Where to Find Small Business Grants for Women
The number of companies owned by women in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the last decade, with new firms formed by women between 2007 and 2016 increasing five times as fast as the overall number of new firms. As of 2016, women were majority owners of 11.3 million U.S. businesses – or 38 percent – which employ a total of almost 9 million people and generate more than $1.6 trillion in revenue.
Despite such obvious markers of success for women entrepreneurs, women-owned businesses typically operate with less financial capital than firms owned by men, especially non-minority men. Women entrepreneurs are also more likely to use their own personal finances for business purposes and are less likely to seek outside funding such as bank loans.
To level the playing field in an environment where women still own a smaller percentage of companies than men and are unable to access as many resources, a variety of companies and organizations offer grant funding specifically to women-owned small businesses.
What is a small business grant?
A grant is a chunk of funding that doesn’t require repayment, unlike a small business loan or a line of credit.
It’s obvious why grants are appealing to cash-strapped businesses and why they can get extremely competitive.
The majority of grants out there are earmarked for individuals – such as students and nonprofit organizations – and are generally meant to provide some sort of social benefit. There are relatively few grant options for businesses, but those that tend to be designed to support initiatives that will help society, the economy, or support the entrepreneurial ambitions of groups underrepresented in the business community, such as women and minorities.
Grant programs have specific eligibility requirements, so not all businesses will be eligible to apply. In fact, chances are that any given business will only be eligible for very few grant programs, if any. Finding a grant program that will work for your business takes a lot of research. Once you receive a grant, you may face restrictions on how you use the funds and possible encounter extensive reporting requirements.
Businesses that can secure a grant resource will benefit greatly from an infusion of funding without repayment requirements, interest rates and fees.
What are business grants for women?
A business grant for women is awarded money from an organization to a woman CEO or founder. There are numerous grants available to individual women, especially students, and for nonprofits that empower women and address their concerns. However, there are very few grants available to women-owned businesses.
While women entrepreneurs can apply for any business grant their company is eligible for, there are a handful of grant opportunities that are dedicated specifically to women-owned businesses, mostly through private-sector donors. These grant programs are mostly aimed at increasing women’s presence, success, and leadership in the business sector, but are sometimes geared toward women in specific fields (such as art and design) or who run specific businesses (like those that are geared toward mothers).
The SBA Women Business Center in your state may be a great starting resource when you begin your hunt for grants for women-owned businesses.
Are there federal and state grants for women-owned businesses?
Women can apply for any federal grant they are eligible for, but there are no federal grants specifically set aside for businesses owned by women.
One award program, SBA’s InnovateHER Business Challenge (see listing below), is targeted to women entrepreneurs. While there are a variety of federal grants that are aimed at women’s well-being or advancement, these funds are often meant for nonprofit organizations.
Federal help for women-owned businesses also comes in the form of the 8(a) Business Development program, which sets aside at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars each year for small, disadvantaged businesses, including those owned by women. While this is not a grant, it is a preferential program that helps women business owners get a leg up. State governments are more likely to offer grants to women-owned businesses, but these options are still fairly unusual and will usually be targeted to specific fields or functions. You are more likely to find reduced-fee loan programs that allow women-owned businesses to borrow at reduced rates, such as this one in Washington state.
Considering government grant programs open and close regularly, there is no on-going list of all the state programs that are focused on women-owned businesses. The majority of grants that fit this description will be those that seek to increase the access of women and minority business owners to various sectors of the economy, such as Maryland’s Offshore Wind Business Development Grant Program. As such, these grants may be open to all, but give priority to these groups.
The most accurate way of discovering whether your state has any such program is to perform an online search, visit your state’s website or check out the state business resources database at USA.gov.
Private small business grants for women
If you are interested in seeking private grant funding for your women-owned business, check out our list of available grants for women:
Amber Foundation Grants: Awarded to a different businesswoman every month, these micro-grants help women start or grow a business in any field. At the end of each year, all recipients of the $1,000 grant award are also eligible for an annual grant of $10,000.
Grant amount(s): $1,000 and $10,000
Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards: This high-profile awards program run by jewelry company Cartier, INSEAD Business School, and McKinsey & Company is an international competition designed to identify and support projects led by women entrepreneurs.
Grant amount(s): $100,000 first prize, $30,000 second prize
Girlboss Foundation Grants: This grant goes out twice a year to female business owners in the field of design, fashion, music and the arts. In addition to the grant funding, recipients receive exposure through the Girlboss platform and community.
Grant amount(s): $15,000
Fast Pitch Awards: These awards from the Women Founders Network is restricted to women founders/CEOs or businesses that are majority-owned by women. Firms in any industry can apply, and winning firms receive access to venture capitalists and a network for women in business.
Grant amount(s): $45,000 in cash awards and more than $200,000 in professional services
InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge: This business competition is managed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Women’s Business Ownership and is focused on innovative products and services that improve women’s lives. Prize money is provided through a gift from the Sara Blakely Foundation.
Grant amount(s): $70,000 total for top three prize winners
Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program: Designed for women entrepreneurs, this program involves a one-year fellowship, a substantial grant and the opportunity to pitch your concept to industry leaders for a $100,000 grant investment.
Grant amount(s): $10,000
Zions Bank Smart Women Grants: While not dedicated business grants, these small grants are open to women-owned businesses though they’re mostly awarded to community organizations and individual women. They are aimed at promoting the empowerment of women and/or benefit women of low-income and underserved populations in Utah and Idaho.
Grant amount(s): $3,000
It can be very time consuming to apply for a grant, so be sure you first check the qualifications and requirements to make sure you’re eligible to win the grant.