If you’re an entrepreneur, raising capital is undoubtedly a big part of your job. To help female entrepreneurs succeed, some government agencies, nonprofits, and private organizations provide small business grants for women.
Grants are essentially free money that you don’t have to pay back, unlike small business loans and credit cards. That makes competition for them very high. But if you know where to look and understand the benefits available, you can put your best foot forward. Here’s a comprehensive guide on the best small business grants for women (many of which are also open to men), plus information on how to apply.
If you’re looking for federally sponsored grants for women, the best place to start is Grants.gov. All government grants are open to male and female business owners, and this site serves as a database of all federal grants—including those specifically available for small business owners. To search for this type of grant, visit the official government grants website and check out their section for grant applicants to see if you’re eligible.
Although there are no specific small business grants for women on this site, Grants.gov can still serve as a great starting point for women looking for federal grant resources. Over a dozen federal government agencies participate in the database.
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) runs a grant program that is available only to their roughly 50,000 members. To become a NASE member, you’ll have to pay $120 per year for a basic membership. NASE offers members networking and mentorship resources, discounts on business products, and legislative advocacy.
In exchange for membership, members are also offered exclusive access to grants and scholarships. Since 2006, NASE has offered nearly $1 million in grant money to members.
To qualify for their Growth Grants program—in addition to being a NASE member—you must demonstrate a specific business need that could be aided by the grant.
You must also show how the grant will improve your business’s overall growth and success and include a resume and business plan.
3. Amber Grant
The Amber Grant was launched by Womensnet.com in 1998 to honor the memory of a young woman, Amber, who died before she could fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams. The grant was formed to help women entrepreneurs reach their goals when Amber could not.
This program awards a $10,000 grant to one qualifying woman business owner each month of the year. One of the monthly qualification grant winners will be awarded an additional $25,000 by the end of the year. These grant awards are small but can be very helpful for those working to get their business off the ground. Remember, there’s no expectation that this funding will be paid back.
The application cut off for each monthly grant is the last of every month, so if you want a shot at winning the Amber Grant you have the opportunity to apply at any time of the year. All you have to do to apply is tell your story and pay a small application fee ($15). You can learn more about the application here.
The IdeaCafe Grant awards a $1,000 micro-grant to one small business owner each year. The application deadline is in January, so apply early. Although the funding isn’t technically a small business grant for women only, the vast majority of the winners have been female entrepreneurs.
This is a great grant to apply to if you’re a relatively new startup looking for funding. This grant is also available for those that have an idea for a business but haven’t actively started building it yet.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Award is awarded once a year to 21 female entrepreneurs around the world. The Cartier award grant is intended for women business owners in the early stages of development of their business (between one to three years old). The business should be generating revenue, but need not be profitable. The top seven finalists will win $100,000 and one-to-one business mentoring from an expert that Cartier finds for you. The remaining 14 applicants will win a $30,000 prize.
Each of the 21 small business grant award finalists will receive a spot in the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Six-Day Executive Program (ISEP), as well as the opportunity to participate in entrepreneurship workshops, business coaching seminars, and networking opportunities.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive resource for business grants for women and other funding opportunities, GrantsforWomen.org is a great resource. You can search for scholarship opportunities and grants for women on this site, but be forewarned—most are for non-business purposes.
Although the FedEx Small Business Grant isn’t technically a small business grant for women entrepreneurs only, women small business owners are encouraged to apply. In fact, the very first prize winner of the FedEx Small Business Grant was a woman: Nicole Snow, Founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn. Since 2013, FedEx’s grant has awarded $250,000 in small business grants to entrepreneurs all over the country.
Each year, 12 winners receive funding from FedEx. One winner receives a grand prize of $50,000 plus $7,500 in FedEx services, one winner receives a silver prize of $30,000 plus $5,000 in FedEx services, and 10 winners earn a bronze prize of $15,000 plus $1,000 in printing services.
The Halstead Grant started in 2006 as a small business grant for women entrepreneurs specifically in the jewelry industry. The grant is awarded to emerging jewelry designers in the United States—specifically geared toward businesses under five years old.
Those that apply should be prepared to answer a series of questions about their business goals and strategies. Winners are awarded a $7,500 cash grant, $1,000 toward Halstead jewelry supplies, and publicity within the jewelry industry. The good news is that even those applicants who don’t win will receive general feedback on their business plan from the judges.
Open Meadows is not currently accepting new applications, but check their website for when this grant reopens.
The Open Meadows Foundation is an organization that provides grants for women-backed projects that promote gender, racial, and economic justice. Applicants must be women and the businesses must benefit women and girls.
The grant provides $2,000 to eligible projects that have limited access to financial resources to grow. Specifically, Open Meadows only considers organizations that have $75,000 or less in budget resources. This grant is a great opportunity for those who have just started a business or are in midst of starting a business.
While not a traditional grant program, 37 Angels can be a great funding solution for startups looking for investment. While they don’t only invest in women-owned businesses, 37 Angels is actively trying to close the gender gap in startup investing. According to their website, about one-third of their portfolio is women founders.
After submitting an application through their website, you may have the opportunity to pitch their network of investors (an event that happens every two months). You’ll receive a funding decision in four weeks and can receive an investment of up to $200,000. In addition to funds, 37 Angels also provides education and ongoing support.
While this grant is for both male and female-led businesses, Visa also offers a Women’s Global Edition of this competition, which grants two winners with $100,000 each—for answering a fintech challenge and a social impact challenge. While this grant requires a lot of legwork, it can be a great opportunity, especially for women-owned businesses in the fintech industry.
Powered by the SBA, the SBIR funds small businesses in the research and development arena. There are extensive eligibility requirements since several federal agencies offer these grants. However, to start, your business needs to be for-profit, more than 50% owned by a U.S. citizen, and have fewer than 500 employees.
When you’re searching for the best small business grants for women, be sure to check out the above options. They’ve all been around for some time now, and have helped female entrepreneurs reach their business funding goals time after time.
The grants we’ve mentioned above are open to businesses nationwide, but there might also be state and local options. For example, the Women’s Business Development Council in Connecticut offers equity-match grants of up to $10,000 to women-owned businesses in that state.
When starting or expanding your business, make an appointment with your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or SCORE office. These organizations are plugged into the local financing community and will be able to guide you if there are any small business grants for women in your area from local corporations, philanthropic, or economic development organizations.
You might also want to look into SBA loans, which are affordable business loans for small business owners. The SBA has always been a champion of women-owned small businesses, and they have extensive resources available for female entrepreneurs (SCORE is actually a partner of the SBA). Still unsure if a grant is the right choice? We’ve included a helpful flowchart below to see if you’re ready to take the next step to entrepreneurship!
Although every small business grant is unique and has its own set of requirements, there are a few general steps you can follow to identify and apply for the grants that are most applicable to your business:
Remember, it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. In addition to grants, you should consider small business loans for women, venture capital firms, women-only business accelerators, and other funding options that might be relevant to you.
It might seem like there aren’t a ton of small business grants available for women to start or grow a business, but the options above should give you a place to start. Plus, if you add in state and local grant options for women business owners, you should have a sizable number of grants to apply for.
Whichever grants you apply for, do careful research into the eligibility requirements and submit your application on time. If grants don’t work out for you or if you need additional funding, make sure you explore your other funding options.
Rieva Lesonsky is a contributing writer for Fundera.
Rieva has over 30 years of experience covering, consulting and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs. She covers small business trends, employment, and leadership advice for the Fundera Ledger. She’s the CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company specializing in small business and entrepreneurship. Before GrowBiz Media, Rieva was the editorial director at Entrepreneur Magazine.