Obtaining a grant that you won’t have to repay can be an important opportunity for a woman working on a new small business startup or striving to grow her company. There are a number of grants available to help you develop and grow your small business. In honor of National Women’s Small Business Month, we want to share the information below about where to find grant resources for businesswomen and how to apply.
Where You CAN’T Find Small Business Funding
U.S. Government — Some TV ads and online articles promote exciting-sounding opportunities to get abundant federal funding through government grants to launch your small business. Unfortunately, information from these sources must be put into the too-good-to-be-true basket (a.k.a. the wastebasket). FACTS:
- The U.S. federal government does not actually directly provide grants for startup or growth of small businesses, which is clearly stated on the SBA website.
- In addition to providing grants to nonprofit organizations, the federal government does make grants to state and local governments, which are often ultimately granted in turn to organizations within the state that use the funds to help the small business owners in their areas.
Where You CAN Find Small Business Funding
Small Business Administration — It’s important to be clear on the function of the SBA. The agency does not grant funds to general types of small businesses for startup or expansion. The SBA’s role is to help small businesses obtain loans, capital investors, secure surety bonds, and discover local and regional resources for business grants.
But, the SBA does grant funds to some types of small businesses that do work that benefits their local or regional area and its residents. For example, if you are looking to expand a business, providing local transportation, childcare, or other critical resources that enable more residents to participate in the local workforce, you may be viewed as an especially good candidate for a grant.
Be aware that, even in such cases, grants are typically not entirely free of financial obligation for recipients. FACTS:
- Some grantors require you to match funds received with your own money or by obtaining small business loans — both of the kinds of sourcing you’re seeking to avoid by applying for the grant.
- See the official website for U.S. government grants to review eligibility requirements, found in the section for grant applicants. Government grants for small businesses are open to both women and men.
TO APPLY: Meet with an SBA counselor at one of the many Small Business Development Centers throughout the U.S. (typically located on college campuses) to find out if you qualify for any kind of help through the agency’s programs.
InnovateHER Challenge 2017 — This is an annual contest aimed at women’s empowerment that is hosted by the SBA for competitors with businesses providing a product or service that helps improve women’s lives.
TO APPLY: Enter to participate in the preliminary competition held in your local area. If you win, you will then advance to a national, semifinal competition. The top finalists win cash awards from $10,000–$40,000.
Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program — This grant program, started in 2004, now awards $100,000 yearly to 10 women with small businesses. The company looks for businesses that strive to make a positive environmental or social change.
TO APPLY: You must constitute 51 percent or more of your business’s ownership and leadership. Your business must be at least three years in operation and cannot yet have exceeded $1 million in annual revenue. And, your company must be for the purpose of social or environmental improvement.
FedEx Small Business Grant — Federal Express offers grants that are open to both men and women. Women with small businesses are encouraged to apply for a FedEx grant. In 2013, FedEx began granting awards of $25,000 to 10 small business entrepreneurs throughout the United States, making this an especially well-established and generous grant program.
TO APPLY: Submit an explanation of what your business does and how you would use the grant funds. Include photos of your business. You can include a short video about your business (optional). You do not need to have a FedEx account to apply for the grant.
Grants and Scholarships for Women — This is a database that includes information about grants for women. If you choose to search the database for grants, expect to find that most grants included in the database are for other than business purposes.
TO APPLY: Go to the website and follow individual instructions to apply for grants that you determine are appropriate for your business type, goals and needs.
Open Meadows Foundation — This organization provides grants to projects that women are pursuing to promote racial, gender and economic justice. Businesses that apply must benefit women and girls. The foundation’s $2,000 grant is awarded to projects that, in addition to meeting the above eligibility requirements, also have under $75,000 in current budget assets and limited access to financial resources for business growth.
IdeaCafe Grant — This program grants $1,000 to small business owners. The grant program is not exclusively for women entrepreneurs, but the majority of recipients who are awarded grants are women. This is a well-recommended grant for women entrepreneurs with startups underway and in need of funding.
Amber Grant — This grant was started in 1998 by Womensnet.com, named in honor of a young woman who died before she could realize her entrepreneurial goals. The grant program awards a $500 grant each month to a woman with an eligible small business. At the end of each year, one of the 12 women who received awards during the year receives an additional $2,000 grant. The last date to enter for the $500 grant is March 31st.
TO APPLY: Send your story of your own life and aspirations, and pay the $7 application fee. Simply explain what your business does, and explain what you will do with the grant funds. The foundation looks for women with the best stories and sincere passion for the mission of their businesses.
Small Business Technology Transfer Programs and Small Business Innovation Research — Awards grants to small businesses that contribute to the U.S. government’s technology research and development programs. The departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Defense all post grant opportunities for small businesses on their websites. The SBA is the facilitator of these two programs. Competition for these grants is strong.
TO APPLY: See your local SBA agent for information about these grant opportunities and application processes. Or, search all grant opportunities posted on the SBIR website, and follow individual application instructions for any grants for which you decide to apply.
Economic Development Agencies — All states and numerous cities have their own economic development programs and public agencies purposed with promoting their local economies. If your area’s agency doesn’t provide small-business grants, agents there can still probably direct you to any existing local resources for small business grants.
TO APPLY: Look online for your state’s or your city’s economic development agency, or call your regional or local Chamber of Commerce for direction.
Chase Bank Mission Main Street Grants — Chase Bank awards $150,000 each year to 20 small businesses through this grant program. Your business must have been in operation for two years or more to be eligible. And, you must have under 100 employees. This grant program is not exclusively for women. But, women entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply for this small business grant.
TO APPLY: Answer the application’s five essay questions.
Tips to consider when applying for a grant for your small business
A few things to keep in mind when seeking grants:
- Beware of scams when searching for grants. If you’re asked to pay money or sign up for some kind of subscription to access a listing of small business grants for women, beware.
- A good approach to finding appropriate grant opportunities for starting or expanding your small business is to discuss your goals and needs with a counselor at your local SCORE location or Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
These highly experienced organizations are engaged with your community’s lenders, and they can also guide you to any small business grant opportunities offered in your area by local corporations, economic development organizations or philanthropic groups.
For More Information
If you are a small business owner and want access to a powerful network and a variety of resources to help you grow, the International Association of Women is here to help you. Over 850,000 members nationwide, more than 200 local chapters, and a wide-range of virtual resources to help you achieve success. Learn more about how IAW can help you grow your business.