The B.C. government is offering qualifying small businesses up to $7,500 to build or upgrade their online sales portals to help get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon announced the “launch online grant” program Wednesday, with a portal at launchonline.ca open to take applications. The $12 million online sales fund is the second small business assistance program from the B.C. government’s $1.5 billion StrongerBC fund, announced before last fall’s election.
“Business practices that we thought were five to seven years away are here now,” Kahlon said Feb. 3, with online sales being the way for many to keep going.
Kahlon said Wednesday the changes made in December have revived the larger $300 million COVID-19 aid program, with another 4,000 applications coming in since the restrictions were eased. The initial uptake was little more than 1,000 businesses who could qualify. Both the larger grant program and the new online sales grant are open until the end of March, or when the allocated money runs out.
B.C. Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone said Kahlon should have fixed the original business recovery program first, and extend the deadline so more struggling businesses can apply for it.
“It’s outrageous that the NDP opted to NOT fix the business recovery grant which continues to be a complete mess,” Stone said on Twitter. “Instead, they announce an e-commerce grant which is a drop in the bucket, too late for most businesses, and not going to help those trying to keep their lights on.”
The original grant program for small business and tourism attracted few applications because of strict rules for showing pandemic-related loss. In December Kahlon was appointed to cabinet and announced a reduced requirement of showing revenue losses, with businesses qualifying for grants up to $30,000 by showing 30 per cent loss of income at the time they apply.
The original program required businesses to show they lost at least 50 per cent of their revenue in each month of pandemic restrictions. With the December changes, business in operation for 18 months were allowed to apply, down from the original limit of three years, and an additional grant for tourism-related businesses was increased from maximum $10,000 to $15,000.
David Nicholls, general manager of Vancouver Island Brewing, said the pandemic forced the brewery to turn to online sales with the marketing website it has. The grant will allow the brewery to provide a full e-commerce service, and expand sales to the rest of B.C., he said.