• Title

  • Best Grants for Small Business Owners

    SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS:
    HERE ARE 32 YOU CAN
    APPLY FOR IN 2021

    Who doesn't like free money? That's what small business grants are, right?
    It could help you pay salaries, buy stock, or reach new customers. While
    grants are “free” in the sense that you don’t have to pay them back, they’re not
    handouts. You can’t just go to a website and ask for “1 small business grant please,”
    and expect to get one. In all cases, you need to apply for a grant, which can take
    a decent amount of work and effort. Then, you’re up against other small businesses
    that also want the grant. It’s common for even small grants to get hundreds of applicants.

    If you understand that, and that there’s no guarantee to get a grant, your head is in the right place.

    I’ve compiled a list of 32 small business grants that you may be able to apply for on this page, but before
    I get to that, there are 3 more things you should understand:

    1. Almost all grants are for existing businesses – If you haven’t started your business, it’s almost
    2. impossible to win a grant. Look for a loan instead.
    3. Grants are given to “interesting” businesses – A standard coffee shop is going to have a hard
    4. time winning a grant. Most grants are awarded to businesses who are innovative or contributing
    5. to a social cause.
    6. Grants aren’t immediate – Most grants only accept applications once a year, and the winner
    7. isn’t announced until later. Grants are not a short-term funding solution.

    If all that makes sense, let’s get to the small business grants. 

    WHERE TO FIND GRANTS FOR SMALL
    BUSINESSES

    I’ve dug as deep as possible to find these online grants, but be aware that there are many that
    aren’t easily found online.

    If you go to local business associations or development centers, they may be able to help find grants
    your business may be eligible that have less competition.

    Good places to check are:

    GOVERNMENT SOURCES FOR SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS

    There are a wide variety of grants from the government from both the federal and state level.

    Grants.gov: The first place all small businesses should go to look for a federal grant. It’s a database
    of thousands of grants with powerful filters that will help you quickly narrow down the results to
    grants that you have a good chance of getting.

    Small Business Administration (SBA) Grants: The SBA mainly helps small businesses find
    conventional means of funding (loans, investment capital, etc.).

    But they also have a few grant programs, targeted specifically at businesses involved with research
    or exporting.

    Here are the primary grants they sponsor:

    1. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): The SBIR is a longstanding funding program
    2. for research-based businesses with commercialization potential. They award grants through
    3. 12 main federal agencies:
      • Department of Agriculture
      • National Institute of Standards and Technology
      • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
      • Department of Defense
      • Department of Education
      • Department of Energy
      • Department of Health and Human Services
      • Department of Homeland Security
      • Department of Transportation
      • Environmental Protection Agency
      • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
      • National Science Foundation
    4. Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR): The STTR program is similar to the
    5. SBIR program. It also focuses on businesses involved with research, but is only available to
    6. businesses that work a formal research institution. It’s also more restrictive by industry, as only
    7. 5 federal agencies award STTR grants currently:
      • Department of Defense
      • Department of Energy
      • Department of Health and Human Services
      • NASA
      • National Science Foundation.
    8. State Trade Expansion Program (STEP)This program awards grants to small businesses
    9. involved in exporting. Not too much information about this grant is available online, you’ll need
    10. to contact the SBA’s Office of International Trade to see if you qualify.

    SAM.gov Grants (formerly the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance): This is another great
    federal grant database with a modern re-design. While there is some overlap with Grants.gov, you’ll
    find a few unique ones as well that makes it worth your time to check. You can use the advanced search
    filters to only see grant results, or also see other funding sources like loans.

    sam.gov results
    Screenshot via sam.gov

    Challenge.gov: This technically isn’t a site that offers grants, but they do offer significant amounts of
    prize money for solving challenges facing a variety of industries. Many are technology-oriented, but
    there are non-tech challenges as well. If your business is doing something innovative, monitor
    Challenge.gov for relevant challenges that might be easy for your small business to win.

    Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grants: If you have an agriculture or food service business,
    you may have a good shot at a grant from the USDA. They have multiple grant programs:

    1. Community Connect Grants
    2. Distance Learning & Telemedicine Grants
    3. Rural Business Development Grants
    4. Rural Energy for America Program Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency
    5. Improvement Loans & Grants
    6. Socially-Disadvantaged Groups Grant
    7. Value-Added Producer Grants

    Some are focused on rural businesses, but not all of them are. Check the eligibility requirements
    for each program you’re interested in to see if you qualify.

    National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Grants: This is where the NIST lists their
    grants. They are intended for small businesses involved with science or technology in some way. You
    can either find the currently active grants here, or through Grants.gov.

