If you're starting a business and looking for small business grants in Canada, you have to check out the federal government's Self-Employment Program. It's one of the best small business grants in Canada in my opinion although technically it's not a small business grant at all.
Grants for starting a business are few and far between. But Canada' Self-Employment Program can provide the business start up money you're looking for. The program's mandate is to "provide financial assistance to eligible individuals to help them create jobs for themselves by starting a business".
The Self-Employment Program will provide either regular Employment Insurance benefits until the end of your benefit period or financial assistance for living expenses. It may also provide temporary financial assistance related to the costs of participation in the program, such as, for instance, the costs of dependent care or transportation.
So if you're looking for business start up money to help cover living costs until you get your new business up and running, the Self-Employment Program will do that. And just like any small business grant in Canada, you don't have to pay the money back.
Additionally, the Self-Employment Program offers the entrepreneurial training and advice that makes starting a business so much easier and gives the new business a better chance of success. The Self-Employment Program is often delivered as a course package where you get the chance to learn specific business skills that you may be lacking and are guided through the process of preparing a business plan. In most cases, you will get one-on-one advice on how to develop your new business – invaluable for anyone just starting out.
What's the catch?
Not everyone is eligible for the Self-Employment Program. Generally, to qualify you need to:
- be receiving Employment Insurance currently;
- have received Employment Insurance benefits within the last three years (or within the last five years if your Benefits period included a maternity or parental claim).
Other conditions may have to be met. The Self-Employment Program is administered by the various provinces and territories, so the additional eligibility requirements, and sometimes even the benefits the Self-Employment Program provides, vary from province to territory.
To participate in the Self-Employment Program delivered in Alberta, for instance, you need to also demonstrate that you have the necessary skills and experience to make your business idea work and to make a personal investment of cash, inventory, equipment, or borrowed funds. There doesn't seem to be any such requirement in Quebec, where the Self-Employment Program is also open to unemployed people who do not receive any public income support and those whose employment status is unstable.
You can find more information and a link to a map of provincial agencies who deliver the Self-Employment Program in each province and territory at Service Canada's Self-Employment page.
As for participating in the program, you have to be prepared to commit to working full-time on starting a business for a period of about a year, so this program is not for people who are thinking of starting a business in their spare time.
If you qualify though and are prepared to make the commitment the program requires, the Self-Employment Program is a truly golden opportunity. You can see why I call it one of the best small business grants in Canada. The program offers the kind of business start up money many people need – money to support themselves while they work on starting a business. But it also offers so much more – the skills training and expert advice to make your new business a successful business.