Small business grants offer free money that could help you pay salaries, buy stock, or reach new customers. Small business grants are free in the sense that you don’t have to pay them back, but they’re not handouts.
You must apply for a small business grant, which can take a decent amount of work and effort. Then, you’re up against other small businesses that also want the grant. It’s common for even small grants to get hundreds of applicants. That said, a list of small business grants is a good starting point.
These are a few things you should know about small business grant programs:
- Almost all small business grants are for existing businesses – if you haven’t started your company, it’s almost impossible to win a grant. Look for a small business loan instead.
- Grants usually have an angle – a standard coffee shop is going to have a hard time winning a grant. Most are awarded to businesses that are innovative or that contribute to a social cause.
- Grants aren’t immediate, as most small business grants only accept applications once a year, and the winner isn’t announced until later. Grants are not a short-term funding solution.
- On top of getting grants, all new businesses need the right tools to get started. It’s worth investing in what works right from the beginning.
Where to Find Small Business Grants
While there are many online small business grants available, not every small business grant is online. If you go to community business associations or small business development centers, they may be able to help find grants for which your business may be eligible.
Good places to check for small business grant programs are:
- Small Business Development Centers
- Regional SBA offices
- Local incubators
Government Grants for Small Businesses
There is a wide variety of federal grants and local grant programs.
- Grants.gov: The first place all small businesses should go is to look for a federal grant. It’s a database of thousands of grants, including small business grants, with powerful filters that will help you quickly narrow down the results to those you have a good chance of winning.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Grants: The Small Business Administration mainly helps small businesses find conventional means of funding, such as small business loans. But they also have a few small business grant programs targeted specifically at companies involved with research or exporting.
Here are the primary government small business grants:
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): SBIR is a longstanding funding program for research-based businesses with commercialization potential. They award grants through 12 main federal agencies:
- Department of Agriculture
- National Institute of Standards and Technology
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Department of Defense
- Department of Education
- Department of Energy
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Homeland Security
- Department of Transportation
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- National Science Foundation
- Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR): The STTR program is similar to the SBIR program. It also focuses on businesses involved with a research program, but is only available to those based at a formal research institution. It’s also more restrictive by industry, as only five federal agencies award STTR grants currently:
- Department of Defense
- Department of Energy
- Department of Health and Human Services
- National Science Foundation.
- State Trade Expansion Program (STEP): This program awards grants to small businesses involved in exporting. Not that much information about this small business grant is available online, so you’ll need to contact the SBA’s Office of International Trade to see your grant eligibility.
- SAM.gov (formerly the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance): This is another great federal database with a modern re-design. While there is some overlap with Grants.gov, you’ll find a few unique pointers that make it worth your while to check out. You can use the advanced search filters to see only grant recipients, or you can see other funding sources such as small business loans.
- Challenge.gov: This isn’t technically a site that offers a small business grant program, but the program does offer significant amounts of prize money for solving challenges facing various industries. Many of these challenges are technology-oriented, but there are non-tech ones as well. If you’re doing something innovative, monitor Challenge.gov for relevant challenges that might be easy for your small business to win.
- USDA Grants: If you have an agricultural or food service business, you may have a good shot at a grant from the USDA. They have these seven small b business grant programs:
Some USDA grants are focused on small rural businesses, but not all of them are. Check the eligibility requirements for each program you’re interested in to see if you qualify.
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Grants: This is where the NIST lists its grants. They are intended for small businesses across science or technology fields. You can either find the currently active grants here, or through Grants.gov.
- Department of Education Grants: The Department of Education maintains an active list of several grants they offer to small businesses in the field of education. The award ceiling for a lot of grants is up to millions of dollars, so if you run an education-based company, you should actively monitor these grants.
- EPA Grants: The EPA offers dozens of grants to small businesses that are trying to improve the environment, particularly in innovative ways. There are grants targeted towards air quality, environmental quality, water quality, pollution prevention, and more.
- Economic Development Administration (EDA): The EDA provides grants to small companies aiming to improve the infrastructure of communities. The only issue is that there’s no easy directory of grants to monitor. You’ll have to check this page often for new announcements. You can see if your enterprise is relevant by checking out previous opportunities on this page.
Corporate Business Grants
One of the best sources of small business grants is corporations looking to give back to the community. You may face less competition because these small business grants aren’t listed on popular sites like Grants.gov.
- FedEx’s Small Business Grant: Last year, this business grant program received 18,000 applications, with 10 winners total. That gives you a winning chance of 1 in 780, or 0.13%.
You can discount a big chunk of the applications because there are always irrelevant or non-serious ones, but the numbers give you a realistic look at how hard it can be to win small business grants unless you’re doing something really special. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to get grants, but be realistic.
