Starting a business can be expensive. There’s production, advertising, inventory, packaging, employees, a storefront. You get the idea. It’s easy to see how the costs can begin to mount. Business funding can help bridge the gap when an entrepreneur needs a financial boost to get their business off the ground. While loans can be very helpful, there are funding opportunities that don’t require the entrepreneur to pay them back. Enter small business grants, AKA a no-debt solution to financing a small business.
This guide outlines some of the best Washington state small business grants for which you may be able to apply. It also highlights the application requirements, the benefits, and the disadvantages of each grant.
A small business grant is a type of funding that the business owner won’t need to repay. In other words, this is free money that can help you grow your business. A pretty good deal, right? Small business grants can come from a variety of places such as your local government, the federal government, nonprofit organizations, large corporations, and even private individuals.
Because grants provide free money, unlike a loan, they are very competitive to apply for. Typically, a business grant should be used to help build a business, hire employees, or to further the development of a new idea or product, but the uses may vary based on each grant’s requirements.
There are two ways to narrow down your search for Washington state small business grants. You can start by looking at Washington-specific grants designed to cater to small businesses for which only local entrepreneurs can apply. These may be filtered by a specific region or city as well as apply to anyone living in the state of Washington.
Once you have finished researching your local options, you can pursue grants that are available on a national level, but those tend to be more competitive to apply for as you’ll be competing for the funds with other entrepreneurs across the entire United States.
We’ve outlined the best small business grant options designed for Washington state small business owners to help you start your local search. Some are designed specifically for Washington-based businesses and others are national opportunities for which those in Washington can qualify.
This grant is a good example of niche categories some small business owners may fall into. The state of Washington offers Public Participation Grants (PPG). These grants provide funding to individuals and not-for-profit public interest organizations (which can apply to small businesses) in order to increase public understanding and involvement relating to cleaning up contaminated sites, as well as improving recycling and waste management. The PPG awards can be as high as $120,000 in funding for two-year projects. One benefit of this grant is that the need to have matching funds is not required, which is a stipulation of some grants.
While the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is available nationally to provide awards for state and territory governments in order to assist small businesses with export development, the Washington State Department of Commerce recently received an award of $1.35 million to fund this program on the local level. This large influx of funds creates exciting opportunities for small business owners in Washington and it may improve their odds of receiving funding.
Similar to the STEP grants, the USDA Rural Business Development Grant is available on a national level, as long as the area in question meets select standards. Those located in Washington state rural areas may qualify for this grant which aims to provide technical assistance and training for small rural businesses. To be considered a “small” business, the business must have less than 50 new workers and $1 million in gross revenue. The following rural public entities are examples of areas that can qualify: towns, communities, state agencies, authorities, nonprofit corporations, institutions of higher education, federally recognized tribes, and rural cooperatives (if it is a private nonprofit corporation).
US-based small businesses, including those in Washington state, can earn up to $4,000 from the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE). It is worth noting that, to be eligible for this grant, you must be an active member of the organization for 90 days or more and demonstrate financial need. This is a requirement you may come across often when applying for grants through private institutions. To apply, you’ll also have to present your company’s business plan and your professional resume, as well as be able to outline how this grant will contribute to your business’s growth.
If an entrepreneur in Washington state is considered a minority because of their gender, ethnicity, or disability status, they may qualify to receive a Federal Minority Business Grant. This type of grant offers direct funding and provides support for the entrepreneur through training, technical assistance, and courses in management. Grant amounts vary and are determined by need, industry, and business size, but the training and support received can provide additional value to this grant. Minority business grants can be found through Grants.gov.
For Washington state small businesses that do research in the technology sector, a small business research grant may be a good fit. Also known as America’s Seed Fund, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT), these research grant programs assist small businesses across the U.S. by funding research projects in partnership with the U.S. government. These are very niche grant opportunities that can help small businesses not just financially, but by allowing them to complete projects that can help them grow their business.
While narrowing down your grant options by location is a great way to lessen your competition, consider looking past your state small business grant options and investigate other niche categories for which your business may qualify. For example, there are tons of great grant opportunities out there for women-led businesses, as well as small business grants for minorities and entrepreneurs of color. Think carefully about your business’s unique characteristics and where there might be funding opportunities that can help entrepreneurs like you.
Not all grants are created equal. Finding the right Washington state small business grants will take a decent amount of work. Applying for the wrong grants can waste time and lead to frustration. Your time is super valuable when starting a business, so consider taking the following steps to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible and that you find the right grants for your business.
When running a new business, your to-do list can be a mile long. The most pressing items can often overshadow ones that have less of an immediate impact. When applying for grants, it may feel like there will be very little payoff in the immediate future; but down the road, these actions can make all the difference. Schedule some time on your calendar to search for and apply for eligible grant opportunities. This to-do should be a recurring one and you’ll need to persevere until you secure the funding you need.
It can be helpful to keep a running list of all the grants you’ve applied for or to track your efforts in a spreadsheet. That way, you remember important deadlines, you don’t accidentally apply for the same one twice, and you don’t forget any key details about the grants that may come in handy.
Applying for grants can be costly, as some grants may have application fees. When deciding what grants to apply for, it can be helpful to create a budget for these application costs. This is where that spreadsheet can come in handy. When tracking all of the grants you want to apply for, consider adding a column that notes the cost of each application.
In some cases, the cost combined with the work it takes to complete the application may not be worth the potential benefits of receiving the grant. You’ll have to carefully consider what grants are worth the investment.
If your budget is tight, you may want to prioritize applying for grants with no application fees or with lower fees.
Because you don’t have to pay back grants like you would a loan, the process of applying for grants can be competitive. There is no guarantee that you will receive any of the grants for which you apply. You may not want to put all your eggs in the grant basket and may find you can’t wait to be awarded a grant before you start your business. If there are other funding options available to you, such as a small business loan, you may want to keep those in consideration.
At the end of the day, there are tons of great Washington state small business grants worth applying to. There is no harm in applying for these grants and doing so can pay off big time, but it’s also wise to consider your other startup funding options. Small business grants can be very competitive to apply for, so it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan for securing any necessary funding.
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.