Guide to Small Business Grants

Small business grants are funds a business receives — typically for a specific purpose — that don’t need to be repaid. Small businesses in need of funding should consider applying for grants before traditional loans.
 
The application process for grants can be time-consuming and competitive. Small business grants can be scarce and difficult to get. This guide serves as a resource to learn where to search for grant opportunities and figure out what you need to be successful when applying for grants for your small business.

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What is a small business grant?

The difference between a grant and business loan is that grants don’t come with interest or repayment terms. Loan borrowers usually have the freedom to spend funds however they choose, while grant recipients typically must follow spending guidelines.

Most business grants are designed for specific types of companies or for those that meet certain requirements. For example, grants can go to companies that conduct medical research, work to advance a particular innovation or support underserved groups.

Grants for small businesses are available from a variety of sources, both private and public. Companies and financial institutions — as well as foundations and federal and state government agencies — sponsor grant programs for businesses.

Where to find small business grants

There are resources online that can point you to organizations offering grants, including private and government grants for small business owners. You can search for opportunities in your local area or apply for national grant programs. The following sites compile available grants from across the country:

Can I get a small business grant?

Many small business grants are designed for certain types of businesses or owners, such as women, minority groups or military veterans. Grants could also be industry-specific or reserved for certain funding. Because applications can be extensive and the selection process is competitive, make sure your business meets the grant criteria before expending too much time and energy.

Requirements may be based on the type of business you run, where you’re located, your personal qualities as the business owner — such as involvement in your community — and the intended use of the funds. For example, a certain grant might be designed for minority-owned businesses with fewer than 50 employees that are revitalizing a business district in Iowa. Consider drawing on the characteristics of your business when looking for grants.

Businesses that obtain grants might find they face restrictions on how they can use the money, as well as requirements regarding strict and possibly extensive spending reports. Grant programs from federal and state governments are usually meant to advance certain priorities or stimulate the economy in particular ways. Grants from private foundations and companies might be more straightforward, but they’re also more likely to have a particular focus, such as supporting a certain type of business or endeavor.

Before you apply for a small business grant, ask yourself the following questions:

  • • Do I need funding for a specific project or goal?
  • • Does my business match the priorities of the grant maker?
  • • Do I meet all of the grant maker’s eligibility criteria?
  • • Can I wait an extended period of time to receive funding?
  • • Do I have a backup funding source if I’m not selected for a grant?

• Once you find a grant that appears to be a good fit for your business and the grant maker, you’re ready to start the application process.

Check Out This Guide to Business Grants For Women

How to get a small business grant

First, you’ll need to complete any required registrations, which could take some time. Organizations may require grant recipients to have certain registrations, including:

• An Employer Identification Number
• A DUNS number
• Registration on online platforms such as Grants.gov or the U.S. government System for Award Management
• SBA accreditation for certified small businesses or certified woman-owned businesses

Next, it’s time to start writing your small business grant application.

• Expect some straightforward questions, as well as open-ended ones that require longer responses
• Outline what you plan to write, making sure it relates to the points the application asks you to address
• Consider providing in-depth summaries of your local area or market situation
• Focus on how the money awarded would be applied to better your business and your community

After submitting your grant proposal, you may want to follow up with grant officers. Make sure you’ve answered all their questions and they know as much about your company as possible.

What types of business grant applicants are sought?

In addition to grant-specific criteria that organizations may require, you could expect your eligibility to be based on three major factors.

Grant winners commonly have:

  1. A BUSINESS PLAN Your business plan is among the most important pieces of your small business grant application. If it’s not directly requested, you should include it as supporting material. Proposal reviewers want to ensure that your business has a clear mission and purpose that you’re able to articulate. Spend time bringing any vague elements of your plan into focus before you begin the grant application process.
  2. A CLEAR VISION The organizations that award small business grants usually have a clear and specific vision — whether it’s to encourage entrepreneurship in underrepresented demographics or to spur business revitalization in a changing community. The individuals reviewing your application will check that your proposal aligns with the grant’s 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 Grant reviewers want to see an application that’s written and presented in a professional manner. All facts should be backed up with data and documentation. It could help to reach out to local politicians, accountants or other relevant experts to endorse your ideas and your company. You would want the organization to feel confident that your company would responsibly use its grant funds and represent its mission.

Tips for tackling the small business grant application

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 a potentially challenging process. Consider hiring someone who knows the small business grants landscape. You can learn from their expertise and take on writing your own small business grant proposals in the future if you choose.

No budget to hire a grant writer? Here's some advice:

  • 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're unclear about anything

    Don’t make assumptions.
  • Don’t simply copy and paste

    Make sure that everything you submit is tailored for each grant opportunity.
  • Follow the specifications listed

    This includes font size, margin allotment, page limits, binder specifications, deadlines and preferred formatting. These details may seem trivial but could get all your hard work disqualified.
  • Be realistic with budgeting

    Talk with similar businesses and thoroughly research costs.
  • Try not to submit your proposal at the last minute

    Reviewers might get the impression that your company is disorganized and fails to plan ahead.
  • Check to find previous grant winners

    This would 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.

