You’ve analyzed your financial situation, have a good handle on how much money you need to start up or nurture the growth of your small business, and you’re ready to seek outside support. You could apply for a business credit card or a small business loan. With both of these options, though, you’ll need to pay back what you’ve borrowed (and often at unfriendly interest rates).
A third option worth exploring is small business grants. While there aren’t a ton of grants available, opportunities from small family foundations to corporations to governmental programs do exist, and some business grants are specifically for women. The applications may be wieldy, timelines lengthy, and reporting excessive, but if you’ve got the time to put into the process, you could come out of it with some hard cash for your business.
National Grants Awarded by Foundations, Nonprofits, and Corporations
One of the most dedicated proponents of small business grants for women entrepreneurs is the Amber Grant Foundation. Not only do they provide a website with free basic grant “how-to” tips and a free grant report that lists available opportunities across the country, but they also run a small funding component, awarding $500 to a different woman-owned business each month.
Of the 12 recipients they choose each year, one will be selected to receive an additional $1,000 grant. And, it’s the easiest application process around: Aside from basic contact information, there are just two questions: “Tell us about your business,” and, “If awarded a grant, what are your plans for the funds?"
The American Association of University Women offers $2,000 to $10,000 one- and two-year Community Action Grants that are dually woman-focused, in that applicants (all U.S.) must either be an individual woman or a nonprofit organization focusing on AAUW’s broader mission of promoting education and equality for women and girls on a community level. Applications are accepted between August 1 and January 15. The grants panel reviews all proposals once a year, with applicants notified by April 1.
For 13 years, women’s clothing company Eileen Fisher has funded the Women-Owned Business Grant program. Annually, they award $120,000 in grants to up to 12 recipients. Businesses must be majority women-owned and -led, at least three years old with financial records for those years, have revenues not exceeding $1 million in the year prior to application, and founded on “creating environmental and social change.”
State-by-State Grant Opportunities
Larger corporations (and some foundations as well) may manage grant-making programs for which the requirements vary widely — the most common of which is your company benefiting the state in which the corporation is headquartered or does business.
For example, Zions Bank awards one $3,000 Smart Woman Grant in each of six categories, including small business, to an entrepreneur “whose proposal promotes the empowerment of women or directly benefits women or low-income or underserved populations in Utah and Idaho.”
Googling a phrase like “small business grants for women in [your state]” is a good place to start when researching state, regional and local opportunities like Zions Bank’s, but you can also contact your local U.S. Small Business Administration-run Women’s Business Center. Most offer individual business counseling in topics such as grant funding, provided by consultants who are business owners or experts in entrepreneurship themselves.
Federal Small Business Grants for Women
While the U.S. Small Business Administration does not offer grants for starting or expanding a business, it is the coordinating agency for the federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Generally speaking, these are some of the only government grants available to small businesses, and they are focused on scientific research and development, including high-tech innovations.
The SBIR and SBTT programs are open to all types of applicants, but since 2011 one of the goals of these programs has been to encourage women-owned small businesses (WOSB), and economically disadvantaged WOSBs -- and, as such, some of the contracts have been set aside specifically for women business owners in these two markets.
To search for other federal grant opportunities, both women-specific and not, or to learn more about governmental funding, visit Grants.gov. This website is the clearinghouse for all discretionary grants offered by the 26 federal grant-making agencies, as well as the home for application registration and process FAQs. Note: The website can feel overwhelming — there’s a ton of information — so make good use of its quality search page.