Women in business today have a better chance of accessing capital and business financing than in previous decades. This is due in part to the transformative Women’s Business Ownership Act (HR 5050) signed into law in 1988. This act eliminated state laws requiring women to have a male relative sign for a business loan. In spite of these advances, women are still offered smaller loans and pay higher interest rates than male business owners. Black women-owned businesses, especially, experience barriers to access to capital.
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What are grants?
Grants are funding opportunities, typically set sums of money, and issued by a variety of givers. Some grants are from local, state, or federal governments, institutions, nonprofits, private organizations including corporations, or public/private partnerships. By definition, grants do not have to be repaid, and are not considered small-business loans (or even forgivable loans). However, there may be stipulations attached to how grant money can be used by the recipient.
Each business or individual who applies typically needs to meet established grant requirements set by the grantor. For example, a business might have to be located in a particular county or state, employ a certain number of people, generate a minimum or maximum gross revenue, or fulfill a social or environmental impact mission.
Business grants are not always well publicized and might have short application windows. Ways to stay informed about new grant opportunities include networking with business colleagues and signing up for newsletters with women-centered business organizations. Also, you can follow relevant organizations on social media.
Grant resources for women in business include:
- Small Business Development Center
- National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
- US Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC)
- Grants For Women
- National Women’s Business Council
- Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract program
- Small Business Administration
Five types of grants
- A lump sum grant
- Grants for specific use
- Grants with a workshop of incubator component
- Live pitch competition grants
- Grants through services
Grants come in various forms. Many grantees are awarded with one grand check, others have requirements that are conditional upon grantees accepting the grant.
- A lump sum grant. Some grants are a set amount of dollars and given in one payment with no strings attached.
- Grants for specific use. A grant recipient might win a $5,000 grant but will have to allocate the money toward specific parts of her business, as determined by the giver. Perhaps it’s for a community-building initiative, a sustainability program, or a marketing project.
- Grants with a workshop or incubator component. Grants are often given to business owners in conjunction with winning a spot in a fellowship cohort, requiring them to participate in business development programs, incubators, or accelerators. Grant money might be in the form of investor financing or cash.
- Live pitch competition grants. Pitching competitions are popular in the tech sector; although other industries have followed suit. Prize money is awarded to entrepreneurs who give savvy business pitches for public or private industry audiences. These grants might be in cash, investor financing, or both.
- Grants through services. Grants might take the form of free services, such as $20,000 worth of technical assistance, legal services, coaching, or time in a co-working space or community kitchen.
What are grants for women in business?
One strategy that attempts to level the playing field for women-led or women-owned businesses are grants. Federal agencies like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and private organizations have created grant programs specifically for women with businesses—from CEOs and founders of tech companies to owners of Main Street shops and restaurants. These are private and federal grants, sometimes created through public-private partnerships, designed to support women in business.
13 grants for women in business
Applying for grants is challenging. It often involves gathering tax returns, bank statements, and revenue documentation, among other business-related records. Although time-consuming, it’s important to check that your business or organization satisfies a grant’s requirements before filling out the entire application. The landscape of female founders is diverse, and so is the availability of small-business grants. There are grants open to all women entrepreneurs—inclusive of women-identifying, non-binary, and trans women in business.
Depending on criteria, some grants might require you to work in a particular sector, be in business for a particular number of years, or have employees rather than be self-employed as a sole proprietorship, for example. After assembling one grant application, it may be easier to apply for future grants. Here is a sampling of business grants for women to consider.
1. Amber Grants for Women
Funded by WomensNet, a virtual resource center for women in business, the Amber Grant for Women is given out on a rolling monthly, quarterly and annual basis to women in small business. Each month, grant amounts of $10,000 are awarded to women who own businesses in 12 specific categories—skilled trade businesses in January and animal service businesses in July, for example. Amber also has a nonprofit category and two annual grants of $25,000. The Amber Grant application is comparatively short, and it costs $15 to apply.
