Of all of the ways to raise funding for a business, grants seem to be both the most misunderstood and elusive. Where to start looking? Which ones to apply for, as well as the conditions and fine print? Then, to proceed with the application process!

We thought we’d take a stab at demystifying grants by helping you learn where to start and what to expect when it comes to certain types of grants available here in Canada.

What are grants?

Grants are funds that are given to businesses to help them accomplish a goal that ties into the goals of the organization offering the funds. The best part? As long as you use the funds to help accomplish that goal, you don’t have to pay anything back and you don’t have to relinquish any control of your business.

Grants typically work better for existing businesses rather than new startups because it is very common that one of the conditions of a grant, is the funds are at least partially matched. For example, a $50,000 grant may require that the business contribute $25,000 of their own funds to cause or goal in order to obtain the funding. It might be a bit of a stretch for a new startup to make that sort of contribution, though it may be worth leveraging initial seed funding to obtain matching grant funds.

It is very important that you make sure that the grant you are applying for ties in directly with your business objectives. It’s never wise to allocate resources to your business to accomplish a goal that doesn’t move you forward. Things typically work out better where the grant funds a project that is mutually beneficial, as opposed to building a product around a grant.

Different Types of Grants

There is a wide range of different requirements for grant funding, however, most of them fall into one of these four categories: research, development, hiring, and expansion. Let’s take a look at each of them to help you determine which type might be best for your business.

Research Grants

Is your business engaging in primary research, i.e., research you have to go out and do yourself? If yes, take a look at research grants related to your industry. It’s no secret that knowledge is power, and if your research can help provide valuable information, then there are plenty of organizations wanting to help you out. If you are awarded a research grant, you will likely have to document your procedures and share your findings with your grantor. Do you ever have to make the findings public?

Development Grants

Development grants exist to help businesses mitigate risk and move Canada forward in terms of R&D. If your business is working on an innovative solution to a problem, then this is where you should be looking. In Alberta, entrepreneurs can fund product prototyping or development by applying to Alberta Innovates which includes the micro-voucher program that offers up to $10,000 to be paid to a service provider and the voucher program that offers up to $100,000 to be paid to up to three service providers. Federally, the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) can help small and medium businesses fund leading-edge research and development.

Hiring Grants

Believe it or not, there are grants that will subsidize new hires! This really shouldn’t come as a surprise given that a lot of grants come from the government and governments love economic stimulus and job creation. A lot of these types of grants exist to help young people develop useful skills in industries where the need for skilled workers is increasing. While some of them will award a lump sum for each employee that meets the criteria, others will pay a percentage of a portion of a specific wage for the hiring of a new employee.

Expansion Grants

Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money, and this is never truer when it comes time to expand into new markets. Whether you’re covering the costs of trips abroad to meet with executives or you’re covering costs like shipping or marketing in another country, expansion can be expensive. The Alberta-Zhejiang Global Partnership Program is one example of this type of grant that supports technology-oriented companies in Alberta. Both Alberta Innovates and Zhejiang Provincial Science and Technology Exchange Center with Foreign Countries (ZSTEC) pool their resources and act as matchmakers to help a business expand into their respective markets.

Who awards grants?

Grants are typically awarded by three different types of organizations: the federal government, provincial government, or a charitable/non-profit organization.

Federal Grants

The federal government typically provides grants to businesses that are doing work that can help move Canada forward, but usually, involve research and/or innovation. As a country that relies heavily on our natural resources, it is essential that we adapt and adopt new technologies so that we can continue to progress economically. Natural resources are extremely valuable, but many of them are either non-renewable or take a lifetime to renew, making it difficult to accelerate growth through them alone. All that said, it makes sense for our government to provide federal grants to businesses that are creating new ways to stimulate economic growth.

Provincial Grants

Much like federal grants, provincial grants are typically awarded to businesses that are diversifying the economy. Alberta Innovates is a government-funded initiative providing resources for businesses across four sectors: bio-solutions, health, technology, and eco/energy. There’s no denying that technological advancements are crucial for a successful economy in the future. Provincial grants are typically awarded to help innovative companies hire and train new workers, as well as grow their business and expand into new markets.

Charitable & Non-Profit Grants

Grants from charitable and non-profit organizations are typically awarded to other charitable or non-profit organizations that move forward agenda or cause of the grantor. Some project examples that receive this type of funding include the poverty reduction, reducing homelessness, increasing food security, encouraging mental health, strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities, and pursuing an environmentally sustainable future. Essentially, if your goals are to genuinely make the world a better place, you might want to take a look at these types of grants.

One thing that should also be mentioned is that even if you are not a non-profit or charitable organization but you working with one to accomplish a goal, it may be possible to partner with a non-profit to gain access to funds you couldn’t otherwise access. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved since the goal is still being accomplished, progressing the mission of the grantor as well as the non-profit.


There are a TON of resources out there to help you find and apply for grants. There are even people that make a living finding and applying for grants on the behalf of others! If you’re interested in grant funding for your business, here are some recommended resources:

Alberta Innovates

Calgary Foundation Community Grants Program

Max Bell Foundation


NRC (National Research Council) IRAP: Industrial Research Assistance Program


Telus Community Grants