Leveraging Government Support for Your Startup

Nearly half of Canadian startups aren’t tapping into government funding, according to PwC Canada’s annual report that surveys emerging technology companies.

The publication points out that in most cases, early stage companies are unaware of funding available, while others find that the process of filling out forms is daunting and not worth the payout.

While applying for government funding can be tedious, most programs offer help throughout the duration of the application process. This assistance was discussed at a recent L-Spark-hosted event that featured a panel of representatives from various government entities and NGOs including IRAP, NSERC and Mitacs (disclosure: I work for L-Spark).

A theme that emerged from the event was that government programs are not only a source of funding—they also offer important strategic advice and assist with tasks that prove challenging for small companies, such as recruiting talent and forming relationships with industrial partners.

IRAP, for instance, connects startups with a Technology Advisor who serves as a liaison for the company and provides them with advisory services including idea validation and business intelligence. The agency provides connections to potential industrial partners in Canada and abroad, while also offering non-repayable financial assistance that is non-dilutive. This is important as this money can enable startups to postpone seeking an investment in exchange for equity.

Also integral is the ability to facilitate R&D collaborations. NSERC connects companies with professors and undergraduate students in the academic sector. Through the Engage Grant, companies work with a university professor on a project for six months and get to own any resulting IP. NSERC also funds four-month placements for undergraduate students to work with companies.

Mitacs, a private, not-for-profit organization, provides a slew of resources including IP development, funding matching and talent recruiting. Typical placements they facilitate are six months long.

Providing a connection to the global economy, Export Development Canada links Canadian companies to international business opportunities.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure provides assistance with scouting foreign workers through its Business Advisory Branch. It also covers the costs of eligible expenses for traveling to and attending tradeshows and conferences through the Export Market Access program.

The panel was unanimous in stating that they’re always willing to consult with startups to determine their needs and provide them with more information.