How To Find A Startup Grant

business grants

Startups are inherently risky endeavors. According to Fortune Magazine, close to 60% of new startups fail. Because new businesses are so risky, it is notoriously difficult to obtain startup financing — most banks won’t lend to you unless you’ve been in business at least two years. While some online lenders offer startup loans, startup grants are another option for new business financing. A startup grant is even harder to get than a startup loan, but grants are more desirable because you don’t have to pay the money back.

Want a shot at a startup grant? Follow these steps to find a business grant you might qualify for.

1. Determine Whether You’re Grant-Worthy

Generally, only certain types of businesses qualify for startup grants. If your biz doesn’t fall into one of these categories, it’s unlikely you’ll qualify. For example, while there may be grant money for an innovative hardware manufacturer, when it comes to a run-of-the-mill hardware store…eh, not so much. Then again, if you face the significant hurdles of having a female-owned hardware store opening up shop in an economically distressed region, it’s a lot more likely that a private or public entity might want to give you some free money.

Read my post Do I Qualify For A Startup Grant? to determine if your business falls into one of the industries likely to qualify for startup grant funds. If not, you might want to start considering other alternative financing options, such as crowdfunding.

2. Start Local

City and township governments, business associations, and nonprofits in your immediate region are good places to start looking for grants. Even if you determine that your business doesn’t fit into one of the “grant-worthy” categories I mentioned above, you might be eligible for a grant if you’re starting a business in a certain city or region. For example, the Arch Grants organization awards grants to new businesses in the St. Louis area. There are not too many of these sorts of grants, but it’s always worth checking.

Be sure to scan city, county, and state websites for grant opportunities, as well as your local Chamber of Commerce. If you’re willing to relocate, you can also check local business grant opportunities in the city or cities you’d consider moving to.

3. Search Your Niche

If you can’t find any grant opportunities for businesses in your area, you can search grants by niche; that is, by your particular industry or business type. Your startup may fall into multiple niches — for example, your business may be veteran-owned and also a clean-energy business. Simply searching a phrase like “business grants for green construction” or “grants for home daycare” may deliver results tailored to your specific business niche.

Sometimes grants are for a particular niche and also a particular region. A couple examples of niche business grants include the Halstead Grant for new silver jewelry designers living anywhere in the US, and the Green Technology Business Grant Program for green technology startups in Cleveland, Ohio.

4. Go Corporate

Several large corporations offer business grants or host some kind of small business contest where the best businesses can win free money. These grant programs are highly publicized and thus highly competitive, but they might be worth looking into. FedEx, Miller Lite, and Visa are a few corporations that award business grants; Miller Lite’s grant contest is especially aimed at startups.

Even some popular business lenders offer business grant contests. Veteran-owned businesses, for example, should look into StreetShares‘ annual business contest for veterans.

5. Look At A Federal Level

Small businesses can potentially find grants they are eligible for on Grants.gov, the one-stop-shop for government grants. However, you should know that the vast majority of these are medical research grants. Also, even if you’re eligible for one of these prized federal grants, you’ll likely be competing with nonprofit organizations, and even city and state governments. The reason I listed federal grants last is that there are few, if any, federal grants a typical startup business would be eligible for.

However, at least a couple federal grants are aimed at innovative small businesses, and these are Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants for high-tech businesses involved in scientific research & development. The InnovateHER grant contest is for businesses that benefit women and children.

This blog post on the SBA website explains a little more about US government grants and how most are not really aimed at for-profit businesses. If you want some government help in funding your small business, you might want to look into a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. These loans are low-interest and relatively easy to apply for if you use an online SBA lender like SmartBiz.

Final Considerations

Once you find a list of startup grants you’re eligible for, the next step is to start preparing your grant application package. The application process is slightly different for each type of grant, but usually you will have to submit a business plan and Request for Proposal (RFP). For a large grant, you might even consider hiring a professional grant writer, though this probably wouldn’t be feasible or necessary for a grant contest where you only stand to win $2,000-$5,000, even after beating out thousands of other applicants.

The last thing I’d recommend to anyone searching for startup grants is to review startup grant alternatives, such as small business loans or alternative business financing options like P2P loans or equipment financing. If you have any questions about startup loans or alternative business financing, feel free to email us or ask in the comments!

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The Best Business Grants For Women

business grants for women

Do an online search for “business grants for women” and a slew of articles will come up. But when you click to read the articles, you’ll find that there is scant, if any, information on actual grants. Often, when you do find the name of a specific grant for female-led businesses, like the “Huggies Mom Inspired” grant, there will be no link to apply, because the program has been discontinued. Most of these articles will also toss you a link to Grants.gov — which does not offer any grant expressly for women-owned businesses.