    Department of Education Grants: The Department of Education maintains an active list of several
    grants they offer to small businesses in the education industry. The award ceiling for many grants is
    up to millions of dollars, so if you run an education-based small business, you should actively monitor
    these grants.

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Grants: The EPA offers dozens of grants to small
    businesses that are trying to improve the environment, particularly in innovative ways. There are
    grants targeted towards air quality, environment quality, water quality, pollution prevention, and more.

    Economic Development Administration (EDA): The EDA offers grants to small businesses aiming
    to improve infrastructure of communities. The only issue is that there’s no easy directory of grants to
    monitor, you’ll have to check this page often for new announcements. You can see previous
    opportunities to check for relevance on this page.

    CORPORATE BUSINESS GRANTS

    One of the best sources of small business grants is from corporations looking to give back to the community.
    These often have less competition than other grants because they aren’t listed on popular grant sites
    like Grants.gov.

    FedEx’s Small Business Grant: In 2018, this grant received 7,800 applications, with 10 winners total.
    That gives you a winning chance of 1 in 780, or 0.13%.

    You can discount a big chunk of the applications because there are always irrelevant or non-serious ones,
    but the numbers give you a realistic look at how hard it can be to win grants unless you’re doing something
    really special. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to win grants, but be realistic.

    The winner of this competition gets a $25,000 grant, while 2nd place gets $15,000, and the eight 3rd place
    winners get $7,500.

    To enter, you’ll need to deliver your elevator pitch, as well as how your business makes a difference to your
    community or the environment. Finally, you need to demonstrate that there’s an actual need for the grant money.

    Lending Tree: Lending Tree primarily offers different types of loans, but also periodically runs small
    business grant contests. In 2017, the winner won $50,000. They judge businesses based on how passionate
    the founders are, and if growing their business will result in a better community.

    past winners of lending tree grants
    Past winners – image via lendingtree.com

    National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE): If you are self-employed, you may be
    eligible for the monthly $4,000 grant that NASE awards. There’s not too many requirements to meet
    other than being a NASE member. This is not free, and probably not worth the cost if you’re only 
    interested in trying to win the grant.

    Fundera’s The Zach Grant: Fundera is another business that helps businesses and individuals
    find loans. They offer this $2,500 grant once per year. Unlike most grants, this one requires a video
    submission answering the question “why did you start your own business?”, which is judged on 3 factors:

    1. Quality
    2. Originality
    3. Creativity

    Idea Cafe’s Small Business Grants: Idea Cafe is a news and resource site for small business
    owners and entrepreneurs. They offer $1,000 grants to winners, and it’s one of the few grants that
    you don’t even need an established business already to enter. Winners are decided by votes
    from the community.

    Walmart Foundation Grants: Walmart offers grants specifically for nonprofits. The grants are not a
    fixed amount, but fall into 2 ranges.

    The “community grant program” is for local nonprofits, and is between $250 and $5,000.

    The “national giving program” is for national nonprofits, and awards grants for $250,000 and above.

    The grants are awarded to nonprofits that focus on opportunities, sustainability, or communities.
    Basically, any social-oriented business.

    Wells Fargo Community Giving GrantsThese grants offered by Wells Fargo are specifically for
    educational institutions and nonprofits. Businesses can apply year-round, and there is no fixed
    amount for the grant. Wells Fargo gives away millions in grants every year.

    AT&T Aspire: Currently, AT&T are not accepting applications for their Aspire grants, so you’ll need
    to monitor this page. The grants are intended for small businesses that are focused on improving
    education, especially for high schools.

    BUSINESS GRANTS FOR WOMEN

    On top of all the grants we’ve looked at so far, there are several grants and resources specifically
    for small businesses that are owned by women.

    I encourage you to visit your local Women’s Business Centers if possible, there are over 100 across
    the United States. They will be able to point you towards additional grant opportunities, or help you
    find alternative funding methods.

    The Amber Grants: Each month, one small business owned by a woman wins a $1,000 Amber Grant.
    You will need to get votes to win, so it helps to have a strong social network. At the end of the year,
    the 12 grant winners have a chance to win the annual $10,000 Amber Grant.

    Past amber grant winners
    Screenshot via ambergrantsforwomen.com

    The InnovateHer Challenge: This is a grant that is funded by the SBA for women entrepreneurs
    that runs every year. There are 3 winners, with first place receiving $40,000, second winning
    $20,000, and third being granted $10,000. It’s a fairly prestigious grant that comes with a lot
    of publicity for the winners’ businesses as well.

    To win, you first need to win a local InnovateHer challenge to qualify for the national competition.
    You can see the local locations on this map.

