There's good news and bad news about small business grants. Good news: Entrepreneurs can sometimes obtain grants for their companies — and, unlike loans, grants don't have to be repaid. Bad news: Most grants are limited to applicants meeting highly specific qualifications in terms of background, location, industry and other factors. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers no direct funding to businesses; instead, it supports numerous other organizations, some of which offer financial assistance. Grants from those other sources may be available to small businesses that are:
- Owned by women, minorities, veterans or people with disabilities.
- Located in communities targeted for economic revival.
- Qualified to conduct needed research or undertake other specific projects.
- In need of training, technical assistance or other specific services.
Start with the SBAWhile the SBA doesn't actually give grants, it does track small-business opportunities provided by other agencies ranging from the U.S. Department of Justice to the National Park Service. Note: Many involve grants of training or other services rather than cash.
Federal Grant Resources portal lists grants that may be available to small businesses; from there, you can link to other agencies' sites for more details.
Get the big pictureThe U.S. General Services Administration also lists federal grants and other giveaways available to small businesses. Search or browse its online catalog by category (including newest opportunities and those available to women, minorities and other groups), then contact sponsoring agencies for details.
GSA's Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CDFA) has listings and tips on applying for government assistance.
Think creativelyEven if you can't find a grant specifically designed to expand your company, you may find one that accomplishes the same goal by funding a project in your area of expertise. Example: The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers small-business grants for research into "problems facing American agriculture" in areas ranging from nutrition to marketing.
Grants.gov. The federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs also award project-oriented grants, primarily for high-tech initiatives.
Look close to homeState governments sometimes offer grants and frequently provide other small-business assistance, such as advice, networking opportunities and training. Local economic-development agencies may also offer help, especially in areas targeted for redevelopment.
Contact a Small Business Development CenterThis network of agencies, a public-private partnership, offers free advice and other services. SBDC staffers may be able to steer you toward applicable state, regional and local agencies offering small-business grants, advice and services.
SBDC branch nearest you.
Prepare a grant proposalWriting a grant proposal isn't rocket science - but it does have to be done correctly. You can outsource your effort, or you can do it yourself.
- Keep tabs on grant-awarding groups. They constantly add, delete and modify their offerings.
- Remember that, rather than offering cash, many grant programs offer training, technical assistance and other potentially valuable services.
- Read requirements carefully. Grants designed for high-tech start-ups in New Hampshire won't be awarded to retailers in New York.
- Apply as a business, even if you're a sole proprietor. Applying as an individual may disqualify you from opportunities earmarked for businesses.
- Be wary of companies offering to research grants for a fee. While some are legitimate, others just charge you for the same online searches that you can easily do yourself. If you do hire one, find out exactly what it's providing.