Small business owners don’t always have access to enough resources to meet their goals. Luckily, there are many business grants and other funding programs available to help. Here’s a guide to several ways to fund projects for your small business.
How Do You Get Free Money to Start a Business?
Free money to start a business usually comes in the form of grants. These can come in many forms, from federal small business grants to those offered by local nonprofits. The process usually includes an application where you outline your need and how you’d use the funds.
Top Places to Get Free Money to Start a Small Business
Small businesses can receive grant money from several sources. The exact opportunities you apply for may depend on your location, industry, and other factors. However, there are several federal grants, nonprofit opportunities, and state programs that may appeal widely to small businesses. Here are several common ones.
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Small Business Administration Grants (SBA)
The Small Business Administration is the main source of grant money through the federal government. Here are some specific programs run through the administration to provide free money to start or run a business.
- State Trade Expansion Program: The SBA’s STEP program awards money to state and territory governments to help businesses establish and improve their exporting programs. Businesses can apply for these grants through their state, but the initial funding comes from the SBA.
- Small Business Innovation Research: The SBIR program awards federal funding to firms that undertake scientific research projects.
- Small Business Technology Transfer: The STTR program also provides funding for innovative small businesses with commercialization potential.
- Management and Technical Assistance: The SBA’s 7(j) Management and Technical Assistance Program supports eligible small businesses in select regions that want to provide management and technical assistance to other small firms.
- Grants for Community Organizations: The SBA also provides grants to community organizations across the country. Funds don’t go directly to small businesses, but recipients may offer grants or provide other forms of assistance.
General Small Business Grant Money
There are also small business grant programs offered by large corporations or other major groups across the country. Not every small business may qualify for these. But they should appeal to a wide audience.
- NASE Growth Grants: The National Association for the Self-Employed offers grants of up to $4,000 to member businesses. The program has been around since 2006 and has awarded nearly $1 million in grant funds.
- Comcast RISE Grants: Comcast RISE is a two-year program providing grants to underserved businesses across the U.S. Each funding round focuses on a select group of cities.
- NAV’s Small Business Grant: Financial services provider NAV offers an ongoing program to support small businesses. The program is currently being reimagined but is expected to open again in 2023.
- Grants.gov: Grants.gov is the portal the federal government uses to provide grant opportunities. This isn’t a specific grant, but you can use the portal to find relevant opportunities.
- Hello Alice: Hello Alice is a funding platform that hosts various grant opportunities throughout the year. Corporations and nonprofits often partner with Hello Alice to offer short-term funding programs.
- READ MORE: What Grants do I Qualify for?
Industry-specific Grant Money
Some grant programs, both through private companies and the government, aim to support small businesses in a specific industry. Here are a few that may help certain types of businesses.
- USDA Rural Development Business Grants: The USDA offers grants for businesses that benefit rural communities. These often include agriculture operations, but may apply to other industries as well.
- National Institutes of Health Grants: NIH grants go toward biomedical companies that undertake research projects that may benefit the public.
- Restaurant Strong Fund: The Restaurant Strong Fund provides various grant opportunities throughout the year, often with corporate partners.
- Halstead Jewelry Grants: The Halstead Grant is an annual contest for silver jewelry designers. Businesses can win up to $7,500 plus other benefits.
Small Business Grants from State and Local Governments
Some government grants also come from state and local governments. You’ll have to search for specific opportunities in your location. But here are a few places to start.
- Small Business Development Centers: SBDCs are local centers funded through the SBA. They provide local grants, along with technical assistance and other support.
- State Business Incentives Database: The State Business Incentives Database provides access to updated information about funding programs and similar opportunities in each state.
- Minority Business Development Agency: For minority-owned businesses, the MBDA provides support and access to grants and other funding options.
Green Business Grants
If you’re a sustainable business or want to make some energy-efficient improvements, these grant funding sources may help.
