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- Grants are a great option for small businesses looking for financial support to start or expand their operations without taking on debt
- Federal grants, made available through different branches of the U.S. government, provide funds to small businesses across multiple industries
- Regional and state-level grants may offer smaller amounts than federal grants but are often more specific to a given region’s needs
Small business grants are one of the most attractive financing options for business owners since they don’t need to be repaid and don’t require companies to take on debt. But grant programs tend to be highly competitive, with many of them targeted at underserved groups.
If you’re looking for small business grants for your company, there are a few places to find them. Below, we’ll explain where to secure federal, state and local grants for small businesses to get your company the funding it needs.
Federal grants for small businesses
Many government agencies provide small business grants to promote entrepreneurship, boost the economy and support innovation. Here are some places where you may find federal grants for small businesses.
If you’re searching for federal funding for your organization, Grants.gov should be the first place you look. Run by the U.S. government, Grants.gov is home to an extensive database of grants from federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of the Interior. Funding amounts vary by grant.
The Grants.gov database is vast, with funding opportunities for small businesses, non-profits, individuals and other groups. You can filter the database to display only the grants that are open to businesses.
Before applying for a grant, you’ll need to register with the System for Award Management (SAM.gov) and receive a Unique Entity ID for your business. Once you have your UEI, you can start the application process, assuming that you meet the eligibility criteria for that particular grant.
2. Small Business Technology Transfer
Powered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Small Business Technology Transfer provides financial support to small businesses that focus on research and development for science and technology. Some of the participating agencies in these programs include the U.S. Departments of Defense and Education.
The funds from the STTR grants are awarded in phases, with the first phase usually equaling between $50,000 and $250,000 for six months or a year of work. During the second phase, businesses will typically receive $750,000 for two years of work.
To qualify for an SBA grant in the STTR program, you must run a for-profit business in the U.S. with fewer than 500 employees, with at least 50 percent of your owners being U.S. citizens or permanent residents. You’ll also need to meet certain performance benchmarks.
You can find open STTR grants at SBIR.gov, although some require you to apply on external sites, like Grants.gov.
3. Small Business Innovation Research programs
Much like the STTR program, the Small Business Innovation Research grant is operated by the Small Business Administration and seeks to improve research and development for emerging technology among small businesses. Specifically, the SBIR aims to foster technology transfer through cooperative research and development between small businesses and research institutions.
To qualify for an SBA grant in the SBIR program, you must run a for-profit business in the U.S. with fewer than 500 employees, with at least 50 percent of your owners being U.S. citizens or permanent residents. You’ll also need to meet certain performance benchmarks. You can find open SBIR grants at SBIR.gov, although some require you to apply on external sites, like Grants.gov.
4. Rural Business Development Grants
The United States Department of Agriculture operates the Rural Business Development Grant, which awards money to businesses that seek to develop operations in rural areas. The purpose of the grants is to provide technical assistance and training for small rural businesses. Multiple programs are made available, including Technical Assistance for Passenger Rural Transportation (RT) and the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG).
To be eligible for a USDA Rural Business Development Grant, businesses must have 50 workers and less than $1 million in gross revenue. Grant recipients must operate within rural areas or towns outside of any city with a population of 50,000 or more.
5. Economic Development Administration Build to Scale Program
The U.S. Economic Development Association’s Build to Scale Program offers growing tech firms funding to help develop and grow their business. The program, operated by the EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is focused on next-generation technologies.
In 2023, the program expects to give out $50 million in total funding across two tracks: the Venture Challenge for startups operating in regions in need of technological growth and the Capital Challenge for helping to grow tech companies in areas with less equity funding available.
In order to be eligible for the Build to Scale Program, entrants must be a venture development or economic development organization focused primarily on improving science, technology, innovation or entrepreneurship. Applicants will have to submit all required information — including details like project narrative, budget, and local state or government support — to the EDA. Applications for 2023 closed in July, but businesses can apply during a future application period.
Regional and state small business grants
You may also be able to secure grants from regional or state government agencies. Funding opportunities will vary by location, but here are a few examples of where you might find local and state small business grants.
6. Small Business Development Centers
With chapters around the country, SBDCs are designed to help small businesses succeed by offering counseling, education, and other resources. You can reach out to your local SBDC and ask if they’re aware of any potential funding opportunities in your area.
The process of qualifying and applying for a grant through an SBDC will be highly dependent on the grant and its sponsoring agency. Visit the America’s SBDC website to find your nearest center.
