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Updated Mar 06, 2024

Top Small Business Grants

Small business grants, available from federal, state and private sectors, offer a source of capital for entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses.

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Simone Johnson, Staff Writer
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For small business owners, grants can often provide the financial assistance needed to take your company into its next chapter of success. These grants, which may come from federal, state or private sources, are a source of capital that doesn’t need to be repaid. Check out our curated list of premier small business grants and how you can apply to secure these funds for your business.

Editor’s note: Looking for a small business loan? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs. 

Federal grants for small businesses

The federal government typically provides grants to nonprofits and educational institutions only. However, local governments may offer grants through departments such as the Office of Economic Development. SBA.gov has documents that detail the full list of eligibility requirements, terms and conditions for Small Business Administration (SBA) grants.

Here are the top federal grants for small businesses and how to apply for government grants. 

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs 

The SBIR and STTR programs are competitive grant programs that encourage small businesses to engage in federal research and development, particularly with technological innovation and scientific research. 

The grant programs help connect small businesses, universities and research centers with federal grants. To qualify, you must be a for-profit business with 500 or fewer employees. Nonprofits – those with a 501(c)(3) designation by the IRS – aren’t eligible for these programs. 

The Office of Science, a subset of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), also participates in the SBIR and STTR grant programs. It offers numerous funding opportunities, spanning areas that support energy production, energy use, fundamental energy sciences, environmental management and defense nuclear nonproliferation. Check out the DOE’s open funding opportunity announcements and open lab announcements

The SBIR and STTR grant programs are structured into three phases. SBIR Phase I awards are normally up to $150,000 for six months, and Phase II awards are typically no greater than $1 million for two years. Phase III is designed for small businesses to pursue commercialization objectives resulting from Phase I and Phase II. The SBIR program doesn’t fund Phase III. 

National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a subset of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers grants for small businesses researching and developing biomedical technologies. NIH has hundreds of distinct funding opportunities available and updates its grant database regularly.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, supports research, educational and extension efforts in several rural areas related to agricultural and behavioral sciences. These fields include food science, animal life, farming and ranching, business and economics, and plant life.

NIFA’s grants consist of four phases: 

  1. Pre-award: This phase begins with the announcement of funding opportunities for grants and involves the preparation, submission and review of proposals related to those announcements.
  2. Award: This phase involves making funding decisions and notifying awardees of their selection for a grant. 
  3. Post-award: This phase consists of setting up accounts in the financial payment system and monitoring awardees for compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies and the submission of required reports. 
  4. Closeout: The closeout phase involves the submission, review and approval of all final reports as required by specific program policies and regulations.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, gives small business grants to startups researching and developing technology in fields like advanced communications, artificial intelligence, bioscience, nanotechnology and neutron research.

Current NIST funding opportunities can be found on NIST.gov.

Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awards more than $4 billion annually for grants and other assistance agreements. The aim is to help small nonprofits and even large state governments achieve their environmental goals. 

You can find current EPA funding opportunities by searching Grants.gov

Did You Know?Did you know
Grants.gov provides a comprehensive database of government-backed funding, with thousands of available opportunities across a variety of sectors.

Department of Transportation

The Volpe Center, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) systems center, is a federal resource that accepts solicitations for financial aid. Visit Volpe’s Solicitation Center to view active topics and learn about submitting proposals. The organization seeks funding for proposals that may enhance the DOT’s ability to execute its mission or that otherwise deliver innovative concepts. 

State and local grants for small businesses

Many state-level grants for small businesses focus on the state’s social and economic affairs. You can find state business grants by checking your state’s Department of Commerce website. Here are some of the most popular state government grants. [Read related article: Best Business Loan and Financing Options]

Arkansas Economic Development Commission

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) offers many job-creation incentives and business grants for small businesses in Arkansas. For example, ArkPlus is a state income tax program that provides tax credits of 10 percent of the total investment in a new location or expansion project. 

The AEDC also offers infrastructure grants, which share the cost of project infrastructure needs by committing grants from state and federal infrastructure funds. The amount of money committed depends on several factors, including the strength of the company, jobs, average wage and project investment.

Small Business Development Centers

The SBA can help small business owners and entrepreneurs find local assistance for business grants through its Small Business Development Centers. These centers are associated with local colleges and universities, and many can connect business owners with networking and financing opportunities.

TipBottom line
Consult the SBA’s Small Business Development Centers to find networking and business opportunities for your company.

Corporate grants for small businesses

Numerous organizations throughout the U.S. offer corporate grants. These grants help spread goodwill in the community and polish a corporation’s public image. While many nonprofits may overlook corporate philanthropy as a means to raise capital, many startups will likely jump at the opportunity. 

The Halstead Grant

The Halstead Grant is a yearly award for emerging jewelry artists. Applicants must answer 15 business questions and submit a design portfolio. The award money is intended to help silver jewelry artists jump-start their businesses. The grand prize is $7,500 in cash. Check the website for annual deadlines. 

Comcast Innovation Fund

Comcast hosts several grant contests each year searching for internet innovation in the areas of open source, research, and “useful and interesting things.” Each applicant must create a Comcast Innovation Fund account, select a grant and apply for the grant.

National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)

NASE members can apply for Growth Grants worth up to $4,000. This grant money can be used to purchase equipment, create marketing materials, create a website, hire part-time employees and more. To be eligible, Growth Grant applicants must be members in good standing; a resume and thorough business plan are required.

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

FedEx hosts an annual small business grant contest that awards small business owners money and insight from FedEx experts to help grow their companies. This grant contest is open to U.S.-based for-profit small businesses that have fewer than 99 employees, are actively shipping with FedEx, and have been selling a product or service for at least six months from the start of the contest. 

