The most recent wave of the Black Lives Matter movement has amplified what Black people in America have known for centuries: Systemic racism is alive and well in America. That deep-seated, foundational racism touches every aspect of this country’s inner workings, including when it comes to business funding.
Despite the fact that Black women are starting businesses at the fastest rate among any racial group and that the number of Black female-owned businesses in America has increased by 164% since 2007, they remain chronically underfunded. As Fundera’s own report on the racial funding gap details, lending institutions consistently practice racial and gender-based biases against otherwise qualified applicants.
Seeking business grants for Black women specifically (or grants for women, minority, or Black entrepreneurs more broadly) can help you secure the business funding that a traditional, typically discriminatory lending institution may have denied you previously. With that in mind, we’ve gathered a list of some of the best business grants, investment opportunities, and resource hubs for Black women business owners.
While there aren’t a ton of grants intended specifically for Black women, you will find grant opportunities targeted more generally toward women, minorities, or Black business owners—all of which you might be eligible for, so we’ve listed a few of those below.
Another caveat to keep in mind: deadlines. Application windows can be fairly short, and lots of grant programs that are designed for Black women business owners, or Black entrepreneurs of any gender identity (like the PayPal Empowerment Grant for Black-Owned Businesses) are currently closed to applications.
Still, it’s worth being aware of these grant opportunities, if and when they reopen for the next round of applicants. And you can always run a search for financing opportunities through a general grant portal or resource center—hence why we’ve included a couple of those here.
Technically, the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program isn’t a grant program, and it’s also not one of the several (and highly coveted) loan programs for which the SBA is best known. Rather, it’s a business assistance program that aids “economically and socially disadvantaged business owners” secure government contracts.
Each year, the federal government aims to set aside 5% of their annual contracting budget to small businesses that are owned and operated by marginalized entrepreneurs. The SBA 8(a) program provides such entrepreneurs the support they need to win those contracts, without competition. Participating entrepreneurs can receive assistance and training to help them navigate their businesses beyond securing government contracts, too.
To be eligible for this nine-year program, applicants must fall under the SBA’s definitions of “economically disadvantaged” and “socially disadvantaged” individuals, among other factors. Briefly, the SBA defines “economically disadvantaged” individuals as those entrepreneurs “whose ability to compete in the free enterprise system has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities.” And “socially disadvantaged” individuals are defined, in part, as “those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities.”
Take a look at our comprehensive guide to the SBA 8(a) program to learn more about eligibility requirements, how to apply, and where to seek additional information.
Another incredible resource is IFundWomen (IFW), which helps female and female-identified founders of any race or ethnicity seeking capital (specifically through crowdfunding), coaching, networking, and grant opportunities. But for today’s purposes, we’ll direct you to IFW’s grants hub, where they’ve aggregated a collection of the most exciting grant opportunities for women (crucially, with up-to-date application deadlines).
In addition to grant programs offered by corporations and private sponsors, this hub includes information and application links for IFW’s three in-house grant programs, including a relief fund for business owners who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Two grant programs within the IFW network are designed for Black women entrepreneurs in particular: the Visa Grant Program and the IFW Brokered Grant for Black-Owned Businesses.
Helpfully, too, they’ve gathered information about grant programs that are not within the IFW network, some of which are targeted specifically toward Black entrepreneurs.
Founded in 1981, The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) is the nation’s “largest nonprofit, non-partisan association” dedicated toward supporting entrepreneurs and micro-businesses. One way the organization supports these smallest of small business owners is through their grant program. This program awards NASE Members up to $4,000 to finance a particular need, whether that’s purchasing equipment, hiring staff, launching a marketing plan, or another approved purpose.
Do note that NASE Growth Grants aren’t awarded solely to Black and/or female entrepreneurs. But based on the frequency with which grants are awarded, Black women entrepreneurs have several opportunities to secure one: Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis throughout the year, and the organization awards one grant per month.
The Minority Business Development Agency (MDBA) is a federal agency that supports the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses in the U.S. Much like the SBA, the MBDA has over 40 physical locations located across the country, where minority entrepreneurs can go to seek financial assistance and business consulting.
While this isn’t necessarily a grant program in and of itself, the MDBA is a valuable resource for Black women entrepreneurs nonetheless. You can find more information about grant and loan opportunities on the MDBA website.
The end-all be-all of federal grant resources, Grants.gov is a portal where federal agencies offering grant programs—both specifically for minority-owned businesses and otherwise—post information about their offerings, including eligibility requirements, funding amounts, and application deadlines. You can search for a grant according to several search criteria, including your industry and the sponsoring federal agency.
Like the NASE Growth Grant, the Amber Grant Foundation awards one $10,000 grant to a small business owner per month. In this case, however, grants are offered only to female entrepreneurs, and they’re intended specifically to help new entrepreneurs launch their businesses. If you’re awarded one of the $10,000 monthly grants, you will also be in the running to win the Amber Grant’s yearly $25,000 grant.
The application process is simple, too: You’ll fill out a short form, right on the Amber Grant website, where you’ll tell the organization a little bit about your business idea and how you would spend your grant funds. Note that you’ll have to pay a $15 application fee.
The Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation established The Red Backpack Fund in response to the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Via GlobalGiving, The Red Backpack Fund will be donating at least 1,000 grants of $5,000 each to female-identified entrepreneurs in the U.S. whose businesses have been impacted by the health crisis.
To be eligible for a Red Backpack Fund grant, your business must meet the following criteria:
Unfortunately, this grant is not available to sole proprietors or businesses that only employ contractors or freelancers. This fund is accepting applications through August 2020.
If you’re a tech entrepreneur seeking early-stage funding opportunities, consider pitching the Female Founders Fund (FFF). Launched by “serial entrepreneur” Anu Duggal in 2014 and powered by a team of female investors, the fund is dedicated to “investing in the next generation of transformational technology companies founded by women.” Their portfolio boasts some of the buzziest female-owned companies out there, like Co-Star, Zola, Billie, Minibar, and Rent the Runway.
FFF invests in B2B, consumer, fintech, and health care businesses that have at least one female founding member, and they primarily focus on investing in seed-stage businesses. That said, they’re open to reviewing pitches from businesses in a variety of industries, and occasionally even before those businesses are ready for a formal funding round. They average between six to eight investments per year, with investments ranging from $500,000 to $750,000.
You can learn much more about FFF, their eligibility criteria, the investment process, and how to pitch them on their FAQ page.
Lastly, Black Girl Ventures (BGV) provides coaching, development, and community resources for Black and Brown female-identified entrepreneurs.
BGV’s marquee offering is their crowdfunded pitch competition program, in which participating entrepreneurs have three minutes to pitch their business idea, followed by a three-minute Q&A session with a panel of professionals in front of an audience. Then, the audience votes “with their dollars” on the crowdfunding platform SheRaise. First, second, and third place winners are announced, but everyone participating in the BGV Pitch has the opportunity to raise capital. Winners receive additional perks, as well, like free business coaching and a discount on graphic design services.
Being a Black, female-identified business owner can be incredibly challenging, but you’re not alone in your journey. In addition to some of the community, networking, and support organizations we’ve listed above, there are tons of additional resources to consider. For starters, check out our list of small business resources for Black business owners and resources for women entrepreneurs, both of which we regularly update. Visiting your local SBA or SCORE office, either in-person or online, can also be a great way to receive free resources and advice.
We’d also encourage you to apply for a business loan if you think you’re well-positioned to secure one. And if that’s the case, we’d love to help you sort through your options and put together a loan package.
Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a vice president at Fundera.
Meredith launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014. She has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending and financial management.