Indigenous entrepreneur guide to starting a business

Table of contents

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


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

Contact us:

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:

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.

In addition to the information you will find in this guide, you can use BizPaL to find licences and regulations that may affect your business. You can also contact us to speak to someone about starting your business.

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 Ontario Business Registry's website
    • And where permitted, by
      • Emailing an application to the address indicated on the website
      • Mailing an application to the address indicated on the form

The cost to register your business as a sole proprietorship, partnership or for a name registration is $60. 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 ServiceOntario:

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:

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: 

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 Information on the tax exemption under section 87 of the Indian Act 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.

Contact your local Aboriginal Financial Institution for more information.

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

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 licences, 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:

Indigenous Business Development Toolkit

If you are an Indigenous person thinking about starting or expanding a business, the Indigenous 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

Grants, contributions, subsidies and loan guarantees are available from various government sources. Use Innovation Canada’s Business Benefits Finder, an online search tool to look for programs and services that may apply to your business.

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

Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program

As an Indigenous business owner you may be able to apply for support funding for various business activities.

The Access to Capital stream provides access to non-repayable contributions for:

  • supporting eligible business proposals
  • leveraging additional funds

You may be eligible to apply if you are an Indigenous:

  • Individual
  • Owned and controlled business
  • Organization or association (excluding charities or religious entities)

Individual Indigenous entrepreneurs could receive up to $99,999 in funding.

The stream is delivered by Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs) but note that eligibility may vary with each AFI.

Contact your local AFI to find out more.

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

BDC has programs to help Indigenous people to succeed at business in the world market, such as the Indigenous Entrepreneur Loan.

Contact BDC:

Métis Voyageur Development Fund (MVDF)

As an Ontario Métis, you may be able to apply for flexible financing of up to  $1,500,000 to start or grow your business. 

To be eligible, your business needs to:

  • Be at least 50% Métis-owned
  • Be owned by an Ontario resident and be located in Ontario
  • Profit the Metis owner

Other conditions apply.

Contact MVDF:
MVDF - Financing Solutions

Futurpreneur offers a loan program to help Indigenous youth start or buy a business. Along with the loan, you will have access to other business tools and support, including mentors.

You must be between the ages of 18 and 39.

Contact Futurpreneur:

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

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 Ontario'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

Procurement Assistance Canada (PAC) (formerly Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME)

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

  • The Procurement Assistance Canada 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 Procurement Assistance Canada.

Procurement Strategy for Indigenous Business (PSIB)

If you are looking to do business with the federal government you may be able to register your business in the online Indigenous Business Directory. Find out more about eligibility requirements and how the Procurement Strategy for Indigenous Business can help you 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.