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There are many small-business grants specifically catered to women business owners, and we've compiled a list of our top recommendations. The number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has grown 45% since 2007, which is five times faster than the national average. As the number of women entering the small-business scene has increased, so have financing options specifically for women business owners. We know how much time can be put into grant applications, so we've done some of the research for you.
Recommended Databases and Foundations for Women
We recommend you leverage free databases and search tools to ensure your search is entirely comprehensive. Although we analyzed more than 100 small-business grants, other grants may fit your business perfectly.
Grantsforwomen.org is the one of the most comprehensive search tools for grants and challenges specifically for women. The site doesn't have the easiest filtering tool, but it does list dozens of grants geared toward women.
Grants.gov is the most comprehensive government website that contains all of the grants offered by government agencies. We like that it's so comprehensive and has filters to narrow your search by eligibility parameters. That means you'll spend less time finding the right funding for your business, but we don't like that there are so many steps before you can even apply for a grant.
Before you can apply, you'll need to first register here and obtain a DUNS number. You'll then need to take that DUNS number and your EIN or SSN, and register on the SAM website here. Once that is done, you can then create an account with Grants.gov. All registrations are free.
We recommend Challenge.gov because it leads to both grants and government-hosted challenges. Challenges are similar to grants in that they'll require pitches and extensive applications, but each one usually addresses a niche problem. Even if your business isn't designed to tackle a specific problem, we still recommend you check out challenges to see if there is a chance you'd qualify.
This tool is great for small businesses that focus on pioneering technology. Navigation is straightforward, and you'll see awards or grants from all sorts of different government agencies. Here, the word "pioneering" is more subjective and relative to the competition. However, the SBIR's mission focuses on women: to "foster and encourage participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by women and socially or economically disadvantaged persons."
The SBA WBCs is a network that helps women start and grow a small business. These centers provide mentoring and networking opportunities, and they can help direct you to available grants. Check here to see where your local WBC is located.
The MBDA is a subgroup of the U.S. Department of Commerce and offers a number of grants and challenges throughout the year for minority business owners. We recommend any woman business owner who is also a minority check out the MBDA. The agency has planned more than $11 million in grant funding for 2018 alone.
Early Stage Small-Business Grants for Women
The grants below are intended to help women entrepreneurs advance an idea into an actual business. Of course, your idea needs to be well-thought-out to be competitive. Most grants will require a business plan, and while the definition of a plan can change from grant to grant, there are some general guidelines you can follow. A good business plan should have a multiyear projection that spells out key milestones, forecasted revenue and cost projections, and a clearly spelled-out value proposition. The SBA provides a great tool to help you build one.
SBA InnovateHER Challenge
This grant should be at the top of the list for any woman who has a solid business plan and needs capital to get it kicked off. The challenge doesn't require applicants to have a functioning business yet, and it offers winners a chance at $40,000.
While this grant isn't exclusive to women, we still recommend it because it doesn't require that your business actually be operational yet, and grants that accept business ideas are quite rare. Under its current grant, applicants get the chance to gain some free publicity. The winner can earn $1,000 in cash and $1,500 in advertising credits. Applicants who submit video applications may be featured on Idea Cafe's Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The Girlboss Foundation
This grant is exclusive to women who represent a business, but the foundation cannot give the grant to the business directly. Applicants need to be in the fields of design, fashion, music and the arts and will require a portfolio. Although the grant seems a bit restrictive, we still recommend it because it gives out two $15,000 grants per year.
Established Small-Business Grants for Women
The grants below all require your business to demonstrate some level of past success in order to apply or at least be competitive. For example, the Startup Runway Foundation requires your business have at least $10,000 in monthly revenue or 1,000 daily users.
The Amber Grant is great because it has such a regular cadence. It provides $500 to $2,000 to a select business every month, and those monthly winners are then eligible to win a $10,000 grant at the end of the year. The flexibility of being able to apply at any point during the year and the simple application (you'll illustrate the story of your business) make this grant one of our favorites.
Startup Runway Foundation
This foundation grants $5,000 to $10,000 to women and minority startup founders. The only drawback here is that your business must be located in the Southeast. If your business is located elsewhere, this grant may not be for you.
This grant isn't specifically designed for women, but FedEx has publicly stated they'd like to see more women apply. We can't ignore this grant because of its hefty prizes. Winners have the opportunity to win $7,500 to $25,000 in cash and $1,000 to $7,500 in FedEx office supplies. Also, applicants have the chance to promote their business because the public votes for the winners, making this grant extra attractive.
The Most Competitive Small-Business Grants for Women
If you feel that your business is ready to take the global stage and compete with other businesses, then the grants below are for you. These grants will give considerably more money but will require a stronger application, given the heavy competition.
This is a serious competition, as the top seven applicants receive $100,000 and 14 others receive $30,000. This is one of the most competitive grants on this list.
This grant program is one of the best grants for women entrepreneurs because winners have the chance at $100,000 and one year of access to educational workshops, webinars, consulting sessions, networking activities and more. In other words, this grant provides women the capital necessary for their business along with the education and skills to best take advantage of it.
