Indigenous entrepreneur guide to starting a business

Table of contents

Introduction
Planning your business
Starting your business
Finding support
Locating financing
Hiring and managing employees
Other resources

Introduction

Starting a new business can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. If you are an Indigenous person looking to start your own business in Ontario, this guide will provide you with basic information and organizations that offer services and programs designed for Indigenous people.

The type of business that you start and the legal structure that you choose will determine what regulations and requirements will apply to you. In addition to the information in this guide, you can contact us directly to:

  • Discuss your specific business needs with one of our information officers
  • Take advantage of our secondary market research service for help with your initial research needs

Contact us:
1-888-576-4444

Note: If you are starting a business on reserve, please also speak with your Band Council for information on the requirements.

Planning your business

Writing a business plan is one of the first steps to take when starting a business. A business plan is a document that describes your business, what you plan to sell, who you will sell to, how you will sell, and what your financial forecast is. It also helps you to set goals, plan where you will get external funding, measure and monitor your success and clarify operational requirements. Preparing your plan will guide you and help you understand how to operate your new business and give it the best chance for growth and success.

Getting financing to start your new business is directly related to the strength of your business plan. To be considered for funding from financial institutions or investors, you need to show the viability of your business and how you will generate profit.

Our business plan guide can help you get started. It will walk you through the main parts of a business plan and what you should include.

You can also receive an example of a completed business plan by calling us at:
1-888-576-4444

Starting your business

When you set up your business, there are several things to consider before you can sell your product or service. Most businesses in Ontario need to complete a minimum of three basic steps:

  1. Find out what licences and regulations apply to your type of business
  2. Choose a business structure and register or incorporate your business
  3. Determine if you will need to collect and remit HST

1. Find out what licences and regulations apply to your type of business

Depending on the type of business you start, you may need licences and permits from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.

Use the Canada Business Permits and Licences Search tool, powered by BizPaL, to find licences and regulations that may be required for your business. You can also contact us to speak to someone about starting your business.

Contact us: 
1-888-576-4444
 

2. Choose a business structure and register or incorporate your business

When starting your business, choose the business structure that best suits your needs. The most common business structures are:

  • Sole proprietorship, partnership or trade name registration
    Business name registration applies to entrepreneurs who want to register a sole proprietorship, a partnership or an operating name (trade name) for a corporation.

    When you set up a sole proprietorship or partnership, you and the business are considered the same legal entity and your business income and taxes will be filed on your personal tax return.

    You can register your business and complete an optional name search in the following ways:
     
    • Through ServiceOntario's website
    • In person at a ServiceOntario centre
    • By mailing an application to the address indicated on the form

The cost to register your business ranges from $60 to $80. Your registration is valid for five years, at which time it must be renewed.

  • Incorporation
    When you set up a corporation, you can choose to incorporate federally or provincially. 

Provincial incorporation
Incorporating your business provincially allows you to do business under a corporate name in Ontario. Corporate name protection applies in Ontario, and you can open offices or stores within the province.

Contact the Companies and Personal Property Security Branch:
1-800-361-3223

Federal incorporation
If you incorporate your business federally, you can open locations within Ontario and in other provinces and territories across Canada. If you open offices or stores in different provinces, you will be required to register your business in those locations. Federal incorporation also provides corporate name protection across the country.

Contact Corporations Canada:
1-866-333-5556
 

3. Determine if you will need to collect and remit HST

If you sell goods and services in Ontario, you may need a business number to collect and remit the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Most businesses that make less than $30,000 in any 12 month period are not required to charge HST; however, you can register voluntarily and claim input tax credits. Speak with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for more information.

Contact CRA: 
1-800-959-5525

Additional tax information for Status Indians

If you are a Status Indian, as per the Indian Act, who either lives on or off-reserve you may be eligible for tax exemption for some or all of your business expenses.

To understand how taxation relates to your business read CRA’s Tax Information for Status Indians page to find information on business income, corporations, excise duties and more. 

Finding support

In addition to contacting us, you may be able to get support to help you start your business from the following organizations:

Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs)

AFIs are located across Canada. The main purpose of AFIs is to stimulate economic growth for all Indigenous people in Canada. Key to the success of the AFI model is that each AFI is First Nation, Inuit, or Metis-controlled, which keeps decision-making close to the communities and the people served. In addition to the specific programs listed in this guide, you may be able to access financing and business support services from your local AFI.

Locate your local Aboriginal Financial Institutions on the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) site. 

PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprises

If you are an Indigenous woman and entrepreneur in Canada, you may be able to access a variety of services from PARO, such as:

  • Support to start, grow or promote a business
  • Financing and help with accessing financing
  • Networking opportunities
  • Training, workshops and business counselling

For more information, visit the PARO website or contact them directly.

PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprises
1-800-584-0252

Small Business Enterprise Centres

Take advantage of a range of services to help grow or start your business, including:

  • Professional business advice
  • Referrals to lawyers and accountants
  • Mentoring and networking opportunities
  • Help with your business plan
  • Computer and internet access
  • Seminars and workshops
  • Information about patents, copyright and trade-marks
  • Help with licenses, permits, and business registration
  • Information about importing and exporting

Services vary by location. Find a Small Business Enterprise Centres location near you.