    Any type of business is eligible to compete, but businesses that are geared towards women and
    their social problems typically do best.

    The Eileen Fisher Community Partnerships Grant: These grants are given every quarter
    (3 months), and can be up to $2,500. To be eligible, you must be running a local nonprofit that
    has some sort of community-oriented goal. There is a variety of eligibility conditions beyond that,
    including having a clear need for the money, and having some sort of relationship with
    Eileen Fisher (any of their stores or partners).

    Cartier Women’s Initiative Award: These grants are prestigious awards that can make a huge
    difference for any small business. There are 21 finalists, 3 from each of the main 7 regions of
    the Earth. All 21 finalists get personalized coaching, training, networking opportunities, and
    media visibility. That alone is worth a lot of money.

    Additionally, all 21 finalists are given a grant. The top 7 get a grant of $100,000, plus
    personalized business mentoring. The other 14 still get a $30,000 grant.

    Open Meadows Foundation Grant Program: The Open Meadows Foundation offers grants
    up to $2,000 to small businesses that are focused on enriching their communities, and have a
    clear need for the grant money. It’s one of the few grants that gives priority to very small and
    startup businesses.

    Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship: The Tory Burch Foundation offers a fellowship program
    to selected business owners, which includes a grant. There were 10 fellows in 2018.

    The fellowship program involved a 3 day workshop, which provides networking opportunities
    with successful entrepreneurs. You’ll also get yearlong support from the foundation. Finally, each
    fellow is awarded a $10,000 grant.

    This isn’t justa grant, because it offers more with training and mentorship, but will also take more
    of your time. I recommend looking at what the Foundation stands for, and seeing if that’s something
    that resonates and you value.

    BUSINESS GRANTS FOR VETERANS

    Many veterans go into entrepreneurship after their service. Unfortunately, while there are a lot
    of loans that are specifically for veterans, there are very few grants.

    Your best bet is to visit a Veteran’s Business Outreach Center, where they can point you to any
    local grant that you may be eligible for. Each center also offers training and access to other small
    business resources for veterans.

    The Streetshares Foundation: The Streetshares Foundation is the only reliable online source
    for veteran grants. They offer grants and loans for small businesses run be veterans or their spouses.

    Grants are awarded each month to businesses based on how much social impact they have,
    and how strong their business idea is.

    GrantWatchGrantWatch doesn’t offer any grants themselves, but keeps on top of new
    grants that are available for veterans.

    veteran grants
    Screenshot via grantwatch.com

    It’s a great way to find local grants that you might not find using the other databases on this page.

    BUSINESS GRANTS FOR MINORITIES

    There are many loans available for minorities, but few grants, just like veterans.

    Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA): The MBDA offers very restricted
    grants to all types of American minorities. The grants are only given to those interested
    in running one of MBDA’s Minority Business Centers, and only in specific locations that
    they want to expand to. You’ll need to offer consulting services, and help them secure
    financing and investments. You’ll need to show that you have experience doing this, so
    very few people are eligible.

    In addition to those grants, MBDA also occasionally runs other grant competitions. You’ll
    have to monitor their news to find these opportunities in the future, but there are no set schedules
    or eligibility guidelines for them.

    First Nations Development Institute GrantsMonitor this page to find grant opportunities for
    small businesses owned by Native Americans. This organization has given over 1,400 grants
    for a total of almost $30 million dollars from 1993 to 2017. There are no restrictions on the types
    of businesses eligible for the grants, as long as the owner is Native American. You can subscribe
    to their email list to be alerted to any new opportunities.

    MISCELLANEOUS GRANTS

    There are some grants that don’t belong to any of those above categories that you may be eligible for.

    100,000 Strong in the Americas: These grants are specifically for higher education institutions.
    While your small business can’t apply for these grants directly, you could partner with a higher
    education institution if your business offers services for students. You get funding, and they
    get the value of your products or services.

    Eugene Applebaum Dare to Dream Grant Program: These grants are up to $1,500 and are
    for student-owned businesses at the University of Michigan. The grants are only available for
    students, but you do not need to own a business already to qualify for one, you just need a
    good idea. It’s as much of an educational program as it is a funding one.

    Global Innovation Exchange Funding DatabaseThis is a worldwide funding database with
    a modern interface. It’s an easy way to find contests and grants that you might otherwise miss,
    and is worth keeping as a bookmark.

    GIE search results
    Screenshot via globalinnovationexchange.org

    HOW TO APPLY AND WIN BUSINESS GRANTS

    As I’ve mentioned, there can be a lot of competition for grants. There is often hundreds of
    small businesses applying for a single grant.

    It’s something you need to take seriously if you expect to win.

