

  • Angel Investors, such as Angel Investors Ontario, Golden Triangle Angel Network, Southwestern Ontario Angel Group, or York Angel Investors
  • Incubators—there are over 60 business incubators and accelerators in Toronto alone
  • Crowdfunding platforms such as FrontFundr, Vested, and GoTroo

Funding for early-stage businesses

Private sector funding for early-stage businesses is available from:

  • Accelerators (the next step after the start-up incubator phase), such as Accel-Rx, Accelerator Centre, IDEABOOST, FounderFuel, or Startup Boost
  • Venture capitalists, such as Extreme Venture Partners or Brightspark Ventures

Funding for established businesses

Private sector funding for established businesses is available from:

  • Peer-to-peer lending platforms, which match people who want to lend money to businesses that need loans, such as Lending Loop
  • Private equity firms: There are approximately 160 private equity firms in Ontario.
  • Banks, including the Big 5 (TD, RBC, Scotiabank, CIBC, and BMO). Similar to government loans, approval criteria for bank loans can be very strict, and often only large businesses that can offer collateral or businesses seeking larger loan amounts will be approved.
  • Alternative lenders like Greenbox Capital or OnDeck. “Alternative lending” is an umbrella term that describes any lending that occurs outside of a traditional financial institution like a bank or a credit union. Direct online lenders like Greenbox Capital offer financing directly to small business owners using a fast and easy online application, and typically specialize in non-loan forms of financing such as merchant cash advances and invoice factoring. These lenders also offer flexible underwriting requirements that are favourable to more small businesses, including businesses with lower credit scores, newer businesses, and businesses in industries that banks and government sources consider “high risk”. Alternative lenders can also approve funding applications in as little as one business day, making them especially ideal for businesses that need funding quickly.

Learn more about alternative small business funding in Ontario.

3. Non-Profit Funding Sources

Small businesses in Ontario can access grants and loans from a variety of non-profit sources. These organizations will offer a variety of grants, loans, and other support, and are often industry-specific or will service a particular audience or geographical area. Approval criteria varies depending on the specific type of grant, loan, or support you are seeking.

  • Associations are industry-specific groups that were formed to support businesses in a certain sector. They may lobby the provincial or federal government on the sector or business’s behalf, provide guidance, and more. Examples of associations include the Canadian Tooling and Machining Association, Information Technology Association of Canada, and Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
  • Business Development Corporations are non-profits that typically help businesses in rural Ontario or indigenous businesses, such as the Community Futures Program, Métis Voyageur Development Fund, or Wakenagun Community Futures Development Corporation.
  • Centres of Excellence are non-profit groups that have the backing of several large corporations in the same industry sector. Centres of Excellence look to fund startups that have innovative ideas in their sector. Examples include the Centre of Excellence in Energy Efficiency and the Centre for Social Innovation.
  • Foundations are typically set up by a private company, with a mandate to either do charitable work, support organizations that do charitable work, or give awards to for-profit businesses. They are typically very specialized and focus on a specific sector or purpose, such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
  • Networks can provide funding, as well as partnerships and collaborations that support small business in Ontario and Canada. Examples include Startup Canada, the Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada, and SheEO.
  • Niche non-profits target specific sectors and audiences, such as entrepreneurs who are disabled, indigenous entrepreneurs, or specific religious groups. Examples include Rise Asset Development and the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund.
  • Sector Councils are non-profit alliances of workers, employers, educators, and governments that focus on specific business sectors. They are typically focused on human resources and aim to improve the labour force in their sector through researching industry trends, establishing occupational standards, and creating career development resources and training programs. Examples include the Canadian Council for Human Resources in the Environment Industry, Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council, Biotechnology Human Resource Council, Canadian Automotive Repair and Service Council, Wood Manufacturing Council, and Canadian Equipment Industry Training Committee.
  • Superclusters are collaborations among for-profit and non-profit groups and educational institutions that aim to help start-ups. Superclusters are funded by a federal government program called Innovation Superclusters Initiative, and include organizations like the Digital Technology Supercluster and the AI-Powered Supply Chains Supercluster (SCALE.AI).

4. Regional Innovation Centres

Regional Innovation Centres are municipal organizations that provide technology businesses with support and financing, including administrative and organizational guidance, information on marketing, customer services, and assistance finding loans and resources to help them grow.

There are 17 Regional Innovation Centres in Ontario:

Wrapping Up

There are four major sources of small business grants and loans in Ontario:

  1. Government sources
  2. Private sector sources
  3. Non-profit sources
  4. Regional Innovation Centres

A variety of different lender types exist within these four major sources, each offering unique funding options. Funding is available by audience type, by city, by purpose of funding, and each funding source and type of grant or loan they offer has different application requirements and approval criteria.

If you need fast funding, alternative lenders like Greenbox Capital® offer a streamlined online application and can deposit funding in as little as 24 hours. No collateral is required, making alternative lenders an ideal option for businesses that need smaller loan amounts, can’t offer collateral, have lower credit scores, or need fast funding.

Learn more about alternative funding
Author:
With over 25 years’ experience in financial services, Pamela Kohl has worked closely with banks, alternative finance, and other fintech platforms to develop core banking services, as well as establish new card programs, lending programs, and global payments platforms. She has been nationally recognized for creating innovative solutions, leveraging new markets, and developing winning strategic partnerships. Currently, Pamela serves as Vice President of Marketing at Greenbox Capital. Pamela earned a B.A. from Marshall University, summa cum laude, and M.A. in International Economics from the University of Miami, where she graduated with Distinction.