What does it really take to launch a successful start-up? The competition for new small and medium-sized businesses in Canada is fierce. Around 260 start-ups launch every day, according to Fundsquire.ca. How can you guarantee that your start-up will be one of the 70% to survive 5 years down the line?
Dozens of programs across Canada are available to help start-ups create outstanding business plans to find the right investors, grow their revenue, and connect to leadership resources at all stages.
Entrepreneurs across industries report that the challenges to creating a successful start-up are immense. To make sure you don’t get overwhelmed, here’s a step-by-step map to accessing the right kind of resources at every stage of your start-up journey.
Pre-planning Toolboxes and Workshops
It’s perfectly fine to admit that you don’t have all the information needed to successfully launch a start-up. Nobody is born with the ability to:
Create a business plan
Build a go-to-market strategy
Present a detailed budget to investors
File business taxes
Small business toolkits from reputable sources like the government of Canada are invaluable for walking new and experienced entrepreneurs through up-to-date best practices for launching a new business.
As a start-up business owner, the demands on your time will be quite high in the beginning. Getting accurate information, templates, and checklists can give you a way to cut through the clutter of information and focus deeply on the business of your dreams.
StartUp Canada released a comprehensive publication that offers a complete package of foundational knowledge, access points, and resources required to start and scale a business in Canada. You can find their Business Owner’s Toolbox here.
The government of Canada has its own business plan development resource guide for start-ups. The resource center has information on, and also links to a Business Benefits Finder that targets searches based on your business needs for expert advice, tax relief credits, and more.
The Canadian bar association offers multiple pro bono resources, including Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC), an organization that has a chapter in every Canadian law school. It’s a win-win: you can get pressing legal questions answered, and law students gain real-world knowledge that will make them even better lawyers over time.
Where to Find Financing
Banks are one of the first places start-ups look for financing. The Big Five banks in Canada are Royal Bank of Canada, The Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, The Bank of Nova Scotia, and Toronto-Dominion Bank. They each have at least one type of business loan for entrepreneurs. Other banks and co-ops across Canada have similar programs.
However, many start-ups, especially those in tech, often don’t fit the credit models used by traditional lenders like banks. The main reason is that they have few tangible assets such as inventory or equipment to provide as collateral when looking for a loan. As a result, 61% of tech entrepreneurs say it’s difficult to get funded at the pre-commercial stage, and many more report funding gaps at multiple stages of their journey.
To diversify your funding streams, consider looking into financing options that aren’t tied to a bank.
any new small and medium-sized business owners turn to venture capital investment to create a strong financial foundation. Venture capital differs from traditional loans in that it exchanges financing for a percentage of equity in your company.
The Business Development Bank of Canada is a venture capital financing company owned by the government of Canada with multiple funding streams for SMEs. Universities, nonprofits, and private groups can also point entrepreneurs to capital investments for their businesses.
What about angel investors? Angel investors are generally wealthy individuals who personally invest their own money into early-stage start-ups owned by others. Angel investors offer so much more than funding.
Indeed, angel investors can provide expert industry and leadership advice to start-up owners. In Canada, angel investors provide start-ups with an average investment of $100,000, with an expected after tax return of 30-40% of annual net profits for 5-8 years.
Start-up owners in Canada currently have record access to angel investment funds. According to the most recent report from the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO), entrepreneurs benefited from over $262 million in angel investment funds in 2021. This growth in investment is partly due to a well-needed increase in spending from female angel investors.
Often official provincial or municipal government websites can point you towards angel investment networks. This list from Toronto Starts shows some examples of more angel investor networks and organizations to explore.
Crowdfunding is the method of getting start-up capital by directly asking the public for help . Made popular by indie musician Amanda Palmer who received $1,000,000 through Kickstarter to finance her studio, crowdfunding is now a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, crowdfunding has grown into a $16.2 billion industry and is a popular go-to for entrepreneurs looking to gain capital.
Grants and subsidies
Grants and subsidies, which are amounts of money given to the entrepreneur with no expectation of repayment, are a great resource for new and developing SMEs. Federal, provincial and municipal governments offer a wide-range of grants for entrepreneurs across industries. Non-profit organizations like Community Foundations of Canada are also a good place to start searching for start-up grants.
Preparing for Launch and Growth
Once your research, business proposal, financing, and legal and governmental documentation are squared away properly, you should be in a stable position to open your enterprise for business. Congrats!
However, your start-up journey isn’t over yet. There’s still a long road ahead to keep your business functioning profitably. A few brief interviews with real life entrepreneurs reveal a number of pain points they experience at this start-up stage.
How do I keep on growing my revenues and customer base?
How do I stay at the leading edge in an ever-changing environment?
When do I change my prices?
What’s a great marketing strategy for my industry?
Incubators and accelerators are especially attractive to new entrepreneurs as they offer a wide-range of support for a number of business situations. Each incubator or accelerator group will offer a slightly different portfolio of programming, but typical support includes mentoring, training, and access to research and funding.
What are incubators and accelerators?
An incubator is a program that is designed from the ground up to support start-ups through all phases. This might mean working with you through the ideation phase, or helping you line up more financing. Incubators don't necessarily focus on direct funding of start-ups, but they are great for connecting your start-up to other resources. When introductions are guided by an organization that's already known, bigger doors open much faster than they would from a cold introduction at a typical networking event.
A business accelerator is a program focused on helping start-ups with a minimum viable product get the funding they need to get to the next level. They last for a set amount of time, which is different than incubators that tend to provide more ongoing support.
Both have their place, but they are two different programs. A business accelerator will not accept start-ups that haven't finished their product or brought their services to the public. Incubator programs are accustomed to start-ups that are still deep in the business ideation stage, and the incubator will provide support even before a launch.
Accelerators and incubators do share some common characteristics: they are not free but fees vary. In the case of accelerator programs, the fees are equity-based rather than anything upfront. Accelerators also tend to be highly competitive since they are more focused on seed-funding and boosting start-up growth quickly.
Whatever challenges you face as a start-up owner, you’re surely not the first to experience it. Learning the types of resources that are available to SMEs at the start-up stage will help you create a map guided by foundational sources and best practices.