Minority business owners face a multitude of challenges when trying to start and finance their businesses—research shows that BIPOC entrepreneurs receive less business financing, less often, and at higher interest rates compared to white business owners.
Therefore, minority business owners might find that small business grants can be helpful alternatives (or supplements) to more traditional forms of funding.
Small business grants can be competitive and require lengthy application processes—the payoff, however, is free funding that you don’t have to repay. Again, these grants can be great financing solutions if you’re having trouble qualifying for a business loan or want additional capital to combine with existing funding.
Here are some of the top grants for minority business owners and everything you need to know to apply for these opportunities.
Grants.gov doesn’t exclusively offer minority small business grants, however, this federal portal is a great resource for finding grants applicable to your specific industry and eligibility. Overall, Grants.gov offers eligibility guidelines, application information, and deadlines on over 1,000 small business grants.
All federal government agencies offering grants will post their information on this site. Over two dozen federal agencies offer grants, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
In particular, minority-owned businesses might narrow the search based on the category “small business,” or your individual eligibility criteria, like “Native American tribal organization,” or “nonprofits.”
The SBIR and SBTT programs provide business development grants for small businesses engaged in cutting-edge research and development. Eleven government agencies including NASA, DOD, DOE, DHHS, and the National Science Foundation reserve a portion of their research and development funds to contribute to this highly competitive grant program to foster technological innovation.
As you might imagine, the grant qualification requirements and amounts awarded are largely specific to the program and individual grant you’re applying for. This being said, however, you must have an American-owned and independently operated, for-profit small business, with the principal researcher employed by your business. Your business also must have 500 employees or fewer.
Refer to our guide for a comprehensive breakdown of the SBIR program.
Do you run your business in a rural area? If so, you’ll want to explore the Rural Business Development Grant Program from the USDA. Through this program, you can apply for minority small business grants between $10,000 and $500,000.
More specifically, this program is available to businesses operating in rural areas, with a population under 50,000. Additionally, grant money must be used for projects that benefit your rural area or town. A variety of rural public entities are eligible for this program, including nonprofit corporations, federally recognized tribes, rural cooperatives, state agencies, and more.
To apply, you can find the documentation and other requirements relevant to your state on the USDA website.
The USDA Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program helps qualified business owners who aren’t able to obtain more traditional business financing. This program, as the name suggests, provides both grants and business loans.
Overall, to qualify for this grant program, your business must be in the field of water or waste disposal in an eligible area—a rural area or town with a population of 10,000 or less, tribal lands in rural areas, or colonias. That said, most state and local government entities, private nonprofits, and federally recognized tribes are eligible for this program.
The MBDA provides grants to organizations that operate their Minority Business Centers throughout the United States. Through one of these centers, you can receive business consulting, procurement matching, and financial assistance for your minority-owned business.
Additionally, the MBDA also runs a separate ongoing grant competition program. In 2021, this program looked for proposals to open and operate one of four MBDA Export Centers.
This program helps socially or economically disadvantaged small business owners compete for set-aside and sole-source government contracts. Although the SBA 8(a) program is not technically a grant program, it offers excellent opportunities for minority-owned businesses. On top of the actual business contract, those who qualify for the program receive access to a Business Opportunity Specialist, a mentor-protégé program, as well as business training, counseling, and executive development.
The nonprofit association NASE runs their Growth Grants Program which offers microgrants up to $4,000 each. These grants are designed to help businesses grow, but you must be a NASE member to qualify.
Although NASE doesn’t exclusively offer grants for minority-owned businesses, this program is designed for smaller businesses that can’t always find other methods of financing. Plus, a NASE Growth Grant can be used for a variety of business purposes—including purchasing equipment, hiring employees, or creating marketing materials.
NASE offers these grants on a monthly basis and applications are reviewed quarterly.
The AWGC provides grants for minority women—specifically Asian American women-led organizations and individual artists in NYC. The nonprofit organization awards these grants to businesses who are using arts and culture to bring about progressive social transformation, raising awareness and action around issues that affect Asian American women, girls, and families, and highlighting and promoting women’s central role in these projects.
The AWGC typically awards five to eight project grants in each cycle (usually on an annual basis) in amounts up to $15,000.
First Nations is a nonprofit that runs a national grantmaking program. As of year-end 2020, First Nations has provided 2,150 grants totaling more than $43 million to Native American projects and organizations in 40 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territory American Samoa.
Overall, although the individual minority small business grants that First Nations offers can vary, their program strives to provide technical and financial resources to Native nonprofits and tribes.
As their available grants change, you can look for current applications on the First Nations website.
The Operation HOPE Small Business Development program is designed to help small business owners in underserved communities. The nonprofit organization offers an eight-week entrepreneurship training program to provide minority business owners with business training, personal development, access to professional services, and financial counseling.
The program also helps business owners create and maintain a business plan, as well as gain access to funding and other business resources.
The NBMBAA scale-up pitch challenge is a grant competition that encourages business owners to think about creative, scalable startup ideas. The NBMBAA connects startups with early-stage investors and venture capitalists and gives them the opportunity to present their business idea. The winning business owner or team receives a grant of $50,000, second place receives $10,000, and third place receives $7,500. A People’s Choice Award is also given for $1,000.
This grant competition is a great option for black-owned businesses that are looking for startup funding for their first business or are trying to launch a new idea. You must be a member of the NBMBAA to participate and the competition is held annually.
The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is a nationwide competition that awards grants to around 10 different deserving business owners every year. Grants range from $15,000 to $50,000, plus $1,000 to $7,500 in FedEx print services.
Many of the past winners of this grant contest have, in fact, been minority-owned businesses—and overall, the grants are awarded to those with a unique business idea that positively impacts the community.
Exploring and applying to the best minority small business grants may take time, but the effort is certainly worth the end result. With one of these grants, you’ll have free funding to start, grow, and manage your business.
Plus, once you’ve used this capital successfully, you’ll find that it’s much easier to qualify for minority business loans and other debt-based financing products.
Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger and the editorial director at Fundera.
Sally has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines.