The Immigrant’s Guide To Starting a Business in Ontario

 
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There is a wealth of opportunities available to immigrants who dream of owning their own businesses and achieving success in Canada. Immigrant-owned businesses play an important role in the Canadian economy, typically creating more jobs for Canadians than other businesses in the country. In addition, immigrants become entrepreneurs in Canada at a higher rate than Canadian-born people do.

If you’re interested in starting a business in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, learn more about how to secure financing and find incentive opportunities, beneficial resources, and licencing and permitting requirements in the area.

Starting a Business in Ontario

What businesses are popular for immigrants in Ontario?

Ontario is the most common province that people migrate to in Canada. In fact, nearly half of all new immigrants to Canada settled in the province in 2021. New and established immigrant residents of Ontario often seek to establish businesses in many industries. However, some types of businesses are more popular among immigrants to Canada than others.

Specifically, construction, retail, transportation, professional and technical services, accommodations and food services, and healthcare and social assistance are popular industries for immigrant-owned startups in Ontario.

How to get new business incentives and financing in Ontario

One of the reasons why Ontario proves to be a popular destination for immigrants moving to Canada is the wealth of opportunities available.

All entrepreneurs can apply for numerous government grants, loans, and tax credits offered through the provincial government of Ontario. There are also additional local and nonprofit programs and grants open to those looking for ways to fund a small business.

Canada-Ontario Job Grant Program

This government program offers grants for business owners to cover the cost of training employees. Through the program, businesses with fewer than 100 employees are responsible for paying only one-sixth of the cost of the training, while the grant pays for the remaining costs up to $10,000.

Digital Main St ShopHERE Grant

Digital Main St (DMS) administers the ShopHERE program through a partnership with Google. Independently owned, small brick-and-mortar businesses in Ontario can win grants to launch websites and begin selling and advertising their goods and services online.

SmartStart Seed Fund

Permanent residents between the ages of 18–29 who have ideas for launching a technology or innovation-based business may qualify for a grant through the SmartStart Seed Fund. The program awards up to $30,000 of matching funding toward startup costs and an additional $5,000 loan. In addition, recipients gain access to regional business resources to help them succeed.

Save On Energy

The Save on Energy program from the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) offers ways to help small businesses invest in sustainable equipment.

Its Small Business program provides up to $2,000 to cover the cost of eligible lighting and up to $2,500 toward the cost of purchasing other eco-friendly equipment.

Through the Retrofit program, small businesses can get help to pay for improvements to make older buildings more energy efficient.

Co-Operative Education Tax Credit

Businesses that hire undergraduate, Master’s, and Ph.D. students from participating Ontario colleges and universities may be able to take advantage of this tax incentive. It provides a refundable tax credit of 25-30% with a maximum limit of $3,000 per student hired.

Ontario Innovation tax credit

Businesses engaged in scientific research and experimental development may qualify for a tax incentive in Ontario. The incentive provides an 8% refundable tax credit of up to $3 million dollars based on the total cost of the research and development project.

Customized Working Capital Loans

Immigrant-owned tech companies in Ontario may qualify for small business loans through this program offered by the financial institution, BDC. Loan amounts vary from $250,000 to $35 million.

The program is open to established businesses with an experienced management team and strong financial forecasts.

Starting a Business in Ontario

Futurpreneur Newcomer Financing

This Futurpreneur Newcomer Financing offers business loans of up to $60,000 for immigrant-owned startups. To be eligible, you must:

  • Be between the ages of 18–39
  • Have lived in Canada for less than 60 months at the time of application
  • Be a Canadian citizen or legal permanent resident
  • Have no Canadian credit history or limited Canadian credit history

Regional development funds

Depending on your location, you may qualify for loans and grants for small businesses through regional development funds in Ontario.

There are four such regional programs:

Each one has its own funding and grant opportunities. Some are reserved for established businesses, while others are also open to startups.

