How it Works

 

Carefully review the Guidelines before submitting an Eligibility Questionnaire and initiating your application.

NOTE: Applications MUST be initiated at least five business days prior to the submission deadline. Please plan accordingly.

A. How the Program Works
B. How the Funding Works
C. Eligibility
D. Evaluation and Project Activation
E. Project Reporting Requirements
F. How to Apply
G. FAQ
H. Application Documents


Program Updates

Please note the following program updates:  

We are no longer initiating new applications for the $60,000 youth stream. Program intake will re-open next fiscal year in February 2017.
 
Under the updated agreement, applicants to OCE’s SmartStart Seed Fund (SmartStart) program who submit a complete and eligible application that is externally reviewed (as per Section E) have the option to be fast-tracked into Futurpreneur’s program application stream.

Applicants will receive an invitation to be fast-tracked in their award/decline letter.

Futurpreneur’s program includes a low-interest loan of up to $45,000 and mentoring. Click the link below for more information:



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A. How the Program Works

The SmartStart Seed Fund (SmartStart) supports new ventures led by Ontario's next generation of entrepreneurs. The fund is designed to support entrepreneurs transition their start-ups from product development to market entry and company building. The program provides seed funding and support for Entrepreneurship Skills Training and Professional Advisory to Ontario-based, for-profit start-ups that are less than three years old, helping them grow their start-up and make them investment- and customer-ready.

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B. How the Funding Works

SmartStart provides up to $70,000 to support incorporated Ontario-based start-ups in three ways: 

(1) Seed funding ($30,000 or $60,000 for youth streams / $30,000 for non-youth stream)
  • Proof of Market Traction
  • Matching Cash Contribution
(2) Entrepreneurship Skills Training and Professional Advisory (mandatory $7,500)
(3) Founders' Forum (mandatory $2,500)

(1) Seed Funding

This funding is intended for early-stage opportunities in the Start-up Validation Stage, when the scientific, technical and commercial merit, as well as the feasibility of the Applicant's product or service has been determined.  

Youth applicants will be eligible for a non-repayable contribution toward direct eligible costs of up to $60,000, depending on the stream. Non-youth applicants will be eligible for a non-repayable contribution toward direct eligible costs of up to $30,000.

Start-ups applying to the SmartStart Seed Fund that have been declined for funding for two or more times are not eligible for the program.

Projects can take up to 12 months to complete.

Youth-led investments:

 Funding Eligibility 
  • Up to $30,000 in Seed Funding per start-up

 

  • Start-ups founded by young entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 to 29
  • Strong preference is given to applications that have shown early validation through arm’s-length third-party investment and/or customer sales
  • Up to $60,000 in Seed Funding per start-up

We are no longer initiating new applications for 2016-2017.

 

 

  • Start-ups founded by young entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 to 29
  • A minimum of 50 per cent of the matching contributions MUST come from arm’s-length third-party investment and/or customer sale
  • Strong preference is given to applications that have shown proof-of-market traction through higher arm’s-length third-party investment and/or customer sales

Non-Youth-led investments:

Funding Eligibility
  • Up to $30,000 in Seed Funding per start-up
  • Start-ups founded by entrepreneurs who are 30+ years old
  • Start-ups that do NOT have any youth representatives on the founders team
  • 1:1 matching cash contributions MUST come from an arm’s-length third-party investment and/or customer sales

Proof of Market Traction:

  • A strong preference is given to applications that have shown proof-of-market traction through an arm’s-length third-party investment and/or customer sales.
  • Applicants in the youth led $30,000 stream have the OPTION of including term sheets, customer purchase orders, or other relevant documentation to strengthen their application for funding.  
  • Applicants in the youth-led $60,000 stream MUST include term sheets, customer purchase orders, or other relevant documentation with their application, as proof that at least 50 per cent of their 1:1 matching cash comes from arm’s-length third-party investments.  
  • Applicants in the non-youth-led $30,000 stream MUST include term sheets, customer purchase orders, or other relevant documentation with their application, as proof that all of their 1:1 matching cash comes from arm’s-length third-party investments. 

Matching Cash Contribution:

  • Applicants MUST match OCE’s cash contribution on a 1:1 basis AND complete an attestation when they submit their application.
  • If an application is approved for funding, proof of matching cash contribution, in the form of a current bank statement, MUST be submitted to OCE Finance prior to project activation.
  • If a company spends a portion of the matching funding after submitting the application, the bank statement date range can be expanded 30 days prior to the award notification to affirm matching funds at the time of attestation.

(2) Entrepreneurship Skills Training and Professional Advisory

The SmartStart Seed Fund applications must include a $7,500 mandatory training component in the form of Entrepreneurship Skills Training and/or Professional Advisory. These activities do not require matching contributions (cash and/or in-kind).

Applicants MUST detail at least one budget item in the “Training/Advisory Support” dropdown menu of the budget table, but may include as many items as it takes to allocate $7,500.

