Small Business Grants for Women: 15 Opportunities You Need to Know

Current available data shows that about 40% of startup businesses in the United States are owned by women, which accounts for the increase in inquiries about business grants from women entrepreneurs. Moreover, the number of women-run U.S.-based enterprises is twice the growth rate of businesses run by men.

Because grants are essentially free financing that does not need to be repaid, the competition for grant financing is very fierce, especially among women entrepreneurs. This article will help you learn more about grant financing and how a woman can access grants for her business.

Historically, women have not been able to obtain the same financial support for funding their businesses to the extent men have. From 2017 data, it is clear that women get no more than 2% funding from venture capital, compelling them to search elsewhere for other sources of funds.

Grants are often the entrepreneur’s first choice, even more than venture capital, for one very significant reason—a grant does not need to be repaid. Unlike venture capital, however, grants often have restrictions set out by the grantor which may make accessing them difficult or even impossible for some entrepreneurs. Those restrictions often include how the funds will be utilized, but may also be limited to industries, sectors, demographics or a specific race (with the intent to encourage growth in otherwise depressed areas).

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How To Find Small Business Grants For Women

Each business grant is different; big or small, each is unique with its own requirements. In general, there are a few steps to identifying and applying for a qualified grant. First, ensure that the grant is applicable to your small business. A business grant for women entrepreneurs may have additional requirements or restrictions than other traditional business grants. If you are a female entrepreneur looking for a grant, these tips can help you nail it:

  • Research, research, research. Doing your research will help you find and choose the right business grant for your enterprise. You can look online at the government-run and private portals for a list of grants that fit your business model well. It would also be helpful to attend conferences geared toward small businesses or start ups, or just to chat with other small business owners to learn about grant opportunities that are available but not widely advertised. Consider joining or seeking out sponsorship in a local “club” that encourages community events and business growth; one good example is the Rotary Club, which is located across the globe.
  • Confirm your eligibility. Business grants, or grants in general, have specific requirements for eligibility. Eligibility rules may include educational level, demographics, the age of business, certain focuses, and other factors. Ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria before you complete the application.
  • File your application on time. Business grants usually have a cut-off date for the acceptance of completed applications. While you may be under a time constraint, it is surely in your best interest that you set aside a block of time from your schedule and focus on the application process. Apply as early as possible so that your application stands out among the others. The payoff for your effort can be substantial.
  • Keep track of your applications. Be organized and create a spreadsheet of all the business grants for which you have applied. Include all the important dates and upcoming deadlines. Provided you are eligible, it is better to apply for more than one grant as the chances of you winning one improve with each application.

Business Grants For Women

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15 Places to Find Small Business Grants For Women

As a woman entrepreneur looking for small business grant opportunities, it’s important that you know where to look because grants don’t simply fall land in your inbox (and if they do, you should be very suspicious). Among the most reliable government and private-sector small business grants that are available for women are these:

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Grants.gov

While this website is not specifically intended for women, you may find quite a few grants here that match your startup business. Grants.gov is a database of federally sponsored grants currently available; the list is updated regularly so it would be wise to visit often.

To apply, you must create an account at Grants.gov, obtain a DUNS number (a unique nine-digit identification number) for your business and register to do business with the U.S. government through the System Award Management.

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CFDA

The CFDA or Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance is a database maintained by the US federal government which lists all the available individual and organizational federal programs. There are a great number of grants listed here, and though eligibility requirements will vary widely, it is still a great place to look for business grants.

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Small Business Innovation Research and the Small Business Technology Transfer

The Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR is a program run by the federal government, which awards contracts and grants to research and development-focused small businesses. With the SBIR, you will be granted funds for the research and development needed to pursue innovative products or technological services that can be introduced to the market.

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) is another program that expands funding opportunities in the federal innovation research and development (R&D) arena.

GrantsForWomen

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GrantsForWomen.org

This website lists grants that are specifically available for women-run enterprises and non-profit organizations. Here you will find a database to help you find a business grant suitable for your startup business. You can learn more about the application process on the GrantsForWomen.org site.

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SBA Women’s Business Centers

The SBA Women’s Business Centers typically helps women to find loans, but they also often have access to grants and other funding options. Some of the business centers award business grants directly, and some assist business women with connecting to local financial institutions. Find an SBA Women’s Business Center in your area to start connecting with business owners and other women business founders.

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InnovateHER Challenge

This organization is run by the SBA or Small Business Association. The SBA offers business grants to US-based women-owned businesses that create products or services that are sufficiently marketable and which will provide positive assistance to women and their families. The InnovateHER Challenge is only available through partner agencies of the SBA, which means you cannot apply directly for the grant. However, you can submit your applications through any of its partner agencies and universities. Host locations are across the U.S. and can be located on the SBA web site. There are only three grants; the top prize of $40,000 is awarded to the “challenge winner” who best meets the criteria.

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7. National Association for the Self-Employed

The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) offers entrepreneurs and small business owners a wide range of resources and tools to help them run their business successfully. NASE runs an annual grant program that is available only to their 50,000 members. Grants can be used for marketing, advertising, hiring employees, expanding.

Since 2006, the NASE has awarded nearly $1,000,000 to members through the Growth Grants program by providing small business grants. Growth Grant applicants must be a member in good standing for 3-months prior to submitting an application. Applicants should demonstrate a business need that could be fulfilled by the grant and provide a detailed explanation of how they intend to use the grant proceeds.