    In this section, I’ll go over the most important things to do to improve your chances of winning grants.

    DO’S AND DON’TS OF WINNING BUSINESS GRANTS

    Let’s start with some basic do’s and don’ts of trying to win grants.

    Do:

    • Make a schedule – Many grants are only open to applications once a year. Schedule
    • time to put together an application ahead of time.
    • Write a business plan first – Most grants ask for a business plan. More importantly, you should know how exactly the grant money will help your business. Here’s our guide to writing a simple business plan.
    • See what companies have been funded in the past – This can help you determine which grants you have a good chance of winning. If they funded similar types of businesses, that’s a good sign.
    • Get help from local business organizations – I went through many types of local business organizations that provide assistance to small business owners. This includes helping you find grant opportunities and presenting your business in the best light.
    • Consider professional help – If you come across a grant that requires a well-written cover letter or essay, consider hiring a professional freelance grant writer if you can afford it. (Usually only worth it for big grants.)

    Don’t:

    • Wait until the last minute – Many grants require you to become a member of an organization or get a certification or license. You may not have time to meet the eligibility conditions if you wait too long.
    • Use a template for all grant applications – Each grant application should be tailored to each specific grant. Otherwise you’ll include a lot of irrelevant information and not include important answers that were asked for.
    • Apply for every grant – There are many grants that your business will have virtually 0 chance of winning. It’s better to spend more time on the most relevant grants, than to spread yourself too thin and have lower quality applications on many grants.

    QUICK TIPS FOR GETTING MORE GRANTS

    There are a lot of simple things you can do to improve your chances of winning grants. Most are easy to understand, but you need to make sure you keep them in mind.

    Here’s how to get more grants:

    • Always look for new grant opportunities (Setting up a Google Alert is a good idea).
    • Make sure the time spent to apply for a grant is actually worth the grant amount.
    • Read over the individual application instructions to each grant. Some are similar, but few are the exact same.
    • Double-check that you are eligible before spending a lot of time on an application.
    • Provide specific numbers on how the grant will be used and how it will help.
    • Double-check your spelling and grammar.
    • Submitting your application early may make you look more prepared than late-submitters.
    • Back up claims with credible citations.
    • Be realistic when mentioning your business’ costs or revenue.
    • Find a book from your library on grant writing if you want to write better grant proposals.

    COMMON QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

    At this point, you probably have a few questions in your mind, hopefully I can clear them up here.

    HOW DO YOU QUALIFY FOR A SMALL BUSINESS GRANT?

    When you read about “qualifying” for a small business grant, most people are talking about eligibility.

    Each individual grant specifies which businesses are eligible to win it.
    Anyone can apply for a grant, but if you don’t meet the eligibility criteria,
    you have zero chance to get it.

    Of the grants listed on this page, almost every small business can apply for the grants in the
    government and corporate grant sections.

    If you’re a woman, you have several grant opportunities on top of that.

    The majority of the rest of the grants I included here are for a specific type of business, so
    you’ll need to look at them individually and see if your small business is eligible.

    DO YOU HAVE TO PAY BACK SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS?

    No! That’s what makes them grants.

    Unlike loans, grants do not require you to be paid back, and can be used for just about
    anything business-related.

    Some grants do require you to report back how the grants were used and how they helped,
    but that’s usually for them to get more publicity or to try and help you further.

    WHAT IS THE LIMIT ON THE NUMBER OF
    GRANTS I CAN APPLY FOR?

    There are rarely any limits on the number of grants you can apply for.
    However, you can only apply to each grant once per business you run.

    Sometimes, a program offers multiple grants per year. Most of them allow businesses
    to submit applications multiple times, but a few do not. Check the grant details to find out.

    WHAT TYPE OF CREDIT DO YOU
    NEED TO GET A GRANT?

    Credit is rarely a factor when determining the winner of a grant.

    However, you’ll likely need decent credit to get your business up and running in the
    first place before you can even apply for most grants.

    Additionally, most grants require that your small business be in good financial standing,
    meaning that you don’t have any unreasonable debt that can’t realistically be paid back.

    HOW MUCH MONEY CAN I GET?

    This varies widely based on each grant.

    One business might win a grant for $500, while another might win $500,000. The amount
    of each grant should be something you consider when you’re deciding which grants to apply for.

    CONCLUSION

    There are many small business grants out there if you’re willing to work for them.

    If you want to win grants, you’ll need to take it seriously and beat out the competition. Don’t
    be afraid to apply to smaller ones, because they will often have less competition than the
    grants for high amounts.

    I strongly encourage you to also visit local small business associations, and pursue other
    means of small business financing if you need money for your business urgently.

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