As of 2017, 40% of first-time entrepreneurs in the U.S. are women, and the number of women-run businesses in the U.S. is growing at twice the rate of businesses owned by men. But even with these impressive numbers, women founders received just 2% of venture capitalist funding in 2017.
This means that women are forced to look elsewhere for money to launch and expand their businesses, and many look to business grants for women.
Best grants for women
As the number of female entrepreneurs continues to grow, more funding is becoming available to help them. These grants are specifically for women who are starting small businesses or launching startups, and they can be used for anything from creating a product to purchasing a building for office space.
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Here are seven of the best grants for women. (Note: Some application deadlines for 2021 have already closed; check back on the grants' websites for announcements on next year's dates.)
1. 37 Angels
37 Angels is an angel investment group that is actively seeking to close the gender gap in startup investing. You can receive a potential investment of up to $200,000 as well as education and ongoing support. Eight applicants are chosen every two months to pitch their businesses to the network of investors.
Who is eligible: Any startup business owner
How to apply: Submit an application through Gust.
2. The Amber Grant
The Amber Grant was created in 1998 by WomensNet to honor Amber Wigdahl, a young woman who died before she could achieve her entrepreneurial dreams. The grant awards $10,000 to a female business owner each month of the year, and one of the monthly winners is awarded an additional $25,000 at the end of the year.
Who is eligible: Any female entrepreneur
How to apply: Fill out an online application and pay a $15 application fee.
3. Cartier Women's Initiative Award
The Cartier Women's Initiative Award is given annually to 21 female entrepreneurs from around the world. Seven finalists receive $100,000 and individual business mentoring from an expert. The remaining 14 finalists receive $30,000. All 21 finalists receive a spot in the six-day INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Program and the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars.
Who is eligible: Women business owners in the early stages (1-3 years) of developing their business
How to apply: Follow online application instructions.
4. Eileen Fisher: Supporting Women in Environmental Justice
Fashion designer Eileen Fisher launched the Supporting Women in Environmental Justice grant in 2004, and as of 2019, it awards $200,000 annually in total grants to nonprofits (with a maximum of $40,000 per recipient).
Who is eligible: Nonprofits, or businesses with a fiscal sponsor, that have a positive impact on the environment and rights of women. To qualify, businesses must provide a direct service and meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Increase women's participation in decision-making
- Train women and girls in climate change adaptation, mitigation and advocacy
- Engage women in the sustainable economy
How to apply: Complete the online application.
5. The Halstead Grant
The Halstead Grant, which started in 2006, is awarded to female jewelry designers who primarily work with silver. Winners are given a $7,500 cash grant, $1,000 toward Halstead jewelry supplies, and industry publicity.
Who is eligible: U.S.-based female entrepreneurs in the jewelry industry, with businesses under 3 years old
How to apply: Submit a portfolio and answer questions about your business goals and strategies.
6. Open Meadows Foundation
The Open Meadows Foundation provides grants for women-backed projects that promote gender, racial and economic justice. The grant provides $2,000 to projects that have limited access to financial resources.
Who is eligible: Women-owned businesses with less than $75,000 in budget resources
How to apply: Follow the online application instructions.
7. Tory Burch Foundation
The Tory Burch Foundation started in 2009 to empower women and provide them with capital, education and networking resources for their business. Through its Fellows Program, women can receive a $5,000 grant toward their business education, a trip to the Tory Burch offices for workshops with founders and business experts, and an opportunity to pitch their business. The foundation is also now offering a free webinar series for women entrepreneurs through December 2021.
Who is eligible: U.S.-based women entrepreneurs with a for-profit business that is under 5 years old
How to apply: Follow the online application instructions.
What are business grants?
A small business grant is money given to a business from federal, state, county, or local governments, or private corporations or businesses. Grants are unique in that they do not require repayment of any kind – a highly beneficial consideration for small business owners. [Read related article: Top Small Business Grants of 2020]
Grant funding can help small businesses avoid riskier or more expensive forms of funding, such as venture capital investments or small business loans. However, applying for grants is a notoriously long and difficult process, and funding is never guaranteed. Many small businesses hire a professional grant writer to help them with the process.
Types of grants
There are four main types of business grants available to small businesses and startup founders:
1. Government grants
Government grants for small businesses come in three forms: federal, state and local. Federal grants are generally the most competitive, since they tend to offer the most money. However, they typically have strict eligibility requirements and are often connected with a government agency that will have stipulations on how you can use the money.
State grants offer less money than federal grants but tend to be less competitive, depending on your state. State governments may work with the federal government to administer money designated for small business grants.
Local grants are the easiest to get but usually offer the least money. They tend to focus on improving the local community, so if your business centers on or has a commitment to helping your community, you have a good shot at receiving local grant money.
2. SBA grants
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is one of the many government agencies that offer grants, specifically to small businesses. The SBA offers three types of business grants each year: two grants for businesses involved in research and development, and one for businesses pursuing scientific endeavors that could potentially be commercialized and utilized by the federal government.
The SBA also works with state government to help local small businesses investing in export development through the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP).
3. Minority grants
If you're a female entrepreneur seeking grants, this is another category to focus your grant research on. Minority grants cover funding for specific groups, including women, veterans, and different racial or ethnic groups. There are government agencies and private organizations with grants available specifically for female entrepreneurs and minority-led businesses. [Read related article: Top Small Business Grants for Minorities in 2021]
4. Corporate grants
Outside of the government, many private companies invest in entrepreneurial projects as part of their philanthropy efforts, or to nurture innovative new projects that they may wish to acquire or use in the future.
Generally, to obtain a corporate grant, businesses are asked to turn in portfolios, essays or business plans as part of their application. Some popular corporate grants are the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, the Comcast Innovation Fund and Visa's Everywhere Initiative. You can find lists of other available corporate grants on the Council on Foundations site, which is free, or Candid's Foundation Directory Online, which requires a subscription.
How to get approved for a grant
Getting approved for a grant is a difficult process, so prepare for a lot of time and work if you decide to apply for one. Most grants have strict requirements or highly specific qualifications, so the hardest part is often finding grants that you are well suited for. While the exact process differs according to the specific grant, you can follow these tips to increase your chances of approval:
- Do your research. There are thousands of grants out there, each with specific requirements and qualifications, so the best way to increase your chances of receiving a grant is to look up as many as you can. There are many grant directories online, such as GuideStar, GrantStation, Grant Gopher, Terra Viva and Grants.gov.
- Make sure you qualify. Before undertaking the arduous process of applying for a grant, be sure you meet all the requirements. Grants are known for being extremely specific with whom they award money to and how they expect that money to be used, so it's worth your time to dig into the requirements.
- Be prepared to explain why you need the grant and how you'll spend it. Before applying for a grant, you must know exactly how you plan to use the funds and why you think they should be awarded to you. Be prepared to submit charts, graphs, projection sheets or other documents that can illustrate your intentions clearly.
- Consider hiring a grant writer. The grant application process can be so difficult to get through that there is an entire profession devoted to it. A grant writer can help you make sure you meet all the requirements and package your application well.