To enter, you’ll need to deliver your elevator pitch, including how your business makes a difference to your community or the environment. And, of course, you’ll need to demonstrate that there’s an actual need for the grant money.
- Lending Tree: Lending Tree primarily offers different types of small business loans, but also periodically runs small business grant contests. They judge companies based on how passionate the founders are, and if growing their business will affect the community in a positive way.
- National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE): If you are self-employed, you may be eligible for the $4,000 grant that NASE awards monthly. There are not too many requirements to meet other than being a NASE member.
- Idea Cafe’s Small Business Grants: Idea Cafe is a news and resource site for small business entrepreneurs. They offer $1,000 to recipients, and it’s one of the few grants that you don’t even need to have your business established to enter. Winners are decided by votes from the community.
- Walmart Foundation Grants: Walmart provides grants specifically for nonprofits. The grants are not a fixed amount but fall into two ranges.
The Community Grant Program is for local nonprofits and is between $250 and $5,000.
The National Giving Program is for national nonprofits and awards grants for small businesses of $250,000 and above.
The grants are given to nonprofits that focus on opportunities, sustainability, or communities. Basically, any social-oriented enterprise.
- Wells Fargo Community Giving Grants: These grants offered by Wells Fargo are specifically for educational institutions and nonprofits. Small businesses can apply year-round, and there is no fixed amount for the award. Wells Fargo gives away millions in grants every year.
Business Grants for Women
On top of all the grants we’ve looked at so far, there are several grants and resources specifically for women-owned small businesses.
I encourage you to visit your local Women’s Business Centers if possible – there are over 100 across the United States. They will be able to point you towards additional grant options or help you find alternative funding methods.
- The Amber Grants: Each month, one small business owned by a woman wins a $10,000 Amber Grant. You will need to get votes to win, so it helps to have a strong social network. At the end of the year, the 12 recipients have a chance to win the annual $25,000.
- The InnovateHer Challenge: This is a grant for women entrepreneurs that is funded by the SBA every year. There are 3 winners, with first place receiving $40,000, second winning $20,000, and third being granted $10,000. It’s a fairly prestigious grant that comes with a lot of publicity for the recipients’ small businesses as well.
To become eligible, you first need to win a local InnovateHer challenge to qualify for the national competition.
Any type of business is eligible to compete, but those geared towards women and their social problems typically do best.
- Cartier Women’s Initiative Award: These grants are prestigious awards that can make a huge difference for any small business. There are 21 finalists (three from each of the main seven regions of the world), who all get personalized coaching, training, networking opportunities, and media visibility. That alone is worth a lot of money.
Additionally, all 21 finalists are given a grant. The top 7 get a grant of $100,000, plus personalized business mentoring. The other 14 still get a $30,000 grant.
Small Business Grants for Veterans
Many veterans go into entrepreneurship after their service. Unfortunately, while there are a lot of loans that are specifically for veterans, there are very few grants.
Your best bet is to visit a Veterans Business Outreach Center, where they can point you to any local grant for which you may be eligible. Each center also offers training, as well as access to other small business resources for veterans.
- The Second Service Foundation: The Second Service Foundation is the only reliable online source for veteran grants. They offer grants and loans for small businesses run by veterans or their spouses.
Grants are awarded each month to small businesses based on how much social impact they have and how strong their business idea is.
Small Business Grants for Minorities
There are many small business loans available for minorities, but just as for veterans, there are few grants.
- Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA): The MBDA offers very restricted grants to all types of American minorities. The grants are only given to those interested in running one of MBDA’s Minority Business Centers, and only in specific locations where they want to expand. You’ll need to offer consulting services and help them secure financing and investments, and you’ll need to show that you have experience doing this – so very few people are eligible.
In addition to those grants, MBDA also occasionally runs other grant competitions. You’ll have to monitor their news to find these opportunities in the future, but there are no set schedules or eligibility guidelines for them.
- First Nations Development Institute grants: Monitor this page and subscribe to their email list to find new grant options for small businesses owned by Native Americans. From 1993 through mid-year 2022, this organization has given over 2,702 grants for small businesses, a total of $54.7 million. There are no restrictions on the types of companies eligible for the grants, as long as the small business owner is Native American.
Miscellaneous Grants for Small Businesses
There are some grants you may be eligible for that don’t belong to any of the categories above.
- 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund: These grants are specifically for higher education institutions. While your small business can’t apply for them directly, you could partner with an institution if you offer services for students. You get funding, and they get the value of your products or services.
How to Apply For and Win Business Grants
As I’ve mentioned, there can be a lot of competition for grants. There are often hundreds of small business owners applying for a single grant.
