From startups to multinationals, all businesses face the same challenge at some point in their growth trajectory: finding and securing money to fund a project, a large contract or a strategic move to drive the business to the next level.
Teri Kirk, a Toronto entrepreneur whose previous ventures involved helping companies navigate complex legal and insurance processes, recognized this universal challenge and decided to come up with a solution to simplify business financing: The Funding Portal, a Web-based service where businesses can find and apply for government or private funding.
"The portal provides information on more than 7,000 funding sources online representing approximately $30-billion in funding per year," explains Ms. Kirk, who has a law degree from York University's Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. "It's an aggregator in some sense."
To help businesses increase their chances of getting financing, the Funding Portal also offers one-on-one support services.
"We have 85 experts at the Funding Portal who will help you with everything, from responding to your questions to assisting you with grant writing and polishing your application," Ms. Kirk says.
"We have a very specialized area of expertise that very few companies have, other than large public companies that tend to go after government funding on a repetitive basis. In fact, out of the more than one million businesses in the country, only about 30 have this type of in-house expertise."
Canada has the world's second-highest level of government incentives and financing for business, Ms. Kirk says, yet getting access to funds is harder in Canada than in any other country. One reason for this difficulty, she says, is the decentralized administration of government funding programs, even within each level of government.
About 4,500 of the funding sources on the portal are government programs while 2,500 are private sources. Outside of the Funding Portal, each of these programs typically reside on a separate website, with unique phone numbers and e-mail addresses, Ms. Kirk says.
Reviewing all these funding sources to find the right match can take weeks. At the Funding Portal, it takes about 30 seconds, thanks to a proprietary Find It search engine – free to business users – that identifies the most suitable programs based on various data points such as province and sector.
"It is onerous for anyone – whether you're a small business entrepreneur or a CFO of a big company – to try and find a program that's a good match for your business, and many just find it too complex to apply," Ms. Kirk says. "Our goal is to try and make businesses aware that this money exists, to help them quickly find the right funding program, and to guide them through the application process."
More than 19,000 companies a month visit the Funding Portal. Some come only to use the free search engine, but many go on to hire the Funding Portal to help them with their application, says Ms. Kirk.
The company charges a flat fee, based on a tiered fee schedule, for government program applications. For private financing the Funding Portal works on a contingency basis.
The company's application success rate is 80 per cent, Ms. Kirk says.
"Without the Funding Portal, it's an 80-per-cent failure rate because most of them don't even get to the compliance stage," she says.
The Funding Portal also provides data analytics on financing. Buyers of this product include banks, venture capital firms and law firms, she says.
While many funding programs target startups and small businesses, there's no shortage of funding opportunities for medium-sized and large businesses, Ms. Kirk adds. Her company just released a report listing the top 500 recipients of government funding in Canada. Recipients include corporate giants such as Cisco Systems Canada Co. and Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp.
"The average grant for the first 100 companies on the list is $7.2-million, non-repayable," Ms. Kirk says. "It's not just little startups and small technology companies getting $100,000. It's aerospace, clean technology, food processing – large operations that keep hundreds of people employed and contribute to our communities."
Running a business is complex enough, Ms. Kirk says. Finding and applying for funding shouldn't be.
"There's a lot of unnecessary complexity, especially on the government side," she says. "The Funding Portal makes it all straightforward and simple."
View a table of the Top 50 companies that received Canadian government funding