If you’re starting a business, one of your biggest concerns is how to secure funding for your new venture. Even if you’re confident that funding sources like small business loans, crowdfunding, or investors may provide the venture capital you need, there’s an extra option. It is worth your time to look into business grants, especially when getting started. After all, grants are “free money” that you don’t have to pay back.
Getting a grant isn’t like winning the lottery. Read on to learn more about the ins and outs of small business grants, how to find one that’s right for you, and how to start applying.
What is a Small Business Grant?
Small business grants are money made available to new businesses by various organizations or government entities. The intention of this free money is to encourage entrepreneurship and economic development that benefits society by creating jobs, encouraging market competition, providing needed services to certain populations, or spark technological development.
Grant money presents a significant opportunity for small business owners, and can make it much easier to get a new business off the ground without owing money to lenders or incurring significant credit card debt. However, it’s important to keep in mind that while money is awarded to you if you qualify, it may come with rules that dictate how you can spend it. If you break those rules, you might have to give it back or face legal action.
Can I Get a Grant to Help Open My Business?
If you have a new business idea that you’re ready to act on, checking out grant opportunities to help with cash flow is a good place to start. In general, startup or small business grants are easiest to qualify for if your business is a nonprofit organization or is launching a project that focuses on:
- Medical research
Additional categories for which grants may be available include:
- Ecologically friendly or green businesses
- Rural businesses
- Government contracting needs
- Women-owned businesses
- Veteran-owned businesses
- Minority-owned businesses
- Businesses located in areas with low economic growth or development
How Do I Qualify for a Small Business Grant?
Qualifying for small business grant programs isn’t always straightforward. It’s important to note that different grant opportunities may have different eligibility requirements, such as requiring specific types of business activities or United States citizenship. Make sure you read the criteria for each grant carefully.
New and existing businesses may be competing for these grants, and business owners often seek the help of grant writers to prepare their applications to increase their chances. The following list of grants is only a sample of available funding opportunities from government agencies and other sources.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
The SBA is a government agency that provides support for entrepreneurship and small business development to strengthen the economy. The general requirements for SBA grants can be found on the SBA.gov website, which includes details of required accounting procedures, audit requirements, and more.
SBA-associated award programs include the following:
- Boots to Business (B2B) Funding Opportunity: A five-year business support program for active-duty service members, veterans, and their spouses
- SCORE: A funding opportunity for small businesses that have received SBA SCORE awards
- 7(j) Management and Technical Assistance Services: For small businesses in regions I through X to help with management and technical assistance
- Program for Investors in Microentrepreneurs (PRIME): For private, nonprofit microenterprise development organizations
- State Trade Expansion Program (STEP): Provides funding to state entities to help small businesses with export development (You can find the awardee for your state here and apply directly to them for funding.)
Grants for Research and Development
If your business will be engaged in research and development activities, you may wish to seek grants for that purpose. A few organizations that offer such grants are as follows:
- National Science Foundation (NSF): The NSF supports science and engineering research in the areas of biology, computer and information science and engineering, education and human resources, engineering, environmental research, geosciences, mathematics and physical sciences, and social, behavioral, and economic sciences.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): NASA evaluates and selects research proposals submitted in response to announcements it makes.
- Department of Energy: This organization offers grants for research associated with the development of clean energy technologies.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH offers grants that fund various forms of biomedical research.
Grants for Exporting
If your business will export to foreign markets, there are grants for this purpose. Among these are the following:
- State Trade Expansion Program (STEP): STEP provides funding to state entities to help small businesses with export development. You can find the awardee for your state here and apply directly to them for funding.
- U.S. Trade and Development Agency: They fund projects related to developing trade with foreign markets.
- Special American Business Internship Training (SABIT) Program: This program funds the training of U.S. business leaders to support trade with Eurasian and South Asian markets.
In addition, the SBA has a page dedicated to funding resources for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Small Business Research and Technology Programs
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are designed to encourage small businesses to engage in federal research and development with the potential for commercialization. The programs’ goals include stimulating technological innovation, supporting federal research and development needs, and encouraging entrepreneurship by women and the socially or economically disadvantaged.
