Small Business Grants: Resources For Free Money

small business grants

From business loans to credit cards, it’s assumed that funding a growing small business necessarily involves taking on debt. No pain, no gain, right? Well, in the event that your business doesn’t turn a profit, you’ll be taking on the pain without seeing any resulting gain. Wouldn’t it be nice if there existed a way to fund your small business that relied on your capabilities, not on your willingness to go into debt?

As it happens, there is one way to get funding that doesn’t rely on your willingness to take on debt: small business grants.

What Are Small Business Grants?

A small business grant is a sum of money — issued either by a government agency or a private organization — awarded to a growing business. While it’s tempting to think of a grant as “free money,” that doesn’t quite capture the essence of a small business grant. For one thing, when a business receives money in the form of a grant, that money always comes with strings attached. The terms of a grant are usually quite specific about how the money can be used. It isn’t like getting a loan, where you get to decide exactly how to invest your funds.

Additionally, getting approved for a grant will likely involve lots of work on your part. Grants are difficult to qualify for and applying for them involves lots of jumping through hoops. Since time is money, grants aren’t exactly free of cost. Then again, these “costs” aren’t going to imperil your credit score!

Small Business Grant Pros & Cons

Grant Pros Grant Cons
“Free” money Long application process
Can lend prestige to your small business Funds must be used in the manner specified by the grant

Getting one grant makes it more likely you’ll get others

Most applicants for a grant won’t get it
Grant information is always publicly available Business grants are not always renewed from year to year

The nice thing about receiving a grant is that, because grants are generally awarded based on a company’s contribution to the public good, they come with a certain degree of prestige. In turn, getting one grant will make your business more attractive to other grant issuers.

Of course, when you pursue grants, you need to be aware of the harsh realities. The vast majority of grant proposals are not accepted, and even if you are ultimately successful, the application process can be rigorous and time-consuming. What’s more, the money will likely be earmarked for a certain purpose. You can’t treat the money received via a grant like any other funding — you must use the money exactly as specified (or exactly as you laid out in your grant application).

The downsides of business grants don’t hold a candle to the downsides attached to other forms of business financing, however, so don’t let these challenges discourage you!

How To Find Business Grants

Business grants can be found by checking the online offerings of every level of government (federal, state, local) and by seeking out directories of private grants that allow you to search for a program that fits your mission and your business.

When searching for grant programs, narrow your search to those that pertain specifically to your business type. Since grants are often meant to incentivize social responsibility, certain businesses will be more likely to find a grant than others. A company working on a new type of water filtration system stands a better chance of scoring a grant than a vape juice maker, for example. Likewise, certain grants may be aimed at specific segments of the population. An organization might award grants specifically for women-owned businesses or veteran-owned businesses.

What To Do Before Applying For A Grant

  1. Define your exact funding need: be ready to define the precise objectives a grant would help you meet.
  2. Create a detailed business plan.
  3. Gather and assemble all the business records you can from at least the last three years.
  4. Have your plan and records reviewed by experts, whether they be SCORE mentors or others with experience in guiding business owners through the grant-hunting process.
  5. Consider hiring a professional grant writer if you can.

8 Places To Look For Small Business Grants

startup grants

Grants.gov

Grants.gov is the place you should go if you want to search every grant program administered by the federal government. There are 26 grant-making agencies in the federal government, and although the website feels clunky and dated, you’ll at least get to search for the sort of grant program that your particular business could qualify for.

I should warn you, however, that most of the grants offered by the federal government are medical research grants, and these are typically awarded to nonprofit organizations and, in some instances, local and state governments. This blog post from the Small Business Administration details the limited instances in which private businesses may be eligible for a grant from the federal government.

Your State & Local Governments

This may actually be a better place to start your grant search than the federal grant database. That’s because grant programs initiated by your state government — or perhaps your city government — stand a better chance of aligning with your business mission than a federal grant program.

Check out your local Chamber of Commerce for grant opportunities as well as any city, county, and state websites that might have information about grant programs. Depending on where you live, selection may be limited, but you may well find a grant program that aligns with your mission. Most of these programs only accept grant applications at certain times of the year, so it pays to be vigilant and check the relevant websites frequently.

National Association For The Self-Employed

If a smaller grant for your small business is worth pursuing, the NASE provides grants and educational resources for small businesses owners. Through their Growth Grants Program, grants of up to $4,000 are awarded to small business for specific purposes, such as hiring employees.

