Ontario Businesses Go Digital

Recipients: Ontario Business Improvement Area Association, Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa, Toronto Region Board of Trade
Region: Ontario
Total funding allocated: $50 million

Main Street Digital

With widespread access to services across southern Ontario, no community or main street will be left behind.

The scene is all too familiar: the once vibrant and bustling main streets in communities across Ontario are eerily quiet. Many entrepreneurs never thought they would need to survive a time when their clients could no longer buy products at their counters. Now living this reality, many business owners are rethinking their business models and exploring new ways to serve their clients. Businesses with existing digital ordering capabilities are at an advantage, but they are starting to see that with greater exposure and purposeful online marketing, their business could grow globally.

That’s where the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario’s (FedDev Ontario’s) investment in the Digital Main Street Platform comes in. With a $50-million investment through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, key partners across the province will use their expertise to help main street businesses and SMEs transform their operations so that they can compete now and prosper in the post-COVID-19 economy. The Government of Ontario is also providing $7.6 million to expand the platform further to businesses in Northern Ontario.

The Digital Main Street Platform

Main streets have always been an important part of life in any community. Their diverse businesses make Main Street in any town a place to gather, a place to get things done, a place to work, a place to buy local, a place to celebrate. As COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge to the store fronts that make a city feel like home, resources are on the way to help them adapt. Get ready for Main Street to go digital.

With the power of leading innovation hubs and experienced business improvement associations (BIAs), paired with the keen minds of post-secondary students, the Digital Main Street Platform will support nearly 23,000 businesses across Ontario and create jobs for more than 1,400 students.

The Digital Main Street Platform offers three distinct levels of support to meet the individual needs of small businesses, whether they are located in a small rural community or along one of the diverse main streets of Ontario’s largest cities.

The entry level of support, delivered by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA), will provide non-repayable contributions of $2,500 to main street businesses seeking to adopt new digital technologies. These contributions can be used toward the cost of activities such as registering for a new website, enhanced photography, or any number of other measures needed to create a compelling online presence.

OBIAA commends FedDev Ontario for this sound investment in our main streets. Together, with our partners, we will direct support to main street small businesses through Digital Service Squads and Digital Transformation Grants offered through the Digital Main Street Platform. - Kay Matthews, Executive Director of the Ontario BIA Association

If you are a small business looking for support to begin your digital transformation, please visit the Digital Main Street website and register online.

OBIAA will also provide financial support to municipalities, chambers of commerce and BIAs to establish local Digital Service Squads: teams of post-secondary students and recent graduates to engage main street businesses to develop their digital transformation plans.

If you are a municipality or chamber of commerce seeking a grant to establish a local Digital Service Squad, please visit the Digital Main Street website and register online.

The next level of support will be delivered by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), Communitech and Invest Ottawa, for those businesses that already have an established digital presence. Support entails helping businesses develop a customized online storefront, using one of the many e-commerce platforms available offering tools like point-of-sale software and inventory and order management. Expanding on the ShopHere model that was launched in Toronto in partnership with Google and Shopify, businesses can gain nationwide exposure, finding new customers in other provinces and even other countries. Business owners will work with experienced post-secondary students to build their online store, create a social media presence and develop other basic digital marketing strategies needed to compete in the e-commerce market.

With the help and support of this announcement and commitments by an unprecedented number of corporate partners, companies, educational institutions and volunteers, we are that much closer to making Ontario’s small businesses more resilient and prepared to face the future. - John J. Kiru, Executive Director, Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas

If your business is ready to expand its digital marketing opportunities and take its online presence to the next level, please visit the Digital Main Street website and register online.

The Future-Proofing Main Street initiative is targeted to businesses looking for an advanced level of support, taking their established online presence and ambitious market growth plans to the next level. Powered by Communitech, Invest Ottawa, and other regional innovation centres across southern Ontario, business owners will have access to teams of qualified co-op students, experienced digital marketing professionals and business advisors to develop sophisticated digital marketing plans to identify and pursue new domestic and global market opportunities, through their online sites.

Building on critical support from our federal government, we are honoured to collaborate with FedDev Ontario and partners across the province to help future-proof our main street business and economy. - Michael Tremblay, President and CEO, Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards
Alongside our regional innovation partners, Communitech is ready to get to work and help businesses engage with their communities online, embrace e-commerce and reach new customers. - Iain Klugman, CEO and President at Communitech

If your business has ambitious expansion plans and is looking for new domestic and global markets, please visit the Digital Main Street website and register online.

The Recovery Activation Program

While the Digital Main Street Platform will help small companies located along main streets across Ontario, the digital transformation needs do not end at Main Street. Small- and medium-sized businesses – whether retail, manufacturing or larger service providers – also need targeted support to reignite their recovery and embrace a digital future. With that in mind, FedDev Ontario is providing $7.5 million to the Toronto Region Board of Trade to deliver the Recovery Activation Program. Working with its extensive network of chambers of commerce, industry associations and program delivery partners, SMEs will have access to virtual workshops and curated cohort-based programs. Over 1,000 SMEs in Ontario will be able to access intensive training to help digitally transform their operations in areas ranging from supply chain management to back-office IT functions.

The governments’ investment in the Recovery Activation Program makes them a valuable partner in helping businesses overcome digitization challenges, enabling us to significantly expand the program’s reach and offer it completely free to enterprises across the province. - Jan De Silva, President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade

If you are a small- or medium-sized business in Ontario seeking customized advice on digitizing any or all aspects of your operation, sign up to participate in the no-cost Recovery Activation Program, run by the Scale-Up Institute Toronto through the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

With strategic partners that have a broad reach to tens of thousands of the region’s businesses and offer a wealth of expertise, FedDev Ontario wants to future-proof Main Street businesses and SMEs by transforming business models with the armour of e-commerce platforms. These partners are best-suited to deliver this widespread support and make the greatest possible impact across the region. Together, we are working to ensure that no community, main street or business owner will be left behind.

The stores along downtown streets in communities across Ontario are a big part of civic identity and pride. FedDev Ontario and its partners will offer the support these businesses need to rebuild and retool in the digital world, while providing valuable work experience to students that may have been displaced from other opportunities by the pandemic. - Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (FedDev Ontario)

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Our message to Ontario’s small businesses, and those whose livelihoods rely on them, is clear: we’re working with you to support good jobs and help our economy come back stronger than ever.
- The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages


Main Street Transformation Platform
Digital Main Street

If you are a small Ontario main street business seeking support to digitize your operations, register online for support through Digital Main Street, ShopHere, or the Future Proofing Main Street initiative.

Recovery Activation Program
Recovery Activation Program

If you are an Ontario SME seeking customized advice on digitizing any aspect of your operations, sign up to participate in the no-cost Recovery Activation Program through the Toronto Region Board of Trade.