Free. Money. If you’re a small business owner, those two words will always catch your attention. Whether you are just starting out, or want to take your business to the next level, grant programs can give you a leg up on the competition by providing much-needed funds—without expecting you to pay them back. But how do you find the right grants for your business? Keep reading to find out.
Grants and loans are both useful ways to infuse your business with the capital you need to grow. However, each type of funding comes with its own pros and cons, so it’s important to understand the difference in order to choose the right route for your business. Below are some key distinctions between grants and loans:
Small business loans are available to any qualifying business, even if other businesses or similar businesses have also applied. As long as a bank or lender thinks your business is a good investment, you can receive a loan. In contrast, grants usually have one or a small handful of winners.
You have to pay your loan back, and loans come with interest. While grants may come with stipulations, you aren’t expected to return the money directly.
Grant money often comes with plenty of rules for how you can spend the cash, whereas loan money is usually under the discretion of the business owner.
Unlike loans or business credit cards, grants do not boost your small business credit, which can be seen as one of the downsides of this “free money.”
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Before you apply to any grant, make sure you’ve read the eligibility requirements carefully and in full. Some grants are highly specific and include stipulations on business size, owner gender or ethnicity, location, industry, and more. Once you’re sure that you’re eligible, it’s time to apply!
Every grant application is going to be different, based on the corporation or agency providing the funding. Many applications will require an essay discussing why your business deserves the money, your business goals, or how you impact the industry/local economy/young people’s education (etc.). Some will require more unique pitches, such as video pitches, social media involvement, or other proof of your business concept, like prototypes. That being said, there are a few things you’ll need to include on every grant application, including:
Company tax information, such as your Employer Tax ID
Address and contact information
An explanation of how the funds will be used
Your business’s “elevator pitch”
Your business plan
Federal grants for small business are awarded by many government agencies, including the Small Business Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and even the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of these grants are given to companies whose projects either directly impact the agency’s goals, or positively impact the American economy as a whole.
SBA Grants are some of the most well-known, and therefore difficult-to-win free grants for small business. The SBA works with other agencies to provide a number of different grants, each with specific goals and project types in mind. Two of the largest grant programs offered by the federal government are the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program. These highly competitive programs encourage entrepreneurs to research and develop new technologies with the potential for commercialization and collaborate with non-profit research institutions on innovative new products.
Government grants from other federal agencies include:
Rural Business Investment Program: Offered by the USDA, this grant for starting a business brings capital investments and new companies to rural areas of the US.
Environmental Education (EE) Grants: This grant is rewarded by the EPA to educational institutions that promote environmental awareness and environmentally-friendly practices.
You can also find more government grants for small businesses on these accredited sites:
Private small business grants usually come from large corporations who want to fund new business ideas and growth here in the USA. These grants can range from a few hundred dollars to millions to support your business growth.
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest: This contest has 10 winners each year, and is open to SMBs with less than 99 employees that have been in operation for less than six months. The grand prize is $50,000 and the competition has thousands of applicants each year!
NASE Growth Grants: Eligible members of the National Association of the Self-Employed can apply for these entrepreneurial grants, which are worth about $4,000 each and must be used to finance a specific business need.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Global Challenges: The numerous challenges offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are focused on businesses and nonprofits that are solving global issues.
Spoonflower Small Business Grant: This small business grant is open to any SMB owner at any stage of their business. Instead of award money, the winner gets credit for digitally printed fabrics and gift wraps for their business.
Visa Everywhere Initiative: This series of grants are offered to technology businesses who are working to solve payment issues, or provide technology solutions to Visa or its partners. Since 2015, the Initiative has paid out over $2.5 Billion to more than 70 winners.
Large corporate grants and federally funded programs are fantastic ways to get free money for your business, without giving away equity or paying interest. However, these grants also come with a huge amount of competition from companies all around the country. Remember that each grant proposal takes time and effort, and a very select few businesses will win the big fish.
That’s where local and specialty grants come in. These grants serve much more specific business pools, allowing new and existing small business owners to get a spotlight and the funding they deserve.
Local programs are focused on bringing new business, jobs and wealth to cities and states, and reward locally-owned companies, especially those that are involved in the community or have the potential for significant growth. To find small business grants that fund your area, be sure to check out your city and state’s Small Business Development Centers for listings! Some top programs funded at the state and city level include:
Cleveland, OH: The Technology Business Grant Program encourages tech businesses to find a home in Cleveland by rewarding companies that create at least five new jobs in the city during their first year of business.
Miami, FL: The Mom and Pop Small Business Grant helps locally-owned small business in Miami-Dade County purchase everything from equipment to marketing materials to security systems.
Texas: Young Farmer Grant is awarded to individuals between the ages of 18-45 who are actively engaged in expanding Texas’ agriculture industry.
Idaho: The STEP Grant is actually a group of grants totaling $600,000, designed to reward local businesses that are expanding Idaho’s trade and export opportunities.
As American businesswomen continue to shatter the glass ceiling, these programs help their businesses to succeed:
These small business grants are designed to bring minority-led companies to the forefront of their industry by funding expansion, R&D and more.
The grants below provide assistance to veteran-led businesses across the country. While we can never repay these heroes for their sacrifices, these grants ensure our veterans can achieve their dreams here at home.
Small business grants can offer you the financial aid you need to hit your business goals, give exposure to your ideas and act as a driver for continual innovation. Whether you’re just starting out, or have been in business for years, there’s a grant out there that’s just waiting for you.
Want to learn more about how to create a successful business? Check out our articles on tips for launching your business and why businesses that accept credit cards get more sales.