Regardless of whether you’re just starting your Minnesota-based business or your operations are well underway, the idea of getting additional cash for your business is pretty compelling. Minnesota small business grants can provide qualifying businesses with a much-needed influx of capital that, unlike traditional business loans, won’t need to be repaid.
Minnesota small business grants can do more than just provide companies with capital. In fact, they can also help businesses that need a little extra assistance to accomplish specific goals. For example, Minnesota small business grants can help businesses that are looking to sow roots in the state, or to help build up rural business opportunities. So long as you qualify and are approved for a Minnesota small business grant, you’ll be on your way to get awarded with cash that you don’t have to pay back.
Here, we’ll review some of the best options for Minnesota small business grants—some being broad in scope, while others being a bit more limited in terms of who qualifies. We’ll also go over how to identify the best small business grants particular for your business, and what kind of things to both understand and watch out for as you go through the grant application process.
Finding the best Minnesota small business grants generally involves a mix of two strategies: both looking directly at grants themselves as well as aggregate sites. One of the biggest hurdles to getting grant funding is often finding these grants in the first place. Grant-offering institutions don’t always do a great job of advertising their programs, unfortunately. This means that doing your homework and not shying away from doing a little digging can go a long way.
As we go through the best Minnesota small business grants, we’ll touch on both so you have a good mix of resources to draw from. This will give you more time to determine which grants work best for your Minnesota-based small business, rather than leaving you to scour the web to find these grants in the first place.
If your small business is based in rural Minnesota and committed to bettering the rural community with things including jobs, economic benefits, and technical advancements, you may be a candidate for a rural business development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Rural business development grants can be a great way for small businesses in less populated areas to get a leg up for their company. Or, if your business is currently in a major city, these grants could entice you to move out to a rural area to take advantage of opportunities to expand and hire within towns that are filled with people who are ready to roll up their sleeves and take on a new opportunity.
Bear in mind that rural business development grants do come with a few requirements. The largest is the size of the town your business calls home. You’ll have to make sure your area has 50,000 inhabitants or fewer in order to qualify. You’ll also have to make sure your business isn’t in a suburban area, as that will exclude you from the program as well.
One of the great things about rural business development grants is that there’s no maximum award amount. That means you can qualify for a substantial amount of money so long as there’s an explicit need (and the USDA deems your business worthy of the funds). Smaller grants are given priority, however, so try to assess exactly what you need to accomplish your goal, and don’t ask for much more. These grants must be used for developing your rural business, though they’re pretty flexible in how you can apply them.
For entrepreneurs based in southern Minnesota who have a business improving their local community, look into the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation Economic Impact Grant. This organization awards up to $20,000 to companies that are creating an infrastructure to help develop the region’s economic prosperity on the whole—think a system that many local businesses could use to become more efficient, for instance. While not limited to these areas, the SMIF gives tourism, the arts, food accessibility, and business services as examples of such eligible initiatives.
To see if you’re eligible for this Minnesota small business grant, check if you’re in SMIF’s 20-county region to qualify.
As you’ll find, one thing about grants is that they’re sometimes moving targets in the sense that application dates and deadlines are all over the place. New grants pop up all the time, while older grants may no longer be administering funding. In that case, it’s worth being aware of places that collect opportunities for Minnesota small business grants that you can look into often as you find you have time to apply for them.
Remember, you might not find a grant that matches your needs and your company right away, but staying on top of it will help you open your opportunities.
Among these places to look is the Minnesota Department of Administration, which provides a grants management area with a database of grants available by sector. Particularly, you may find opportunities through Minnesota DEED, or the Department of Employment and Economic Development. One especially attractive funding option from DEED is their Minnesota Job Creation Fund, which provides financial incentives of up to $1 million to new and growing businesses that are creating or retaining high-paying jobs, as well as for making property improvements.
Similarly, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture often posts grant opportunities specifically for entrepreneurs and businesses working with crops, dairy, energy, and similar industries. If you’re located in a rural area and are working either in or tangentially with agriculture, check out the Minnesota Department of Agriculture list of loans, grants, and business development opportunities.
