W ith more than one million small businesses in Canada and more than seven million Canadians employed by them, start-ups and small business are the backbone of our economy. A whopping 98 percent of Canadian businesses have between 1 and 99 employees. Small businesses account for $68-billion in exports making up 25 percent of Canada’s total export value. Suffice it to say, small business is an integral component of Canada’s economic portfolio.

As any entrepreneur or small business owner will tell you, growing and maintaining a profitable company is one of the hardest things you can do. The path to success is littered with obstacles and challenges, and it can often feel impossible to compete with larger and more established companies.

“Entrepreneurs and small business leaders are like the fabled David,” says Dr. Geoff Archer, President of the Canadian Council for Small Business & Entrepreneurship. “The David versus Goliath story is about the trade-offs between agility and strength, resourcefulness, and resources.”

Advancements in technology

In recent years, however, a number of factors have helped to level the playing field between small and large business. Innovations in technology — especially online — have helped entrepreneurs and small businesses in incalculable ways. It’s no surprise the evolution of e-commerce among small business owners and entrepreneurs has flourished in recent years.

It’s no secret the boom in social media has been very good news for small business too.

E-commerce permits small businesses to trade without incurring much or any of the rental and management costs associated with a bricks and mortar location and to shed the confines of physical location while entering the global marketplace.

It’s no secret the boom in social media has been very good news for small business too. Social media offers unparalleled insight into customer demographics and analytics, allowing small business owners to tailor their marketing and advertising strategies to be more cost-effective. It also allows entrepreneurs to generate leads in a low-cost manner and to grow their brand awareness with little or no budget.

Grant agencies offer critical support to entrepreneurialism in Canada. There is a vast web of government grants and other incentives that are great funding sources for small businesses and start-ups.

“At the national level, Canada’s NRC (National Research Council), SR&ED (Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program), and IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program) monies support deliberate investment in new technology,” says Dr. Archer. “At the provincial level, for example, B.C.’s angel investor tax credits have catalyzed smaller injections of capital.”

Support to launch, grow, and scale your business

There are many support organizations across the country whose primary mandate is to support start-ups and entrepreneurs. One such organization is MaRS which is based in Toronto’s Discovery District. MaRS brings together educators, researchers, social scientists, and business experts to help entrepreneurs launch and grow their companies through educational programs, events, and resources. In the last three years, their ventures have raised $1.3-billion in capital and earned $640-million in revenue.

One of the exciting events offered at MaRS is their annual Up-Start! Competition which is a business pitch competition where successful entrepreneurs have the chance to win a cash prize of $15,000 and gain access to MaRS market research services and facilities.

Ernest Yap, co-founder and President of ShapeTrace Labs, enrolled in MaRS’ Entrepreneurship 101 program in 2011 and went on to win the Up-Start! Competition in 2015. He credits that success to the mentorship, direction, and advice he gained at MaRS.

While it will never be easy to grow a successful business from scratch, Canadian entrepreneurs and small businesses can now — with thanks to innovations in technology and support organizations — compete with their big business counterparts on a more level playing field.