New crowdfunding platform supports small businesses in Toronto

As small businesses struggle with the financial impact of COVID-19, Distantly lets residents make donations for rent and payroll relief


A new crowdfunding website to support small businesses during COVID-19 has launched in Toronto.

Distantly.ca is a platform that allows you to make donations to local small businesses like shops, restaurants, cafes, bar, hair salons and other service providers. Businesses can sign up for free and all proceeds, minus network fees, go directly to the owner within 48 hours of the donation being made.  

Small businesses have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Some have been able to bring their services online, like fitness studios offering classes over Zoom, or have pivoted to new revenue streams, like wine bars doing delivery. But many small businesses are still struggling to pay rent and to keep staff on their payroll.

Distantly was built after Mayor John Tory made a call for local tech start-ups to pitch ideas that would help the city deal with the pandemic. Susan McArthur, a former partner at a venture capital fund, and Daniel Spataro and Moe Katib, co-founders of Buildable Technologies, pitched the idea to the city and then worked with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas to develop the idea.

“One of my greatest fears is Toronto comes through this crisis and sees its main street businesses decimated and our streets devoid of activity,” said Mayor John Tory during yesterday’s daily media briefing. “I don’t have to tell you that Toronto’s main streets are absolutely critical to the success of our city. They are the backbones of our residential neighbourhoods.”

To support small businesses struggling with the financial impact of COVID-19, the federal government has launched the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA), a loan program offers government-backed loans of up to $40,000 interest free until the end of 22. They also introduced a 75 per cent wage subsidy.

Many small businesses do not qualify for these loans, however, since they require businesses to have payroll of at least $50,000 for the previous year. That means some owners of small shops with few staff or self-employed proprietors do not qualify for CEBA.

Distantly hopes to be a conduit for residents to support their favourite local businesses with rent, payroll or other expenses.

“You can’t serve food or give someone a haircut over Zoom, and yet, without these types of businesses, our city, and our country, wouldn’t look and feel the same,” said Spataro in a statement.

@SamEdwardsTO

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