8 small business grants for women: Best options for free funding
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The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted women business owners. As entrepreneurs work to regain their footing, grant funding is a powerful tool for stabilizing and growing businesses.
Grant funding can be publicly or privately sourced. Unlike small business loans or lines of credit, grants do not need to be repaid. Some grant opportunities are set aside for women, as they still make up a minority of business owners in the United States. About 42% of American small businesses are owned by women, according to the National Women’s Business Council.
Federal small business grants for women
The federal government backs an array of small business grants, including through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Federally-sponsored grants are typically quite competitive, with a rigorous application process. In addition, these grants are distributed through partner agencies rather than disbursed to individual business owners, so acquainting yourself with how to apply is a good first step.
This site is a database of federal grants. You can narrow your search by those available to small businesses. Keep an eye out for grants from the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program, two SBA programs. While results are not exclusively for women-owned enterprises, this can be a great starting point to cast a wide net and see what is available. To apply, your business must meet size standards established by the SBA.
To apply, you must register an account and acquire a UEI (unique entity number). Applications are submitted and processed using the Workplace platform. Find more guidance in the website’s help section.
Private small business grants for women
If you’re looking to apply for a grant, private organizations are often the most direct way to acquire funding. Privately-funded grants are sponsored by foundations, companies, and private individuals, and many seek women as applicants.
1. Amber grants
These monthly awards are named for entrepreneur Amber Wigdahl, who passed away at age 19 before realizing her business dreams. Amber grants include monthly $10,000 prizes, with two larger end-of-year awards given to previous monthly winners.
Applicants for Amber grants must complete a brief, straightforward application outlining their business and goals. The $15 application fee may be paid using a credit card or Paypal account. An advisory board selects award recipients. Applicants are automatically eligible for other grants administered by WomensNet.
2. Cartier Women’s Initiative
Women selected to participate as fellows in the Cartier Women’s Initiative see large-dollar capital funding up to $100,000 and enjoy other kinds of support, including media exposure, access to an exclusive network of other women entrepreneurs, and intensive training programs.
To be eligible, businesses must be owned by women, for-profit in nature, generating revenue and in early-stage development (years one to six of operations). Other eligibility criteria are listed here.
Applicants submit a resume, pitch deck, business registration document and a one-minute video. Women are selected annually from nine regions worldwide to participate in the Cartier Women’s Initiative fellowship program. Awards are made in spring.
Applications for 2023 awards have closed but should open soon for 2024.
3. Tory Burch Foundation
The Tory Burch Foundation offers capital funding for small businesses, including in partnership with the Fearless Fund for Black women small business owners. Up to 75 grants are awarded annually with the Fearless Fund and range from $10,000-$20,000. To qualify, businesses should be one to five years old and be generating at least $100,000 in annual revenue.
Capital programs for women entrepreneurs are available online, with details and a “funding finder” tool available on the foundation’s website. Fearless Fund applications for 2022 are closed but should reopen in August 2023.
4. SoGal Foundation
The SoGal Foundation awards several small business grants annually, including $5,000 and $10,000 startup grants for Black female and nonbinary entrepreneurs. To qualify, you must be a Black woman or nonbinary entrepreneur. You must legally register your business, and you must plan on seeking investor financing to scale either presently or in the future. Applicants should have the “ambition to be the next billion-dollar business.”
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis online and take only minutes to complete.
5. National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)
NASE grants are available to all small business owners, not just women. Applicants must be members in good standing of this organization. The Growth Grants awarded range up to $4,000 per business. Grants cannot be used to pay debts, rent or mortgages; recipients should document how they use the funds.
Applicants must provide recent profit/loss statements, a business plan and a statement of grant use. Members may apply online after logging in on the NASE website. Grant applications are reviewed quarterly.
State and local small business grants for women
Because the federal grant application process is so competitive, you may find applying for funds through state and local agencies to be more approachable.
1. State chambers of commerce
Your state chamber of commerce likely has grant funding opportunities available and may even earmark some of these funds for minority business owners, including women. In addition, these organizations are interested in growing local businesses, so building a relationship with them is a good way to explore other funding opportunities.
To begin looking at these opportunities, connect first with your state or metropolitan area’s chamber office. Inquire about grant funding for women small business owners in your area.
2. Women’s Business Centers
The SBA supports more than 100 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) around the country. These community organizations exist to help women develop and grow small businesses. Because women continue to face unique challenges when securing small business funding, these centers provide counseling, business training, federal contacts, and more.
Your nearest WBC can connect you with local opportunities best suited to your business. To search for a center closest to your zip code, visit the SBA location finder and narrow your search to Women’s Business Centers.
Alternatives to small business grants
Grant funding comes with the obvious perk of not needing to be repaid. However, application processes are often lengthy and competitive. If your business does not have the luxury of waiting on an award letter, you may prefer the more straightforward options of small business loans or a small business line of credit.
There are many types of small business loans, each addressing different needs and with differing rates and terms. When choosing a loan, consider the lender’s reputation and requirements, available loan amount and rates, additional fees that could inflate the loan’s cost, and typical underwriting and funding speed.
Small business credit cards and lines of credit are helpful if you need access to credit on an ongoing basis. These can help keep your business expenses entirely separate from your personal credit. While they often involve fees, cards also offer exclusive rewards.
The bottom line
Small business grants are a powerful tool for business owners looking to grow and expand without the added stress of paying funds back with interest. If you can wait for funding and have a compelling business model or story, grant funding can be a great way to get operations off the ground.
Once you have chosen a grant, understand the eligibility requirements before applying. These funds often come with specific rules and qualifications.