For founders seeking to avoid the drawbacks of venture capital — namely, giving up equity and having to focus on growth at all costs — entrepreneurship grants can be appealing.
Applying for grants to fund your business offers many benefits, including:
- Grant money is essentially free: in most cases, if the funds are used according to the grant’s requirements, they don’t need to be repaid.
- Unlike a loan, a grant doesn’t require you to put up collateral, pay interest or worry about late payment fees.
- Grant money means you can grow your business with less debt.
- Grants are non-dilutive, meaning you don’t give away equity in your business in exchange for the funds.
- Winning high-profile grants can increase your business’s visibility.
Grants also present funding opportunities for founders who belong to historically marginalized communities. Business grants for Black entrepreneurs and women founders aim to increase the funds available for these businesses, which are historically underfunded by venture capital.
So what are the best practices for finding and, more importantly, winning grants?
Here’s what we’ll cover in this story (so you can skip to the spot that interests you):
- Tips for winning grants
- General entrepreneurship grants
- Grants for women entrepreneurs
- Grants for Black entrepreneurs
- Pitch grants
- Government grants
Applying for grants takes time, effort and lots of backend work. You’ll want to be as prepared as possible and find the right grants for your business to avoid wasting energy and resources.
Here are a few tips for finding and winning grants, featuring advice from entrepreneurs who have used them to build their businesses.
1. Be selective
You’ll have more chance of succeeding if your products or services align with the goals of the company or organization offering the grant.
For that reason, only spend time applying to grants you’re clearly eligible for. Some requirements are specific on business stage, industry and demographics, so don’t waste your time applying if you don’t fit the eligibility criteria.
2. Read the specific requirements
While it seems like a no-brainer, grants are not one-format-for-all, and each grant has specific requirements and demands to be met. Gabe Murillo, who raised $250,000 in equity-free grants for his online podcast editing and production company PodcastPress, found the process full of behind-the-scenes work.
“Grants often require ongoing administrative work to maintain, so before applying, be prepared to put in the effort to fulfill the grant’s requirements,” he said. Before you start your submission, get clear on the key points you need to hit for each individual application.
3. Study winning applications
What better source of information is there than the previous winner’s application? You can often find these details on the grant provider’s website.
Murillo went further and contacted several previous winners to ask about their experience. “Reaching out to grant recipients from previous years can give you insight into the grant application process and help you prepare a competitive application,” he noted.
4. Demonstrate your authority
Competition for grants is fierce. So it’s essential to show why you are the authority in your chosen area of work, and why you would achieve the most success with the grant money.
Kat Weaver won 22 grants to fund her e-commerce business, Locker Lifestyle, by leaning on her concrete achievements. Weaver has since founded Power to Pitch to help founders develop their own pitches.
“Don’t forget to brag about your qualifications,” she said. “Prove why you’re the team to solve this problem and why you are best to serve the industry you’re in.”
Weaver also recommended using specific, objective wording to support your claims. “Don’t use language like ‘I believe’ or ‘we think,’ she said. “Use facts and real stats to showcase the impact of what you’re building [and] who you’re serving.”
5. Tell your story and share your passion
Applying for grants is an opportunity to flex those storytelling muscles. The organization reading your grant application will typically hear the same things over and over. But your story is unique to you and it’s what makes you — and your business — memorable.
“The more you can personalize [yourself] and emotionally connect to the audience, the more likely they’ll remember and be drawn to you vs. the sea of applications they get that just talk about how ‘special their business is’ without giving detail,” recommended Weaver.
And back up your story with evidence. Providing statistics, data and forecasts to back up your written statements can improve the chances of your application being successful.
6. Focus on impact
The organizations and individuals behind the grants don’t want to see their money being wasted, which means they are more likely to choose applicants who have a clear vision for how the funds will be used and what impact (whether social, environmental, economical) the money will have.
“Many [applicants] forget how important it is to break down the use of the funds,” Weaver said. “Regardless of if it’s a $500 or a $50,000 grant, really detail out what the money will help you do.”
7. Apply as early as possible
Some grant pots may have less money as time goes on, so applying early could boost your chances. Don’t leave it till the last minute — giving yourself plenty of time before the deadline will also help minimize the risk of making avoidable errors.
We’ve collected a number of grants available to founders, which we’ve broken down into categories to help you find the best entrepreneurship grants for your business.
We’ve also compiled a few helpful resources for keeping up to date with available and upcoming grants. Where possible, we’ve included details on eligibility and other criteria.
General small business and entrepreneurship grants
The Awesome Foundation is a group dedicated to “promoting awesomeness in the world.” Since 2009, they’ve provided $1,000 grants to individuals and projects in various fields such as arts, technology, community development, and beyond.
Anyone is eligible for the grant, and there is no deadline or application window.
Barclays Small Business Big Wins Contest
Win up to $60,000 cash by telling your entrepreneurship story — how you brought your small business dreams to life and what motivates you. The catch? You only have 500 words to convey your energy, creativity, and community impact.
Applications are due in February, finalists are chosen by a panel of judges, and winners are determined by public voting. This contest isn’t winner-take-all; runners up can take home between $5,000 and $40,000 cash prizes.
