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.
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
Community Collaboration Program
Image source Unsplash. Photo by Clay Banks.