Do you think financing a small business’s startup and expansion is as easy as obtaining a free grant from the government? You might (almost) be excused for believing that Uncle Sam is handing out bags of free money to anyone with two X chromosomes. In addition to late-night infomercials about government grants, dozens of articles full of misinformation about small business grants for women can be found online, full of vague terms and hazy promises like “The government offers a wide range of grants for women entrepreneurs.”
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Small business grants for women are few and far between. Why? Here’s what you need to know.
First, to quote from the SBA’s website, “The federal government does NOT provide grants for starting and expanding a business.” Instead, the federal government gives grants to non-commercial entities, such as universities or nonprofit organizations.
Instead, the federal government gives grants to non-commercial entities, such as universities or nonprofit organizations.
How did the misconception that the government provides small business grants for women—or any entrepreneurs for that matter—arise?
Perhaps it’s because the federal government does make grants to help state and local governments, which often turn around and use those funds to offer grants to organizations that help small business owners.
In other words, if you started a nonprofit to help women start businesses, you might be able to get a government grant for that. But you can’t get a government grant to start a business as a female yourself.
According to the SBA, some states do provide grants to businesses whose work benefits the region and its residents.
For instance, you might be able to get a small business grant if your business helps develop energy-efficient technology that helps the state and its residents save money, or if you are expanding a child-care center (enabling more residents to work and support themselves).
Even in these limited cases, however, the grants are rarely “free money.” You may be required to match the funds with an equal amount of your own capital or with small business loans, for example. To search for this type of grant, visit the official government grants website, Grants.gov, and check out their section for grant applicants to see if you are eligible. (There are no small business grants for women on this site that aren’t also open to men, but there are some for small businesses.)
Knowing the options are limited, let’s talk about where women entrepreneurs can find funding.
Here are the 8 best small business grants for women to investigate in 2017:
The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program is your first small business grant for women to check out.
Fashion designer Eileen Fisher launched these small business grants for women in 2004. Today the company awards $100,000 in total grants annually to 10 women-owned businesses beyond the startup stage (maximum $10,000 per recipient).
While they don’t designate which women-owned businesses are eligible, they’re looking for businesses that have a positive social and environmental impact. For instance, the 2016 grantee winner, AEST, makes energy-saving cookstoves and smoke-free briquettes from agricultural waste.
If you’ve been in business for at least 3 years, you’re eligible for this small business grant for women entrepreneurs. Learn more about eligibility and the application process here.
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 makes a $500 grant to one qualifying woman business owner each month. Then one of those twelve women receives a $1,000 grant at the end of 2017. The application cut off for the March $500 grant is March 31st, so if you want a shot at winning the Amber Grant apply now!
All you have to do to apply is tell your story and pay a small application fee ($7). You can learn more about the application here.
The IdeaCafe Grant awards $1,000 grants to small business owners.
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.
Grants and Scholarships for Women is actually a database found at GrantsforWomen.org.
You can search this database of scholarship opportunities and grants for women, but be forewarned—most are for non-business purposes.
The InnovateHER Challenge is an effort backed by the SBA and the Sara Blakely Foundation, aiming to help empower women small business owners.
The SBA launched the first ever InnovateHER Challenge in 2015, and has continued the initiative throughout the years.
This year, the InnovateHER winner could win up to $70,000 in grant money. Female entrepreneurs who run businesses dedicated to providing products and services that have an impact on women and families (and have the potential to be commercialized) are encouraged to apply.
If you apply for this small business grant for women, you’ll be entered into a local contest first. A variety of universities, accelerators, scale-up communities, SBA resource centers, and partners host local competitions. You can check out where your local contest is by using the SBA’s map of host locations.
If you’re the winner of both the local competition and the semi-final competition, you’ll present your business in a national competition hosted by the SBA.
While the FedEx Small Business Grant isn’t technically a small business grant for women entrepreneurs only, women small business owners are encouraged to apply.
Since 2013, FedEx’s grant has awarded $250,000 in small business grants to entrepreneurs all over the country.
The very first prize winner of the FedEx Small Business Grant was a woman: Nicole Snow, Founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn!
The Halstead Grant is a small business grant for women entrepreneurs specifically in the jewelry industry.
The grant is awarded to emerging female jewelry designers in the United States—specifically geared towards businesses under three years old.
Winners are awarded a $6,000 cash grant, with $1,000 toward Halstead jewelry supplies.
The Open Meadows Foundation is an organization that provides grants towards 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 no more than $75,000 in budget resources.
When you’re searching for 2017’s best small business grants for women, be sure to check out the above 8 options. They’ve all been around for some time now, and have helped female entrepreneurs reach their business funding goals time after time.
But when you’re seeking a grant, watch out for scams. If you’re asked to pay money or sign up for some kind of subscription to access a listing of small business grants for women, beware.
Your best bet in seeking a grant to start or expand your business is to talk to 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, indeed, 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 for women: affordable business loans for female small business owners. The SBA has always been a champion of women-owned small businesses, and they have the most extensive resources available for female entrepreneurs.