To apply for a grant, you’ll first have to join the NASE. You’ll then need to detail exactly how you’ll use the funds and how the funds will fit into your overall business plan.

Along with grants, the NASE offers the following services to small business owners:

  • 24/7 expert advice
  • UPS discounts up to 32%
  • $10K included term life insurance
  • Medical emergency help
  • Office Depot discounts
  • LifeLock ID theft protection

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is a nationally prominent grant contest that has, since its inception in 2013, awarded over $500,000 in grant money to small businesses. Qualifying entities must be for-profit U.S.-based businesses with fewer than 99 employees and at least 6 months of time in business.

The contest is held annually, with applications typically accepted starting in late February. Keep a watch on FedEx’s website to find out when you can apply. Here is a closer look at the winners of the 2018 Grant Contest.

USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program

An endeavor of the United States Department of Agriculture, this grant program offers grants of between $10,000 to $500,000 to rural small businesses. If your business has fewer than 50 employees, takes in less than $1 million in annual revenue, and is located in a rural part of the US, it is eligible to apply.

Rural small business owners looking to apply should do so through their USDA Rural Development state office.

Amber Grant Program

The Amber Grant program is a grant set up by WomensNet to support female-owned small businesses. This is how it works: the program awards $1,000 to a woman-owned business every month. At the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly grant winners wins another grant for $10,000. All female entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada are eligible to compete, and there are no restrictions on the type of business eligible to receive a grant.

The program accepts applications year-round, and unlike some other grant programs, the Amber Grant program makes applying as easy as possible. According to WomensNet:

Applying for the Amber Grant is easy. Don’t try to “sound corporate.” Past grant winners are women who have simply shared from the heart. Our judges are looking for passion as well as business smarts.

Visa Everywhere Initiative

The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a multi-national grant program offering grants to companies meeting the following description:

When evaluating submissions for VEI, we look for startups that have ideas relevant to Visa’s business, a product in market, traction with early customers, and early funding from external investors.

Submissions for the 2018 program were accepted from March 19th until April 23rd, so if you’d like to submit your proposal for the coming year, keep an eye on the VEI website around that time of year and look for information on how to apply.

StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award

StreetShares is an online lender specializing in lending to veterans and veteran-owned businesses. The lender also has a grant program called the StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award. The program is open to any military veteran, reserve or active duty member of the Armed Forces, or a qualifying spouse.

The StreetShares Foundation is currently accepting applications for the upcoming cycle of the Veteran Small Business Award, so if you’re interested, apply now. StreetShares gives out three grants at the end of each contest. 1st place gets $15,000, 2nd place gets $6,000, and 3rd place gets $4,000.

Don’t Qualify? The Best Alternatives To Small Business Grants

Grants are awesome because you don’t have to pay them back. Naturally, this makes them popular, but it also means the vast majority of grant applicants are rejected. If you’re not successful in securing a grant, don’t despair! You’re in good company. Of course, you’ll still need funding to launch and grow your business. Two of the primary ways entrepreneurs launch and build their small businesses are personal loans and lines of credit. Here are some of the top lenders in each field, vetted by the fine folks at Merchant Maverick.

Personal Lenders For Business

Lender Borrowing Amount Term Interest Rate Min. Credit Score Next Steps

$2K – $25K 2 – 4 years 15.49% to 30% 600 Apply Now

$1K – $50K 3 or 5 years 8.16% – 27.99% 620 Apply Now

$2K – $35K 3 or 5 years 6.95% – 35.99% APR 640 Apply Now

lending club logo

$1K – $40K 3 or 5 years 5.32% – 30.99% 640 Check Rate

Lenders That Specialize In Lines Of Credit

Lender Borrowing Amount Draw Term Draw Fee APR Next Steps

$6K – $100K 6 months None Starts at 13.99% Apply Now

$2K – $5M Varies Varies Varies Apply Now

$5K – $5M 6 months 1.50% per draw 21% – 65% Apply Now

$1K – $100K 12 weeks None 12% – 54% Apply Now

Final Thoughts

Great business ideas can come from absolutely anybody. Unfortunately, startup capital is not so equitably distributed. Grant programs can help small business owners — particularly those who make an identifiable contribution to the grant-giving organization’s conception of the public good — with much-needed cash. Just be persistent, be undaunted by rejection letters, and be prepared to accept the strings that come attached to grant money should you be successful.

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