How it Works


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

NOTE: Applications must be initiated at least seven days prior to the submission deadline. Please plan accordingly.

A. Program Changes
B. How the Program Works
C. How Funding Works
D. Eligibility
E. Evaluation and Project Activation
F. Project Reporting Requirements
G. How to Apply
I. Downloads

A. Program Changes

Please note the following program changes:  

Under a new agreement, applicants to OCE’s SmartStart Seed Fund 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. See below for more information:


B. 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, including streams for both youth from the age of 18 to 29, and entrepreneurs from the age of 30+, 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 less than three years old, helping them grow their start-up and make them investment and customer ready.


C. How Funding Works

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

(1) Seed funding (youth $30,000 and $60,000 streams / non-youth $30,000 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 and feasibility of their product or service are determined.  

Youth applicants will be eligible for a non-repayable contribution toward direct eligible costs of up to $60,000, depending on 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 two or more times are not eligible to submit an application to the program.

It is anticipated that projects will 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 from the age 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




  • Start-ups founded by young entrepreneurs from the age 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 from the age of 30+ and that do not have at least one youth representative 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 those applicants that have shown early market traction and validation through customer sales or via arm’s-length third-party investment.
    • 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 are required to match OCE’s cash contribution on a 1:1 basis and must complete an attestation at the time of application submission.
    • 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 some matching funding post submission, the bank statement date range can be expanded 30 days prior to 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 “Training/Advisory Support” selection(s) that total $7,500 are not eligible to receive SmartStart Seed Fund funding.

Applicants must submit receipts, as proof of training completion, when submitting their Final Report.

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

Examples of Entrepreneurship Training and Professional Advisory include:

FreshInsights Consulting
FreshInsights Consulting offers professional business consulting while developing today’s business leaders. They partner with the entrepreneur to provide actionable insights in Business Planning, Market Research, and Strategic Marketing. They recruit top university graduates to lead the projects, and support them with a network of accomplished business mentors who offer guidance and expertise. Through a unique not-for-profit business model, they combine highly competitive rates with a fresh approach and proven expertise. 
Keiretsu Forum Central Canada
Experience the capital raising first-hand through the Angel Simulator program. This is a “learning by doing program” where entrepreneurs participate in every aspect of raising capital and benefit from practicing before it really counts. You are immersed into the Keiretsu Forum process to receive direct experience on how start-ups position themselves for investment and global syndication.
The Revenue U
Three-Stage Program ($7,500): The Revenue U was specifically designed to ensure that start-up companies are ready to generate repeatable revenue. The program was founded by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who know, first-hand, what it takes to make an early-stage company successful.

Stage 1: Market Validation Laboratory is a six-week program designed to help zealous founders take a disciplined and scientific approach to testing their business idea before they invest unnecessary time and capital.

Stage 2: Sales 101 is a six-week proven sales program that teaches entrepreneurs how to develop a sales pipeline, generate revenue handle objections, successfully close deals, and forecast sales.

Stage 3: The 90-Day Sprint-to-Revenue is an aggressive twelve-week program that recreates the structured weekly sales meetings that drive all successful organizations. Participants use the sales strategy they have developed and weekly coaching to attack a market and grow revenue.
  • University or college courses offered by the institution’s Continuing Education Studies such as business administration, entrepreneurship, marketing and customer development, business strategy development
  • Advisory from experts in areas such as legal/IP, accounting, marketing, sales training to advance the skills and/or knowledge of the entrepreneur in these areas to develop strategies and make informed decisions for their venture
  • Sector specific training (software development, retail marketing, regulatory)

NOTE: Approved applicants are required to 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 or 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 are required to 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 like 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 network with leading entrepreneurs and investors and to learn from their peers. 

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

As an additional benefit, OCE will provide you with a complimentary kiosk space and two attendee passes for your company to exhibit 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 in order to remain compliant. These activities must be completed within the project duration. Please plan accordingly. Applications that do not include these activities in their “Program Activity Table and Budget” will not be processed for external review. 


D. 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, or that have been declined for funding two or more times are not eligible to submit an application to the program
  • Start-ups that have received previous funding from OCE`s Market Readiness and SmartStart programs are not eligible for 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 this program
  • Prior to application submission to the SmartStart Program, 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-government 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
  • Applicants must enter into a contribution agreement with OCE and be subject to project and reporting as outlined in the reporting section below
  • Applicants 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 supported through this program include things such as:

  • 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 in launching and building their businesses (e.g., legal services, business registration support, patents, market strategy, business planning)

Eligible use of funds:


E. Evaluation and Project Activation

Applications are internally reviewed for completeness, eligibility and use of funds prior to evaluation by expert reviewers with business and domain expertise. They 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 standard funding agreement, within 30 days of notification of award. A copy of the agreement will be generated through AccessOCE and sent to you upon project approvals only. 

Funding Disbursements

Funding will flow directly to the company:

  • 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: requested Semi-Annual Progress Reports, Final Report including attestation and proof of Training/Professional Advisory expenditures from the company regarding the use of funds and Annual Metrics Report.


F. Project Reporting Requirements

Progress Reports:

1. Interim progress reports (including progress and metrics) are required bi-annually (March and September). The Applicant will receive 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; with a link to the Final Project Report should the Applicant wish to begin entering data. If an extension is required, it must be requested from the Project Administration Team (

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

4. The final report including proof of Entrepreneurship Skills Training and Professional Advisory expenditures must be submitted within 30 days of project completion in order to release the holdback, and maintain good financial standing with OCE.

Project Metrics:

5. If the project continues past a fiscal year end (March 31), the Applicant will be required to 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 fulfil its contract with the Provincial and Federal Government. Required metrics reports are a contractual requirement of the awardee. 

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 assessment of program impact and continuous improvement.


G. How to Apply

Timelines and Decision-Making Process

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

Application Initiation: Step-by-step

  1. Eligibility Questionnaire completed by potential applicant 
  2. Eligibility Questionnaire reviewed by OCE’s Application Support Team. NOTE: This process can take two business days
  3. If applicant meets eligibility criteria, the Application Support Team will initiate an application and the applicant will receive a notification from AccessOCE
  4. Applicant logs into AccessOCE and begins completing the application
  5. Applicant submits application by the application submission deadline, noted below 

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

  • Proof of incorporation
  • Business number
  • Proof of age – government-issued identification with the applicant’s name and date of birth
  • Proof of citizenship status – Examples include: passport, birth certificate, Citizenship Card, or Permanent Resident Card
  • Start-up Endorsement from a RIC, CLA or OCEA whom your company is a client of and has been actively engaged with for four or more months

Application Submission Deadlines for all investment streams

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

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 - complete the Eligibility Questionnaire now:

Youth Led Investment Under $30,000 - complete the eligibility questionnaireYouth Led Under $60,000 - complete the eligibility questionnaireNon-Youth Led Investment under $30,000 - complete the eligibility questionnaire



Please review OCE's Program FAQ.


I. Downloads


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

Application Support Team
Tel: 416-861-1092 x2400

For technical inquiries please contact:

Management Information Systems
Tel: (416) 861-1092 x1005

For eligibility inquiries, please contact:

Sam Saad
Program Manager 
Tel: (416) 861-1092 x1097