Northern Ontario businesses seeking to upgrade their technological capabilities can now apply for assistance through the Business Technology Improvement Fund (BTIF).
The program, offered through regional information communication technology (ICT) development organizations across Northern Ontario, provides funds for companies to enhance their technology needs.
Susan Church, executive director of Blue Sky Net in North Bay, said that could include redesigning a website, establishing an e-commerce platform, developing social media inventory control, and more.
The program’s main goal is to ease the financial burden of implementing new technologies, making it easier for small businesses to grow.
“We don’t expect you to know what you’re doing and have all the answers and figure out your solution and then come to us,” Church said.
“If you’ve got the idea first, that’s when we want you to come to us, and we’ll help you through it by helping you choose the best solutions.”
To be eligible, businesses must have been in operation full time for at least a year.
Business owners must provide 50 per cent of the required funding to implement the new technology, and BTIF will provide up to $5,000 to adopt broadband and e-business and marketing solutions, and up to $25,000 to acquire digital technology such as software.
Entrepreneurs across sectors are welcome to apply, although the fund is aiming to target developing industries in the North.
“We’re really looking to focus specifically on the emerging technologies or emerging businesses in agriculture, manufacturing, science, and food science – those sorts of industries that can really grow in Northern Ontario,” Church said.
BTIF is an updated version of the Broadband for E-business and Marketing (BEAM) program, which was first introduced in 2011. It provided up to 75 per cent of the cost to the business owner, who was required to work with local vendors to implement the technology.
Derek Diorio applied for a BEAM grant to get some help sprucing up the outdated website for his production company, Distinct Features.
After permanently relocating to North Bay from Ottawa for film work, the writer, director and producer – perhaps best known as a co-creator of the successful medical TV series Hard Rock Medical – felt his online presence didn’t adequately represent the more recent projects he’d done.
He liked the idea that the money for a revamp would go to a local web designer, and he wasn’t disappointed. Diorio praised the high quality of the work done by North Bay design firm AloeRoot Web Services.
“It was more of a historical piece, in terms of my career,” he said of the site. “It was a beautifully put-together site – it’s very clever and very cool – and it far exceeded my expectations.”
While he doesn’t offer e-commerce services through his website, Diorio does believe his modernized web page has helped raise awareness of the work he does, while also increasing North Bay’s profile and recognition of its growing film industry.
“I’ve just recently finished working on a project that was incredibly North Bay-centric,” said Diorio, noting most of the cast and production services were sourced from the city.
“That was partially because of my presence online that showed all the stuff I've done, who I've worked with…. So the website does help promote North Bay as well as myself.”
Now that BTIF has an expanded mandate, Church is hopeful more business owners will take the plunge and explore how the fund can help their enterprises grow.
“Small businesses know and understand that technology is going to be a benefit to them; it’s just taking that step to invest in technology is an expensive proposition,” she said. “So we’re happy to work with them to do it.”
Capital for the Business Technology Improvement Fund is provided by FedNor.