According to the 2010 census, 7.8 million US businesses are owned by women -- a 44% increase over the last census. Women-owned businesses now comprise 30% of non-farm businesses, generating $1.2 trillion in annual revenues.
Many of those business owners got their start by taking advantage of grants designed specifically for women entrepreneurs.
If you are a woman in search of startup funds, look into the following grant programs.
American Association of University Women
The AAUW provides more than $4.3 million in funding each year to graduate women, including: teachers, activists, and women in male-dominated professions (such as business ownership). There are currently more than 278 fellowships and grants available for women entrepreneurs to search through for funding opportunities.
Eileen Fisher Business Grant Program for Women Entrepreneurs
Each year, Eileen Fisher Inc. awards five grants of $12,500 to women-owned businesses that emphasize social consciousness, sustainability, environmental and economic health, and innovation. These grants can go to either startups or existing businesses. Consideration is based on your business plan and future potential.
Amber Foundation Grant
The Amber Foundation Grant program was started in 1997 by WomensNet. It provides small grants to women-owned small businesses in the amount of $500 to $1,000 for the purpose of starting or opening a business. Grants are awarded each month and are based upon the applicant's business plan.
There are a number of grants available to women through state and local government grant programs. You can search the online database at grants.gov to find ones that may be applicable to your business. Be aware that these grants are in high demand and often come with a number of requirements -- such as matching funds with other financing or completing extensive in-depth applications. The amount of each grant varies depending on the business and the grantor.
Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Grants
The only grants available through the US Small Business Administration, the SBIR/STTR program is geared towards small businesses in the technology, engineering, manufacturing, science, and science education industries. One of the goals of the program is "fostering and encouraging participation by socially and economically disadvantaged persons and women-owned small businesses in technological innovation." Numerous grants are available, and solicitations for proposals are available on the SBA website.
With the growth of social media and online fundraising, you may not need to apply to a specific grant program in order to get money for your startup business. Crowdsourcing -- asking for small contributions from a large volume of contributors over the internet -- can provide you with funding through programs such as Kickstarter or ChipIn. Although there's no application, you still need to convince people to contribute.
- Tell your business's story: what makes it important or interesting, why you want to start it, and how you will make it a success. Generate an emotional connection with your audience, and they will be more likely to provide you with funds.
- Shared through social media, your story can connect with thousands of people who have the potential to become part of your crowdsourced funding and make your new business a success.
When looking for grants to fund your startup, be sure you have a well-thought-out business plan and market analysis. Whether you're soliciting funds from government programs, private organizations, or the internet at large, you need to prove that your startup will become successful. If you do so, you'll be able to join the other 7.8 million US women who are successful business owners.