The truth is that while there is a lot of demand for business grants, i.e., free money to help start or continue your business, there are hardly any such programs in existence. While both government and private grants do exist, most of that money goes to not-for-profit organizations, and the majority of these programs do not give preferential treatment to female applicants.

However, there are a select few grants offered specifically to female owners of for-profit businesses. This article includes real grants for women entrepreneurs only. Meaning, there will be an actual link to apply in most cases. Woohoo! Hopefully, this will save you some time scouring the web. I could only find a handful of legit, worthwhile business grant opportunities for women, but if you know of any others, feel free to mention them in the comments!

1. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant

About

Eileen Fisher is a socially conscious clothing brand that emphasizes sustainability. The clothing brand offers a yearly grant to women-owned businesses, particularly those that focus on using their businesses to bring about environmental and/or social change. Each year, Eileen Fisher awards Women-Owned Business Grants totaling $100,000 to up to 10 recipients, with a minimum grant amount of $10,000. Additionally, grantees are invited to New York City in the spring following their reward for two days of business collaboration with Eileen Fisher.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for an Eileen Fisher grant, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • At least 51% woman-owned
  • Have been in business at least 3 years
  • Revenues not exceeding $1 million
  • Business founded on principal of creating social and environmental change

Franchises, startups, and past award winners are not eligible to receive the grant.

How To Apply

Visit the Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant website to find more information about the grant and apply.

 

Visit the Eileen Fisher website

 

2. Amber Grants

About

Amber Grants began in 1998. After a young woman named Amber died before being able to fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams, WomensNet started offering grants for women in Amber’s name. These are smaller grants, but they are very accessible and easy to apply for. Amber Grants awards $500 to a woman-owned business every month, and at the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly qualification winners wins another grant for $2,500.

Eligibility Criteria

Amber Grants do not have any particular qualification criteria, other than that recipients must be female entrepreneurs (age 18 and up) living in the United States or Canada. Amber Grants are open to any type of business.

How To Apply

Simply fill out the application template on the Amber Grant Application Page and pay a nominal $7 fee. Amber Grants recommends that rather than trying to “sound professional” in your application, you focus on conveying the passion you have for your business.

Amber Grants receive between 200 and 600 applicants every month. Visit the website for information about application deadlines.

 

Visit the Amber Grant website

 

3. Cartier Women’s Initiative

About

The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, a joint partnership created in 2006 by Cartier, McKinsey & Company, and INSEAD business school, awards annual grants to support projects by women entrepreneurs. This is one of the largest and most prestigious business grants for women, but the competition is steep. The first-place prize in this international business competition is $100,000; second place comes with a $30,000 prize.

Eligibility Criteria

Women entrepreneurs in the initial stages of development (2-3 years old), in any country, of any nationality, and operating in any industry can apply for this grant. The business must have an original concept and the business must have a for-profit model.

You can download the official Cartier Women’s Initiative rules of participation for more details.

How To Apply

When applications are open (which is only during certain times of year), you will be able to apply using the online Cartier Women’s Initiative application form.

From the Cartier Women’s Initiative website:

The call for applications for the 2018 edition of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards is now closed. The call for applications for the 2019 edition of the competition will open in May 2018.

Before applying, be sure to read up on the grant application process. In addition to filling out the application form, you’ll need to supply supporting documentation including your resume, scanned copy of your business registration, proof of patent (if applicable), and detailed financials. Optionally, you can also include three additional attachments, such as your logo, images of your product, press articles, etc.

 

Visit the Cartier Women’s Initiative website

 

4. Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program

About

Fashion designer and philanthropist Tory Burch created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to help empower female entrepreneurs. The Foundation has been quite successful in this goal, and today runs one of the most preeminent business grant competitions.

Each year, up to 10 finalists of this grant competition receive a $10,000 grant for business education, a 1-year Tory Burch Fellowship, and a 3-day business workshop at Tory Burch Headquarters in NYC. Note that the $10,000 grant cannot be used for purposes other than business education. Fellows will also participate in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition before a panel of judges to choose one winner of a $100,000 award, of which 50% is a grant and 50% is a “recoverable grant” (fancy way of saying 0%-interest loan).

Eligibility Requirements

Applicants to this business grant must be female business owners who meet the following criteria:

  • Own a majority stake in for-profit business, from any industry, in early-stage growth (minimum of 1 year and no more than 5 years of operations), generating minimum revenues of $25,000 and maximum revenues of $500,000 per year
  • Manage said business on a day-to-day basis
  • 21 years or older as of the application due date
  • Legal resident of the United States
  • Proficient in English

Read more about Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Grant eligibility.