Community Futures Ontario

If you are starting or growing a business in Northern Ontario and rural areas of Southern and Eastern Ontario, you may be able to get financing and business support from the Community Futures Development Corporations (CFDC). Some of the support services that are available include: 

  • Professional business advice
  • Mentoring and networking opportunities
  • Help with your business plan
  • Seminars and workshops

Services vary by location. Find a Community Futures Ontario location near you.

Contact CFDC:
1-866-668-2332

Aboriginal Business Development Toolkit

If you’re an Indigenous person thinking about starting or expanding a business, the Aboriginal Business Development Toolkit provides business tools and information to help you start and operate a business. The toolkit includes information on starting, managing and growing a business in Ontario.

Locating Financing

Canada Business can help you find government financing options for your business. There are programs that apply to businesses across Canada and others that apply only to businesses in Ontario. Use the Canada Business financing search tool or browse by type of financing.

The following funding programs and services apply specifically to Indigenous people who are starting or running a business.

Aboriginal Business & Entrepreneurship Development Fund (ABED)

You may be able to get funding from the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)’s ABED program by applying through your local Aboriginal Financial Institution (AFI).

You can apply for funding for:

  • Initial planning, support and business guidance
  • Guidance and support for business expansion
  • Financial planning
  • Adding technology to improve your operations and competitiveness

You can apply for ABED funding at any stage of your business planning process. 

Aboriginal Economic Development Fund

If your business provides significant benefit to Indigenous people and communities, you may be eligible for a grant to cover part of your project. There are three program streams available through the Aboriginal Economic Development Fund depending on your project type:

The Business and Community Fund (BCF)
If you have a start-up, early stage and expanding Indigenous business with economic capacity building projects or promising community projects, you may be eligible for the Business and Community Fund. This type of financing may also help your business leverage other financing from additional sources.

Economic Diversification Grants (EDG)
Indigenous organizations and communities with projects that contribute to economic diversification as well as employment, training and business opportunities may apply for Economic Diversification Grants.

Regional Partnership Grants (RPG)
Your business projects that provide jobs, training and/or business opportunities to Indigenous people may qualify for Regional Partnership Grants. Funding can also help smaller projects with potential to expand to multiple communities or expand province wide.

Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs
1-866-381-5337

Strategic Partnerships Initiative

If your business has a project with a particular focus on forestry, fishing, mining, energy and/or agriculture sectors and is complex in nature you should consider applying to the Strategic Partnerships Initiative (SPI). This funding initiative is administered by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and is delivered along with other federal departments and agencies.

Strategic Partnership Initiative gives you a single-window application point for several federal departments and agencies. 

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

The Aboriginal Banking Department of the BDC has programs to help Indigenous people to succeed at business in the world market. 

Aboriginal Business Development Fund (ABDF)
If you have had difficulty getting loans elsewhere, you may be able to get financing along with management training and on-going mentorship from the ABDF. The loans are available through community-based organizations. Contact the BDC or visit their website to learn more. 

Growth Capital for Aboriginal Business (GCAB)
You may be able to get financing to start a business or expand an existing one. You may also be eligible for ongoing mentoring and business management advice for the two years following loan approval under the Growth Capital for Aboriginal Business program. 

Contact BDC:
1-877-232-2269

Hiring and managing employees

It is important that you know your obligations and opportunities when it comes to hiring employees.

Some of the things you will want to consider when hiring staff are:

  • Recruitment practices
  • Setting up a payroll
  • Tax returns
  • Employment standards
  • Workplace safety and insurance

Our Employment regulations guide will give you more information on the rules and requirements that you need to be aware of.

Other resources

Managing

From day-to-day operations to long-term planning, learn how to manage your business efficiently.

Associations

If you are interested in finding an association, use our secondary market research service request and have us search for one based on your needs.

Some examples of associations that may be of interest include:

Legal questions

If you have legal questions, contact a lawyer who deals with business regulations. The Law Society of Upper Canada's Law Society Referral Service may be able to assist you in finding a lawyer or paralegal, based on your needs.

Selling to the Government

Office of Small and Medium Enterprise (OSME)

The following services may help you if you want to do business with the federal government:

  • The BuyAndSell.gc.ca website which provides federal procurement information
  • Free seminars and webinars as well as one-on-one sessions to help suppliers understand federal procurement
  • The toll-free Infoline (1-800-811-1148) for suppliers who have procurement related questions

Visit the website to learn more about the Office of Small and Medium Enterprise.

Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business (PSAB)

If you are looking to do business with the federal government you should register for the PSAB. As part of the registration process you will be asked to list your business on the online Aboriginal Business Directory. The directory is managed and maintained by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in collaboration with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Register online with the Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business to access government contracts.

Aboriginal Procurement Program

As an Indigenous person and business owner, you may be able to promote and sell your goods and services to the Ontario government. 

Your business must be:

  • Majority-owned or controlled (at least 51%) by Indigenous people
  • A joint venture or group controlled and owned by an Indigenous business or businesses

Register online with the Aboriginal Procurement Program to view and bid on Ontario government contracts.

You can also find books, magazines and other relevant print material at business service organizations in your community. To locate a Canada Business Ontario (CBO) community partner, contact us at 1-888-576-4444.