7. City and county programs
Depending on where you live, your city or county may offer financing for home-grown small businesses. For example, Miami-Dade County’s Mom and Pop Small Business Grant helps growing businesses cover the costs of equipment, marketing, insurance, renovations and more.
These types of grants will vary by area, but you can visit your local government’s website or use a search engine to research small business grants in your city.
8. Small Business Association’s State Trade Expansion Program
The Small Business Association operates a development opportunity known as the State Trade Expansion Program or STEP. The program provides financial awards to states and local governments to help small businesses with export development. More than $200 million has been awarded since STEP’s founding, and the program has helped small businesses across the country learn how to export their products, participate in foreign trade missions, equip their e-commerce operation for global sales, and more.
Because the Small Business Association provides grants through the STEP program to governments, businesses will have to work with their local leaders in order to secure funds and opportunities. Contact your local state or territory in order to get in touch with their project director and determine how to best move forward and pursue opportunities through STEP.
Private small business grants
Separate from government-sponsored business financing, some private companies also offer their own grants – both for marketing purposes and as a form of charitable giving. These are some of the most popular private small business grants.
9. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
Each year, FedEx gives 10 small business owners $30,000 each as part of the company’s annual grant contest. On top of that, one veteran winner will receive an extra $20,000 from USAA Small Business Insurance. Companies can also win a people’s choice award for a $1,000 FedEx gift card.
To qualify for the grant contest, you’ll need to be a U.S.-based for-profit business with under 99 employees that’s been in operation for at least six months. You’ll also need a FedEx account and a shipping need for your business.
The application process involves submitting some basic information about your company, including your biography, logo, photos, and a two-minute pitch video about why you should win. The public will vote for the People’s Choice Award, while FedEx will select the 10 grant winners. The deadline to apply for this grant was February 21, 2023.
10. Fast Break for Small Business Grants
Sponsored by LegalZoom in partnership with the NBA, WNBA and NBA G League, this grant program provides U.S. small business owners with $10,000 grants. Recipients also get complimentary LegalZoom services, such as attorney consultations and trademark applications.
If you’re interested in applying for one of these small business grants, you’ll need to meet a few requirements, including having an American-based company with an annual revenue of less than $1 million. Visit LegalZoom’s website for more information and to get notified when the next round of applications opens. The deadline to apply for this grant was February 17, 2023.
11. National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grants
NASE is a member organization that educates self-employed people about key business concepts, such as marketing, accounting and business strategy. As part of this mission, the group offers grants of up to $4,000 to help its members advance their businesses.
You’ll need to belong to NASE (in some cases, for at least 90 days) before applying for one of these grants. As part of the application, you’ll be required to explain your business need for the grant, as well as how you plan on using the money and its anticipated impact on your company. Learn more about the eligibility requirements and apply on the NASE website. This grant offers rolling enrollment periods that close every three months but runs throughout the year.
12. Incfile Entrepreneur Grant
Incfile, an online service for legal document preparation and filing, offers an Entrepreneur Grant targeted toward students and young people who are pursuing their education with a big idea in mind. Incfile gives out a $2,500 grant three times per year, which is intended to be put towards education expenses by the recipients.
In order to be eligible for the Incfile Entrepreneur Grant, you must be enrolled in either high school or college, maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and have an interest in starting a business. Applying requires completing an online form, producing a short, 2-minute video on how entrepreneurship has affected your life and providing a sample business plan.
13. The Small Business Growth Fund
Hello Alice, a platform for small business owners, operates a Small Business Growth Fund that disperses funds to small businesses across the country. Operated in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Network and funded by Etsy and Progressive, the fund offers capital in grants between $5,000 and $25,000 meant to be used to help small businesses accelerate their growth.
In order to be eligible, businesses must operate as a for-profit entity, have less than $1 million in gross annual revenue, and have a clear plan for how funds would help reach a growth milestone before year’s end. Applicants must create a Hello Alice account and complete an online application when the 2024 application period opens. The 2023 application period closed on July 21.
14. The Chamber of Commerce Small Business Growth Fund
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce operates America’s Top Small Businesses, an annual competition formerly known as the Dream Awards that sets out to honor the achievements of small businesses across the country and provide funding to further their growth.
This year’s top prize is a $25,000 grant, plus free U.S. Chamber of Commerce memberships for all finalists.
