Business service expands funding

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Growth in the Thunder Bay region’s new-business startups and expansions has intensified the search for funding sources. The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre hosted a Meet the Funders event and added three more funding sources to their previous dozen. Funders have been vital to the survival of the region’s businesses, both large and small.

Jeff Coull, executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, says for any organization looking for funding, it can be intimidating.

“When you start searching to find who does what, what do I need or what are the specific eligibility requirements, it can be quite complicated,” Coull said.

“Our goal is to introduce people to the different funding organizations and connect them to have a one-on-one conversation.”

The Meet the Funders event, which took place at the Innovation Centre, provided a three-minute profile from each funder and an opportunity for one-on-one meetings with them.

Each of the funding representatives described their organization and how they provide funding for businesses.

Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre
The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre offers several funding programs, which include the Next-Level program that provides a grant of up to $5,000 reimbursed at a 50 per cent cost share.
“Eligible activities must focus on scaling or accelerating the organization and eligible expenses include equipment and software, trade show and travel costs, and late-stage product development,” Coull said.
Youth Effect is a summer youth subsidy program for any employer with an innovative new project over 15 weeks. The Executive in Residence program helps to find a senior external resource to support a very specific initiative temporarily. The Co-Starter program provides $18,000 over an intense 12-week accelerator course for new businesses with an opportunity at the end to pitch for a $250,000 investment.
As the local representative for the Sustainable New Agri-Food Products and Productivity (SNAPP) Program for Northern Ontario agriculture and food producers and businesses, the program provides up to $10,000 at a 50-per cent cost-share towards the purchase of equipment and materials that result in creating new food products, enhancing productivity or resource use, and reducing ecological impact.
Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation
Ryan Lipcsei, with the Ministry of Northern Development, described how the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation supports community enhancement, infrastructure, and community events through funding and internship programs.
“We are largely looking for organizations that are bringing jobs to Northern Ontario and that’s the main criteria in a lot of our funding programs,” he said.
Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario (FedNor)
Richard Pohler, with FedNor, says they are one of seven regional development agencies established by the government of Canada to service various regions across the country. Their Northern Ontario Development Program is primarily focused on the private or public sectors and the Regional Economic Growth and Innovation program has funding for both not-for-profits and for the private sector.
Thunder Bay Ventures
Maria Vidotto, Thunder Bay Ventures manager, called the organization “a champion for small businesses.”
“One of our key pillars is our financial assistance programs for new business starts, maintenance and expansion,” she said.
The micro loan program lends up to $25,000, term loans lend a maximum of $150,000 and the Northwestern Ontario investment pool lends larger loan amounts of up to $600,000. Initiatives include the student Enter the Den competitions, the Thunder Bay Area business competence index and a virtual tourism map.
Paro Centre for Women’s
Karen Evans, the lead business counsellor at Paro Centre for Women’s Enterprise, explained that they have peer circles, which are comprised of four to seven women that provide opportunities for peer support and access to peer lending via grants and loans. Paro is also the provider for the Woman’s Entrepreneur Loan Fund with up to $50,000 for startup or expansion. A third grant fund is specific to women entrepreneurs who are already established in business and looking to expand and scale up into new regions.
Thunder Bay Community
Economic Development Commission Entrepreneur Centre
Kirsten Kabernick, a project co-ordinator with the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission, explained their 50 per cent funding for the installation of an electric vehicle charger for business and a tourism development fund for anybody that has a tourism angle to their business:
“Within the CEDC, the Entrepreneur Centre offers programs such as the Starter Company Plus program with a $5,000 grant available for businesses that are looking to either start up, expand or purchase an existing business or become full-time businesses,” she said.
“The Summer Company Program provides support mentorship and $3,000 in funding for anybody looking to launch a business during the summer.”
The Miinikaanan-Bakakidoon program is an Indigenous business branch of the Starter Company Plus program with a $5,000 grant for businesses that are looking to either start, expand or purchase.
CEDC Digital Main Street (DMS)
The CEDC Entrepreneur Centre’s Digital Main Street project is made possible with funding from the Ontario Business Improvement Areas Association. It is aimed at helping small businesses grow through the adoption of tools and technologies.
Development Bank
of Canada (BDC)
Laura Craig with the BDC says they are a Crown corporation that provides funding through financing opportunities. BDC offers loans and advisory services for businesses at cost or at a very good rate of return.
National Research Council of
Canada Industrial Research
Program (IRAP)
Paul Tulonen, an industrial technology advisor with IRAP, says they work with companies to help them solve technological problems. Their funding offsets the costs of research and development of technology or new products, whether it be manufacturing technology or software development.
“Our funding tends to be around $50,000 to $80,000,” he said. “We support up to 80 per cent of labour costs, and our monies are non-repayable.”
Northern Ontario Angels
Mary Long-Irwin with Northern Ontario Angels said they are a non-profit group that supports businesses by finding or helping to source an angel investor for the business. They work to help businesses launch, grow and build networks.
Nancy Cummings with MiTacs said they are an arms-length of government funding agency and provide funding in one-to-one matching upfront.
“We can work at basically any technology or social readiness level primarily in applied research and innovation,” she said.
Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF)
Johnathan Beardy, a business support officer with Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund, says they service an area from Timmins to the Manitoba border to finance and support individual or community First Nation-owned businesses through loans and grants.
“Individuals can tap into $100,000 in grants and the First Nation communities have the opportunity to tap into $250,000 in grants,” Beardy said.
“The idea behind the grants is to be able to jumpstart startups, help out with expansions or purchase different companies.”
Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund’s Web program provides loans or grants of up to $20,000 to help women in business build credit. The e-commerce grant of up to $8,000, is for small businesses that want a jumpstart in website design or upgrade technology in their business and is a non-repayable grant that doesn’t require equity.
A new program that will provide emergency loans for businesses in the North, for winter road access and to help with inventory is about to be introduced.
Nate McDonald, the Futurepreneur business development manager for Northern Ontario, described their four main financing mentorship and resource programs.
“We’re the only national non-profit organization specializing in business supports, financing and mentorship to young entrepreneurs aged 18 to 39,” he said.
Confederation College
Tim Larocque, with Confederation College, said although they are not direct funders, they have access to funding to support economic, social or environmental projects that provide benefits to small and medium enterprises.
“We can look for developments for the project, find faculty and students to be able to support that project and we will look for funding,” Larocque said.
Ontario Centre for Innovation (OCI)
Mandeep Singh Rehal and Jeff Beaudoin spoke to the gathering virtually from southern Ontario and described how the Ontario Centre for Innovation helps to connect Ontario innovators with researchers, industry partners and funding for the next generation of made-in-Ontario academic intellectual property and solutions.