Rural Innovation Challenge

Rural Innovation Challenge

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Reimagine business continuity for main street businesses in Simcoe County amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

December 2 – December 11, 2020


First place: $10,000
Second place: $7,000
Third place: $4,000


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The Rural Innovation Challenge gives small and medium-sized enterprises incorporated in Canada the opportunity to pilot and scale novel solutions that support business continuity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Join us for the Rural Innovation Challenge this December 2020. The Challenge is hosted by ventureLAB, the County of Simcoe, and Digital Main Street to explore, source, and pilot novel solutions that support Main Street business continuity in Simcoe County amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Our partners are a community of organisations that include the Centre For Business and Economic Development, North Simcoe Community Futures Development Corporation, Nottawasaga Futures, and Orillia Area Community Development Corporation. Solutions must address one or a combination of the following challenge areas:

  • Enhance streamlined delivery and order fulfillment services for online purchases made from Main Street businesses
  • Expand and optimize schedule and ticket management services for Main Street businesses
  • Enable Main Street businesses to better manage and care for the physical and mental well-being of their staff and employees 


Applicants will work with advisors to develop a strong implementation plan for their solution between late December 2020 and mid-February 2021. Select shortlisted applicants will then be invited to pitch their solutions to a panel of community stakeholders and other relevant stakeholders who will determine the top three finalists.


The winning finalist will receive $10,000; the runner-up will receive $7,000; and the third-place finalist will receive $4,000 in funding to pilot or scale their solutions. Of this funding, a portion of the funding will be awarded in the form of advisory services during the course of the program.


First prize: $10,000 ($7k + $3k in advisory services)

Second prize: $7,000 ($5k + $2k in advisory services)

Third prize: $4,000 ($3k + $1k in advisory services)


Application & Advisory: Applicants will be paired with an advisor to receive one-on-one support to develop their implementation plan, business model and refine their value proposition. Select finalists will be invited to pitch their solutions to a panel of community stakeholders. 


Pitch Day: Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a 15-minute virtual interview with the panel of community stakeholders. Finalists will present a 10-minute pitch, followed by a 5-minute question and answer period. This pitch will serve to provide further insight into the implementation plan, feasibility for implementation timeline, and potential impact to Main Street business before a final selection of the top three finalists is made. 


Implementation: Periodic reports and touchpoints with the finalists will be scheduled throughout the program, from late-December 2020 to mid-February 2021. Metrics will be collected by ventureLAB throughout the entire program.


Complete this form


Applications will close on December 11, 2020 at 12:00p.m. EST. 

Key Dates

Application Period: December 2 to 11

Advisory & Shortlisting Period: December 14 to 21

Pitch Day: December 21

Solution Implementation: Late December 2020 to mid-February 2021 (Dates to be Finalized) 


Applicants must:

  • Be incorporated in Canada.
  • Be a registered for-profit business in the province of Ontario
  • Be a small or medium enterprise (99 employees or less)
  • Be committed to working with community partners to implement solutions in Simcoe County upon winning the prize money, in such ways including but not limited to:
    • Deploying or launching a product/service
    • Hiring team members to pilot solution
    • Delivering the solution to community stakeholders (including main street businesses, Small Business Enterprise Centres, Chambers of Commerce, Community Futures Development Corporations, etc.)


Note that solutions do not need to be tech-based or tech-enabled but should be ready for implementation with the necessary resources in place upon winning.


Submitted proposals/applications will be evaluated and scored based on a set of criteria in alignment with the challenge statement, that will include:

    • Immediate Economic Impact: Job creation, funds leveraged, partnerships created, business growth stimulated, and generally foster business continuity within the region between December 2020 – February 2021
    • Alignment with County goals and priorities, ventureLAB goals and priorities, and the 2020 challenge statement to enable the economic viability of main street and its broader ecosystem
    • Community Collaboration: Be committed to working with community partners to deliver the product/service/process to end users
    • Innovation: Innovation and Entrepreneurship Benefits – how novel, creative and/or improved the product or service is, relevant to technological and economic growth
    • Scalability: Demonstrates a potential for replication and growth of the product or service, as well as the applicability to other businesses, events, and communities
    • Feasibility: Depicts a good business model that has a clear and compelling mission to grow a sustainable and commercially viable business
    • Financial Understanding: Stable, sustainable financial projections – costs and revenues


Thank you to our partners who share our passion and commitment to supporting entrepreneurs all across rising cities across the country.


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About ventureLAB

ventureLAB is a leading technology hub located in York Region, Canada’s second largest tech cluster. Through our programs focused on capital, talent, technology, and customers, ventureLAB has enabled the growth and scale of thousands of tech companies and entrepreneurs located in York Region, Simcoe County, the Greater Toronto Area, and beyond, including 100 companies that have raised over $100 million and created 3,500 jobs. Our community of entrepreneurs, innovators, and tech leaders has always been at the heart of what we do at ventureLAB. Through this initiative, we will engage our community to help main street businesses adopt digital solutions and help future-proof Ontario businesses.


Read more on what this means for businesses in York Region, Simcoe County, and across Ontario.

About Digital Main Street (DMS)

Digital Main Street is a program and service that helps main street businesses achieve digital transformation. It is cost-free, made possible by the generous support of the Government of Canada and FedDev Ontario through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund. It was introduced to help Ontario’s bricks and mortar businesses and the economy get through this challenging time.

About County of Simcoe Economic Development Office

The County of Simcoe Economic Development Office is responsible for the attraction, retention, and expansion of businesses and business opportunities within Simcoe County. The Economic Development Office works closely with Simcoe County’s sixteen member municipalities, the Cities of Barrie and Orillia, and with regional service providers to help businesses thrive and grow.

About North Simcoe Community Futures Development Corporation

NSCFDC is supported by the Government of Canada and is dedicated to helping small and medium sized businesses access services and capital, and enhancing the community’s economic and employment growth through community-based planning and economic development initiatives.

About Nottawasaga Futures

Nottawasaga Futures is a not-for-profit organization supported by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). We offer support, financing and training for rural businesses in South Simcoe.

About the Orillia Area Community Development Corp. (CDC)

The Orillia Area Community Development Corp. (CDC) helps businesses start, grow and succeed! We provide counselling, training & funding to local businesses to support job creation, growth and innovation. We also work with many community partners on various community economic development projects to build an economy in Orillia & Lake Country that is prosperous, growing and sustainable.

Less than a week to apply to win over $50,000 in prizing and a spot in the Hardware Catalyst Initiative