Tech entrepreneurs launch donation platform to help Canadian local businesses affected by COVID-19

GloryHole Donuts

Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced the launch of an online donation platform created by a group of tech entrepreneurs allowing the public to make direct donations to local small businesses across Canada. The platform, called Distantly, is aimed to cover businesses’ overhead costs as they weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When non-essential businesses were closed, we felt compelled… to help fellow business owners.”

Distantly was created by Daniel Spataro, CEO and co-founder of Toronto-based SaaS startup GigaLab, Moe Katib, GigaLab’s CTO and co-founder, and Susan McArthur, a former VC and current board member of Power Corporation. Distantly was created on GigaLab’s automated application builder, known as Buildable, and recently completed beta-testing.

“Toronto’s main streets are absolutely critical to the success of our city,” the mayor said. “They are the backbone of our residential neighbourhoods, and an important component of the quality of life that we all enjoy.”

The hope is that Distantly will reduce the financial burden of non-essential closures on neighbourhood businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, and hair and nail salons, by facilitating customer support to those businesses until they can re-open. Through the application, which is available on the web and through an app, customers can find the businesses they wish to support and Distantly processes a direct payment to the businesses of their choosing.

“Local businesses are important to the fabric and wellbeing of every community,” said McArthur. “I wanted to find a scalable solution so other Canadians could easily help their local businesses by providing some needed cash flow.”

Businesses across the country have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many forced to close shop, suspend growth plans, and lay off staff. Chris Rickett, who was recently named acting director to support Main Street and startup businesses in Toronto in order to better fight COVID-19, told BetaKit that the team behind Distantly heard the Toronto mayor’s call for the local tech community to develop innovative solutions during the crisis.

“They heard to mayor’s call for the tech community to address tech challenges,” Rickett told BetaKit. “These are Torontonians that love their neighbourhoods, and were looking for ways to help their local businesses.”

Although Distantly is a Toronto-born solution, the service will be available for people and businesses across the country.

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In a recent conversation with OneEleven executive director Siri Agrell, Tory said now is the time for the tech industry to work together to help fellow entrepreneurs and the broader community.

“Given that mainstream businesses are struggling with cash flow, this is a nice, easy way to get cash into their pockets,” Rickett added.

Avoca Chocolates is one of the businesses Canadians can donate to through Distantly. (Source:

The team behind Distantly also includes strategic communications firm Enterprise, the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Digital Main Street, an initiative led by Rickett during his first tenure with the City, and Totum Life Science owners Stacy and Tim Irvine, among others.

“As entrepreneurs, both Moe and I know first-hand how gruelling it is to own a business. A lot of sacrificed personal time with family and friends goes into it,” said Spataro. “We’d imagine almost every business owner can say they’ve shared the same level of sacrifice. When non-essential businesses were closed, we felt compelled to use the resources, technology and team at our disposal at Buildable to help fellow business owners.”

“We need more ideas like this to help us protect Toronto’s health, to protect its vitality, to protect its economy, and I know we have the smart people out there that can come up with things like this,” Tory said.

Feature image: Glory Hole Doughnuts by Odyssey Photography & Video Production.

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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