The amount of grant money awarded changes every year, but past winners have received $50,000 for first place with additional prizes of $20,000 for up to nine runners-up. Check the website for entry deadlines and more details. 

Grants and training opportunities for women-owned businesses

These are just some of the funding and training opportunities set aside specifically for women entrepreneurs:

SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership

The SBA helps women entrepreneurs on their journey toward owning successful businesses and remaining competitive in the marketplace. The Office of Women’s Business Ownership has programs designed to help women entrepreneurs with business training, federal contracts, and access to credit and capital. 

The Amber Grant Foundation

The Amber Grant Foundation awards a minimum of $30,000 each month to women-owned businesses, along with three $25,000 annual grants at the end of each calendar year. For-profit and nonprofit organizations alike are eligible to apply, as are pre-revenue startups.

Grants and training opportunities for minority-owned businesses

Businesses owned by Black, Latino/a/x, Asian American and other minority entrepreneurs can leverage the following resources: 

Minority Business Development Agency

The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Association of Investment Companies, is the largest grant opportunity for minority-owned small businesses seeking a grant award and other financial opportunities. 

Visit the website to learn about applying for current MBDA grants. For counseling and more information on financing a minority-owned business, find your local Minority Business Center

Operation HOPE Small Business Development Program

Operation HOPE is a small business development initiative designed to provide minority-owned businesses with the necessary financial services to thrive in the marketplace. One component of Operation Hope’s program features the 1MBB (1 Million Black Businesses) initiative, which offers an eight-week Small Business Development workshop focused on giving new entrepreneurs the skills to handle small business ownership.  

8(a) Business Development Program

The SBA’s 8(a) program helps minority-owned businesses and other small businesses owned by economically disadvantaged people compete for government contracts. The program can also help minorities form joint ventures with established businesses through the SBA’s mentor-protege program. 

You must be certified to participate in the 8(a) program. To become certified, visit certify.SBA.gov; you will also need to create a profile at SAM.gov. If you’re accepted into the program, your certification will last for a maximum of nine years. However, you’ll need to complete annual reviews to maintain good standing in the program. 

Grants and training opportunities for veteran-owned businesses

Veteran entrepreneurs can explore these funding opportunities and resources:

SBA Office of Veterans Business Development

The SBA offers support for veteran-owned businesses looking for funding programs, training and federal contracting opportunities. The Office of Veterans Business Development is specifically devoted to veteran entrepreneurship, service-disabled veterans, active-duty service members, transitioning service members, and their dependents or survivors. 

Veterans Business Fund

The Veterans Business Fund nonprofit was created because of the high unemployment rate among veterans. Many veterans could become successful small business owners but lack access to startup capital or don’t qualify for a small business loan. Visit the website to apply for funding.

Boots to Business

Boots to Business (B2B) is an education and training program for veteran entrepreneurs that is offered through the SBA. Active-duty service members, veterans of all eras and their spouses are eligible to participate. 

Participants are taught entrepreneurial skills and are provided the resources to launch a small business. The two-day Introduction to Entrepreneurship course is managed by SBA experts and introduces transitioning veterans to business ownership through key business steps, such as raising startup capital and writing a business plan. Check out the upcoming B2B course schedule.

What is a business grant?

A business grant is an investment of capital from private or public sources to help small businesses develop. These opportunities are generally based on an entrepreneur’s geographical location, income, business type and qualifications, and are designed to support underrepresented groups, such as women, minorities and veterans. 

Grant funding is often awarded through a small business contest, in which eligible small business owners apply to be considered as a recipient. Many grants for small businesses target companies in the science, technology and medical fields. Some business grants provide training and technical assistance to low-income entrepreneurs, but they generally do not provide grant money. 

Federal agencies administer numerous grant funds and grant contests; however, it can be difficult to receive an award from these programs. Many state-level business grants that target social or economic concerns may be easier to obtain (if you satisfy certain criteria). [Learn how your business credit score impacts your chances of borrowing.]

Local and state governments also provide business grants for investments in key initiatives they are promoting, such as investing in enterprise zones or supporting certain types of businesses. These grants are sometimes given in the form of a tax credit.

FYIDid you know
Read our article on business grants for minorities for more information and resources for minority-owned businesses.

Do you have to pay back business grants?

Business loans and business grants are different. Unlike a business loan, a small business grant doesn’t have to be repaid. You simply apply, and if you qualify, there you have it – free money for your business. 

An SBA loan, like any business loan, does need to be repaid. The SBA itself doesn’t provide grants, but you can acquire grants with its assistance through its website and small business programs. [Read more about the hidden gotchas in your business loan repayment terms.]

How to apply for a business grant

Most grants have very specific rules about who can apply, which types of companies and business innovations are eligible, and the timeline. The deadlines and processes vary dramatically by grant program.

You’ll need to determine which grant you want to pursue and then write a grant proposal. Follow these three steps to apply for a business grant: 

  1. Find a grant. Confirm your eligibility requirements for business grants. Read and understand the requirements, and find the grants that are most relevant to you and your business. 
  2. Write a grant proposal. This step requires you to gather substantial information, in addition to having a complete business plan. Focus on the needs your business intends to fulfill, the problem you are proposing a solution for and how you plan to track your impact.
  3. Prepare and submit forms. Register to complete and submit your grant application. You may receive a tracking number to monitor the status of your application.

Sean Peek and Max Freedman contributed to this article.

author image
Simone Johnson, Staff Writer
Simone Johnson is a business.com and Business News Daily writer who has covered a range of financial topics for small businesses, including on how to obtain critical startup funding and best practices for processing payroll. Simone has researched and analyzed many products designed to help small businesses properly manage their finances, including accounting software and small business loans. In addition to her financial writing for business.com and Business News Daily, Simone has written previously on personal finance topics for HerMoney Media.
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