How To Apply

Here is the application page for the Tory Burch grant. The application period is pretty short — it opens in early fall and closes in November. But that’s okay; in the meantime, you can download the application help guide to start perfecting your business plan and application essay so you will be ready to go when the next round of application opens.

 

Visit the Tory Burch Foundation website

 

5. Girlboss Foundation

About

Launched in 2014, The Girlboss Foundation funds female entrepreneurs pursuing creative endeavors. Specifically, these grants are for women in the fields of art, fashion, design, and music. Every six months, one grant beneficiary receives $15,000 to be used for a creative project within the following 12 months, in addition to online media exposure.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible, Girlboss applicants must be US-based female creative business owners who are 18 or older. Note that the Girlboss Foundation only awards grants to individuals; GB can award the grant to an individual representing a business, but not to a business as an entity.

How To Apply

Fill out the online Girlboss Foundation grant application. First, however, read the information on the selection process so you’ll get a better idea of what to include and how you’ll be judged.

 

Visit the Girlboss website

 

6. Women Founders Network Fast Pitch Competition

About

The WFN is an organization that provides both capital and mentorship to women business owners. The organization’s Fast Pitch competition awards $20,000 in free grant money to a female-led business each year; runners-up receive $7,500, $5,000, and $2,500 respectively. If you make the top 10 finalists, you’ll pitch your business at a live in-person event in Los Angeles.

Eligibility Criteria

These are the criteria for this women’s business grant competition, from the WFN website:

  • Founder/CEO must be a woman or business must be majority-owned by women.
  • Must attend in-person to present in Los Angeles at the Fast Pitch Event.
  • Business must be past the idea stage (revenue preferred)
  • Must have raised no more than $1M in outside funding, excluding research grants.
  • Seeking early stage businesses based in USA with high-growth potential.

How To Apply

You can apply for this grant on the Women Founders Network Fast Pitch website as of May 1, 2018. The next round of applications will be accepted from May 1 – June 10, 2018.

WFN has posted grant application guidelines with detailed information about the contest and tips for applying, but note that these guidelines are for the 2017 contest.

 

Visit the WFN website

 

7. InnovateHER Challenge

About

The InnovateHER Challenge, est. 2015 under the Obama administration, is a national women’s business grant contest hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. Each year since 2015, InnovateHER has given out three grants to especially worthy women-owned businesses, including a first-place prize of $40,000, a second-place prize of $20,000, and a third-place prize of $10,000. InnovateHER is the only federal grant money earmarked specifically for women-related businesses.

To arrive at the top 10 finalists for this nationwide competition, organizations such as universities and economic development associations run their own local competitions throughout the year. Then, from all of the local winners, 10 national finalists are chosen to pitch their businesses to an expert panel in Washington D.C.

Eligibility Requirements

This contest is for innovative entrepreneurs whose products and services create a measurable impact on the lives of women and families. These business solutions must also “have the potential for commercialization, and fill a need in the marketplace.”

Further eligibility requirements from last year’s InnovateHer Challenge page are as follows:

  • Citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are at least eighteen (18) years of age at the time of their submission of an entry (or teams of such individuals)
  • Private entities, such as corporations or other organizations, that are incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States. Individuals submitting on behalf of corporations, nonprofits, or groups of individuals (such as an academic class or another team) must meet the eligibility requirements for individual contestants. An individual may belong to more than one team submitting an entry in this Challenge.

Note that the rules don’t say this grant is only for women (even though it’s all about solutions that improve women’s lives). However, all of the past grant winners and finalists have been women, so perhaps this is an unspoken rule.

How To Apply

I assume that once the competition opens for 2018, there will be information about how to apply to any local InnovateHer competitions posted on the official InnovateHer Challenge website.

As of February 2018, this website had no information on the 2018 InnovateHER competition, despite the fact that if things were to follow the same schedule as last year’s and the previous years’ competitions, the contest would have kicked off this past December. I emailed the SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership about this and they told me that they will get back to me as soon as they have any information regarding the 2018 InnovateHer Challenge; I’ll update this post if/when I hear back from them.

 

Visit the InnovateHER website

 

Runner-Up: Halstead Grant

About

Halstead Grants are given to new jewelry designers who work primarily in silver. While this grant is not strictly for women, I’m including it as a runner-up, as the jewelry industry is mostly female-dominated, and most (but not all) of the past winners of this grant have been women. Plus, there is an actual link to apply for the grant. Score!

