What is a Small Business Grant?

Small business grants are small (sometimes substantial) amounts of money given to a business or nonprofit by a grantmaker—oftentimes a government organization or corporate foundation. Unlike a loan, small business grants can be considered “free money,” as they don’t have to be paid back to the funder. Small business owners can apply for a variety of small business grants offered by state and federal governments, corporations, and specialty organizations.

Interested in learning more about small business grants? Read on to for information about small business grant applications, where you can find free money for your business, and more. Use the links below to jump ahead, or read end to end for a comprehensive perspective on small business grants.

How do small business grants work?

As we mention in our definition, each small business grant works differently depending on the kind of grant you’ve been approved for. But every small business grant will have a specified amount of money you qualify for, as well as an outline of how long the grant organization will support your business. For example, the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business (B2B) federal funding program supports organizations with grant money over a period of five years.

What’s the difference between grants and loans?

In the simplest sense, a grant is a gift and a loan is borrowed money.

This difference impacts how grants and loans are approved, what you can use them for, and who provides the funding resources for each. Since grants are given to small businesses, the person or group funding the grant (also known as the grantmaker) often has more authority over how they determine who they gift money to, and why. Grant approvals can be based on factors such as the impact on government interests, financial need, and ingenuity.

Loans on the other hand, typically subscribe to a more straightforward process: loan officers check things like creditworthiness and ability to pay off the loan amount, then decide whether or not to approve the loan applicant. While this is certainly a clearer equation to determine whether or not you’ll qualify, keep in mind that a loan is money that you have to pay back, as opposed to gifted grant money. If free money sounds great to you, stick with us to learn how you can apply for a small business grant.

What do you need to apply for a small business grant?

There are many different types of small business grants (more on that later), that your small business may apply for. Since grants are given, not loaned, each will have varying application requirements—but you can use the following information as a guideline to help you apply for your small business grant. Just be sure to confirm with the grantmaker if any other details are necessary.

  • Business Objective: In order to evaluate the longevity and profitability of your business, a grant panel will need to see a detailed explanation of your business’ objective. This statement outlines monetary goals and processes to achieve business goals over a specific timeframe.
  • Business Plan: Your business plan should be a comprehensive view of how you plan to run your business—from a description of your product or service, to how you’ll approach sales and marketing. Additionally, the Small Business Association says your small business plan should include a market analysis and financial projections that establish your business as stable and profitable.
  • Financial Documentation: Depending on the type of small business grant you’re applying for, you may need to include financial documents relevant to your business. This could include tax returns and annual budget plans.

Funding Request: Finally, you will need to outline your funding request for the grant panel to review. This section should explain how much money you will need over the lifetime of the grant, and what you intend to use the grant money for.

What Grants are Available to New Businesses?

Now that you know what a small business grant is, and what you might expect to see on a grant application, let’s take a deeper look at the different kinds of grants you might apply for as a new business owner.

Note: You don’t have to be a new business to apply for these small business grants; many will work for seasoned small businesses as well.

Federal small business grants

The federal government offers a variety of small business grants that benefit specific industries like research, technology, and rural businesses. Some are awarded based on how they further government initiatives, while others are based on ingenuity and financial need.

Top resources for federal small business grants

If a federal grant sounds like the right choice for your organization, check out these small business grant resources.

1) Grants.gov

Grants.gov is a database that compiles all grants funded by government agencies. In addition to learning about different types of grants you may qualify for, the site also provides information on different grant policies and even more specifics on the federal grant application process.

2) SBA.gov

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency that supports small business owners by connecting them with funding resources. You can find a list of grantmakers that offer various levels of funding to small business owners.

3) SBIR and STTR

The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) partner federal programs like the Departments of Defense, Energy, and the National Science Foundation with private organizations that align with the government’s initiatives. These partnerships are supported by a three-part funding program in which STTR awards grant money to qualifying businesses.

State and regional small business grants

In addition to federal funding programs, each state has different funding opportunities run by more locally-focused agencies. Below are some of the top resources for state-run small business grants.

Top resources for state and regional small business grants

1) Economic Development Administration

The Economic Development Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce that facilitates regional economic development. The EDA does this by providing services and funding opportunities within local communities. Grant opportunities range from seed funding to supplemental funding for business owners affected by natural disasters in their community.

2) Small Business Development Centers

Many cities have small business development centers that are committed to providing education and oftentimes, funding opportunities to small business owners. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if there’s a business development center in your area.

Corporate small business grants

Many corporations offer substantial funding programs for small businesses through contests, pitches, and standard grant application processes. Some of these opportunities are industry-specific, while others are general opportunities that any small business can qualify for. Some are small seed grants and others grant upwards of $25,000—sounds pretty great, right? Check out some of the best opportunities for corporate small business grants below.

Top resources for corporate small business grants

1) FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is one of the most desirable grant awards for small business owners, and for good reason. With the top award at $50,000, this grant award provides a strong foundation for business owners to accelerate and expand their business operation. In addition to the single grand prize of $50,000, FedEx also awards $30,000 to a silver prize winner, and eight awards of $15,000 to their bronze winners.

2) Patagonia Corporate Grant Program

If your business is rooted in environmental activism, you may want to apply for Patagonia’s corporate grants program. The outerwear corporation provides funding support to qualifying grassroots organizations that focus on protecting local habitats with original ideas. Patagonia accepts one grant proposal per group during their fiscal year (May 1-April 30), applications are accepted on April 30th and August 31st.