List of small business grants

Small businesses are rarely eligible for federal grant funding, but certain businesses — especially those in high-tech fields and research and development — might be able to find federal government small business grants. Federal agencies offering business grants include:

 

 

Head over to Grants.gov to browse the searchable database of grants currently available from various agencies. You can search specifically for “small business” to find grants that are open. The Grants Learning Center includes a Grants 101 page and a listing of all the grant-making agencies.

In addition to federal grants, federal agencies and other organizations host a variety of contests that offer prize money for innovative solutions and ideas. You can search for these at Challenge.gov.

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs: The SBA administers these two grant-funding programs for high-tech innovation. These programs provide seed grants through federal agencies to small businesses engaged in scientific research and development. To apply for the STTR or SBIR programs, check out its eligibility criteria.

 

Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs (PRIME): This SBA program offers loans and grants to low-income entrepreneurs who struggle to gain access to capital due to lack of training and education. There are grants available for technical assistance and capacity building ($50,000 minimum), research and development (no minimum) and discretionary purposes (no minimum). Recipients could be awarded a maximum of $250,000 in a given fiscal year.

State-level grants for small business are often designed to address particular social and economic concerns for that state. They are easier to get than federal grants, partly due to the fact that some of the federal funding is funneled to recipients through state agencies. Some might offer matching grants, which means applicants must match the funding level to receive the grant.

 

Here are some examples of state business grants or organizations that offer them:

 

 

To find available business grants in each state, visit the State and Territory Business Resources database at USA.gov and choose your state or territory from the drop-down menu.

Each page has an “access financing” section, where government-sponsored grants are listed. These links will lead you to each state’s official websites aimed at local businesses, where you can find more information about state resources.

Cities, towns and local nonprofits might have grant funding available for small businesses, especially those that assist the community or improve local quality of life. To track down these opportunities, you’ll need to do your own research in your local area, both online and in person.

Visit your municipal website and talk to local officials who might know where to find grant opportunities. Here are some local government business grant programs:

 

Check out these private business grants and determine if you are a good candidate for any:

 

  • ActivityHero Business Grant: This grant program is for businesses that provide children’s camps and classes. Winners are chosen based on votes, customer reviews and other factors. Grants are available up to $10,000.
  • Amber Grants: These monthly micro-grants for women help female entrepreneurs start or grow a business in any field. Grants of $4,000 are awarded throughout the year. Recipients may be eligible to receive an additional $25,000 grant at the end of the year.
  • Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards: This international competition recognizes projects led by women entrepreneurs. The grant amounts are $100,000 each for seven first-prize winners and $30,000 each for 14 second-prize winners.
  • Eileen Fisher Supporting Women in Environmental Justice Grant: Women’s apparel brand Eileen Fisher awards grants between $10,000 and $40,000. Although the program is designed for nonprofits, those without nonprofit status may apply with a fiscal sponsor. Applicants must also be engaged in improving women’s representation in the environmental sector.
  • FedEx Small Business Grant Contest: Each year, FedEx awards grants to small businesses. The grant amounts are $50,000 (one winner), $30,000 (one winner) and $15,000 (10 winners). FedEx requires applicants to provide a 140-character “elevator pitch” describing their business, in addition to longer descriptions of how the business makes a community impact and how the grant funds would be used.
  • Girlboss Foundation Grant: These grants support women business owners working in creative industries, such as design, fashion, music and the arts. The grant amount is $15,000.
  • Idea Cafe Small Business Grant: These small grants with low-barrier application processes are for businesses with forward-thinking ideas. The grant amount is $1,000.
  • National Association Self-Employed Growth Grant: This grant is available to members of NASE who can demonstrate their businesses will be able to grow by using the funds. The grant amount is $4,000.
  • StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award: These small business grants for veterans are open only to businesses that are more than 50% owned by military veterans and that are working to have a social impact on their community. The grant amounts are $15,000, $6,000 and $4,000 for first, second and third place, respectively.
  • The Halstead Grant: U.S. jewelry makers who recently started their businesses can compete to win a cash grant. The startup business grant amount is $7,500 in cash plus $1,000 in merchandise.
  • Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program: Winning women entrepreneurs receive a one-year fellowship, grant funding and the chance to pitch their concept to industry leaders for further investments. The grant amount is $5,000.
  • Visa Everywhere Initiative: Visa’s contest requires startups to innovate to solve payment and commerce challenges. It awards large grants to four winners, who will receive extensive exposure and access to a large network of entrepreneurs. The grant amount is $50,000 for the overall winner, $25,000 for the “audience favorite” winner, $15,000 for second place and $10,000 for third place.
  • Women Founders Network Fast Pitch competition: This high-profile award is restricted to women founders/CEOs and businesses that are majority-owned by women. The grant amounts are $50,000 in cash awards and more than $100,000 in professional services.

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