To qualify, your business must meet program eligibility requirements, which include:
- Be organized for profit and located in the United States (although nonprofits may receive STTR funding through a research partnership)
- Be more than 50% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens or permanent residents
- Have no more than 500 employees
While SBIR and STTR have similar goals, STTR programs additionally focus on technology transfer between small businesses and research institutions. To learn more about these opportunities, visit SBIR.gov.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Save Small Business Initiative
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been around for over a century with the goal of representing the interests of businesses large and small. The Chamber of Commerce represents the interest of businesses in Washington, across the country, and around the globe.
The Save Small Business Initiative was launched as a result of economic struggles related to the COVID-19 pandemic and is designed to help small businesses keep their workers employed and businesses running. Multiple funding opportunities exist through this program and can be found on their website.
They also offer a coronavirus small business resources guide to help with everything from adhering to local COVID-19 restrictions and adjusting budget and finances to save money to boosting your online presence and negotiating with creditors.
The Grants.gov program was launched by the federal government in 2002 to create a centralized location where those looking for federal grants could search for grants to apply to. The Grants.gov website has information on over 1,000 grant programs.
Using their website makes it easy to search and apply for federal grants through electronic application processes. You can easily search listings by specifying your search criteria to create a short list. Signing up for an account on Grants.gov is straightforward. Just enter your name and contact information, including an email address, create a username and password, and select whether to subscribe to communications. Once you have an account, applying is easy, and many of the forms used by the grantors are similar.
In addition, Grants.gov contains multiple educational resources to help you learn more about grant programs and eligibility and how to spot grant fraud. You’ll also find details about grant life cycles, general policies, grant-making agencies, and so on. There is even a get started checklist to help you stay on track.
The grants listed above are only some of what’s available. Many more opportunities exist if you know where to look. Ask around and consult with other small business owners to see what worked for them or how they were able to get funded.
Some additional grant sources include, but are not limited to, the following:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): Grants for farmers and ranchers are available.
- U.S. Department of the Interior: Grants may be available through bureau websites.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): Small business programs exist to help those in pursuit of health and human services contracts.
- National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE): This organization offers development grants for small businesses.
- Local governments and organizations: Check out your local chamber of commerce or Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for local grant opportunities or small business grant contests.
How to Apply for Small Business or Startup Grants
The grant application process may seem overwhelming, especially if this is your first time applying. Make sure before applying that you have established your business or have a clear business plan in place. This will help narrow your focus as to which grants you might qualify for and allow you to describe your goals more clearly when applying.
Some tips that might help increase your chances of approval include the following:
- Understand what’s required in the application, when it’s due, and anything else that may be needed. Always take the time to read all details and fine print carefully.
- Give yourself time to learn about the general grant process, and don’t apply for any grant last minute. The more careful and thorough you are in an application, the better your odds.
- Don’t be afraid of reaching out to the grant funder to ask clarification questions or details about what they’re looking for.
- Create a detailed outline of your proposed work and financial data on your organization so that it is clear to those who read your application what you plan on doing with the money.
- Consult with an accountant and/or colleagues for advice on how much funding to request and how to go about making your case.
- Look for workshops or conferences that you can attend to learn more about the entire grant process.
- Hire an experienced grant writer to develop your startup business grant proposals for you. This is an investment that may be well worth the money.
- Look at the details of any grant to which you’re applying to understand your odds. Do they only fund five businesses each year and receive thousands of applicants? Or are they a lesser-known grantor, which increases your odds? By choosing where to apply based on the odds of getting a grant, your grant-writing efforts are more likely to pay off.
- Look locally, and don’t just focus on national grant opportunities. The competition in the local grant market is often much smaller. You may even find grant awards directed toward your specific town and business type.
Need More Resources for Your Small Business or Startup?
Finding ways to fund your startup is just one of many details to sort through as you get your small business off the ground. It’s important to seek all the help you can. ZenBusiness is here to help support you as you pursue your dream, with informative articles and worry-free services, such as filing options, business plan formation, and domain name registration. Check out our available products and pricing today to get started.