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Grants can be offered to small businesses by the federal government, state government and even private entities, like corporations and foundations. In particular, there are specific grants available for small businesses owned by women, people of color and other minority groups and veterans.
Unlike loans, grants don’t typically need to be repaid.
Federal government grants for small business
Many branches of the federal government offer grants for small businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) are among the federal agencies that fund small business grants.
One place to start your search for federal government small business grants is the site 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 are some standout programs to get you started.
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’re interested in applying for SBIR or STTR grants, you’ll apply through the SBIR office with the federal agency awarding the grant, not through the SBA. The Departments of Commerce, Defense, Education and Transportation are among the current federal agencies that award SBIR and STTR grants.
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 must also undergo monitoring and reporting after receiving the funds.
U.S. 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 local, state and tribal government entities and then distributed to small businesses.
U.S. 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 DOE leverages the SBIR and STTR programs to award grants for research and technology in the energy field, while the EPA awards grants to businesses pursuing environmental projects.
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
Created by the Council of Community and Economic Research, 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 regional centers across the U.S., SBDCs support small businesses with free training and advice. Though SBDCs don’t award grants themselves, they can assist small businesses during the application process. Center locations are searchable by state or zip code.
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||$300 to $5,000||University of Michigan students only|
|FedEx Small Business Grant Contest||$15,000 to $50,000 (with $1,000 to $7,500 in FedEx Office print services)||2021 grant application was open to businesses with 99 or fewer employees that have been in operation for at least six months as of Feb. 16, 2021|
|Halstead Grant||Up to $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||Up to $4,000||Must be a paid member of NASE|
|Visa Everywhere Initiative||Varies||Startup 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, minority groups and veterans, among others. 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: The Amber Grant Foundation awards $10,000 to one women-owned business each month, 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 potential recipients how they would use their funds.
- 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 as much as $100,000.
- Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program: This year-long 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 51% owned and controlled by a U.S. citizen who is socially and economically disadvantaged.
- Operation Hope Programs: Operation Hope offers several programs to equip small business owners for success in low-income communities, including its 8-week entrepreneurship training program. Its 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 businesses through training and coaching.
- Minority Business Development Agency: As part of the Commerce Department, the MBDA helps Black, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native American and Hasidic Jewish business owners. This agency provides guidance for small businesses as they apply 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 and their spouses, or immediate family members or children of a military service member who died on active duty. Applicants are eligible for three awards of $4,000, $6,000 and $15,000, with their selection based on several factors, including their entity’s 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 isn’t a grant, but a business education course and training program 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 generally won’t have to be repaid, while small business loans will need to be repaid on the agreed upon timeline, with interest. Some loans will also require you to put up collateral.
How do I apply for a small business grant?
Application criteria will vary by the grant. Some grant applications ask you to submit a video pitch or a short answer, while federal grants often require a lengthier 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 they are 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. 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.