The provincial government kicked off a new grant program on Wednesday aimed at offering small and medium-sized businesses e-commerce support.

B.C. businesses that are looking to launch or upgrade online stores for an increase in sales revenues may be eligible for up to $7,500 in grants.

The “Launch Online” program is expected to fund over 1,500 small and medium-sized B.C. businesses with $12 million in provincial funding.

Up to 25 per cent of that funding will be set aside specifically for Indigenous and regional businesses outside of the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria areas.

Businesses are required to develop a grant proposal that indicates how they plan to use the funds in the development of online sales.

“We launched an online shop within 48 hours after the lockdown,” said David Nicholls, general manager, Vancouver Island Brewing.

“While we were happy to get it off the ground, we soon realized that the online store could not meet all of our needs and the uniqueness of shipping beer. We are excited by the possibility of receiving a grant from this program so we can enhance our website.”

In order to be eligible for the Launch Online grant program, businesses must be currently operating in B.C. and have a GST, business license, and PST number.

They must also employ fewer than 149 B.C. residents, and have generated sales of more than $30,000 in the past year.

Businesses with limited-feature online stores may still be eligible, provided they have fewer than three of five specific features including shopping cart, product catalogue, and customer registration features.

The new program comes just over a month since the province amended its criteria for the Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant to be less restrictive and to offer more money.

However, the government says they have only distributed $12 million of $300 million that has been made available through the Recovery Grant.

The province has downplayed this statistic, saying that many more applicants are in the process of getting their funding.

“Just this month we’ve seen well over 4,000 applications come in,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.

“If that trend line continues, we’ll be in a really good place, but we’re going to continue to monitor that for the coming weeks and then make decisions accordingly.”

The opposition says the new e-commerce grant comes too little too late and doesn’t fix what they call a “bungled” recovery program.

The BC Liberal Party says that too many businesses still don’t qualify for the Recovery Grant and the new Launch Online is no substitute.

“Why launch a new program while the majority of funds for the existing Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant program are still stuck in the NDP’s hands as the March 31 deadline to get them out the door approaches?” said Todd Stone, B.C. Liberal Critic for Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.

“John Horgan should fix the current program by easing the restrictive eligibility criteria and extending the application deadline beyond March 31st, 2021.”

An online portal has been set up at launchonline.ca with further details on the Launch Online grant program and application information.

Applications for the grant are now open with no set deadline, and funding will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis until it runs out.

Subscribe to the Victoria Buzz newsletter to receive the latest news, events and more directly to your inbox. Every day.