In this section, I’ll go over the most important things to do to improve your chances of winning grants.
Dos and Don’ts of Winning Business Grants
Let’s start with some basic dos and don’ts of trying to win grants.
- Make a schedule – several grants are only open to applications once a year. Give yourself enough time to put together an application well before the due date.
- Write a business plan first – most grants will ask for one. More importantly, you should know exactly how the grant money will help your enterprise. Here’s our guide to writing a simple business plan.
- See what companies have been funded in the past – this can help you determine which grants you have a better chance of winning. If they’ve funded similar types of small businesses, that’s a good sign.
- Get help from community business organizations – I went through many types of organizations that provide assistance to small business owners. This includes helping you find grants and presenting your company in the best light.
- Consider professional help – if you come across a grant that requires a well-written cover letter or essay, consider hiring a professional grant writer if you can afford it. It’s usually only worth it for big grants.
- Wait until the last minute – several grants require you to become a member of an organization, or get a certification or license. You may not have time to meet the eligibility conditions if you wait too long.
- Use a template for all grant applications – each application should be tailored to each specific grant. Otherwise, you’ll include a lot of irrelevant information and skip important answers that were needed.
- Apply for every grant – there are several grants that your business will have virtually zero chance of winning. It’s better to spend more time on the most relevant ones than to spread yourself too thin and have lower-quality applications on multiple grants.
Dos for winning a business grant
- Plan ahead
- Write a business plan
- Research past funded companies
- Get help
- Use a generic template
- Apply for every grant
Quick Tips for Getting More Small Business Grants
There are a lot of simple things you can do to improve your chances of winning small business grants. Most are easy to understand, but you need to make sure you keep them in mind.
Learn all about other useful ways to finance your business with our Small Business Financing Guide.
Here’s how to get more grants:
- Always look for new grant options. Setting up a Google Alert is a good idea.
- Make sure the time spent to apply is actually worth the award.
- Read over the specific individual application instructions for each grant. Some are similar, but few are exactly the same.
- Double-check that you are eligible before spending a lot of time on an application.
- Provide specific numbers on how the grant will be used and how it will help.
- Double-check your spelling and grammar.
- If you can, submit your application early – you may look more prepared than those who apply late.
- Back up claims with credible citations.
- Be realistic when mentioning your company’s costs and revenue.
- Find a book from your library on grant writing if you want to write better proposals.
Don’t miss the opportunity!
There are many small business grants out there if you’re willing to work for them.
If you want to win them, you’ll need to take it seriously and beat out the competition. Don’t be afraid to apply to smaller ones, because they will often have less competition than the grants for small businesses with high awards.
I strongly encourage you to also visit local small business associations, and pursue other means of small business financing if you need money urgently.
If you still have any questions about grants, please leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them.
Don’t Forget To Form Your Business
Once you’ve decided on a new enterprise, the most important next step is to officially form your business. Most small businesses are set up as LLCs (Limited Liability Companies).
This keeps all of your assets separate from the company, limiting your personal liability while giving you the pass-through tax benefits of being a sole proprietor.
Frequently Asked Questions About Small Business Grants
How do you qualify for a small business grant?
Each small business grant grant specifies which businesses are eligible to win it. Anyone can apply, but if you don’t meet the criteria, you have no chance of getting it. Of the grants listed on this page, almost every small business owner can apply for those in the government and corporate grant sections.
As mentioned above, if you’re a woman, you have several grant options on top of that.
Most of the remaining grants I included here are for a specific type of company, so you’ll need to look at them individually and see if your small business is eligible.
Do you have to pay back small business grants?
No! That’s what makes them grants. Unlike loans, grants do not need to be paid back, and they can be used for just about anything business-related.
Some grants do require you to report back how the grants were used and how they helped, but that’s usually for them to get more publicity or to try to help you further.
What is the limit on the number of grants a small business owner can apply for?
There are rarely any limits on the number of grants for which you can apply. However, you can only apply to each grant once per business. Sometimes, a program offers multiple grants per year. Most of them allow companies to submit applications multiple times, but a few do not. Check the grant details to find out.
What type of credit do small business owners need to get a grant?
Credit is rarely a factor when determining the winner of a small business grant. However, you’ll likely need decent credit to get your enterprise up and running in the first place before you can even apply for most grants.
Additionally, most grants require that your small business is in good financial standing, meaning you don’t have any unreasonable debt that can’t realistically be paid back.
How much grant money can I get?
The amount of grant money awarded varies widely based on each small business grant. One small business owner might win an award of $500, while another might win $500,000. The amount of each grant should be something you consider when you’re deciding which ones to apply for.