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The federal government, state government and even private entities, like corporations and foundations, offer grants to small businesses. There are additional grants available for small businesses owned by women, people of color and veterans.
Unlike loans, grants are considered "free money" because they don’t typically need to be repaid.
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COVID-19 small business grants
To help small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government is offering several forms of COVID-19 small business grants and aid. These grants assist venue or restaurant operators and other businesses experiencing a loss in revenue due to COVID-19.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) oversees the administration of federal small business grants for coronavirus relief.
Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG)
With so many live venues forced to close or scale back capacity due to pandemic restrictions, operators of venues like movie theaters, museums, zoos and live theaters may qualify for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Small businesses may be eligible for up to $10 million or 45% of their 2019 revenue. To qualify, businesses must prove they were in operation as of Feb. 29, 2020.
Targeted EIDL Advance
The Targeted EIDL Advance functions as a grant for businesses in low-income communities that suffered a loss of revenue during the coronavirus pandemic. The Targeted EIDL provides funds of up to $10,000 for business owners who:
- Are in a low-income community (as identified by the Internal Revenue Code)
- Can prove a reduction in revenue of 30% or more during an eight-week period on or after March 2, 2020 and
- Have 300 employees or less.
In addition, smaller businesses with 10 employees or less that can demonstrate a 50% loss of revenue in an eight-week period following March 2, 2020 may qualify for an additional $5,000 Supplemental Targeted EIDL Advance.
To apply, businesses must first apply for a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. You do not need to accept or be approved for the loan to qualify for the Targeted EIDL Advance.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which has since closed to applicants, was a loan program that helped businesses keep employees on payroll instead of making layoffs during the pandemic. Though it was not a grant, businesses were eligible for PPP loan forgiveness if they could prove that they used the funds for payroll and a specific list of other expenses, like mortgage, rent, utilities or payments. When applying for PPP forgiveness, businesses must submit documentation that proves the funds were used for eligible expenses.
Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF)
Restaurant owners and operators who experienced a pandemic-related loss of revenue were eligible for grants up to their 2019 revenue minus 2020 receipts. The total amount available was $10 million for restaurant groups, or $5 million per location.
As of July 2, the RRF is closed to new applicants.
State COVID small business grants
In addition to SBA grants, several states have open applications for COVID-19 small business grants. For example, the New York State COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program offers grants of up to $50,000 to to small businesses that did not receive a RRF grant, and Ohio offers industry-specific grants for restaurants, lodging and entertainment venues, as well as grants for small businesses that started up in 2020. Check your state’s business agency website to learn more about small business grants in your state.
Federal government grants for small business
In addition to COVID-19 assistance, the federal government offers additional grants for small businesses. The SBA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Agriculture are among the federal agencies that fund small business grants.
One place to start your search for federal government small business grants is grants.gov, a comprehensive database of funding opportunities from federal agencies. It might be a good starting point, but the breadth of the database may make it a bit unwieldy, too. Here
Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs
The SBIR and STTR programs provide grants for businesses that advance research and development or technological innovation for commercial purposes. If you are interested in applying for SBIR or STTR grants, you apply through the SBIR office with the federal agency awarding the grant, not through the SBA. Among the current federal agencies that award SBIR and STTR grants include the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Education and Transportation.
State Trade Expansion Program (STEP)
The SBA makes STEP grants for small businesses to assist with export development. STEP grants are made to state governments who in turn make grants to small businesses that help boost exports.
With over $32 billion to award each year, the NIH is the largest public funder of biomedical research. The NIH awards small business grants through the SBIR and STTR programs, but the application process is extensive, and grant recipients will also undergo monitoring and reporting after receiving the funds.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The USDA offers grants to small businesses in the agricultural and food service businesses, with an emphasis on businesses serving rural communities. Many USDA grants are awarded to state governments or tribal entities and then distributed to small businesses.
US Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The DOE and EPA are among the federal agencies that offer grants to small businesses. The Energy Department leverages the SBIR and STTR programs to award grants for research and technology on energy production and use, and the EPA awards grants to businesses assisting in environmental clean up and protection.
State government grants for small business
Like the federal government, states also offer government grants for small businesses. Because the applicant pool for state grants may be smaller, competition may also be less intense. As noted above, sometimes federal agencies make grants to state governments, who then distribute the funds.
U.S. Economic Development Administration
As part of the Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Administration can be a great resource for funding opportunities for small businesses. The EDA collaborates with state and local communities, who administer the funds to stimulate regional economic development.