The grant consists of $7,500 in start-up capital and $1,000 in Halstead merchandise. Finalists receive $500 cash for Top 5 placement, or $250 for Top 10 placement.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Applicant must have opened business within the past three years.
  • Applicant must be pursuing jewelry design as a full-time career, not as a hobby or part-time job.
  • Applicant must be a US citizen.

How To Apply

Download and fill out the Halstead Grant Application. As part of the application, you must submit a jewelry collection along with answers to 15 questions that form the basis of a business plan.

 

Visit the Halstead Grant website

 

Final Thoughts

Grants represent a viable form of free funding for select, exceptionally talented women business owners. If you can present an especially impressive application, essay, business plan, and in some cases an in-person pitch, you might come away with some free cash to help bring your entrepreneurial dreams to fruition. However, such grants are extremely competitive, and in most cases even if you win a prized spot, you won’t receive a large amount of capital. There are some select grants available to small businesses in general, including grants for startup businesses, but these grant programs are similarly competitive. Generally, there just isn’t a lot of grant money to be had for for-profit businesses.

More attainable small businesses funding options for women include online loans, personal loans, or even alternative financing options such as crowdfunding. If you’re a female entrepreneur reading this article, I strongly recommend you also check out my article on the best loans for women. For more guidance on how to get financing for your women-owned business, feel free to contact us!

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Do I Qualify For A Startup Grant?

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startup grants

Free money to start your business – isn’t that every entrepreneur’s wildest dream? It’s too bad that startup grants are so hard to come by. You can think of business grants sort of like scholarships for adults. Just as with a scholarship, you have to convince the grant-issuer that a) you will put the funds to really good use and b) you are more deserving of the money than other applicants.

There are many types of business grants offered by myriad organizations, both public and private. As you might figure, there are different eligibility requirements for different grants. In general, though, only certain types of businesses are eligible for grants. These include businesses belonging to economically disadvantaged demographics such as Native American Indian tribe members, single mothers, and veterans returning to civilian life. There are also grants for innovative businesses breaking new frontiers that benefit society  – think tech startups, doctors, and scientists.

In this post, I’ll talk about the types of businesses that might qualify for a startup grant, and give a few examples of organizations that offer grants to these businesses.

If you belong to any of the following business categories, you might eligible for a startup grant.

Table of Contents

Innovators

Many startup grants are for innovators and businesses which contribute valuable creations to society. These grants are generally for entrepreneurs in the fields of technology, medicine, science, agriculture, education, and research and development. Here are some grants you might qualify for if your business falls into this category.

Grants.gov 

While this is the one-stop shop for all U.S. government grants, the majority of these grants go toward businesses and nonprofits in science, medicine, and R&D.

Search for grants on Grants.gov or check your eligibility to apply for a grant from the federal government.

SBIR 

From The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) website:

The SBIR program is a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization.

This US government-funded program awards grants of up to $150K in Phase I of funding. Depending on the results achieved after six months, recipients may receive up to $1 million over the next two years (Phase II).

NC IDEA 

This is a private foundation offering up to $50K for high-tech companies in the state of North Carolina.

Green Businesses

There are some public and private grants for green businesses, including startups. Generally, these grants cover the cost of installing sustainable infrastructure and/or energy systems.

Rural Energy For America Program 

As part of the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), this program awards renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement grants. Grants are awarded to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.

Green Technology Business Grant Program 

This grant is designed to attract new green technology businesses or to expand existing green technology businesses in the City of Cleveland, Ohio. Eligible applicants may receive grants of up to 0.5% of new payroll to the city for up to five years and may also qualify for an additional $5,000 Moving Assistance Grant.

Rural Businesses

Various grants aim to stimulate the economy in rural and economically distressed areas. These grants serve to attract new businesses to struggling regions. Depending on where you are opening your business or nonprofit and the specifics of your organization’s goals, you might eligible for some of this grant money.

Rural Business Development

This grant is specifically for nonprofit and public entities. From their website:

This program is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas which will employ 50 or fewer new employees and has less than $1 million in gross revenue.

From the same agency, rural farmers/agricultural producers might be eligible for the Value Added Producer grant, while for-profit businesses that provide education or health care to rural areas through telecommunications might be eligible for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant.

U.S. Economic Development Assistance Grants

From their website:

EDA supports development in economically distressed areas of the United States by fostering job creation and attracting private investment. Specifically, under the Economic Development Assistance programs (EDAP) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), EDA will make construction, non-construction, and revolving loan fund investments under the Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) Programs.

Interested? Check out the EDA’s grantee resources.

Women-Owned Businesses

There are many business grants you might be eligible for if you are a female entrepreneur. Additionally, some grant money goes to businesses that create solutions that benefit women and families.

