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LGBTQ-owned businesses are just as likely to apply for financing as non-LGBTQ-owned businesses but less likely to receive it, according to Federal Reserve data from 2021 and 2022.
Nevertheless, numerous organizations across the United States offer small-business grants and resources for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs to help bridge the funding gap.
Here are some of the best options.
How Much Do You Need?
Grants for LGBTQ+ businesses
Small-business grants provide access to free financing — capital that doesn’t need to be repaid. Grants are available from various sources, and although applications can be time-consuming and competitive, the effort will be worth it if you can secure this funding for your business.
Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice
The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice offers several grant options to U.S. and international businesses, focusing on nonprofits working toward social change.
For example, businesses in the U.S. can apply for a climate justice grant, with amounts ranging from $5,000 to $30,000. To qualify, your organization must present a project that works with and on behalf of queer, transgender, and intersex populations on climate justice, environmental racism, or weather and disaster resilience and adaptation.
Restaurant Business Development Program
Food businesses may be eligible for this program that is administered by the Feed the Soul Foundation. Businesses must be at least 51% owned by someone who identifies as one of the following: LGBTQ+; Black, indigenous or Latinx; military combat veteran; formerly incarcerated individuals or senior citizens. In addition to a financial stipend, recipients will receive six months of educational training services. Applications for the latest cycle are open from October 5, 2023 to January 31, 2024.
David Bohnett Foundation
The David Bohnett Foundation supports a range of nonprofit groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, leadership programs, and gun violence prevention, among others. For the LGBTQ+ community program, organizations must strive to better society through activism, notably by advocating for equal rights and protections for all LGBTQ+ people.
Currently, the foundation does not accept grant applications; proposals are by invitation only. To get your organization noticed for these types of nonprofit grants, you can hold community events to showcase your latest projects, invite grant funders to your events and encourage community members to talk and write reviews about how your organization has impacted them.
National Pride Grant for LGBTQIA+ Small Businesses
The National Pride Grant offers eligible businesses the opportunity to receive one of 25 grant packages totaling $25,000. The grant program is distributed by Founders First, a nonprofit organization that supports and accelerates the growth of small businesses led by individuals from diverse backgrounds.
To qualify for the National Pride Grant, you must identify as an LGBTQIA+ business owner, have at least one year in business, employ two to 50 people and make less than $5 million in annual revenue. Applications are accepted on the Founders First website and must include a short pitch video.
Pre-registration for the 2024 grant cycle is now open. The full application will launch in May 2024.
The Transform Business Grant
The Transform Business Grant is a microgrant designed to support individuals in systemically oppressed groups, such as people of color, formerly incarcerated individuals and queer, transgender and nonbinary individuals. Grantees are awarded $1,000 and a customized, year-long business strategy and development program.
This small-business grant is administered twice yearly — applications are submitted for review in March and August. To qualify, you should be located in the U.S., be able to show a financial need and have a social impact-driven business or business ideas.
NGLCC Community Impact Grant Program
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Community Impact Grant Program is a funding initiative to support LGBTQ-owned or LGBTQ+ ally-owned restaurants. Through a partnership with the Grubhub Community Fund, the program offers grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to restaurants, bars and cafes that serve food.
To qualify, you must provide proof that you are an LGBTQ-owned or allied establishment. Applications are accepted in batches based on location — East, Central, and West Regions. Applications have closed for the 2023 grant cycle, but you can refer to the NGLCC website for future updates.
Pepper Startup Grant for Black Women
In partnership with the Startup Girl Foundation, Pepper offers a $5,000 grant for Black women or nonbinary entrepreneurs. Grantees also receive mentorship calls with the founders of Pepper, dedicated promotions on Pepper's social media accounts and access to consultations with a variety of business experts.
To qualify for one of these startup grants, at least 50% of your business should be owned, controlled or operated by Black or African American, female or nonbinary identifying owners. You must also be an early stage business with less than $500,000 in external equity financing raised. Applications for the 2023 cycle closed in August.
Queer to Stay: An LGBTQ+ Business Preservation Initiative
Queer to Stay is an annual grant program administered by the Human Rights Campaign and the television network Showtime. This program supports small businesses focusing on LGBTQ+ people of color, women and the transgender community, especially those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the initiative launched in 2020, it awarded funds to 10 businesses across the U.S. and has continued to grow each year. In 2022, 25 businesses received grant funding. Applications for 2023 have closed.
