Choose the Best Small Business Loan
Small business grants can be a great way to get debt- and equity-free financing for your business. However, most grant programs are fairly competitive or targeted to specific types of businesses. To help you find opportunities that fit your small business, we reviewed over several dozen grant databases and programs and found the best places to get a small business grant in 2018.
Government Small Business Grants
Federal, state and local governments all offer grant and assistance programs for small businesses, including startup businesses, businesses owned by women, veterans or minorities and other types of small businesses.
Small Business Administration: The SBA is primarily known for its great loan programs, but the agency also offers a few business awards. One of the most well-known is the SBA InnovateHer challenge, which provides up to $70,000 in prize money to startup businesses that design products and services for women and their families.
Grants.gov: If you want a government grant for your small business, this should be your first place to look. Grants.gov is a database of all federal grants, including all federal small business grants. The site offers a comprehensive site of filters so you can find grants that will be the best fit for your business.
BusinessUSA: BusinessUSA is the federal government’s business financing and service portal. Through the site’s Access Financing tool, you can fill out a short questionnaire about your business, your special group status (i.e., woman, minority, veteran, etc.) and your planned use of funds. The tool will then show all federal and state financing programs for which you may be eligible.
Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance: The CFDA is a database of federal financial and nonfinancial assistance programs available to both citizens, businesses and other organizations. The database does include grant programs in addition to loans, training programs and contracting opportunities.
State Business Incentives Database: The Council of State Governments maintains a database of business assistance programs available in each state. Simply select the state in which your business resides, and you’ll be able to see a list of tax credits, grants and loan programs offered by your state and local government.
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): The SBIR program was established in 1982 with the purpose of helping small business perform federally-funded research and development for products and services with commercialization potential. From 1982 to 2009, the program has awarded over $26.9 billion to small businesses through the U.S. The SBIR program is administered by the SBA, and 12 federal agencies currently provide SBIR grants to small businesses.
Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR): The STTR program is an offshoot of the SBIR program. Like the SBIR program, it provides small businesses with the opportunity to perform research and development that is funded by the federal government. However, small businesses in the STTR program must formally collaborate with a research institution. Currently, only five federal agencies participate in the STTR program: Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, NASA and the National Science Foundation.
Challenge.gov: The Challenge.gov website hosts government-sponsored contests from federal agencies. Prize money ranges from tens of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. Challenges are diverse, from creating new graphical user interfaces to water sensors to hackathons. For example, the EPA is currently sponsoring a $20,000 award for individuals or businesses to build advanced septic nitrogen sensors.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grants: The USDA offers a variety of grant and loan programs for small businesses in the U.S. Most of the programs are aimed at agriculture or food service businesses and businesses located in rural communities. For example, the agency funds a Rural Business Development Grant up to $500,000, with the aim of supporting public and private businesses in rural communities. The USDA also offers grants through the SBIR program.
National Institute of Standards and Technology Grants: If your business does work related to science, technology, computing, engineering or public safety, you may be eligible for a grant from the NIST. The NIST also offers grants for middle school science teachers at public and private education institutions. The NIST also offers grants through the SBIR program.
Department of Education Grants: For businesses in the education space, the Department of Education offers a few grants for private nonprofits and charter management organizations for elementary, secondary and postsecondary education purposes. The Department of Education also offers grants through the SBIR program.
Environmental Protection Agency Grants: The EPA funds over a dozen grant programs from environmental education grants to air quality grants. Grants are available for private and nonprofit companies, as well as students and professors. The EPA also offers grants through the SBIR program.
Corporate and Private Small Business Grants
Many corporations, foundations and other nonprofit organizations offer private small business grants. Like government grants, these programs are typically competitive or focused on certain types of businesses (i.e., women-owned businesses, micro-businesses, veteran-owned businesses). Because there’s no single central database for corporate and private grants, you will have to do a little more research to find opportunities that fit your business. However, in the table below, we list 18 grant programs from a variety of foundations, corporations and nonprofits.
|Grant Program||Amount||Special Eligibility Criteria|
|Cartier Women's Initiative Award||$100,000||Women-owned businesses only|
|Dare to Dream Grant Program||$500 - $10,000||University of Michigan students only|
|Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program||$12,000 - $120,000||Women-owned businesses only|
|FedEx Small Business Grant Contest||$25,000|
|Fundera Zach Grant||$2,500|
|Halstead Grant||$250 - $7,500||Jewelry businesses only|
|IdeaCafe Small Business Grant||$1,000||Only required to have a business plan|
|LendingTree Small Business Grant Contest||$50,000|
|NASE Growth Grants||$4,000||Micro-businesses only (10 employees or fewer)|
|Open Meadows Foundation Grant Program||$2,000||Women-owned businesses only|
|StreetShares Foundation Grant||$4,000 - $15,000||Exclusive to veteran entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry|
|Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship||$10,000 - $100,000||Women-owned businesses only|
|VetFran Business Grant Fund||$10,000||Exclusive to VetFran franchisees|
|Visa Everywhere Initiative||$50,000|
|Walmart Foundation||Varies||Nonprofits only|
|Wells Fargo Community Giving||Varies||Nonprofits and educational organizations only|
|WomensNet Amber Grant||Varies||Women-owned businesses only|
Another place to look for private grant money is within your community and state. Your city will likely have local chapters of business associations, a chamber of commerce and other business development organizations. In your state, there will also be regional SBA offices and other offices affiliated with the SBA, including SCORE Chapters, Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers and Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers. All of these organizations may keep a list of grant opportunities available to businesses in the area. There may also be opportunities available through incubators and accelerator programs in your community.
Other Funding Options to Consider
Grants are notoriously difficult to get due to high levels of competition. If you’re committed to getting debt-free funding, you should also consider crowdfunding and equity financing (especially if you own a startup business). Crowdfunding lets you raise money for projects and products by having individuals donate to your campaign. Projects that fare well on crowdfunding platforms are consumer products (i.e., luggage, watches, headphones, coolers etc.) and creative projects (i.e., TV shows, movies, plays, board games, books, etc.). Some of the most popular crowdfunding websites include Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Patreon.
Another avenue to consider is equity financing. Through equity financing, you can receive funding for your business in exchange for a piece of ownership. While you can pursue venture capital financing, you can also find a local investor or partner. This can often be a better solution for small business owners. The main consideration to keep in mind is if the investor or partner is a good fit for your business. It can be tempting to take the first offer you receive, but you should think about whether the person offering you money will work well for your business.
As always, getting a small business loan is an option for your company. While you will have to pay back the loan with interest, many lenders offer competitive terms for qualified borrowers. Moreover, loan amounts are significantly higher than grant amounts, as you can borrow up to several million dollars or more, and loans have fewer restrictions on the use of the funds when compared to many grants.