State Business Incentives Database
Run by the Council of State Governments, the State Business Incentives Database enables small businesses to locate grants, as well as tax credits and incentives, offered by your state.
Small Business Development Centers
With nearly 1,000 regional centers across the U.S., SBDCs support small businesses with free training and advice. Though SBDCs do not award grants, they can assist small businesses during the application process.
Private small business grants
In addition to government grants for small businesses, some private corporations and foundations also offer small business grants, including some small business startup grants. Private grants require their own applications and may contain eligibility restrictions limited to certain industries.
Special Eligibility Criteria
|Coca-Cola Foundation||Varies||Does not fund specific industries|
|Dare to Dream Grant||$300-$5,000||University of Michigan students only|
|FedEx Small Business Grant Contest||$15,000-$50,000||2021 grant application was open to businesses with 1-99 employees and in operation for at least six months as of Feb. 16, 2021|
|Halstead Grant||$7,500 in start up capital plus $1,000 in merchandise||New jewelry businesses working in silver only|
|National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grant||$4,000||Must be a paid member of NASE|
|Visa Everywhere Initiative||$10,000-$50,000||Startup businesses focused on payment solutions for consumers or businesses|
Small business grants for women, minorities, and veterans
To help encourage entrepreneurship among specific populations, there are additional small business grants that target small businesses owned by women, people of color or veterans. These grants are in addition to the government and private options discussed above.
Small business grants for women
Here are some small business grants for women-owned businesses:
- Amber Grant for Women: Each month, the Amber Grant Foundation awards $10,000 to one women-owned business, and at the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly winners receives an additional $25,000 grant. The short application requires a $15 fee, and asks what you would do with the money.
- Cartier Women’s Initiative: The Cartier Women’s Initiative is a set of entrepreneurship programs for women business owners, including a fellowship program and several awards offering grants of $100,000.
- Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program: This yearlong fellowship provides mentorship and business guidance to 50 women business owners, along with a $5,000 grant for business education.
If none of these grants are the right fit, or if you need more funding, consider small business loans for women.
Small business grants for minorities
Here are some small business grants for minority-owned businesses:
- SBA 8(a) Business Development Program: Though not specifically a grant program, the 8(a) Business Development Program enables small businesses owners from socially or economically disadvantaged groups to be eligible to compete for certain federal government contracts. To be eligible, the business must be at least 51% owned by someone who has faced racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias.
- Operation Hope Programs: Operation Hope offers several programs to equip small business owners for success in low-income communities, including their 8-week entrepreneurship training program. Their One Million Black Business and Entrepreneur Initiative (1MBB) works to close the racial wealth gap in the U.S. by helping Black entrepreneurs start or grow their business through training and coaching.
- Minority Business Development Agency: As part of the Commerce Department, the MBDA helps Black, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander and Hasidic Jewish businesses owners apply for federal contracts. They provide guidance for small businesses applying for federal grants.
Small business grants for veterans
Here are some small business grants for veteran-owned businesses:
- StreetShares Foundation: StreetShares is a foundation dedicated to supporting veteran entrepreneurship through educational content, networking and business coaching sessions. The foundation also runs the Military Entrepreneur Challenge, a competition open to veterans or their spouses for three grants between $4,000 and $15,000 awarded for its social impact on the military community.
- Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program: Similar to the 8(a) Business Development program, the SBA runs this program to help award federal government contracts to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.
- Boots to Business: The Boots to Business program is not a grant but a business education course offered by the SBA for transitioning service members interested in starting a business.
If you need more funding or these programs don’t fit your needs, explore options for small business loans for veterans.
How are grants different from small business loans?
Small business grants are generally free money that doesn’t have to be repaid, while small business loans will need to be repaid on the agreed upon timeline, with interest. Some loans also require you to put up collateral.
How do I apply for a small business grant?
Application criteria varies based upon each grant. Some grant applications ask you to submit a video pitch or a short answer, while federal grants require a lengthy application process. Make sure you submit the correct documents because competition for grants is often stiff.
Are there small business startup grants?
Yes, startup grants for small businesses are available, but it is usually for research and development in specific industries. If you need more funds for your small business startup, consider applying for a startup small business loan.
Who can apply for SBA grants?
SBA grants are available to business owners in a range of industries, but targeted toward businesses who have suffered because of COVID-19. Though not specifically a grant program, the SBA also runs programs that award federal government contracts to small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans or people of color.