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Amber Grant

The Amber Grant was established in 1998 in honor of Amber Wigdahl, a young woman and fledgling entrepreneur who passed away before she was able to fulfill any of her dreams. Since its inception, the Amber grant has awarded a monthly grant of up to $4,000 (increased recently from $2,000) to women-owned business. At the end of each year, one recipient of a monthly grant is chosen to receive an additional $25,000 Amber Grant.

Amber Grants are relatively easy to obtain compared to other business grants for women on this list though non-profit applicants are no longer accepted. You can simply apply for an Amber Grant here. Applicants simply pay a $15 application fee and tell their story about their business. Essentially, the board members will choose the one they deem most compelling.

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The GirlBoss Foundation Grant

The GirlBoss Foundation Grant is a small business grant that awards funding to women-owned enterprises that have a focus on music, art, and/or fashion. Each grant recipient receives funding of $15,000. In addition to the grant, awarded businesses will also have the opportunity to increase their online exposure through the Girlboss official websites and its social media accounts. Winners of the grant are judged based on innovation in the field, creativity, forward planning, proposed workplace, as well as the financial needs of the startup.

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IdeaCafe Grant

The IdeaCafe Grant awards a $1,000 Small business grant for anyone who owns their own business or plans to start one.

Applying for Idea Cafe Small Business Grant is Free, Quick & Easy. There’s no entry fee or purchase applicants have to pay for in order to apply.

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Open Meadows Foundation

If you are a startup that focuses on activism, you may apply for up to $2,000 cash grant from the Open Meadows Foundation. This business grant is awarded to women-led businesses and projects that help women advance in their respective fields. Aside from the startups that focus on activism, they also prioritize businesses with a focus on female empowerment and political change.

One restriction to this grant is that the business must have had a start-up budget of less than $75,000. The Open Meadows Foundation is a great choice for socially inspired small business owners and entrepreneurs looking for a little help to jump-start their businesses.

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J.P. Morgan’s Grant Database

JPMorgan funds charitable, nonprofit organizations via various private foundations. The grant application process begins with the submission of an online eligibility questionnaire. To locate foundations who provide funding in your geographic region and/or for your program area, you may search the foundation finder.

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FedEx Small Business Grant

FedEx awards up to $50,000 a piece to 10 small businesses annually. Winners also receive money to use toward FedEx Office print and business services.

The application requires that you share your business’ story and include an explanation of your business, how you plan to use the money, photos of your business and a short video explaining your business. To be eligible, you must operate a for-profit business with fewer than 99 employees and at least six months of operating history.

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Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program

The Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program is designed for women entrepreneurs – providing the community of support they need to connect, learn, and grow their business. The fellows receive 5 days of workshops and networking with innovative founders and business experts at the Tory Burch offices, a one-year fellowship with the Tory Burch Foundation as well as $5,000 grant to advance their business education. The application to the Tory Burch Foundation Fellow opens once a year is done via the online portal.

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The Cartier Women’s Initiative Award

The Cartier Women’s Initiative is best for Female-founded early-stage companies with a proven business model and between one to five years of licensed or registered operations. Businesses must be impact-driven and therefore must align with at least one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The finalists will receive personalized business coaching, a series of business workshops and networking sessions, and interviews with the local and international press. They will also receive a scholarship to attend the six-day INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Executive Education Program.

There are 21 small business grants awarded to women. Seven laureates will receive $100,000 in prize money while the remaining 14 finalists will receive $30,000 in prize money.

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Preparing to Apply for a Business Grant for Women

Here are the steps you need to undertake before you prepare for your business grant application:

  1. Write a business plan. This is a crucial requirement for any business, not just those looking for a grant. A business plan is a detailed document that shows your company’s financial status, as well as the managerial, marketing, and production concerns of the business. Business plans typically forecast at least five years of operation and should outline the company’s projected startup costs, as well as the investment capital likely to be required in order to make it a success.

The business plan should also discuss the business’ potential market and how you intend to market your business to potential customers. Moreover, the business plan should show how the business will sustain itself over a period of time. As part of your proposal, you should also include your marketing plan and state how you plan to reach your target audience and/or current customers.

  1. Create a budget. Business grants generally require you to show a business budget or the long-term plan for keeping your business sustainable and profitable. The business budget should cover staff wages, marketing funds, production costs, inventory, and other expenses needed for the day-to-day operation of the business.
  2. Consider who you will ask for recommendations or referral letters. Most business grants for women will require a recommendation letter or referral as part of the application process. Before applying for a grant, it is best to secure recommendation letters from business colleagues, professional partners, and community partners.

Provide a brief overview about the business grants you are applying for so that the party providing the letter has good insight. Tell them how and why you think your business can qualify for this grant. It would also be helpful to provide  a brief summary of your business’ future goals. The information you provide is intended only for clarity, not as direction.

  1. Ensure your business qualifies for the grant. Most small business grants for women are strict with their qualifications; many require that your business have a WOSB designation (Women-Owned Small Business). To earn that designation, a WOSB must be at least 51% women-owned and controlled. The size of the business must also meet the Small Business Administration’s standards. Lastly, complete the appropriate SF-424 Form as developed by Grants.gov.
  2. Read the application specifications. To ensure your business meets the criteria for the specific grants you are applying for, take the time to thoroughly and carefully read their specifications. If clarity is needed, don’t hesitate to ask questions.

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Small Business Grants for Women

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A Final Note

Above all else, you should be cognizant of the unfortunate fact that there are a number of fake grants and grant scams on the internet. The websites and advertisements that you may see online and on television may look legitimate (and thus, enticing) but you should always be wary. Never give out sensitive information such as credit card or social security number to any “organizations” or “providers” that you believe may be suspect. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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