Digital Main Street receives $57 million from federal government, Ontario

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Digital Main Street and its ShopHERE program have received a collective $57 million investment from the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario. This includes $50 million in federal funding through FedDev Ontario and $7.6 million from the province.

The majority of the investment will fund Digital Main Street’s $2,500 grant program, which helps small businesses purchase new technology; it will also cover the costs for additional students and staff to deliver Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE program.

“The [ShopHERE] program is literally helping small businesses stay afloat during this crisis.”
– Chris Rickett, City of Toronto

“As local economies across Ontario reopen, we’re focused on ensuring that our main streets don’t just survive, but thrive,” said Mélanie Joly, Canada’s minister of economic development and official languages. “These businesses are the backbone of our economy, a source of local jobs, and local pride. Thanks to this major investment, they’ll be able to expand their offerings and seize the many opportunities presented by online commerce.”

ShopHERE, launched last month, was initially a City of Toronto initiative focused on building online storefronts for local independent businesses and artists. E-commerce giant Shopify is supporting ShopHERE by assisting businesses in getting their online store built and launched within 90 days, at no cost. At the end of May, Google Canada committed $1 million to ShopHERE to help expand the program across the country.

Digital Main Street is also launching Future-Proofing Main Street, an entirely new support program aimed to help businesses pivot their business models, as well as create and implement digital transformation plans.

Future-Proofing Main Street will be delivered in partnership with Communitech and Invest Ottawa, as well as other regional innovation centres in the Ontario tech ecosystem, such as VentureLab, RIC Centre, and Spark Centre.

The Future-Proofing program will be focused on two streams. The first stream will see teams of students and experts help adapt business models, as well as aid those businesses in their efforts to deal with COVID-19.

RELATED: Toronto ShopHERE initiative goes national with $1 million investment from Google Canada

Chris Rickett, who recently returned to the City of Toronto from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation to serve as the acting director for COVID-19 business mitigation and recovery, told BetaKit the second stream will be a community challenge model that will see experts support main street businesses that have “severely challenged” business models.

The City of Toronto recently expanded the Digital Main Street program, increasing funding from $240,000 to $825,000, and also partnered with Ritual to offer the Ritual ONE app free to local bars, restaurants, and food services.

“I’m proud that our federal and provincial partners have seen the value of our made-in-Toronto Digital Main Street program and I am pleased that it will now be available across Ontario,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “In Toronto, this additional investment will allow us to offer grants and a new program to help small businesses future-proof to become more resilient and competitive.”

“I’m proud that our federal and provincial partners have seen the value of our made-in-Toronto Digital Main Street program.”
– Toronto Mayor John Tory

Rickett told BetaKit there are currently 1,652 businesses having their online stores built as part of the ShopHERE program in Toronto.

“The feedback we have been getting from Toronto businesses that have used ShopHERE to build their online store has been inspirational,” Rickett told BetaKit. “The program is literally helping small businesses stay afloat during this crisis. The gratitude and thank-you’s we receive from appreciative business owners have made it all worthwhile.”

Digital Main Street was created by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas in 2016 to help businesses use technology such as websites, social media, and e-commerce platforms to grow and pursue new opportunities. Since 2016, Digital Main Street has engaged with 6,000 main street businesses.

In 2018, Digital Main Street first launched its $2,500 grant program for Ontario small businesses, and received funding from the province to implement that program. Approximately 480 of the businesses Digital Main Street has engaged with over the last four years have received the $2,500 grant.

Rickett told BetaKit the grant program became the “go-to” main street support mechanism for areas impacted by construction projects. The investment from the province announced today will be used to ensure that Digital Main Street’s grant program continues.

Image source Unsplash. Photo by Christina – WOC in Tech.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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