Another aggregate website, Minnesota GrantWatch, also does a nice job of compiling Minnesota small business grant opportunities. Not every opportunity they list is exclusive to Minnesota-based small business owners, but its list is full of grants for which Minnesota entrepreneurs are eligible. The best part about this site is that it updates often with new grants, so you know the opportunities are fresh and still accepting applications.
Although this grant isn’t specific to small business owners in Minnesota, Minnesota-based entrepreneurs have been awarded it, so it’s certainly worth considering. For the Amber Grant, each month, a female entrepreneur is chosen to win an award of $10,000. At the end of the year, a $25,000 award is granted to one of these 12 entrepreneurs, totaling $27,000 in free funding for the ultimate winner.
To apply for an Amber Grant, you’ll have to submit a little bit of personal information, a $15 application fee, and answer a prompt describing your business. There’s also an optional question about what you’d do with the money if awarded it; we’d recommend filling it out, since the more information a grant committee has about your company, your ambitions, and what makes you special as an entrepreneur, the more likely they will be swayed to award you the grant.
Along with searching for Minnesota-specific small business grants, you may want to consider extending your search to general small business grants for American entrepreneurs. This can be a bit overwhelming, since there are lots of options, and these grants may be more competitive.
A manageable way into this space is to begin by searching specifically based on your business’s unique characteristics, such as looking for small business grants for women, small business grants for minorities and entrepreneurs of color, small business grants for the sciences, etc. Again, remember to find the right balance between casting a reasonable net and not going through too many time-consuming applications.
There are a few things to understand when evaluating grant opportunities. The better you understand the grant process, the more likely you’ll be to identify a grant for which you’ll be a strong candidate.
We’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: Grants are immensely competitive, and, generally, only awarded to entrepreneurs whose profile strongly matches what a grant committee is looking for. Sometimes there are multiple winners, sometimes only one. This shouldn’t discourage you from applying for a Minnesota small business grant, but having realistic expectations is important, since it’s unwise to count on money from a grant as a given.
If you’re really in a cash crunch, you may want to consider traditional small business funding instead; any grant that you win can be supplementary. Additionally, many grants are awarded to entrepreneurs to pursue specific missions or projects, so if you need to, say, fund an emergency, you may not be able to do so with grant money unless it’s what’s known as “no strings attached.”
Another crucial part of understanding the grant process is knowing the kind of time these applications take. Often, grant applications will include required mission or purpose statements and extensive paperwork. That’s time you could be spending running your business, of course, so be judicious about the grants for which you apply and zero in on the awards for which you’re well qualified.
Many Minnesota small business grants that you look into will have specific qualifying criteria. These may include entrepreneurs based on their industry, their time in business, what they hope to accomplish with a grant, and more.
The best thing that you can do to understand the grants for which you’re qualified is to understand your business and your identity as a founder. Here are a few answers to make sure you have as you’re evaluating grant opportunities:
Remember: the more relevant a grant is to your business’s specifics, the more likely you will be a serious contender for the award.
Rule of thumb with grants (as well as basically anything in life): If a grant seems too good to be true, it very well may be. Due to the fact that they’re free money, an unlimited number of grants aren’t available; and since they’re so highly desired and competitive, the chance of you simply walking into one is low, too. Sometimes, those looking for grants can become the target of scams—so be vigilant as you search, and make sure you know the source of the money for which you’re applying before you give out your business’s information.
One more important thing to note: If you’re having difficulty either finding Minnesota small business grants for which you’re qualified, or winning grants once you’ve applied, don’t give up—there may be other options for your business to get grant money. Remember that grant lists refresh often, opening up new opportunities for entrepreneurs.
That said, you may also want to consider other small business loan options, such as SBA loans and microloans, which will give you access to business capital at premium rates. You may also find as you look that you have more options for Minnesota-based funding programs that lend to qualified entrepreneurs with good terms, or supplement grant awards with matching loans. Some even offer 0% interest rates.
No matter where your search for Minnesota small business loans takes you, be strategic about it and you’ll end up with the capital to expand your business and take it to the next level.
Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a GM at NerdWallet.
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.