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
Since 2012, FedEx has provided grants for small businesses. To be eligible for one of 10 entrepreneurship grants of $30,000, you must have a FedEx business account, have been in operation for at least six months, and demonstrate a need for shipping services, such as by selling products.
Applications are accepted until mid-February and voting takes place until mid-March.
Fresh Start Business Grant
Business registration company Incfile offers a $2,500 grant to entrepreneurs in the launch or initial stages of business development. The winner also receives free incorporation services and tax consultation.
Applicants must be U.S. residents aged 21 or older who are either starting a new business or significantly growing a current business. Applications are accepted in December and March.
Hello Alice Small Business Growth Fund
The Hello Alice Small Business Growth Fund awards $25,000 grants to small business owners whose ventures are for-profit and community-focused.
To be considered, your company must have annual revenue of less than $1 million and you should have a clear plan to use the funds toward a significant business milestone.
National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)
The NASE offers business development grants of up to $4,000 for small businesses throughout the year. Grants are reviewed quarterly, in January, April, July and October.
To apply, potential applicants need to become members, and the various levels of membership offer access to different grant amounts.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards is an annual competition that recognizes small businesses for their contributions to the economy. The grand prize is a $25,000 grant.
To be eligible, a business must have operated for at least one year and have less than $20 million in annual revenue. Submission deadlines are typically in July and winners are announced in October.
Amber Grants and other WomensNet Grants
WomensNet awards thousands of dollars in grants each month to women-owned businesses.
The Amber Grant was established in 1998 by Melody Wigdahl to honor the memory of her sister Amber, who died at age 19 and had dreamed of running a successful business. The organization has since added more grants to their portfolio, and women entrepreneurs can fill out a single application to qualify for all of the awards, including:
- Monthly Amber Grants: Each month, one woman-owned business wins $10,000 and four finalists each receive $1,000.
- Monthly Business Category Grants: A $10,000 grant awarded to a woman-owned business in a specific business category each month, from health and fitness to education and child care.
- Annual Amber Grants: Two $25,000 grants are awarded each December: one to a previous monthly Amber Grant winner, and one to a previous Business Category Grant winner.
- Quarterly Startup Grant: $10,000 awarded to one woman-owned business in the “idea phase,” with less than $10,000 in sales.
- Quarterly Non-Profit Grant: $10,000 awarded to one women-run non-profit business or organization.
Applications can be submitted each month, and there is a $15 application fee.
Asian Women Giving Circle
The Asian Women Giving Circle (AWGC) supports the work of organizations led by Asian American women or gender-expansive people and individual artists in New York City who use the arts to drive social change and raise awareness about issues impacting Asian American women, girls and gender-expansive people.
Each AWGC grant is $8,000. Applications are accepted until late February and winners are announced in June.
Cartier Women’s Initiative
The Cartier Women’s Initiative is an annual fellowship program for women entrepreneurs around the world. It is open to women-run and -owned businesses in any sector that focus on social or environmental impact. To qualify, businesses must be for-profit and between one and six years old, and can’t have raised more than $2 million in dilutive funding.
Cartier Women’s Initiative awards include:
- Regional Awards: The top three businesses from each of nine global regions receive grants of $100,000, $60,000 and $30,000, respectively.
- Science & Technology Pioneer Award: Recognizes women entrepreneurs from any country who are advancing scientific and technological innovation. Grants of $100,000, $60,000 and $30,000 are awarded to the top three applicants.
- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award: This pilot grant aims to support businesses working to close “gaps of access, outcome or opportunity” in underrepresented or underserved communities. Entrepreneurs of any gender from any country and sector may apply. Grants of $100,000, $60,000 and $30,000 are awarded to the top three applicants.
Applications are typically due in June and winners are notified the following April.
IFundWomen is a network and funding marketplace for women entrepreneurs. It partners with corporations to offer small business grants to women-owned businesses, and also provide coaching and networking opportunities.
You can also fill out the IFundWomen Universal Grant Application to apply to the organization’s grant database, which will notify you if you match criteria for any new funding opportunities.
Visa Global She’s Next Grant Program
Working with IFundWomen, Visa developed the She’s Next Grant Program to provide funding and education for women-owned small businesses in specific countries and regions. Grant amounts and number of awards vary by region.
IFundWomen and Visa also run the Visa Canada She’s Next Grant Program, which awards 10,000 Canadian dollars to each of 10 women entrepreneurs.
Black Founder Startup Grant
The SoGal Foundation offers $10,000 and $5,000 cash grants to Black women or nonbinary entrepreneurs. The recipients also receive assistance with seeking additional fundraising and ongoing access to the SoGal Foundation and SoGal Ventures teams for questions and support. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.
Coalition to Back Black Businesses
Supported by companies including American Express and Shopify, the Coalition to Back Black Businesses awards $5,000 grants to selected applicants each fall, and winners have the potential to receive an additional $25,000 grant the following summer. Grant recipients also receive mentorship and training to help grow their businesses.
To qualify, your business must be majority Black-owned with between three and 20 employees or contractors, and you must be located in what the organization defines as an economically vulnerable community.