Applications that do not contain the $7,500 mandatory training component in the “Training/Advisory Support” section are not eligible to receive SmartStart funding.

Applicants will have to submit receipts, as proof of training completion, when submitting their Final Report.

The support is specifically aimed at developing new and/or refining existing skill sets that will augment the entrepreneur’s background and entrepreneurship knowledge.  

Examples of Entrepreneurship Training and Professional Advisory include:

NOTE: Approved applicants MUST complete the training as outlined in the budget section of the application. These funds are NOT permitted to cover the costs of an individual’s tuition towards a certification, or a college/university degree. 

(3) Founders' Forum

Recipients of an Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) SmartStart investment are among the top entrepreneurs in Ontario. In recognition of this, OCE has developed the SmartStart Founders’ Forum, an exclusive meeting for the leaders of SmartStart start-ups. Recipients of the investment MUST participate in this session. 

The Founders’ Forum includes:

  • A keynote presentation and panel discussion with key influencers in the world of entrepreneurship
  • Breakout sessions that address important issues, such as investor pitching, customer development, legal issues, corporate governance and team building
  • Networking opportunities with Ontario’s top young entrepreneurs

The Founders’ Forum is an invaluable opportunity for SmartStart start-ups to learn from their peers and network with leading entrepreneurs and investors. 

The Founders’ Forum will be held at OCE’s Discovery, Canada’s leading innovation-to-commercialization conference that brings together more than 3,000 entrepreneurs, business leaders, investors, academics, researchers, government officials and students to showcase best practices and leading-edge technologies. 

As an additional benefit, OCE will provide all award recipients with a complimentary kiosk space and two attendee passes to exhibit their respective companies at Discovery. 

NOTE: Should your application be approved for funding, participation in Entrepreneurial Skills Training and/or Professional Advisory, and Founders' Forum activities are required to remain compliant. These activities MUST be completed within the duration of the project. Please plan accordingly. 

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C. Eligibility

Please see stream-specific eligibility in the funding table above. 

General eligibility requirements:

  • Ontario-based start-ups, incorporated within the last three years
  • Applicant MUST hold equity and a key position in the company
  • Applicant MUST be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada
  • Start-ups MUST be endorsed by a Campus Linked Accelerator (CLA), Regional Innovation Centre (RIC), or On-Campus Entrepreneurship Activities (OCEA) accelerator
  • Start-ups MUST be actively engaged, for a minimum of four months, with the endorsing CLA, OCEA, or RIC prior to submitting the application
  • Start-up Endorsements MUST be signed by a signing officer of the endorsing CLA, OCEA or RIC
  • 1:1 matching cash contributions MUST come from a non-governmental source
  • Start-ups that have received previous funding from the SmartStart Seed Fund are NOT eligible for more funding through the SmartStart Seed Fund 
  • Start-ups that have been declined for funding for the SmartStart Seed Fund two or more times are NOT eligible for funding through the SmartStart Seed Fund
  • Start-ups that have received previous funding from OCE`s Market Readiness and SmartStart programs are NOT eligible for more funding through the SmartStart Seed Fund
  • Start-ups that have received funding from any other FedDev Scientists and Engineers in Business (SEB) and Jumpstart programs (e.g. RIC VentureStart, Next 36, Northumberland Community Futures Development Company, Ryerson or Waterloo FedDev SEB Commercialization Fellowship, etc.) are NOT eligible for funding through through the SmartStart Seed Fund
  • Prior to the submission of the SmartStart Program application, the start-up MUST have less than $250,000 in revenue and significant investment (cumulative). “Significant investment” is defined as a third-party investment from a non-governmental source
  • The Applicant MUST be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, residing full-time in the province of Ontario, and committed to building an Ontario-based company
  • The Applicant MUST enter into a contribution agreement with OCE and be subject to project and reporting as outlined in the reporting section below
  • The Applicant MUST be in good financial and reporting standing with OCE
  • Start-ups that have over $100,000 in active OCE projects must complete those projects (including all final reporting) prior to OCE considering other applications for funding. This excludes TalentEdge internships and fellowships 

Eligible Activities:

Eligible activities supported through this program include:

  • Launch and/or building start-up enterprise
  • Development of prototype products, source first customers and solve real business needs
  • Entrepreneur skills development
  • Learning conferences; peer networks; one-on-one mentoring with a seasoned entrepreneur; entrepreneurship training workshops; etc.
  • Professional advisory to assist entrepreneurs launch and build their businesses (e.g., legal services, business registration support, patents, market strategy, business planning etc.)

Eligible use of funds:

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E. Evaluation and Project Activation

Applications are internally reviewed for completeness, eligibility and use of funds prior to evaluation by business and domain expert reviewers. Reviewers will assess the application and make a funding recommendation to OCE. The final funding decision is made by OCE.

