When it comes time to start a business, you need a few tools in your arsenal: a good idea, a great customer experience, and a lot of work ethic. The cherry on top? Funding. While there are many ways to fund a small business, grants are a great option. It’s no secret that starting a business can be really expensive and the costs can add up quickly. Business funding can make all the difference when an entrepreneur is ready to really grow their business. One of the most appealing forms of business funding are small business grants. What’s so exciting about small business grants? Basically, they’re free money. You read that correctly. When you obtain a small business grant, you are given a lump sum of money you don’t have to pay back at all.
If you’re located in Wahington, DC, there are some pretty great small business grant opportunities for which you may be eligible. Let’s take a closer look at what a small business grant is, what the benefits and the downsides are, and what the best DC small business grants are.
Small business grants are a form of funding that the recipient doesn’t have to repay. That’s right, a grant is essentially free money that you don’t have to pay back and for which you won’t owe interest. The intent of small business grants can vary but the end goal can be simply to help business owners grow their business or, more specifically, to hire employees, continue research and develop new products.
You can obtain small business grants through local and federal governments, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and private individuals. Because grant money is free, unlike a business loan, they are very competitive to apply for and they often have lengthy application processes.
There are two general paths to take when looking for DC small business grants. You can start by looking for DC-specific grants for which only local business owners can qualify. Because these are only available on a local level, you may have less competition applying for them.
After considering your local options, you can go after grants that are more widely available on a national level. The competition may be higher for these grants, but you’ll also have more options available to you.
Because you’re probably pretty busy, we rounded up some of the best national and DC small business grants to help get your search started.
The Commercial Waste Compactor Demonstration Project is an example of a niche grant that only DC business owners in certain industries or who provide select services may be able to apply for. In order to address DC’s sanitation and rodent issues, this grant can award up to $150,000 in grant funds to qualified DC Main Streets grantees who can coordinate and manage the installation of compactors with local businesses. This grant is designed for for-profit entities.
DC business owners that think they have what it takes to improve the appearance of the DC commercial district, provide jobs for residents, reduce litter, clean up graffiti and posters, maintain landscaping, or manage local environmental projects should consider applying for the Clean Team Program 2021 which provides up to $138,000 worth of funding in a handful of service areas throughout DC.
The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is a national program that awards grants for state and territory governments with the goal of assisting small businesses with export development. Funding can vary by region, so check with your local state government organizations to learn more about funding opportunities.
Small business owners based in the U.S. can qualify for grants of up to $4,000 from the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE). In order to be eligible for this grant, the applicant must be an active member of the organization for at least 90 days and be able to demonstrate financial need (this is a requirement you may commonly come across when applying for grants). The applicant will also have to present their business plan and professional resume during the application process, as well as explain how receiving the grant will help their business grow.
DC entrepreneurs who are considered a minority (gender, ethnicity, disability status, etc) may qualify to receive a Federal Minority Business Grant. This form of grant provides direct funding and support for the minority entrepreneur via training, education, and technical assistance. Grant amounts vary; and need, industry, and business size are taken into account when determining award amounts. You can find Federal Minority Business Grants through Grants.gov.
If you’re a DC business that does research in the technology sector, you may want to consider applying for a research grant. America’s Seed Fund, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT), are examples of research grant programs that assist small businesses throughout the U.S. via funding research projects in partnership with the government.
There are more grant opportunities out there than any entrepreneur could realistically apply for, so it can be helpful to narrow down your applications to niche grants that may be a good fit for you. Applying for less general grants can help lessen the competition. Location-based grants are a great place to start, but there are other grant niches that may work for your business. For example, there are some pretty awesome grant opportunities for women-led businesses, as well as minorities and entrepreneurs of color. Consider the unique characteristics of your business carefully and see what types of grant opportunities are out there waiting for you.
Despite the many benefits of grants, finding the right one is a bit of a balancing act. Even though grants can provide business owners with funds they need to give their business a boost, they can also be time-consuming to apply for, can have costly application fees, and at the end of the day they may not be the best funding option for every entrepreneur.
The following three factors are worth considering on your path to finding the right DC small business grant for your business.
As a business owner, you probably need more time as much as you need more money to really take your business to the next level. Grant applications can be quite time-consuming and, because they are competitive to obtain, you may not see a payoff for your efforts.
To make sure you have the time to properly devote to each application, without getting in the way of your other business tasks, it can be helpful to schedule applying for grants into your busy calendar. Once a week, or more depending on your grant goals, set some uninterrupted time on your calendar to work on grant applications. By doing this, you’ll ensure you don’t spend more time on applications throughout the week than you would like. You’ll have to determine the right balance to determine how your time is best utilized and plan accordingly.
To keep on top of the deadlines for multiple applications, keep a log of sorts (either in a notebook or spreadsheet) that tracks the application process and any important deadlines you can’t miss. You don’t want your time to go to waste by not finishing an application before the due date.
While this isn’t always the case, some grant applications require you to pay application fees. This means you will need to make room in your business budget for application-related costs if you plan to apply for grants on an ongoing basis. These costs may be worth it in the end; but if you apply for a lot of grants, the application fees will add up.
When tracking your applications, it can be helpful to also take note of any application fees so you can keep on top of your business spending. Those with a tight budget may want to prioritize the grants on their list with no application fees or with very low fees.
Grants can seem like the best choice for business funding at first glance. Instead of having to pay back a borrowed amount plus interest, the money is completely yours to keep. Not to mention, many grant programs also offer mentorship opportunities and provide business resources. The benefits are great, but there is no guarantee with grants. They are very competitive and can be time-consuming and expensive. That is why it can be wise to consider other business funding options that may be available to you such as small business loans. Even though grants are an ideal option in many ways, there may be more practical paths forward.
Now that you know about your DC small business grant options, hopefully you can find some business funding that works for you! Grants are an ideal solution because you don’t have to pay the money back (unlike a loan), but they are also super competitive because of that. While applying for grants can be a good idea and might pay off down the road, you may also want to consider other startup funding options available to you. That way, you’re not putting all of your time, energy, and hope into a grant working out and you can move forward with another type of funding if need be.
Jacqueline DeMarco is a writer and editor based in Southern California. She has written on everything from finance to travel for publications including LendingTree, The Everygirl, Coveteur, and Apartment Therapy, among others. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, especially if going somewhere she can spend time with animals.