Do You Fellowship
Run by digitalundivided, a nonprofit entrepreneurship organization, the Do You Fellowship provides $5,000 grants to 15 Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs. Fellows also have access to training, resources and mentorship opportunities.
To qualify, your business must be at least a year old, incorporate technology, and have annual revenue of $250,000 to $500,000.
NAACP is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization and works to advance racial equity in the United States. As part of its mission, NAACP partners with corporations and organizations to offer grants to Black-owned businesses. Opportunities include:
- Keep It Local Business Fund Grant: Funded by the Nextdoor Kind Foundation, these $5,000 grants are awarded to entrepreneurs of color working to strengthen their communities.
- Power Forward Small Business Grant: Supported by Vistaprint and the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation, this program offers $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses across New England.
Arch Grants Startup Competition
This startup competition offers $75,000 in non-dilutive grant funding to “innovative, scalable, and job-creating” startups. The catch is that the Arch Grant requires 51% of the founding team or one founder and 51% of the team to live in St. Louis during the program. If you need to relocate, the award includes an additional $25,000 to cover the expenses of moving your company headquarters to St. Louis for at least one year.
Applications are accepted in February and March, finalists deliver their pitches in early August, and winners are notified in late August.
National Black MBA Association Scale-Up Pitch Challenge
The Scale-Up Pitch Challenge aims to help Black entrepreneurs grow their startups and build wealth. Three finalists will take home cash prizes of $50,000, $10,000 and $7,500. At least one founder must be a member of the National Black MBA Association, and at least one founder must be Black and have equal ownership of the business with any co-founders.
Next Challenge for Media and Journalism
Media startups based in the U.S. are eligible for this competition, which is funded by partners like the Knight Foundation, Thomson Reuters, Google News Initiative and more. To qualify, your company must have earned less than $1 million in the prior year. Applicants must choose one of three categories:
- Future of News: for startups developing new ways to report news
- Top Creator: for startups focusing on social media
- Power Platform: for startups developing platforms to share news media
The winner of each category receives $20,000 in non-dilutive funding, and one of them will receive an additional $30,000 grand prize. Several finalists will also receive $10,000 prizes.
The organizers note that the application should only take 15 minutes, and all competition activities are virtual, so no travel is required. Applications are due in February and finalists are announced in March.
Women Founders Network Fast Pitch Competition
Women Founders Network hosts annual pitch competitions for women founders whose businesses are based in the U.S. and have raised less than $750,000. Two $25,000 cash grants are awarded: one to a tech-focused business and one to a consumer product, media, or services business. A panel of junior judges, girls in grades 9 to 12, also award a $5,000 grant to their top-ranked company.
All finalists also receive mentoring and pitch coaching during the competition. Applications are accepted in April and May for the Fast Pitch Competition in October.
Entrepreneurs and small businesses can also look to government grants as a potential source of funding. In addition to the federal small business grants listed below, be sure to check with state and local government offices to learn what opportunities are available in your area.
Department of Energy Grants
The Department of Energy shares funding opportunities for startups focused on a variety of energy technologies, from fossil fuels to renewables to innovative ways to improve energy efficiency.
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
Under the oversight of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant program offers funds for entrepreneurs through 11 federal agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Education. Also known as “America’s Seed Fund,” the SBIR program aims to enable innovations in technology that have the potential for commercialization.
Notable eligibility criteria include:
- At least 51% of the company must be owned by U.S. citizens or permanent residents
- Must be a for-profit business based in the U.S.
- Must focus on research and development (R&D)
- Must have fewer than 500 employees
Each federal agency has different award amounts and guidelines. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awards up to $275,000 in non-dilutive funding to cover 6 to 12 months of R&D and prototype development. Startups that complete this initial phase are able to apply for an additional $1 million to cover 24 months of funding.
Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)
Like SBIR, the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program is overseen by the SBA and administered through 11 federal agencies. While both programs offer funding for innovative research and development, STTR also requires small businesses to collaborate with research institutions to help foster technology transfer between academia and the private sector.
Eligibility criteria for small businesses are similar to SBIR, and additional guidelines specify how the partners must divide work, intellectual property rights and commercialization activities.
Rural Business Development Grants
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers grants to help small businesses and organizations in rural areas, which it defines as regions not adjacent to towns with 50,000 or more people. To qualify for a Rural Business Development Grant, your business must have fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in revenue.
While there is no maximum grant amount, USDA prioritizes applications for smaller funding amounts, so carefully consider how much to request. Deadlines may vary by region, so contact your state USDA office to learn more.
Find more government grants for small businesses on Grants.gov, the federal government’s landing page for all grants across agencies.
Hungry for more? Stay up to date on new entrepreneurship grants as they’re released by checking these databases:
OpenGrants operates a database of public and private grant funding in the U.S. The site has both free and paid membership options that allow founders to search for grants, and also maintains a roster of freelance grant writers you can hire to help you polish your application.
GrantWatch is a database of grants for entrepreneurs, small businesses, individuals and nonprofits in the U.S. and Canada. Access costs $199 per year, and quarterly, monthly and weekly plans are also available.