The Applicant team is evaluated based on their ability to demonstrate a viable business proposal and aptitude for entrepreneurship (i.e., experience and track record; leadership; skills and expertise; network; coachability; commitment and investment in the project; ability to attract additional team members and resources).  

Successful applicants MUST execute OCE’s bilateral funding agreement, within 30 days of the award notification. A copy of the agreement will be generated through AccessOCE and sent to the Applicant upon project approval. 

Funding Disbursements

  • OCE funds will flow directly to the company
  • Upon receipt of the company’s electronic fund transfer (EFT) information, OCE will release a payment equal to 75 per cent of the total award
  • OCE will release the remaining 25 per cent upon project completion and receipt of the following: Semi-Annual Progress Reports; Final Report including 1) attestation 2) proof of Training/Professional Advisory expenditures from the company regarding the use of funds; and 3) Annual Metrics Report.

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E. Project Reporting Requirements

Progress Reports:

1. Interim progress reports (including progress and metrics) are required bi-annually (March and September). The Applicant will receive a notification and a link to AccessOCE to submit the reports. The reports are a funding requirement and MUST be submitted on a timely basis in order to maintain good reporting standing with OCE.

Final Reports:

2. Forty-five days prior to the scheduled completion date, the Applicant will receive a notification of the project end date from AccessOCE and a link to the Final Project Report, should the Applicant wish to begin entering data. If an extension is required, the Applicant MUST request it from the Project Administration Team (application-support@oce.zendesk.com).

3. On the scheduled project completion date, the Applicant will receive a notification and a link to complete a Final Project Report (including progress, financials and metrics) from AccessOCE. Both applicant reports MUST be received and approved by OCE within 30 days of the project completion.

4. The final reports, including proof of Entrepreneurship Skills Training and Professional Advisory expenditures, MUST be submitted within 30 days of the project completion for the release of the holdback and the maintenance of good financial standing with OCE.

Project Metrics:

5. If the project continues past the fiscal year end (March 31), the Applicant MUST complete an annual Metrics survey each April, for the part of the project that has been completed since the previous March 31. This annual report is mandatory for OCE to fulfill its contract with the provincial and federal government. Required metrics reports are contractual requirements of the award recipient. 

Retrospective Survey:

6. Two years after project completion, the Applicant will be sent a link to complete a retrospective survey to collect data on commercial outcomes from the project. This information is required by OCE for the assessment of program impact and continuous improvement.

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F. How to Apply

Timelines and Decision-Making Process

The application process takes at least five business days to complete. As such, applications MUST be initiated at least five business days prior to the deadlines noted below. Please plan accordingly. 

Application Initiation

  1. The Applicant completes Eligibility Questionnaire 
  2. OCE’s Application Support Team reviews Eligibility Questionnaire. NOTE: This process can takeup to two business days
  3. If the application meets OCE's eligibility criteria, the Application Support Team will initiate the application and the Applicant will receive a notification from AccessOCE
  4. The Applicant logs into AccessOCE and fills out the application
  5. The Applicant submits the application by the submission deadline, noted below 

Please note that in order to submit an application to the program you will need the following documentation:

  • Proof of incorporation
  • Business number
  • Proof of age: a piece of government-issued identification with the Applicant’s name and date of birth
  • Proof of citizenship status: a passport, birth certificate, citizenship card, or permanent resident card
  • Start-up Endorsement from a RIC, CLA or OCEA
    • The Applicant MUST be a client of the endorsing RIC, CLA or OCEA
    • The Applicant MUST have been actively engaged with the RIC, CLA or OCEA for four or more months

Application Submission Deadlines

Application Initiation Deadline:  Application Submission Deadline: 
 March 16, 2016 by 11:59 pm March 23, 2016 by 2:00 pm 
July 6, 2016 by 11:59 pm July 13, 2016 by 2:00 pm
October 5, 2016 by 11:59 pm  October 12, 2016 by 2:00 pm
 January 4, 2017 by 11:59 pm January 11, 2017 by 2:00 pm

SmartStart is a discretionary, non-entitlement program with limited funding. All eligible applications are assessed on their merit and undergo a review process where the applications are assessed against program objectives and assessment criteria.

Applications are now open.

If you have reviewed all of the sections above, are eligible, and would like to apply for the SmartStart Seed Fund, please complete the Eligibility Questionnaire now.

youth led investment 30K questionnaire linkNon youth led investment under 30K eligibility questionnaire

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G. FAQ

If you have general inquiries, please review OCE's Program FAQ before contacting Application Support. 

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H. Application Documents

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For application initiation or general inquiries, including concerns about the application budget, please contact:

OCE's Application Support Team
Tel: 416-861-1092 x2400
Email: application-support@oce.zendesk.com

For technical inquiries please contact:

Management Information Systems
Tel: (416) 861-1092 x1005
Email: accessoce@oce.zendesk.com

For eligibility inquiries, please contact:

Alexandra Ho
Program Manager 
Tel: (416) 861-1092 x5018
Email: alexandra.ho@oce-ontario.org