- EPA Grants: The Environmental Protection Agency unveils several grant programs throughout the year to support environmentally friendly businesses and projects.
- Patagonia Corporate Grant Program: Patagonia supports grassroots organizations and projects that improve the environment through its corporate small business grants.
- U.S. Department of Energy Grant: The Department of Energy periodically offers grants and incentives for energy-efficient upgrades like lighting or appliance changes.
Nonprofit Grant Money
Nonprofit organizations can also benefit from grants. These opportunities can come from federal agencies or private corporations. Here are a few to consider.
- The Carnegie Corporation: The Carnegie Corporation proactively seeks organizations to award grants to that can help them achieve their program goals. The corporation also offers a cloud-based portal for applicants.
- Walmart Foundation Grants: The Walmart Foundation offers local community grants to nonprofits that support the areas they serve.
- Amazon Web Services Imagine Grant: AWS’s Imagine Grant supports community organizations using technology to solve specific problems.
- Google Ad Grants: Google provides free money for advertising to select nonprofits to help them spread the word about their initiatives online.
Startup Grants for Women-Owned Businesses
Women-owned businesses have traditionally been less likely to get funding. So many organizations offer small business grants specifically for female founders.
- Amber Grants for Women: WomensNet runs the Amber Grant program, which offers funding to women-owned businesses every month. To apply, founders simply create a short video explaining their business and what they’d like to achieve with the funds. The organization offers several specific grants. But this application qualifies businesses for all of them at once.
- InnovateHer Challenge: InnovateHer is a program of the SBA. The contest awards annual grant funds to women entrepreneurs and those who serve women in their communities. Contests are run through local SBA centers.
- Cartier Women’s Initiative Award: Luxury brand Cartier offers the Women’s Initiative Award to female entrepreneurs who aim to have a strong environmental or social impact. The program has run since 2006 and is open to women-owned and women-run businesses in every country.
Startup Grants for Veteran-Owned Businesses
If you’re a veteran small business owner, you may also access grant opportunities that honor your service.
- The Second Service Foundation Military Entrepreneur Challenge: Formerly Street Shares Foundation, the Second Service Foundations supports military and veteran entrepreneurs through a number of initiatives. The Military Entrepreneur Challenge is a competitive cash award that involves an online application, an interview, and even a live pitch session.
- Hivers and Strivers: Hivers and Strivers is an investment fund for early-stage startups owned and run by U.S. military veterans. Many of the programs involve loans and other traditional forms of financing. But the company periodically offers grants as well.
- Warrior Rising Small Business Grants: Warrior Rising is a charitable organization that supports U.S. military veterans with financing, mentorship, and support. Veteran-owned businesses can apply to be part of the program, which identifies each company’s specific needs and creates customized solutions and processes for each member.
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Competitive Small Business Grants
Financial assistance is sometimes available to all businesses that apply. But the following programs offer competitive grant funding opportunities to award the most deserving firms.
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest: FedEx has run its annual small business grant contest since 2012, providing more than $1.5 million in cash and prizes. The program is open to entrepreneurs around the country, so it is a popular grant program with lots of competition.
- Visa Everywhere Initiative: Visa Everywhere is an annual grant contest for startups and fintech companies. The finals for this year’s contest are set to compete in Qatar this November. But applications should reopen again in 2023.
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a nationwide organization empowering local chambers and business groups throughout the country. This grant program is open to U.S. small businesses, and local chambers of commerce are encouraged to connect with local members to help them apply.
Are Small Business Development Centers the Same as the Small Business Administration?
Small business development centers are one arm of the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA is a federal agency that runs many initiatives to support small businesses. Small business development centers include local agencies spread throughout the country that receive SBA funding to serve local business interests. Services often include funding support, technical assistance, and networking events.
Can You Start a Small Business Without Money?
Yes, it is possible to start a business without money, depending on your industry and goals. One option for funding a new business without money is to seek small business grants using the sources listed above.
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