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, grants can be a great way to fund your new or existing business.
Here are 15 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.
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 Unique Entity ID for your business (a 12-character alphanumeric 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 business 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.
3. Program for Investors in Microentrepreneurs (PRIME)
Although the SBA coordinates some grant programs, the agency doesn’t typically offer grant funding directly to small businesses. With the PRIME program, however, the SBA provides federal grants to microenterprise development organizations so that they can offer training, technical assistance and guidance to disadvantaged microentrepreneurs. These grants are available to nonprofit, private, state, local or tribal-run organizations, including those that focus on working with women-owned small businesses. The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, for example, was awarded a $200,000 grant in 2021.
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 help you get started:
4. Women’s Business Centers
5. Economic Development Administration
6. 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.
7. Minority Business Development Agency Centers
The MBDA operates a network of business centers across the country that are designed to help minority business owners access capital, secure contracts and develop financial strategies. Your local MBDA business center can work with you to identify the right financing options for your business, including federal, state and private small-business grants.
The MBDA also runs the Enterprising Women of Color Initiative, or EWOC, to support minority women in their business endeavors. The EWOC provides access to resources, events and other opportunities for women minority-owned businesses.
Private small-business grants for women
Some private corporations and organizations offer business grants for women. Here are five to consider:
8. 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 foundation also offers a variety of additional grants throughout the year.
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.
And because there’s no time in business requirement, this is a good option if you’re looking for startup business grants for women. Businesses operating in the U.S. and Canada are eligible.
9. 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.
10. Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
Every year, Cartier awards three grants to women-owned businesses in nine 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.
11. 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.
12. Fearless Strivers Grant Contest
The Fearless Fund, in collaboration with Mastercard, offers $10,000 grants to businesses owned by Black women through the Fearless Strivers Grant Contest. The winners also receive digital tools to help them get and sustain their businesses online and one-on-one mentorship with a Mastercard small-business mentor.
The Fearless Fund runs a national grant program, as well as city-specific grant contests. To qualify for this small-business grant, you must have a U.S.-based business, 50 or fewer employees and have made $3 million or less in annual revenue in the past year.
Additional business grant options
Although these options aren’t specifically for women, they’re good small-business grants to consider for any entrepreneur.
13. FedEx Small Business Grant
FedEx awards up to $50,000 apiece to 10 small businesses annually. In 2022, the contest provided a total prize pool of over $300,000. 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.
14. 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.
15. Halstead Grant
The Halstead Grant is an annual award for entrepreneurs looking to break into the silver jewelry industry. The winner receives a $7,500 startup grant, as well as $1,000 in jewelry merchandise. Five finalists and semi-finalists also receive $250 or $500 and help with promoting their businesses.
Both men and women-owned businesses are eligible for this small-business grant. To apply, you must answer 15 business-related questions and submit a design portfolio. Applications are due August 1 each year.
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:
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.