Exciting 2015 funding opportunities for small and medium-size businesses

MRSB Senior Consultants Brenda Wedge and Cathy McPhail review some current government funding options that might boost your business this year.

If you are a business in PEI seeking government financing, funding, advisory services or other assistance there is good news, and what we’ll call a ‘word to the wise’. The good news is there are a lot of business assistance programs available. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, NRC’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Export Development Canada, Business Development Canada, Innovation PEI, Skills PEI and Finance PEI (to name just a few!) offer various types of repayable and non-repayable assistance to eligible applicants. Some programs focus on recruiting and training your human resources, some on enhancing your ability to export and achieve export success, some on improving your company’s productivity, efficiency and use of innovation, some on acquiring new equipment, some on expanding your business and some on starting a new business. 

This takes us to our ‘word to the wise’: With so many programs and types of programs available, finding the one that is the right fit for your business can mean more research and planning than the average owner or manager has time for. This is where an experienced business consultant can help. For instance, our team stays abreast of new programs and services and are knowledgeable of program guidelines, eligibility criteria and application and approval processes. We also know who to talk to for further information on the various programs. 

If we’ve piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about potential funding for your organization, below are introductions to a few newer programs, as well as details on changes to a couple of programs that have been around for a while. One of them might just be the right fit:

Are you involved in commercializing bioscience-based products and services?

EMERGENCE, an initiative of the PEI BioAlliance, provides multi-stage assistance to entrepreneurs and businesses. Emergence staff assess your business and the program helps you obtain the skills and resources you need.

Are you an entrepreneur with a product and/or service with potential to be sold outside of PEI?

IGNITION, an initiative of Innovation PEI awarded through a competitive process, provides seed capital of up to $25,000 for start-up funding. 

Are you an export-ready company willing to collaborate with others?

The BUSINESS CLUSTER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM, an initiative of Trade Team PEI, provides support to groups of export-ready companies located within close geographical proximity to one another. Support is provided to establish ways of collaborating to improve companies’ collective ability to pursue international market opportunities.   

Are you a small business having difficulty obtaining financing?

The PEI ENTREPRENEUR LOAN PROGRAM, administered through Finance PEI, may be able to assist and has increased the maximum loan amount from $50,000 to $100,000. 

Do you have a research and development (R&D) initiative with strong commercialization potential?

The ATLANTIC INNOVATION FUND, managed by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), has changed from a call for proposal approach at a specified time to a year-round intake process. They have also lowered the threshold for eligible projects from $1 million in AIF request to $500,000.

Government recognizes that small- and medium-sized businesses are critical to PEI’s economy and demonstrates this recognition with various business assistance programs and services. With lower energy prices, a strengthening US economy and a lower Canadian dollar, and with consumer confidence remaining steady, now may be the best time for you to leverage available programs and start, grow or expand your business.


The Act of Giving - Ways to Donate in 2015

HR Manager Kathryn Mills provides ideas on how you can diversify - or start - your charitable giving this year.

Compassion is one of our leading human instincts, and it is through our compassion that we can act with empathy and altruism. Empathy being more related to the emotional side of giving, altruism is the unselfish act of caring for others through actions that benefit someone else. For example, the act of making a donation to a cause.

Giving to charities and NPOs is a highly personal decision and there are almost countless options. Luckily, there have been some interesting developments in the charitable giving sector, and we now have more choice than ever as to how we want to give.

1. Cash

Maybe it's because I've been doing it for so long, but an old-fashioned cash donation can sometimes be the quickest, easiest way to give. Why not surprise your local food bank or children's charity by delivering an envelope to their director or front desk? How can they not be pleasantly surprised?!

2. Social media

Twitter and other social media sites are making it easier than ever to promote widescale giving campaigns, sometimes with startling results.

For example, a young Toronto woman recently stirred up controversy when she started her own campaign, asking people to post photos of themselves giving pizza to homeless people, using the hashtag #PassThePizza. 

3. Through a third party

There are businesses popping up that make the process of donating more transparent for individual and corporate donors. Vancouver organization Chimp pairs donors with NPOs and charities; in 2014 they ran a campaign called Ignite Giving that raised over $540,000 for charities across Canada. They also paired up with Hootsuite to cover donor admin fees, allowing for a much higher than usual percentage of donations to reach their intended recipients.

4. Donating shares

We recommend seeking professional advice first, but donating shares instead of cash is growing in popularity, and can offer better tax savings than traditional methods.

5. Donating items

How about donating products, like gently-used clothing or non-perishable food items? Consider all the organizing, planning, expense and generosity involved in shipping containers of household items to communities around the globe ravaged by fierce weather events.