In order to be eligible for the Chamber of Commerce’s America’s Top Small Businesses award, you must be a legal resident of the United States and operate a for-profit business that has been in business for at least one year. Businesses must have fewer than 250 employees or gross revenue of less than $20 million. The application deadline for 2023 was July 14, with winners announced in September. Keep an eye out on the Chamber of Commerce website or sign up for their newsletter to learn when the application opens for 2024.
15. CESAR Workplace Grants Application
Cesar, a pet food company, offers a Workplace Grant through its Better Cities for Pets program for small businesses that embrace pet-friendly policies. The grants provide businesses with between $2,500 and $5,000 to improve amenities throughout their operation to better accommodate pets and establish pet-friendly policies.
To qualify for the Cesar Workplace Grant, potential recipients can be for-profit, nonprofit or governmental organizations. The prize must be used for collective workplace or office environments. The deadline to apply for 2023 was July 28.
16. Patagonia Corporate Grant Program
Patagonia offers businesses that help to address climate change and improve the environment access to the Patagonia Grant Program designed to expand impact and encourage growth and change. The company offers a number of programs which it awards throughout the year. Grants range from between $5,000 and $20,000.
Potential recipients of the Patagonia Corporate Grant must be invited to submit an application. Invited companies will have to submit a proposal and commit to providing impact updates over the course of the grant’s implementation. The fund is open for submissions year-round, with grants offered throughout the year.
17. National Black MBA Association Scale-Up Pitch Challenge
The National Black MBA Association offers the Scale Up Pitch Challenge, a grant that seeks to support wealth-building opportunities for its members. Since 2017, the organization has offered the grant to startups looking to grow their operation. The organization offers four awards ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 to competing businesses and helps organizations connect with potential investors.
To be eligible for the National Black MBA Association Scale-Up Pitch Challenge, organizations must have at least one founder who is an active member of the National Black MBA Association. Competing businesses must be in the initial or early stages of development and disclose all previous funding. To win, companies must submit a pitch that highlights how they would like to grow their business.
18. Amber Grant
The Amber Grant, operated by WomensNet since 1998, awards grants to women-owned businesses across a number of different categories to help support their operations. The organization gives out at least $30,000 every month, plus two $25,000 year-end grants. The grants are awards for marketing, business operations, and a number of other purposes.
To be eligible for an Amber Grant, a business must be operated by at least 50 percent women owners. Businesses can operate in the United States or Canada. For-profits or non-profit organizations are eligible to receive an Amber Grant award.
19. Venmo Small Business Grant
The Venmo Small Business Grant is a new grant that began in 2022. It awards a $10,000 grant, mentorship and promotion on Venmo social channels to 20 small business owners.
To be eligible for the Venmo Small Business Grant, you’ll need a U.S. Venmo Account, a valid business profile in good standing, make less than $50,000 annually and have 10 or fewer employees. Applications for 2023 closed on August 7, 2023.
20. Merchant Maverick Opportunity Grants
Merchant Maverick Opportunity Grants are designed to help small businesses with issues obtaining traditional business funding. Merchant Maverick aims to create positive change for small businesses by providing education and support in every area that affects small business owners. In the past, grants have gone to Black female business owners, AAPI restaurant owners and Portland-area startups. Grant money can be used for the following:
- Business space rent, utilities or renovation
- Repayment of business loans or taxes
- Business equipment
- Business marketing
- Business travel expenses
Opportunity Grants are open to a variety of businesses, with eligible businesses changing on a yearly basis. You can apply directly on their site. The second round of 2023 grants is open to Native American/American Indian business owners. The application opens on September 1, 2023, and closes on November 30, 2023.
To be eligible, the business must be located in the United States and be majority-owned by a registered member of a federally recognized American Indian or Alaskan Native tribe. $10,000 will be awarded to two business owners.
21. Verizon Small Business Digital Ready Grants
Verizon Small Business Digital Ready — created in 2021 — provides under-resourced small business owners with mentoring, education, peer networking and other tools to help them thrive in today’s digital economy. Recently, Verizon announced $500,000 in grant funding through Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. Verizon estimates that it has helped over 200,000 small businesses since 2021, with a goal to help 1 million small businesses by 2030.
To apply for Verizon Small Business Digital Ready grants, business owners must register with the free portal and complete at least two of the following: courses, coaching or community events. Once the courses are completed, you can apply to be considered for a $10,000 grant. The application is open from October 12, 2023, to December 20, 2023.
