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Small-Business Grants for Women: Best Options for Free Funding

From the federal government to economic development agencies, here's a list of business grants for women.
Written by Randa Kriss
Edited by Sally Lauckner
Last updated on February 3, 2022

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Small-business grants for women entrepreneurs are essentially free financing, as opposed to small-business loans or other types of debt-based funding that you must pay back.
Understandably, the competition for small-business grants is fierce, and it takes considerable time and effort to win them. But if you’re up for the challenge, the payoff can be worth it.
Here are 11 places women entrepreneurs can look for small-business grants and financial resources.

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Federal small-business grants for women

Some federal government grants for small-business owners are designated for specific purposes, such as research and development projects, or for businesses in rural areas. Government grants typically must be used for purposes other than startup costs or day-to-day expenses.

1. Grants.gov

Grants.gov is a database of federally sponsored grants, including grants for small businesses. Although these grants are not exclusive to women-owned businesses, this database is a great place to start if you’re looking for free financing.
To apply, you must obtain a DUNS number for your business (a unique nine-digit identification number), register to do business with the U.S. government through its System for Award Management website and create an account at Grants.gov.
To view grants specifically for small businesses, filter the results on the left side of the page under “eligibility.”

2. Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs

The SBA facilitates these two competitive programs, which provide grants to small businesses that contribute to federal research and development. Eleven federal agencies — including the departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Health and Human Services — post grant opportunities on their websites. You can search current grant opportunities on the SBIR website.
To qualify, you must operate a for-profit business with no more than 500 employees and meet other eligibility requirements.

State and local small-business grants for women

Because federal small-business grants are limited in number and often very competitive, you may have better luck seeking out grants for women at the state and municipal levels. You’ll have to do your own research to pinpoint specific grant programs in your area, but here are some places to look:

3. Women’s Business Centers

The SBA sponsors more than 100 Women’s Business Centers nationwide, designed to help women entrepreneurs with business development and access to capital. Some, such as the California Capital Financial Development Corp., lend money directly while others help you find small-business grants and loans that you may qualify for.

4. Economic development administration

Every state and many cities have economic development resources focused on promoting strong local economies. For example, New York has several economic development districts, such as the Lake Champlain - Lake George Regional Planning Board, which helps local men and women-owned businesses access state and federal funding.

5. Small Business Development Centers

There are hundreds of SBA-sponsored Small Business Development Centers around the country, typically housed at colleges and universities. SBDCs offer free, one-on-one business consulting, such as help with developing a business plan, researching markets and finding financing — including grants, business loans and crowdfunding.
Some centers like the New York SBDC offer tools specifically for women and minority-owned businesses — such as the 8(a) and Minority and Women Business Enterprise Certification — which can help businesses level the playing field when competing in the public and private sector.

Private small-business grants for women

Some private organizations and businesses offer national grant programs for women small-business owners. Here are four to consider:

6. Amber Grant

The Amber Grant Foundation awards $10,000 to a different women-owned business every month. At the end of each year, one of the 12 grant winners is awarded an additional $25,000. The application is relatively simple: Explain your business, describe what you’d do with the grant money and pay a $15 application fee.
The foundation’s advisory board chooses the winners, looking for women with passion and a good story. Businesses operating in the U.S. and Canada are eligible.

7. IFundWomen Universal Grant Application Database

IFundWomen is a grant marketplace that specializes in funding and coaching for women-owned businesses. You can submit one application and when IFundWomen adds a grant from an enterprise partner, it will match the partner’s grant criteria to applications within the database.
If your business is a match, you’ll receive a notification and invitation to apply. Previous grant partners have included companies like Visa, Neutrogena and American Express.

8. Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards

Every year, Cartier awards three grants to women-owned businesses in 10 different regions around the world. The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards program is designed to support early-stage businesses that are focused on a range of social, economic and environmental development issues.
The first-place business is awarded a $100,000 grant, second place receives $60,000 and third place gets $30,000. Winners also receive executive coaching and the opportunity to participate in a variety of training workshops.

9. SoGal Black Founder Startup Grant

The SoGal Foundation — along with company sponsors like Bluemercury, Twilio and others — offer startup grants to businesses owned by Black women or Black nonbinary entrepreneurs. Grants are available in amounts of either $10,000 or $5,000.
Awardees also receive fundraising advice, with a focus on investor financing, and lifetime access to the SoGal Foundation team. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, so you can apply on the SoGal website at any time.

Additional business grant options

These options aren’t specifically for women, but they’re good small-business grants to consider.

10.  FedEx Small Business Grant

FedEx awards up to $50,000 apiece to 10 small businesses annually. In 2021, the contest provided a total prize pool of over $200,000. Winners also receive money to use toward FedEx Office print and business services.
The application requires an explanation of your business, how you’d use the money, photos of your business and — this part is optional — a short video explaining your business. To be eligible, you must operate a for-profit business with fewer than 99 employees and at least six months of operating history.

11. National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grant

This nonprofit trade association awards $4,000 per month in growth grants to small businesses that can be used for a variety of business needs, including marketing, advertising and hiring employees.
To apply for this grant, you must be a NASE member in good standing for at least three months. Annual members can apply at any time.

Alternatives to small-business grants

Finding and applying for business grants can be difficult, as well as time-consuming. If you don’t qualify for certain grants — or simply want to explore other ways to fund your women-owned business — here are some avenues to explore:
  • Best small-business loans for women: Compare SBA loans, online term loans, lines of credit, microloans and learn about other available resources for your business.
  • Crowdfunding for business: Tap into the power of the internet to raise money for your business and promote your company’s product or service.
  • Small-business credit cards: Compare dozens of cards and find the best choice for financing your everyday business purchases — and earn rewards in the process.

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