What you need to know before applying for a new business grant
New business grants run the gamut from small, one-off opportunities to multi-year, multi-million-dollar awards. While the majority of such grants are funded by federal agencies, there are also corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations that offer business grant assistance.
Many small business grant programs target a specific type of business owner to help them start, support, or expand their enterprises.
Understanding grant criteria
Before applying for a grant, make sure you understand the eligibility criteria. For instance, there are grants that may sound ideal for your small business, but are limited geographically or have specific requirements that you may not meet. Grant applications are time-consuming, so put in the effort up front to find grants that your business is a good match for.
If you need help, see if there’s a Small Business Development Center, or SBDC, in your area. These are centers run by the U.S. Small Business Administration that offer business counseling, advising, and technical assistance to entrepreneurs.
Federal small business grants
While it does not provide grants for starting or expanding a business per se, the SBA does have grant programs for research and development, management, and technical assistance.
The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR)
The SBIR offers grants to qualifying small businesses and startups engaged in research and development. With this grant, smaller businesses may undertake scientific research meeting federal R&D objectives. For example, the Department of Energy offers technical topics and subtopics in the fields of energy production, energy use, environmental management and more. If successful, these objectives have considerable commercialization potential.
The STTR grant differs from SBIR in that the small business must have a formal collaborative partnership with a nonprofit research institution. The STTR focuses on bridging the gap between basic science performance and the subsequent commercialization of such innovations in the private sector.
To qualify for either SBIR or STTR, your business must have fewer than 500 employees and operate for-profit, along with other criteria. Learn more about eligibility requirements for the SBIR and STTR grants here.
The Management and Technical Assistance Program
Also known as the 7j program, this program is designed to help eligible businesses become competitive for federal, state, and local government contracts. These businesses receive training and education in a variety of areas, including:
- Business development
- Contract management
- Executive education
- Financial analysis
- Strategic and operational planning
- Various business-related software
To qualify for the 7j program, a small business must be one or more of the following:
- Owned by low-income individuals
- Located in an area of high unemployment or low income
- Certified as a small disadvantaged business under the federal 8a program, an economically-disadvantaged women-owned small business, or located in a HUBZONE, a historically underutilized business zone.
The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP)
Overseen by the SBA, the STEP program provides financial awards to state and territory governments to help small businesses and export development. STEP helps small businesses learn how to:
- Design international marketing campaigns
- Participate in foreign trade missions
- Participate in trade shows and workshops
More funding opportunities are available from the SBA’s Small Business Development Centers (SBCD). They also provide free business consulting and training, as well as help with marketing, regulatory compliance, and more.
Grants for women business owners
The number of women in entrepreneurship has increased substantially in recent decades, and so have the grants dedicated to supporting their growth.
The Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program (WOSB)
While not strictly a grant, this hybrid federal program aims to create a level playing field for economically disadvantaged women business owners. The goal of the federal government is to award at least 5 percent of all federal dollars to female-owned businesses annually. Eligible businesses for this program must be:
- At least 51 percent women-owned.
- Owned or controlled by one or more women with a personal net worth of less than $750,000 each.
- Women must each have $350,000 or less in adjusted gross income over the previous three years.
- Women must each have $6 million or less in personal assets.
Certify WOSB eligibility here before going through the application process.
This nonprofit gives away $30,000 each month to women-owned businesses. The application for funding opportunities is straightforward—there are no forms to fill out, but the AGF wants to hear about the applicant and her business dream. The AGF awards numerous other grants, including marketing grants, a quarterly nonprofit organization grant, business category grants, and mini-grants of up to $2,000.
iFundWomen helps women entrepreneurs fund their businesses via rewards-based crowdfunding and grant money. iFundWomen partners with various companies that assist with grants, but applicants need to fill out only one grant application. If a business’s application matches a partner grant’s criteria, the applicant is invited to move further in the process.
Grants for BIPOC business owners
The following grants are designed to support new entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. You can also see this list of loan programs for BIPOC business owners.
The Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)
The SOGAL Black Founder Startup Grant
This program focuses on Black female and nonbinary entrepreneurs. Cash grants in the amount of $10,000 and $5,000 are awarded to recipients.
To qualify, eligible applicants must have a legally registered business and plan to seek investor financing in order to scale. They must have a “scalable, high-impact solution” or business idea, and the determination to become the next billion-dollar business.
This major historic non-profit partners with several organizations to provide grants for Black-owned businesses. Specific grants change annually. For instance, in partnership with Vistaprint and the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation, the Power Forward Small Business Grant is providing grants of $25,000 to empower Black-owned small businesses throughout New England. To be eligible, businesses must have 25 employees or fewer.