3) Visa Everywhere Initiative

Each year Visa sponsors a $50,000 grant contest for small business owners with original ideas and solutions to their challenge-based questions. Applications are accepted during Spring of each year.

Specialty small business grants

There are many grant initiatives made to promote success for business owners from a variety of demographics, including female business owners, minority and veteran entrepreneurs.

Top resources for specialty small business grants

1) Small business grants for women

If you’re a female business owner, you’ll be glad to know there’s plenty of opportunity out there for you to access grant money if you look in the right places. Many cities have women-owned business organizations that are dedicated to supporting business owners with funding help and other management resources (even workshops) to help you run your business. This is a great place to start your search for grant funding, but don’t forget to check out these three female-focused small business grant organizations.

  • Girlboss Foundation: A biannual grant for women working in the creative field, with a potential grant award of $15,000 and online exposure through a partnership with Girlboss.
  • Amber Grant: The Amber Grant started in 1998 in honor of a young entrepreneurial woman who died at age 19. Each month, a $2,000 grant is awarded to a female business owner—this grant award qualifies them for a $25,000 grant which is announced at the end of the year.
  • Open Meadows Foundation: This foundation focuses on women-owned businesses that do their part to push for gender, race, and economic justice. The Open Meadows Foundation supports these businesses by gifting $2,000 to qualifying projects that have limited access to financial funding.

2) Minority small business grants

  • Minority Business Development Agency: The Minority Business Development Agency is a government-run organization that helps minority-owned businesses grow by offering services and funding opportunities through 1,000+ grant programs.
  • Operation Hope: Operation Hope supports business owners with limited access to funding, low credit, or other obstacles that may inhibit them from opening their own business. Operation Hope offers business development courses and financial funding.

3) Veterans small business grants

  • StreetShares Foundation: The StreetShares Foundation provides free business training to veterans and offers monthly small business awards to veteran business owners who excel in their grant competition. The grant competition is judged on the social impact of the business in the military community, the product-market fit, and how the applicant plans to use the grant money.
  • Hivers and Strivers: This angel investment group focuses on providing funding to recent graduates of U.S. Military Academies that are in the early stages of opening their small business. Hivers and Strivers say they generally start with a $250,000 to $1M investment to begin with and adjust funding as needed following their initial investment.

What can Small Business Grants be Used For?

Let’s say you got approved for a small business grant (round of applause), and you’re ready to start shopping for new equipment, a robot to handle your day-to-day operations, and a celebratory lunch to honor your grant approval. But wait—before you start making a list of how you’ll spend your winnings—you should know there are some restrictions on what you can use your grant money for.

 

These limitations vary depending on the type of grant you’ve received, and where the funding is coming from (ie. federal government vs. private corporation). The good news is, private grants are often less regulated than federal, so if you’re awarded with one of those, you could even be able to use your grant money for small business taxes or payroll for your small business. Be sure to request a list of terms and conditions from the grantmaker to ensure you’re spending money in accordance with their unique guidelines.

I Can’t Find a Small Business Grant—Now What?

So maybe you’ve tried applying for every kind of small business grant available to you, with no avail. Fear not, entrepreneurial enthusiast. There are plenty of other options to access funding to help you make ends meet, and accelerate your business’ growth. Consider some of these alternatives to small business grants.

Crowdfunding

In 2017 alone, nearly $17.2 billion was generated by crowdfunders in North America. That’s to say, crowdfunding has become an incredibly important resource for small businesses and individuals alike. But before you reach out to the Kickstarter or GoFundMe communities to make some quick cash, there are some things you need to know about crowdfunding.

SBA Loans

No matter how revolutionary you think your business concept is, odds are, your bank considers your startup a risky investment. In fact, a recent survey from OnDeck found that of 10,000 business loan applicants in the U.S., 82% were denied financing from their bank. Why are small business loans denied so frequently, you ask?

 

Business owners could be denied a loan from their bank due to a multitude of reasons like poor credit, or an alarming debt-to-income ratio. But what many business owners don’t realize is that your bank is evaluating your business as an opportunity—so, if your business plan looks faulty or not profitable, they may choose not to lend you money if they think it’s too risky.

This is where SBA loans come in. Remember the Small Business Administration (SBA) from earlier? In addition to connecting business owners with grant opportunities, they also connect match lenders with small businesses. SBA reduces risk for the lender, and makes it easier for small businesses to get approved and access capital to help their business grow.

Other potential benefits include competitive loan terms, loan counseling, and even lower down payments in some loan agreements. To qualify for an SBA loan, you must be a for-profit business in the U.S., have invested equity in your business, and unable to get funds from any other financial lender.

Business Credit Cards

It’s not quite free money, but when you need access to cash you don’t have in the bank, a business credit card can help. Many offer low interest rates and even have rewards that can be applied to your credit card payments and other purchases that may help your business operate.

Get Help Funding Your Small Business

Running your own business is an exciting and fulfilling process—but there are a lot of variables to consider in addition to building your business’ mission, branding, and sharing your passion. From small business accounting to navigating grant funding, our accounting and bookkeeping professionals are here to help.

Let us help you reclaim time in your schedule to focus on growing your business and maximizing your profits.