Business grants for underserved communities
While there are lots of opportunities for businesses to receive funding, underserved communities like women-owned and minority-owned businesses consistently face more difficulties trying to access capital.
According to the Small Business Credit Survey by the Federal Reserve Banks, minority-owned businesses were significantly more likely to report challenges accessing capital. Likewise, those businesses were more likely to have to scale down operations as a result.
Several groups and underserved communities have challenges accessing capital but can gain access to grants designed specifically to serve them, including:
How to apply for a business grant
While each grant is different, many of them have similar application processes. Here’s what to expect when you apply for a small business grant.
- Before submitting any grant applications, think about what sets your company apart. Many grant programs are extremely competitive, so you’ll need to provide a compelling explanation for why your business deserves funding.
- If you’re applying for a federal grant, sign up with SAM.gov. Keep in mind that it can take up to 10 days to receive your UEI, so you’ll want to sign up at least a few weeks before any grant application deadlines.
- Once you have your UEI, register your organization with Grants.gov (again, if you’re applying for a federal grant). At this point, you can also create roles for other people within your business who will be helping with the grant application.
- Fill out your application. Depending on the grant, you may be required to submit a business plan, company history, revenue information, tax returns and W-9 forms. You might also need to share specific details about why you’re applying for the grant and how you plan to use the funds.
- Wait to hear back. Some grants accept applications on a rolling basis, while others have strict deadlines. In either case, the closing date should be listed on the application.
Resources for small businesses
Locating small business grants may be a top priority for business owners, but tapping into various resources such as mentorship, workshops and training is also beneficial.
Backed by the SBA, SCORE is a nonprofit organization that guides entrepreneurs and small business owners through expert mentoring, workshops, webinars and other educational resources.
Small Business Development Centers
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are valuable resources for entrepreneurs. These federally funded local centers offer free resources and services to new and established small businesses. Services include consulting and training to help small businesses grow, succeed and overcome challenges.
Chamber of Commerce
The Chamber of Commerce offers small businesses networking opportunities, advocacy and resources to encourage growth and expansion and connect with their communities.
Business grants alternatives
Securing a small business grant can be tricky. Since grants don’t need to be repaid, most are wildly competitive. Others have strict eligibility requirements, making it difficult to find one that’s a good match for your business.
As an alternative to grants, you can look into other financing options. On the positive side, these funding types are usually faster and easier to get than grants, but they will require you to take on debt.
- Small business loans. Allows startups and established businesses to secure capital for operational costs, inventory or equipment purchases and more. The principal plus interest is repaid over a set period.
- Business credit cards. Businesses get access to a revolving credit line that can be used to cover a variety of business expenses. Unlike a small business loan, interest is paid on the funds used rather than the whole amount.
- Business lines of credit. Similar to a business credit card, business lines of credit provide a credit line up to a certain limit that can be used to cover business expenses.
- SBA microloans. This loan can be used to cover business expenses under $50,000. They often require collateral and/or a personal guarantee, and interest rates fall between 8 percent and 13 percent.
- Peer-to-peer lending. Allows businesses to secure funding from individuals or companies that lend money directly to them through an online platform. Interest can be high with peer-to-peer lending, but it’s a great alternative when traditional financing isn’t an option.
- Crowdfunding. Lets you raise money for your business from friends, family, business acquaintances and even strangers. In exchange, you might offer equity or a reward (like company merchandise, exclusive products, or discounts).
It can be challenging for small businesses to secure capital. Many may consider financing, but this a risky option because it requires businesses to take on debt. But with federal, state, local or private small business grants, businesses can access non-repayable capital, making it one of the most low-risk, affordable ways to fund a business.
Frequently asked questions about business grants
Grants.gov is the best resource for federal funding. On a state or regional level, you can check with your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Development Center or your state’s office of economic development. Certain private companies (such as FedEx and LegalZoom) also offer grants, but these can be trickier to track down.
Many small business grants are targeted at underrepresented groups, such as minorities. For example, the Coalition to Back Black Businesses — which includes companies like American Express, Cummins, Optimum and Shopify — provides up to $30,000 to Black small business owners whose companies are still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19.
It depends on the specific grant and the sponsoring organization. In some cases, you’ll need to generate under a particular amount of revenue or have less than a certain number of employees. Some grants are only open to certain demographics, such as female founders and veteran-owned businesses. You should be able to find all of these specifics on the grant application or on the awarding organization’s website.