State and local grants
Many states, cities and local municipalities have dedicated grant programs for LGBTQ+ business owners. Some programs may be administered by your state or city’s chamber of commerce, whereas others may be distributed through a local LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.
For example, the Founders First Job Creators Quest Grant offers regional grants to small businesses in several areas around the country including Texas, Southern California, the Twin Cities and Chicago. Currently, applications are being accepted until November 13, 2023 for Southern California-based businesses. To be eligible, your business must have been founded by someone who identifies as LGBTQ+, Latinx, Black or Asian, or a woman.
Resources for LGBTQ+ businesses
LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs can also use various resources to help them start and grow their businesses. These tools can provide additional financing opportunities, business training and community support, among other forms of assistance.
Gaingels is an investment organization that strives to help fund companies run by diverse and underrepresented individuals (including businesses owned by LGBTQ+ people). Gaingels has developed an ecosystem of private investors dedicated to diversity and inclusion — and these investors, along with the Gaingels company itself — work to offer capital to startups.
Pipeline Angels is an angel investor firm that provides capital for transgender women, cisgender women, nonbinary, two-spirit, agender and gender-nonconforming founders. This firm provides finance through a pitch summit, in which entrepreneurs present a business idea in the hopes of receiving funding from one of the investors.
IFundWomen is a marketplace that specializes in small-business grants for women. The company also offers business coaching, networking, training and crowdfunding. Within the crowdfunding platform, IFundWomen spotlights queer-owned businesses and their funding campaigns.
If you’d like to raise money through crowdfunding, you have to sign up for an account, add information about your business, set your funding goal and specify the rewards donors will receive for contributing. When you select that you’re a business owned by someone that is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you’ll be added to the spotlight section on the site.
StartOut is an organization that works to promote the growth of businesses run by LGBTQ+ people and ensure that LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs have equal opportunities for success. Through StartOut, business owners can access various resources, including a community network and forum, in-person and digital events, product discounts and expert office hours.
The organization also offers a mentorship program, an investor portal to help entrepreneurs looking for capital, and a startup accelerator. The StartOut Growth Lab is a five-month intensive program providing business owners mentorship, education and networking opportunities.
National LGBT Chamber of Commerce
The NGLCC is the largest advocacy organization committed to expanding economic opportunities for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and the only certifying body for businesses owned by LGBTQ+ people.
The LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) certification gives you access to the entire NGLCC network, which includes hundreds of corporate and government partners. After one year, certified LGBTBE businesses are also eligible for scholarship programs, mentorship and leadership training and other business development tools.
In addition to the LGBTBE certification, the NGLCC administers mentorship programs, in-person and virtual events, webinars and educational courses, among other initiatives. The organization also has a network of affiliate chambers, which can assist at a state or local level.
This venture capital fund invests in companies led by underrepresented founders, including women, people of color and LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. You should be a highly scalable startup business that can generate a 10x return on investment.
Backstage Capital isn’t currently accepting new applications to its portfolio, but you can check its website for updates and utilize any additional resources they offer.
Small Business Development Centers
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and hosted by local colleges, universities, state economic development agencies and other private organizations. These centers are designed to provide a wide range of support for small-business owners, including training, mentorship, coaching and networking.
Many SBDCs can connect you with experts to help you get funding, manage your finances, and grow your business. Although these centers are not explicitly dedicated to LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, all business owners are welcome and can take advantage of their services.
Alternatives to small-business grants
Searching and applying for the right business grants can be difficult and time-consuming. If you don’t qualify for certain grants or want to look for other ways to fund your LGBTQ-owned business, here are some options to consider:
Small-business loans. Traditional loans are one of the most common forms of business financing. Compare the best options, including bank and SBA loans, business lines of credit, term loans and equipment financing. Learn how to qualify and find the proper funding for your needs.
Small-business credit cards. Business credit cards offer ongoing rewards and business-friendly benefits to help you reach your goals faster. Consider your spending habits and priorities to choose the best option for your company.
Microloans. Microloans offer smaller funding amounts and are typically geared toward entrepreneurs who can’t qualify for traditional financing. These loans can be a good option for startups, people with limited credit histories and entrepreneurs in traditionally underserved communities.