Iowa Small Business Grants: The Top Options

Whether you’re an experienced business owner or planning on starting a new business, getting an Iowa small business grant is a great way to earn free money. Unlike a traditional business loan, you don’t have to worry about paying a small business grant back. Small business grants are typically used for a specific business purpose, such as covering operational expenses or creating more job opportunities.

In this guide, we’ll cover how to find grants for small businesses in Iowa by listing the best local and national grant programs. We’ll also go over applying for grants and include a few tips on how to prepare your grant applications. 

Top 7 Options for Iowa Small Business Grants

Finding the right small business grant for your business in Iowa means exhausting all of your options locally, regionally, and sometimes nationally. Two of the best ways to find grants are by searching through grant aggregate sites or contacting your local SBA business development center. A representative will often assist you with finding local or federal small business grants free of charge. If you’re a minority, woman, or veteran business owner, it may also better serve you to look into small business grants for women, business grants for minorities, or grants for veterans.

To save you the hassle of scouring for small business grants in Iowa, we’ve listed a few of the top Iowa grant programs and sites for your reference. 

1. Iowa Rural Business Development Grant

Own a small business in a rural area of Iowa? You might want to consider applying for an enterprise rural business development grant (RBDG) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Designed to support the development and expansion of small businesses in rural areas, RBDGs are for small businesses with less than 50 employees that generate no more than $1 million in revenue. If your business needs extra support with training, acquiring equipment, and strategic business planning, a rural development grant can give you a head start.

Additionally, rural development grants have no limit. On average, small businesses receive grant amounts ranging from $10,000 to $500,000. Interested applicants must make sure that they fill out the appropriate paperwork at their local or state USDA’s rural development office. Businesses located in a suburban area or a town with a population of over 50,000 will not qualify.

2. Iowa GrantWatch

Another fantastic grant resource for Iowa-based businesses is the Iowa GrantWatch. The Iowa GrantWatch is an ever-growing list of grants for individuals planning to start or grow their businesses in Iowa. Iowa GrantWatch offers a grant for businesses in virtually every sector, and you can also find grants specifically for minority or veteran business owners. 

3. Dream Big Grow Here Grant 

Run by the University of Iowa’s Center for Business Innovation, Dream Big Grow Here is a premier business grant program. Since its inception, thousands of small businesses have competed in an online voting competition to win over $10,000 in grant money.

New and experienced entrepreneurs interested in pursuing or growing their business in northwest Iowa are encouraged to enter the contest. If a business owner is selected as a finalist, he or she will receive $5,000 and advance to the next round and get the chance to win an additional $10,000 grand prize. 

4. The City of Walnut’s Small Business Startup Grant Program

If your business is located within the city limits of Walnut, Iowa, then you likely qualify for the City of Walnut’s Small Business Startup Grant. The Small Business Startup Grant Program is targeted to help business owners in Walnut successfully run their businesses. Recipients of the grant will receive $5,000. To qualify for the startup grant, your business should have no more than five employees, gross less than $350,000, and be within its first year of operation. 

5. Iowa SourceLink 

Iowa SourceLink is overseen by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Business Growth and Innovation. The Resource Navigator tool is a convenient search engine that connects business owners with over 360 nonprofit organizations to help them find local grants and a wide range of other business-related services. 

6. Amber Grant for Women

The Amber Grant is a popular grant option for women entrepreneurs. The Amber Grant is open to women business owners in any state, and every month, a panel of judges selects one woman-owned business to receive a $10,000 grant. Businesses chosen to win one of the monthly grants will also be eligible to win an additional $25,000 grant at the end of the year. The Amber Grant is not open to nonprofits.

To apply for an Amber Grant, you’ll need to share information about yourself and your business. You will also need to answer questions about how you plan on using the grant money for your business. A $15 application fee is also required. We recommend viewing past winners to get a sense of how to make your application stand out and what kind of businesses the judges are looking for.

7. National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grant

Since 2006, The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) has awarded Growth Grants to support the development of small businesses. Selected grant winners receive $4,000 to cover a specific business expense such as marketing, hiring, or expansion. To apply for a Growth Grant, you must be a NASE member in good standing, provide appropriate documentation, and demonstrate why you need financial support. 

How to Find the Right Iowa Small Business Grant for You

Finding the right business grant is one thingーbut successfully applying is an entirely different process. The best course of action to take when applying for a small business grant is to be as prepared as possible: the more you understand the application process and qualifications for each business grant, the better chance you’ll have in securing one.

Spend Time on Your Application 

Applying for grants is a serious commitment. You’ll spend a lot of time searching for grants, writing customized proposals, and gathering documents to make your business stand out from the competition. Spending too much time on your grant applications can actually interfere with your day-to-day business operations. If you’re desperate for funding, it may be a better idea to look for alternative small business financing options. Or, if you aren’t too keen on spending too much time on your application, you may want to consider hiring an outside consultant who can review your application for you.

Understand the Eligibility Requirements

Before applying for a grant, you need to be sure that your business meets the eligibility requirements, because otherwise, you’re wasting your time. You should also have a firm idea of who your business serves, a detailed plan on how you plan on spending the grant money, and a detailed budget of how much money you need. You can get a better sense of whether you’re eligibile by heavily researching the grant organization’s past grant recipients, reading their mission statement, and browsing their grant requirements.

Here are a few common questions you’ll need to know before filling out your grant application:

  • How do you identify yourself?
  • What industry are you in?
  • What is the background behind your business?
  • Who does your business serve? 
  • Can you demonstrate a need for funding? 
  • How much funding do you need?
  • What do you plan on using the funds for? 
  • How do you plan on evaluating the project outcomes? 
  • What is the budget for your project? 

The questions above should give you a rough idea of the type of information you need when applying for a grant. When you’re competing against hundreds of other businesses, the more concrete information and evidence you can present, the more likely your grant application will be considered. 

Watch out for Scams

Many scammers will try to take advantage of small business owners by advertising “free grant money” in classified ads or on television. In some cases, scammers will even call you directly and ask for your personal banking information. As a precautionary measure, you should always verify every grant organization’s credibility and never give out your sensitive financial information over the phone. If you or anyone else you know come across a grant scam, we advise you to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

The Bottom Line

Finding Iowa small business grants isn’t an easy endeavor. It requires considerable upfront research and preparation in order to be successful. But even if you face a few hurdles, keep in mind that there will always be more opportunities to receive grants in the future.

If you’re strapped for cash, there are plenty of other business financing options at your disposal with less stringent application requirements and faster application turnaround times. One option is SBA loans or microloans, which offer reasonable loans with low interest rates. Plus, there are several Iowa government loan programs that cater to small businesses looking for general business funding. 

Zoe Weisner

Zoe Weisner is a contributing writer at Fundera. Previously, Zoe worked at BlueVine, a fintech startup that provides working capital to small businesses. At BlueVine, Zoe worked with small business owners to understand their financial needs and wrote content about small business-related topics, including marketing, business operations, and small business financing. Today, Zoe writes articles about personal finance, small business, and banking.

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