Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significantly disruptive impact on small businesses.
As a result of this, a number of initiatives have emerged to support small businesses and help them adapt to the new normal. One of these initiatives is Digital Main Street’s Future Proof program, focused on helping Ontario’s main street businesses.
Future Proof was created to help main street businesses and their communities during the pandemic.
The Future Proof program, launched in August, was created to help main street businesses and their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Projects involved tech-enabled solutions, general business support, and creative endeavours to promote local businesses. The pilot program ended this week, with Digital Main Street funding a total of 75 pilot projects across Ontario.
According to a 2020 report from Statistics Canada, small businesses were more likely to experience a decrease in revenue and have less liquidity due to the pandemic, and more likely to be unable to take on more debt and to be considering bankruptcy.
Another report from Facebook Canada found that 40 percent of businesses surveyed have reduced the number of workers as a result of the pandemic, and 64 percent report that their sales this year are lower than last year.
The Future Proof programs were designed to prevent and mitigate some of these challenges. The initiative was funded by and the result of a $57 million federal (via FedDev Ontario) and provincial government commitment to Digital Main Street, first announced in June.
The Future Proof program was 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.
The Future Proof initiative comprised three programs: the Digital Main Street Lab, the Community Collaboration Program, and Transformation Teams.
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Digital Main Street Lab was an application-based program through which tech providers partnered with a community organization and piloted their solution in a community. Solutions needed to be innovative and scalable, while encouraging the economic vitality of main street businesses. The Lab was led regionally by Digital Main Street in Northern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area. The Lab program is led by Invest Ottawa in Southeastern Ontario and Communitech in Southwestern Ontario.
The Community Collaboration program was led by regional innovation centres in Ontario to identify primary challenges and ways to address those challenges in ways that were regionally relevant.
The Digital Main Street Lab supported 28 pilots, while the Community Collaboration program supported 47 pilots, for a total of 75 projects under these programs.
One pilot project under the Digital Main Street Lab involved Beam.city, an artificial intelligence startup based in the Greater Toronto Area. This project helped the Danforth Mosaic and Corso Italia business improvement area (BIA) with an advertising optimization tool.
Another project under the Community Collaboration program saw Belgian-founded startup Deliverect offer a delivery optimization solution to Toronto restaurants during the winter months.
The following are some of the pilot projects, listed under their respective Future Proof programs. This is an incomplete list of all pilots, BetaKit has included those most relevant to the Canadian startup and innovation sector.
Digital Main Street Lab
BarterPay: created a business barter platform that allows businesses to trade their spare capacity for things they need to run their business. (GTA)
GroundLevel Insights: developed sensors that track crowding, mask compliance, contact tracing, dwell times and customer habits. (GTA)
AirQ: developed a consumer confidence tool that involved sensors reporting on air quality for small indoor spaces. (GTA)
Beam.city: involved an AI-powered advertising optimization tool aimed to help ads perform better through increased engagement. This project supported the Danforth Mosaic and Corso Italia BIA. (GTA)
TAKU: used an all-in-one e-commerce tool that integrates with POS and Google for live availability. (GTA)
Snap’d: pivoted a ticket system, allowing businesses without an e-commerce platform to sell gift cards online. (GTA)
On This Spot: developed an interactive historic walking tour that allowed app users to find historic sites and learn more about them. (GTA)
MedEssist: created an independent pharmacy tool that matches app users to vaccination appointments. (GTA)
JELLY Social: comprised a series of three online community events in support of up to 60 Brampton, Ontario-based BIPOC businesses. (GTA)
Red Piston: developed a consumer-friendly contract tracing app. (Southwestern Ontario)
Look Local: created a multi-vendor marketplace for Oakville and Burlington. (Southwestern Ontario)
Exar Studios: developed AR experiences for arts and culture businesses. (Southwestern Ontario)
Sociavore: offered a local delivery platform for restaurants and retail. (Southwestern Ontario)
Explore South River: created a local map that featured small businesses, featuring recorded audio from local storytellers. (Northern Ontario)
#tbayInSeason: implemented a local food directory that connects users to farms, food producers, farmers markets, food events, retailers, and restaurants. (Northern Ontario)
Bloom Local: developed a multi-vendor e-commerce platform. (Southeastern Ontario)
GETIT: developed a mobile marketplace for the Byward BIA. (Southeastern Ontario)
Bank Street BIA: for this project, an unnamed independent contractor created an interactive map for local businesses to share details and promote themselves. (Southeastern Ontario)
Snap360L: offered a multi-vendor e-commerce platform. (Southeastern Ontario)
Daydream: developed an event portal for the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce. (Southeastern Ontario)
Colour and Code: developed an online ordering tool designed for local small businesses. (Southeastern Ontario)
Northnet Media: created an e-commerce platform where store owners can create an e-commerce storefront quickly and for free. (Southeastern Ontario)
C3 Solutions: offered a collaborative scheduling solution that enables small business employers to find qualified staff on an as-needed basis. (Southeastern Ontario)
Allea Marketing: developed an all-in-one e-commerce platform. (Southeastern Ontario)
Mobile Fringe: created an interactive map for local businesses. (Southeastern Ontario)
QuickSilk: created an online directory for Wellington West BIA. (Southeastern Ontario)
FanSaves: created a virtual marketplace for the Ottawa Board of Trade. (Southeastern Ontario)
Trexity: offered a delivery service for the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas. (Southeastern Ontario)
Community Collaboration Program
Deliverect: implemented a delivery optimization tool for restaurants. (GTA)
GetintheLoop: utilized an app allowing users to receive emails and push notifications alerting them to offers in nearby businesses. (GTA)
Trufan and Playr.GG: this acquisition facilitated BIA giveaways using social media. (GTA)
GooseChase: implemented a digital scavenger hunt, allowing BIAs to host unlimited games. (GTA)
Spark Centre: created a local marketplace for the Durham region. (GTA)
4Pay: developed a tool allowing users to purchase BIA-specific gift cards. (GTA)
QWHery: created a voice-enabled business directory. (Southwestern Ontario)
My Well Self: supported the development of an online community related to holistic health care. (Southwestern Ontario)
Hometown Hub: created a marketplace in Hamilton (Southwestern Ontario)
COVID Safety Plan Template: offers free templates to help businesses navigate the different phases of provincial reopening. (Southwestern Ontario)
Shop My Town: created a marketplace for the Essex, Chatham and Kent regions. (Southwestern Ontario)
Entrepreneurs on the Front Lines: offered free mental health programming for small business owners. (Southwestern Ontario)
Image source Unsplash. Photo by Clay Banks.