Do you think financing a small business’s startup and expansion is as easy as obtaining a free grant from the government? You might (almost) be excused for believing that Uncle Sam is handing out bags of free money to anyone with two X chromosomes. In addition to late-night infomercials about government grants, dozens of articles full of misinformation about small business grants for women can be found online, full of vague terms and hazy promises like “The government offers a wide range of grants for women entrepreneurs.”
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Small business grants for women are few and far between. Why? Here’s what you need to know.
The Federal Government Doesn’t Provide Grants for Starting and Expanding a Business
First, to quote from the SBA’s website, “The federal government does NOT provide grants for starting and expanding a business.” Instead, the federal government gives grants to non-commercial entities, such as universities or nonprofit organizations.
How did the misconception that the government provides small business grants arise? Perhaps it’s because the federal government does make grants to help state and local governments, which often turn around and use those funds to offer grants to organizations that help small business owners. In other words, if you started a nonprofit to help women start businesses, you might be able to get a government grant for that. But you can’t get a government grant to start a business yourself.
According to the SBA, some states do provide grants to businesses whose work benefits the region and its residents. For instance, you might be able to get a grant if your business helps develop energy-efficient technology that helps the state and its residents save money, or if you are expanding a child-care center (enabling more residents to work and support themselves). Even in these limited cases, however, the grants are rarely “free money.” You may be required to match the funds with an equal amount of your own capital or with a loan, for example. To search for this type of grant, visit the official government grants website, Grants.gov, and check out their section for grant applicants to see if you are eligible. (There are no small business grants for women on this site that aren’t also open to men, but there are some for small businesses.)
The 4 Best Small Business Grants for Women
Knowing the options are limited, let’s talk about where women entrepreneurs can find funding. Here are a (very few) small business grants for women to investigate.
Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program: Fashion designer Eileen Fisher launched these small business grants for women in 2004. Today the company awards $100,000 in total grants annually to 10 women-owned businesses beyond the startup stage (maximum $10,000 per recipient). Learn more about eligibility and the application process here.
Amber Grant: Launched by Womensnet.com in 1998 to honor the memory of a young woman who died before she could fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams, this program makes a $500 grant to one qualifying woman business owner each month; one of those women receives a $2,000 grant at the end of the year.
IdeaCafe Grant: IdeaCafe awards $1,000 grants to small business owners. Although the grant is not for women only, the vast majority of the winners have been female.
Grants and Scholarships for Women (GrantsforWomen.org): You can search this database of scholarship opportunities and grants for women, but be forewarned—most are for non-business purposes.
As you can see, these grants are so small that your time may be better spent in figuring out ways to grow your business without them.
When you’re seeking a grant, watch out for scams. If you’re asked to pay money or sign up for some kind of subscription to access a listing of small business grants for women, beware.
Your best bet in seeking a grant to start or expand your business? Talk to your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or SCORE office. These organizations are plugged into the local financing community and will be able to guide you if, indeed, there are any small business grants for women in your area from local corporations, philanthropic or economic development organizations. You might also want to look into SBA loans for women: an affordable kind of financing for female small business owners.