Digital Main Street launching new programs for small businesses following federal, provincial funding

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Digital Main Street is set to launch the Future Proof Program, an initiative comprising three programs aimed at helping “future proof” main street businesses and their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital Main Street is set to announce the new initiative later today. The programs are being funded by and are the result of a $57 million federal and provincial government commitment to Digital Main Street, first announced in June. The commitment comprises $50 million from the federal government through FedDev Ontario and $7.6 million from the government of Ontario. The amount of the $57 million being allocated to each of the three programs has not been disclosed.

“Facebook and Intuit will significantly expand Digital Main Street’s ability to bring main street businesses the up-to-date insights and technology.”

The province’s regional innovation centres (RICs), which includes the likes of Invest Ottawa and Communitech, have also signed on as part of the Future Proof Program. The RICs, of which there are 17 across Ontario, have received a portion of the $57 million to help deliver on one of the three program components.

Invest Ottawa revealed in June that it received $9.3 million from FedDev Ontario to deliver the Future Proof program as well as ShopHERE powered by Google in Ottawa and Southeastern Ontario. The amount allocated to each of the other RICs for the Digital Main Street programs, including Future Proof, has not been disclosed.

The three new programs under the Digital Main Street Future Proof initiative include Transformation Teams, the Digital Main Street Lab, and the Community Collaboration Program. The Future Proof Program is separate from ShopHERE powered by Google, Digital Main Street’s initiative aimed at helping Toronto’s independent businesses build and optimize online stores at no cost.

Canada’s Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages Mélanie Joly said the federal government invested in Digital Main Street because it sees the organization as playing “a key role” in Ontario’s recovery from COVID-19. She stated that the funding from FedDev is meant to help entrepreneurs capitalize on the surge in online commerce, and support them as they undergo digital transformation.

In addition to these three new programs, Toronto Mayor John Tory is set to announce that Intuit Quickbooks and Facebook Canada have joined Digital Main Street as funding partners. Both Intuit Quickbooks and Facebook are providing undisclosed amounts of funding to Digital Main Street to grow its programming.

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The funding commitment from Facebook Canada comes in addition to the $1 million contributed in advertising credits to Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE powered by Google initiative in June. Intuit Quickbooks announced plans to assist Digital Main Street with programming last week, but has not disclosed its capital commitment.

“The added support of Facebook and Intuit will significantly expand Digital Main Street’s ability to bring main street businesses the up-to-date insights and technology tools they need to thrive in our radically altered economy,” said Deputy Mayor of Scarborough Centre Michael Thompson.

“The Digital Main Street Lab is really about encouraging collaboration between tech companies and main street businesses.”

One of the programs under the Future Proof umbrella, called the Digital Main Street Lab, is aimed to help tech companies and communities pilot technologies that offer innovative support to main street businesses.

“The Digital Main Street Lab is really about encouraging collaboration between tech companies and main street businesses, ideally at a community scale,” Chris Rickett, director for COVID-19 business mitigation and recovery at the City of Toronto, told BetaKit.

Projects that are part of the Digital Main Street Lab will be provided up to $25,000 in funding to help implement and pilot projects that offer technological improvements to local businesses and their communities. Applications for the Digital Main Street Lab are being accepted until October 31.

The first pilot project being launched through the Digital Main Street Lab is with Toronto-based retail tech startup Hubba. This project is intended to help small businesses improve their sales by giving them access to products to sell to their customers while testing local commerce business models as well as new tech.

The Community Collaboration Program, another of the three new Future Proof initiatives, will be focused on solving challenges faced by main street businesses. The program is intended to bring together Toronto’s innovation sector with main street businesses to identify challenges and create solutions intended to help future proof these businesses.

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The Community Collaboration Program will be delivered by Ontario’s RICs, including VentureLAB, NORCAT, Spark Centre, RIC Centre, Communitech, and Invest Ottawa, among others. Each RIC will be responsible for pulling together their local innovation community along with local businesses to address problems on main street by piloting potential solutions.

Nick Quain, vice president of venture development at Invest Ottawa, told BetaKit his RIC has already begun delivering programming as part of the initiative. Invest Ottawa, which is delivering the Digital Main Street programming for Ottawa and Southeastern Ontario, has launched peer roundtables, online training sessions, and interactive webinars for restaurants, retailers, service providers and trades.

“We’re excited to architect and deliver the new Future-Proofing Main Street element of this program in Ottawa and Southeastern Ontario,” said Quain. “Combining the expertise of our Entrepreneurship Team and local tech talent, we look forward to helping main street companies address current challenges and pursue new opportunities during and beyond the pandemic.”

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“The idea is to really surface some of those bigger problems in that main street community, and then once they’ve surfaced that, going through a much deeper dive with the innovation community and the main street business community to really think about what those solutions are,” Rickett said.

The third program, called Transformation Teams, will offer individual main street businesses a customized business transformation plan and implementation support at no-cost. Businesses using the program will work with a team of marketing professionals and web designers to update their existing business model, develop their digital transformation plan, and implement the plan within six weeks. Applications for businesses are currently open.

Digital Main Street is a program that was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas in 2016. Since its launch, Digital Main Street has worked with over 8,000 Toronto businesses and provided direct one-on-one support to over 2,500 businesses through training and education.

Digital Main Street has launched several initiatives for small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest being ShopHERE powered by Google, which went national in the Spring, and has received investments and support from Facebook, Shopify, Microsoft, and others.

With files from Meagan Simpson.

Image source Unsplash. Photo by Dan Burton.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Writer, globetrotter, drone pilot & David Attenborough enthusiast