If your business generates more than $1 million in revenue and is part of the IT, digital health or clean-tech sectors, consider partnering with Belle Capital USA. Its mission is to help enable early stage businesses with women leaders grow their businesses quickly and effectively. However, be aware that this is not a grant and is instead angel funding. Belle will look for a board seat and/or preferred stock.
Small-Business Grants for Nonprofit Organizations
There's a wide variety of small-business grants available for nonprofits from both private and federal lenders. Most grants will require your organization be tax-exempt and also provide value for women in your community.
The Patrina Foundation's mission is to improve the lives of girls and women by funding social and nonprofit ventures in the New York metropolitan area. If your organization helps promote the lives of girls and women, we recommend the Patrina Foundation Grant. Since its inception in 1990, the foundation has provided more than $9 million in funding to over 450 organizations.
Open Meadows Foundation
This foundation provides grants for projects that promote gender equality, racial equality or economic justice for women. If your business organizes activist protests and community events, engages in environmentalism or supports any other form of political action that engages women to help women, this grant is right for you. However, be aware that grants are less than $2,000, and the foundation heavily prioritizes smaller businesses and startups.
We recommend this grant because it allocates 50% of its grants to organizations with innovative ideas and the other 50% to organizations with demonstrated success. This is unique because few grants actually allocate funding for ideas. This grant is made available to nonprofit organizations that better the lives of women within Kansas or Missouri.
We recommend this state-funded grant because of its strong focus on women entrepreneurs and the additional access to educational and mentoring opportunities. Keep in mind that the grant does require the organization operate in Massachusetts.
The Walmart Foundation grants range anywhere from $250 to $250,000 and only consider nonprofits. The foundation has some of the largest grants for nonprofits, which is why we consider this a great resource. Grants aren't specifically reserved for women, but the foundation does state a preference for women-led businesses.
The AAUW offers six grants with varying requirements, application seasons and funding levels. Grants range from educational funding to nonprofit grants. Keep in mind that these grants are open to women across the globe, so competition will be tougher than a domestic grant. Funding will range from $2,000 to $30,000.
What You Should Know Before Applying for Small-Business Grants
Some business owners view grants as "free money"—but they aren't totally free. While it may be true that grants usually don't require repayments, they do require some of your time. The end to end application to funding process can often take more than a year. Grants are by no means a form of quick funding. Wait times will vary, but federal grants generally take the longest.
Compared to other forms of financing, grants are also much harder to obtain. Competition is typically tough, especially if the grant prize is larger or has broader application requirements. The tougher the competition, the more time it will take putting together a competitive application and networking with the funder.
Also, don't forget about the plethora of alternative financing options for small businesses. There are plenty of options in the form of small-business loans, business credit lines, business credit cards, microloans and more. Yes, you will have to deal with fees on top of your repayment plans for those other options. But if you could earn revenue using the capital, then the extra revenue may outweigh the costs of financing. In general, it will take far less time to apply for financing than grants, and you may get approved for more money and grow your business even further.
When is a grant right for you? It may be time to apply for a grant if any of the following apply to you: You're a nonprofit organization with limited revenue/funding and can't secure another form of financing; you have an idea that you want to transform into a business; or your business doesn't meet the requirements of other forms of financing but matches the requirements of certain grants. If your business really doesn't have the wiggle room to consider financing that requires fees or repayments, you likely won't find a better alternative than grants.
Don't Know Where to Start?
What's the goal? Before you apply, you'll want to make sure you understand exactly how your business will use the funding. What's the issue you're trying to address? How much funding will you need? When you're applying for grants, you'll need a strong understanding of your own business to quickly determine how and where you'll qualify. Grants are typically organized by either business type (startup, established, $1 million in revenue, etc.) or by business category (nonprofit, clean energy and so on). Knowing which one of these best describes your business will help you know which grants to apply for and which ones to ignore.
Get familiar with the market Utilize the databases we've compiled to understand the grant market. Grants will typically set restrictions on the location of the business, whether it is for-profit or not, the industry the business operates within, or the minimum revenue the business brings in. These parameters will be the quickest way to determine how your business fits in.
Public vs private grants While private grants are more rare, they tend to be more lenient with their requirements and how the grants can be used. Because public grants are often tied down with heavy legal restrictions, their applications take a longer time to complete.
Identify potential matches As you compile your list of potential funders, keep an eye out for funders that have shown a history of offering grants to businesses similar to your own. Beyond the most common limiting factors we listed above, a funder's past history, which can often be found on its website, can often be a good way to tell if your business is likely to secure a grant.
Review your list Once you've compiled your list, filter the choices with these parameters in the following order. At the end of your review, you should have a list of grants for which you'll qualify.
- Profit versus nonprofit
- Age of business
- Minimum revenue requirement
- Level of funding the grant provides
Network Do not apply for a grant with a foundation or funder you've never contacted. You'll need to at least call the funder to make sure your grant is as competitive as possible. Also consider contacting past winners for tips on how to win. Of course, you'll need to take the size of the grant into account, but for the largest grants, this can very well be worth it.