Small-business grants for women entrepreneurs are essentially free financing, as opposed to business credit cards or small-business loans 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 10 places women entrepreneurs can look for small-business grants and financial resources.
» MORE: Small-business grants
Get Your Free Personal Credit Score Every Week from NerdWallet
- Open more doors for financing your business.
- Set your goals and track your progress.
- Signing up won't affect your score.
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. 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 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. InnovateHER Challenge
The U.S. Small Business Administration hosts an annual competition for businesses with a marketable product or service that positively affects the lives of women and families. To participate, you must first enter and win a local InnovateHER Challenge to advance to the national semifinal round. In 2017, the top three national finalists competed to win $40,000, $20,000 and $10,000, respectively. Contact WomenBusiness@SBA.gov for more information.
3. 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. Twelve 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
Because federal small-business grants are limited in number and often very competitive, you may have better luck looking for grants 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:
4. Women’s Business Centers
The SBA sponsors about 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.
5. Economic development administration
Every state and many cities have economic development resources focused on promoting strong local economies. For example, California has several economic development districts, such as the Superior California Economic Development District, which provides financing to local entrepreneurs.
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, including help with developing a business plan, researching markets and finding financing.
Private small-business grants for women
Some private organizations and businesses offer national grant programs for women small-business owners. Here are two to consider:
7. Amber Grant
The Amber Grant Foundation awards $500 to a different women-owned business every month. At the end of each year, one of the 12 grant winners is awarded an additional $2,500. The application is relatively simple: Explain your business, describe what you’d do with the grant money and pay a $7 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.
8. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant
Eileen Fisher, a women’s clothing retailer, awards a total of $100,000 to up to 10 women business owners each year. To be eligible, women must make up at least 51% of your business’s ownership and leadership, your business must have been in operation for at least three years, earn less than $1 million in annual revenue, and be focused on environmental or social change.
Two other grant possibilities
These options aren’t specifically for women, but they’re good small-business grants to consider:
9. FedEx Small Business Grant
FedEx awards up to $25,000 apiece to 10 small businesses annually. In 2017, the contest provided a total prize pool of $120,500. 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.
10. National Association for the Self-Employed
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.
Updated Jan. 16, 2018.