Black Girl Ventures provides grants to fund and scale “tech-enabled, revenue-generating businesses” under $1 million founded by Black or Brown women. Their Change Agent Fellowship leadership skills development program provides $10,000 in funding and in-kind resources to grow the recipient’s business. Applicants must provide pitches to qualify for crowdfunding opportunities.
Grants for veteran business owners
Those who have served their country in the armed forces can receive well-earned support from several different small business grant programs. These include both federal grants and grants from private sources.
The U.S. Veterans Administration
The VA sets aside contracts for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). To qualify, applicants must first register with the Vets First Verification Program.
For SDVOSB eligibility, participants must hold at least a 51 percent ownership stake in the business. Their service-connected disability requires VA or Department of Defense determination.
The StreetShares Foundation
The StreetShares Foundation Veterans Small Business Award awards up to $15,000 to veteran entrepreneurs. StreetShares, started by veterans, is an online lending platform. Applicants are evaluated by several criteria, including how their business impacts the military community and how they intend to use the funds. In addition, a veteran-owned business may apply for a loan and other financial assistance through StreetShares.
Grants for businesses in rural areas
Businesses located in rural areas face different challenges than their urban counterparts. Rural, local small businesses need funding to stimulate their communities and sustain local markets.
The Farmer’s Market Promotion Program
The Farmer’s Market Promotion Program (FMPP), funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, funds projects to develop, expand and increase access to direct producer-to-consumer markets.
One funding example is Welcome to Our Place: A BIPOC Farmers/Ranchers Farmers Market Promotion Initiative, located in South Phoenix, Arizona. The initiative helps urban farmers and ranchers increase their presence at farmer markets while reducing food scarcity in their area.
Rural Innovation Stronger Economy
Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grants, also funded by the USDA, are designed to accelerate the formation of new businesses in eligible low-income rural areas. The aim is to maximize the use of local productive assets. RISE serves rural regions small enough to allow close collaboration among partners.
RISE grant recipients may use funds to:
- Build or support a business incubator
- Provide worker training for new jobs
- Train the existing workforce for higher-paying skilled jobs
- Develop a skilled worker base and improve opportunities for them to obtain higher-paying jobs in local industries.
Besides the federal government, state agencies offer new business grant opportunities. The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, partners with local economic development agencies to provide funding for businesses to strengthen regional economies. State, regional authorities, and Native American tribal entities offer an array of grants for new, small, and existing businesses.
The Economic Development Directory provides links to critical state and local resources for those starting new businesses across the United States.
For example, New Jersey entrepreneurs may prove eligible for the Small Business Lease Grant, which provides grant funding to cover part of the lease payments for businesses and nonprofits leasing new or additional space. The state’s Small Business Improvement Grant reimburses costs associated with purchasing new equipment or fixtures or making building improvements.
The State Business Incentives Database is another option for locating new business and government grants. Along with grants, businesses can locate other incentives, such as tax credits, within a state.
Corporate small business grants
While corporate small business grants are not as plentiful as those offered by governmental agencies, there are corporate entities providing funding to help new endeavors meet critical challenges.
Funded by American Express in a partnership with Main Street America, Inclusive Backing offers financial support for "economically vulnerable’’ small businesses. More than 250 grants of $5,000 each are available to small businesses operating in older or historic commercial districts nationwide. Preference is given to businesses owned by underrepresented groups, which includes women, veterans, BIPOC, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community.
Services That Back Us
In addition, American Express is partnering with Main Street America in another grant project called Services that Back Us. These $5,000 grants for personal service industry businesses in older or historic districts may go toward physical and digital improvements, new equipment, and technology.
Visa’s Everywhere Initiative is geared toward fintech startups. This open innovation program has helped 8,500 startups to date, raising more than $16 billion in funding. This is a competitive initiative featuring financial prizes for winners rather than grants per se. Winners also receive exposure to venture capital opportunities.
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) offers Growth Grants to help businesses grow. Grants of up to $4,000 are available for NASE members. Before submitting an application, an applicant must be a NASE member for at least 90 days. Applicants must submit:
- A business plan
- Identifiable business need
- Grant potential to satisfy the identified need
- Intended use of the grant proceeds in detail
- Potential impact on overall business growth and success
How Bench can help
Bench is America’s largest professional bookkeeping service for small businesses. We can handle your bookkeeping and tax filing while you focus on running your business.
If you’re applying for a grant, you’ll typically need to provide detailed financial information to the grantor. And if you are awarded a grant (congrats, by the way!), you’ll need to track where and when the money was spent. Bench gives you access to every transaction your business records in a single space, plus detailed year-end reporting.
More grant considerations
There are literally hundreds of grants available for new businesses across all industries and of all sizes.
As you’re checking items off on your business startup checklist, make sure you include seeking new business grant opportunities. You never know what your business may qualify for.