Angel investors

Entrepreneurs can seek investments in their company from angel investors groups located in Ontario. These groups provide funding in exchange for an ownership stake in startups and established businesses.

The Angel Investors Ontario network works throughout the province. Other groups like the Golden Triangle Angel Network Investment, Southwestern Ontario (SWO) Angel Group, and York Angel Investors Investment seek investment opportunities in certain regions or cities in the province.

How to get business licences, certificates, and permits in Ontario

To legally operate a business in Ontario, entrepreneurs must obtain the necessary registrations, licences, certificates, and permits for their industry. Depending on where you’re located and what industry you’re in, you may need some of the most common requirements for small businesses listed below.

Tips for getting a business registration

Any business with employees, facilities, or offices in Ontario must register with the Ontario Business Registry. You can complete the entire process online by creating a ONe-key account. The cost of registration depends on the structure of your business.

For sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and limited partnerships, the fee is $60. Corporations pay $300. After you complete the registration process, you’ll receive a nine-digit Ontario Business Identification Number (BIN), which you’ll need to pay taxes in the province.

Provincial licences, permits, and certificates

Provincial laws in Ontario require many companies to obtain business or professional licences. The requirements for licences vary based on industry, but most professional services, health care services, construction services, and consumer and retail services need at least one licence or permit to operate.

The website BizPal makes it easy to find out which credentials you need to obtain for your startup. To use the search tool, enter your location and your industry. The site will return a complete list of all applicable licences, permits, and certificates with links for you to learn more about the eligibility requirements and costs associated with each one.

Additional licences, business permits, environmental permits, and zoning permits may also be mandatory for your startup. Most of these credentials are searchable through the BizPal portal.

The City of Toronto also has its own table of required licences and permits. If you plan to start a business in another municipality in Ontario, contact the local government offices for more information about required licences and permits.

Tax registration

Any Ontario business that sells taxable goods and services must register with the Canada Revenue Agency to collect Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). The Canada Revenue Agency has an online reference guide that can help you determine if you need to register. If you do, you can complete the process online.

Businesses in Ontario may also need to register to pay additional taxes at the federal and provincial level, such as:

The Canada Revenue Agency can provide advice about tax requirements for new businesses.

Other types of business support in Ontario

Entrepreneurs and business owners can take advantage of resources and join organizations in Ontario to get support for their businesses as well. You can search the internet to find immigrant business support services in your area, or use the list of resources below as a starting point.

Starting a Business in Ontario

Small Business Enterprise Centres

These regional offices offer free business consulting services. At any of the locations, you can get help writing business plans, attend workshops and seminars, obtain legal advice and services, and take advantage of mentoring and networking opportunities.

Chambers of Commerce

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce acts as an advocate for the business community. Members gain access to networking and educational opportunities organized at the provincial level. There are also regional chambers of commerce that serve communities throughout the province.

Regional Innovation Centres

Located throughout Ontario, these centres provide support for scientific and tech startups and new businesses. Their programs for immigrants and Canadian-born business owners include mentorships, training seminars, workshops, market research services, and introductions to investors.

Ontario Business Improvement Area Association

The OBIAA offers networking opportunities and educational programs for entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout Ontario.

Trade associations

These industry-specific groups, like the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance, may provide everything from market research to training programs to networking events for their members.

Ethnic business associations

Business owners who are members of ethnic minority groups can build relationships with other business owners by joining groups like the Korean Canadian Business Association or the Black Business and Professional Association in Toronto.

Incubators

These programs provide business advice, mentorships, and services to help startups in certain industries get off the ground. Examples include the Biomedical Zone for biomedical and healthcare technology startups, Canada’s Music Incubator for musicians and music-related businesses, and OneEleven for tech companies.

University of Toronto Start-Up Guidebook

This publication is available for free online and provides detailed information about launching a new tech business in Toronto.

Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

This organization offers mentoring and other services for immigrant entrepreneurs in the greater Toronto area.

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