InnovateHER Grant 

Sponsored by SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, the InnovateHER grant competition is an opportunity for entrepreneurs who create commercially viable products and services that benefit women and families. The first place prize awarded in 2017 was $40,000. There were also grants awarded in the amounts of $20,000, $15,000, and $10,000.

Chicago Foundation For Women

Women living in the Chicago metropolitan area are eligible to apply for a grant to start a new business through this nonprofit fund. Grants range from $15,000 to $150,000. These grants are very competitive and are only available to businesses that benefit women’s economic security, freedom from violence, and/or access to health care.

Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit startups that have 501(c)(3) status with the IRS are eligible for some government and private grant money. In fact, you’re much more likely to be awarded a grant if you run a nonprofit organization, as opposed to a for-profit business. While there are tons of nonprofit grants, I won’t spend too much time on this section, assuming this audience is mostly for-profit entrepreneurs.

These grants, which you can apply for year-round, are mainly for nonprofits and educational programs, though some small businesses may be eligible as well.

As mentioned, Grants.gov is the main stop for government grants, many of which go to nonprofit causes.

Veteran-Related Businesses

Veteran business grant money includes retraining grants for veterans returning to civilian life and grants to nonprofits providing services to veterans. Below are a couple examples.

StreetShares Commander’s Call Veteran Business Award

This StreetShares program awards annual grants to veterans and spouses of veterans who own small businesses. The first place award is $5K, the second is $3,000, and third is $2,000.

StreetShares also offers conventional business loans to some small businesses, veteran-owned or otherwise. Head over to our StreetShares Review for a rundown on their loan services.

Wisconsin Department Of Veterans Affairs Retraining Grants

This program awards up to $3,000 per year for up to two years to veterans receiving job-related training. Most “startups” probably wouldn’t be eligible for this program, but hey, it’s possible.

2501 Program

These grants, awarded through the USDA, go to veteran and minority farmers and ranchers. You might think that most startups aren’t in the farming sector, and you’d be right, but ag-tech startups are gaining prominence – think sustainable farming and other “smart” farming practices now possible with the help of new technology.

Minority-Owned Businesses

While there are grants designed to benefit various non-white business owner demographics – Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and others – most government grants for minority businesses are specifically for members of federally recognized Native American Tribes. Here are a couple grants that may help fund minority-owned startups.

Healthcare-related small businesses can use this grant for programs that provide health services to minorities.

Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative

Offered through the American Indian First Nations institute, this initiative awards six grants of up to $30,000 each year to Native American institutions that support arts and culture.

Note that while the Minority Business Development Agency offers various resources designed to help minority business owners, this program does not include grants.

Just Plain Amazing Small Businesses

There are a few general small business grants available to any kind of business, but they are very competitive, so you will need a super impressive story to wow the judges. An impressive track record is a particular challenge for a startup business, which is usually defined as a business that’s been around for less than six months. But hey, if you’ve achieved a lot in just a few months or you have an especially amazing idea, you might want to apply to one of these highly competitive small business grant contests.

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

Any type of small business may apply. To give you an idea of what kind of competition you’d be facing, in 2017 there were 4,500 applicants and 10 winners. The grand prize is $25,000, and the other winners in the top ten get $5,000.

Miller Lite Tap The Future

This grant is one of the few that’s actually specifically geared toward startups. With this Shark Tank-style entrepreneurship grant contest, participants have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas and compete for the grand prize of over $100K.

Visa’s Everywhere Initiative

This contest awards startups with innovative IT solutions, awarding $50,000 to the top three finalists.

Startup Grant Alternatives

Very few private businesses are actually eligible for a business grant. Unless your business or startup is highly innovative and provides a demonstrable benefit to your community or the world at large, unfortunately, you are probably not grant-recipient material. Even if you are eligible for some grant money and you make it through the lengthy proposal process, you may only land a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Furthermore, startup grants are particularly hard to come by, as grantees will generally want to see what kind of results you’ve achieved on other projects carried out by your organization. Don’t fall for government grant scams that will have you believe there are piles of free grant money out there for the taking – this is not the case at all.

So, rather than hoping to be among the fortunate few who are granted free money, you might want to look into grant alternatives for your business.

Startup grant alternatives include crowdfunding, P2P lending, online loans, equipment financing, and others. Some examples might include:

For more ideas on how to get the seed money for your new business endeavor, check out our article on the best ways to finance a business startup.

Shannon Vissers

Shannon is a freelance writer and editor based in San Diego, CA. Shannon has a three-year-old daughter named Izzy. Shannon likes to unwind by watching trashy reality television and reading literary fiction during the commercial breaks.

Shannon Vissers
Shannon Vissers

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