6. Giving your time

Of course, one of the most important methods of donating is to give a few hours of our time through volunteering. Tutoring, cleaning up your local park or beach, spending time with animals in need, bagging goceries...there is truly an option for everyone.


May your 2015 be personally enriched through the act of giving;

And may the benefits of your generosity be endless.

Will 2015 be Canada's year to own e-commerce?

MRSB Marketing Officer Lucy Gotell on where Canadian online retail stands now, and how it can leap forward in 2015

As we look back on 2014 and bring in a new year of professional and personal goals, it can be a good time to reflect on business trends and 'hot topics' that have the potential to influence how we do things in 2015. What’s a new year if not an opportunity for growth and the shedding of less-than-productive habits? As a marketer who spends a significant portion of time using digital means of communicating and branding, one ongoing story that stood out for me last year was Canada's lagging performance on the eCommerce stage. Not to be a naysayer, but we have some work to do until our digital retail sector is in the same league as the U.S. or parts of Europe. And that patriotic part of my brain tells me there's no reason not to think 2015 will be the year that Canada steps it up and gets it right, to the benefit of both business and consumer.

...the average daily spend of the typical American consumer was a healthy $98 in December, stronger than 2013 numbers. The difference is in how and where U.S. consumers are spending money...

Across the United States last year, the number of shoppers gracing department stores and other retail outlets continued to drop. Does this mean Americans are buying less? Hardly. Polling monster Gallup recently reported that the average daily spend of the typical American consumer was a healthy $98 in December, stronger than 2013 numbers. The difference is in how and where U.S. consumers are spending money, with online retail or eCommerce biting off a bigger piece of the pie each year. Some projections see eCommerce sales growing to over $400 billion in the U.S. by 2018. Where does Canada stand amidst this unprecedented online growth? Sadly, several steps behind. According to recent Forrester Research, in Britain close to 15% of overall retail sale are made online, in the U.S. it's 9%. And in Canada? We stand at at a meagre 6%.

So what'a holding us back? Well, not to get too Freudian, but part of the problem seems to be an deep-seated aversion, or perhaps just a lack of clear incentive, to conducting business online. Approximately 25% of Canadian small businesses don’t yet have any online presence (i.e. a website). And a recent Global News article points out that, far from embracing ‘omni-channel’ shopping, Canadian branches of some major retailers don’t offer online purchasing, even though their U.S. locations do. Unfortunately, this unwillingness to get with the times has meant the loss of would-be customers to U.S. counterparts who are more digitally integrated.

40% of Canadians are already spending money online with foreign retailers because homegrown stores are arriving late to the party.

So what should we do? Well, for starters, those without a web presence need to talk to their local designer or try their hand at Wordpress as soon as they can. As for those with a website but without online buying options, we need to first understand that shoppers won’t simply rebuff eCommerce and choose the local brick-and-mortar store in its absence. To the contrary, they’ll click their way to the fastest, simplest (and often cheapest) option, whether here or south of the border. According to research from Best Buy Canada, 40% of Canadians are already spending money online with foreign retailers because homegrown stores are arriving late to the party - or have no plans to attend at all. Some estimates suggest that Amazon, Walmart and Apple (in the U.S.) take in about half of the $21.6 billion in Canadian eCommerce sales annually. In other words, if we had the same range of choice here as consumers south of the border do, we'd happily spend more on Canadian brands. To borrow from a cliched but well-suited film quote, 'If you build it, they will come!'

Perhaps Amazon.ca provides the best example of how a company can reap huge benefits from diversifying options for consumers and making eCommerce a main (sometimes only) priority. Yeah, they've been doing the online thing for a long time, but they're also making big changes to how they do it here in Canada, and reaping the rewards. While Amazon.ca still offers less product and higher prices than its U.S. site, they just enjoyed their most successful holiday shopping season ever, extending Boxing Day sales as a result. They’re definitely in the big leagues, but that doesn’t mean your average mom n’ pop can’t scale the overarching message down and benefit from doing so.

Despite any negative predictions or past missteps, there is hope on the horizon for Canadian online retail. Canada Post was forecast to deliver 20% more packages related to eCommerce in November and December of last year. Big Canadian brands like Canadian Tire have been testing out online sales strategies in recent months, introducing services like 'click and collect' so shoppers can purchase online and pick up in-store. These advancements show that our retail sector is aware of its shortcomings and is willing to do what it takes to change and grow. Really, isn't that what a proper New Year's resolution is all about?