Small Business Grants In 2017

Did someone say, “free money?” That’s essentially what small business grants are – funds (that don’t need to be repaid) given to a business by an organization for a specific purpose. Does it sound too good to be true? Well, grants for small business owners are real, but succeeding at the application process can be extremely time-consuming and competitive.

We are here to help! This winter, we ran a $50,000 small business grant contest. Hundreds responded to the knock of opportunity, but there could only be one winner. You can learn more about this year’s grant recipient below!

This guide also serves as a resource to help you learn what business grant issuers are looking for, where to search for grant opportunities, as well as tips for success when applying for grants for your small business.

Meet LendingTree’s 2017 Grant Winner

Lavanya and Melissa Jawaharlal

STEM Center USA

Why they won the $50,000

  • Passionate Entrepreneurs: The founding businesswomen are passionate about teaching children STEM knowledge and closing the gender gap in STEM fields by hosting workshops for young women who are interested in STEM

  • Growth Mindset: They want to grow their business by franchising their model to help teach more children across the country, opening a second Robotics Creativity Center in Los Angeles

  • Community Enrichment: The expansion of their business will create job opportunities and impact a new community of children and young adults

About STEM Center USA

What they do

STEM Center USA is a K-12 robotics education company that inspires the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) leaders through hands-on activities. Students attend weekly classes and are introduced to various levels of robotics, electronics, coding, 3D printing, renewable energy, power tools, and more! In addition to the weekly classes, STEM Center USA also offers summer camps, special workshops, and partner with schools to offer classes and professional development.

The STEM Center USA team provides students with an experiential education that excites, engages, and enriches through a unique, learn-by-doing curriculum. Founders Melissa and Lavanya Jawaharlal believe that true learning takes place when a student is allowed to discover the underlying principles through a hands-on, experiential, learning model. By providing opportunities to be engaged in a learning process that excites, energizes, and exposes them to a wide variety of skills and concepts, STEM Center students discover a path that will enable them to have a more productive education.

What they plan on doing with the $50,000

STEM Center wants to grow the business by franchising its model to help teach children across the country, opening a second Robotics Creativity Center in Los Angeles. Melissa and Lavanya have begun planning for this next step but were in need of financing assistance to build out the space, purchase materials, rent/deposits, and begin staffing the new space.

DATE ESTABLISHED

2011

LOCATION

Claremont, CA

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES

15

Where to find small business grants

The first step in the small business grant application process is to find one to apply for. This can be done quite simply using the Internet. There are many resources online that can point you to organizations offering grants for small business owners. However, many have stringent and very specific requirements, so be sure to thoroughly read through these before investing any time in an application.

Requirements can surround the type of business, the location of the business, the personal qualities of the owner, and the intended use of the funds. For example, a certain grant might target minority-owned businesses with less than 50 employees that are revitalizing a business district in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.

 

How to apply for small business grants

Once you’ve found a relevant small business grant, it’s time to start the application process. This is not something to rush through. Give yourself enough time to complete each step thoroughly or your work will be for naught.

First, you’ll need to complete any required registrations. This piece alone can take up to two months. Certain organizations require different registrations, which can include obtaining an Employer Identification Number or a DUNS number, registering on certain online platforms such as Grants.gov or the U.S. Government System for Awards Management, and obtaining accreditations like becoming a certified small business or certified woman-owned business through the SBA.

Next, it’s time to start writing your small business grant application. While there will be some simple form-type questions, the majority of the applications for small business grants involves essay-style writing. Outline what you plan to write, making sure it maps to the points the application requests that you address. Consider your audience and write with them in mind. This might require providing in-depth summaries of your local area or market situation. Also, focus specifically on how the money awarded will be applied to better your business and your community as a whole.

Once your grant proposal is submitted, you’ll need to wait to learn if you’ve been awarded the funds. It does not hurt to follow up with grant officers in the meantime to ensure all of their questions are answered and they know everything they need to know about your company.

What types of applicants are organizations looking for?

While criteria for determining small business grant winners can vary widely by the organization issuing the grant, below you will find three crucial points that many organizations look for when considering applicants.

Grant winners commonly have:

1

A Business Plan

Probably the most important piece of your small business grant application is your business plan. If it is not directly requested as part of the process, you should include it as supporting material. Grant reviewers want to ensure that your business has a clear mission and purpose that you can articulate in your business plan and in the grant application. Outline the specific actions you will take to make your goals a reality. Spend time bringing any vague elements of your plan into focus now before you begin the grant process so you’ll be prepared when the right opportunity presents itself.

2

A Clear Vision

The organizations that are awarded small business grants usually have a clear and specific vision – whether it’s to encourage entrepreneurship in underrepresented demographics or to spur business district revitalization in a changing community. The individuals reviewing your application will want to be sure that your proposal aligns with the grant’s specific purpose. Leave no stone unturned in your explanation of how your company will use funds from the grant to help the organization achieve its objectives.

3

Credibility

Finally, grant reviewers are looking for credibility. They want to see an application that’s written and presented in a professional manner. They want all facts backed up with data and documentation. It can help your case to contact and quote local political figures, accountants, or other relevant experts to endorse your ideas and your company. Help the organization feel confident that yours is the type of company that will responsibly use its grant funds and represent its mission.

Tips for tackling the grant application

The application process for small business grants can be lengthy and intensive. Many small businesses choose to hire a grant writer to take on the process for them. In some cases, it can be worth the expense to have a professional working on your side to help navigate this challenging process. Applying for small business grants can become a full-time job, one that most small business owners don’t have adequate time to devote towards. If you really want to do it right, consider hiring someone who knows the small business grants landscape. At least that person can help guide you through the process the first time around. You can learn from their expertise and take on writing your own small business grants in the future if you so choose.

If you simply don’t have the budget to hire a grant writer, here are some pro tips:

  • Be thorough. Provide all the information requested, but respect length guidelines. If necessary, include supplemental documents.
  • Use citations and include supporting documentation. Back up every claim with facts and data.
  • Ask questions if you are unclear about anything. Don’t make assumptions.
  • Don’t simply copy and paste from existing documents or previous grant proposals. Make sure that everything you submit is custom tailored for each grant opportunity.
  • Follow the specifications listed to a T. This includes things that might seem trivial but can get all of your hard work disqualified, including font size, margin allotment, page limits, binder specifications, deadlines, and preferred formatting.
  • Be realistic with budgeting. Talk with similar businesses and thoroughly research costs.
  • Try not to submit your proposal at the very last minute. Reviewers might get the impression that your company is disorganized and fails to plan ahead.
  • Check the organization’s website to find archives of previous grant winners. These will give you a good sense of what the organization is looking for and the types of proposals that are successful.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. If you can’t afford a grant writer, check out a book on grant writing from the library or invest in an online course that can teach you the basics.

LendingTree is committed to small businesses

Whether you’re an established business looking to expand or a start-up looking to get your feet off the ground, a small business loan can help your business operate, grow and thrive.

At LendingTree, we match you to small business funding partners who compete for your business, allowing you to choose the best terms and lowest rate for your small business loan.

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