2. The Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship
This highly coveted one-year fellowship with an accompanying $5,000 education grant is just one component of what the Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship offers women in business. The foundation also offers webinars, host summits, and helps female-owned businesses access capital through loans and venture capital funding. Program criteria preferences include an early stage business and minimum generated revenue of at least $75,000. The grant is part of a year-long fellowship. There is no cost to apply.
3. Dream Big Award
The US Chamber of Commerce recognizes owners of small businesses across various categories, one being women-owned. The $25,000 Dream Big Award is given annually, and winners also receive a free one-year membership to the US Chamber of Commerce, along with promotional marketing—both video and print. Among the areas in which applicants are judged are community engagement and innovation in business strategies. Additional qualifications include having fewer than 250 employees or gross revenue below $20 million for the prior two years. There is no application fee.
4. IFundWomen Johnnie Walker First Strides Grant
Johnnie Walker and IFundWomen offer 10 First Strides Grants of $10,000 for “trailblazing” women-owned businesses that create more opportunities for women. In addition to capital, the 10 finalists will receive professional coaching. Requirements include being in business for at least two years and generating an annual minimum revenue of $25,000. Of note, alcohol brands or businesses that sell or distribute alcohol are not eligible.
5. IFundWomen Fund Awards
One IFundWomen grant of $100,00 equity investment is awarded to a female entrepreneur; six entrepreneurs will each win $5,000 cash grants, as well as one year of educational services and access to resources. IFundWomen is a funding platform for female business owners. This highly coveted grant attracted more than 5,400 applicants in 2022 and looks for businesses with a solid digital brand presence that exemplifies “meaningful impact.” A range of businesses are eligible, from beauty to tech.
6. Fast Pitch Competition
Female founders give their best startup pitch to an industry audience of founders and VCs for $5,000 or $25,000 Fast Pitch Competition grants. Winners also receive professional services, mentorship, and networking opportunities through an online alumni community. Applicants’ startups fall into two categories: tech and non-tech. However, life sciences or cannabis/CBD startups are not eligible. This pitch grant is provided by Women Founders Network, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurial education for women and girls. The competition is an annual event.
7. The Halstead Grant
Halstead, an Arizona-based family jewelry business, awards a Halstead Grant of $7,500 in start-up capital, $1,000 in merchandise, and industry recognition to the winning emerging jewelry designer working in silver. A number of finalists win smaller cash grants and business promotion. The application includes a series of 15 questions and the submission of a design portfolio.The call for entries will start in January 2023.
8. SoGal Black Founder Startup Grants
SoGal, a global platform that aims to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship and venture capital, teamed up with sponsors like Walmart and Winky Lux, a sustainable-oriented makeup brand, among others, to create the rolling SoGal Black Founder Startup Grants. SoGal issues $5,000 or $10,000 grants geared for ambitious Black female and non-binary entrepreneurs who intend to seek funding and have ideas that can scale. Grantees also get access to SoGal Foundation and SoGal Venture teams for industry-related questions.
9. Fearless Strivers Grant Contest
Fueled by MasterCard, these $10,000 Fearless Strivers Grants issued by the Fearless Fund are awarded to 11 Black female small-business owners across the US in specific cities, including Atlanta, Birmingham, and Dayton. The 11 finalists receive the digital tools to help navigate ecommerce businesses and mentorship is provided by entrepreneurial superstars in restaurants and hospitality, digital media, and sports. Qualifications include small businesses with annual revenues of $3 million or less in the latest calendar year (2021), and with no more than 50 employees. There is no cost for entry.
10. HerRise Micro-Grants
This monthly Her-Rise Micro-Grant of $500 is made possible by the Yva Jourdan Foundation, the nonprofit arm of HerSuiteSpot, a platform that helps boost the marketability of businesses owned by women of color. Past recipients of HerRise Micro-Grants have used their funds for technology upgrades, marketing efforts, and website creation or maintenance. Grant opportunities are expected to return in 2023.
11. Cartier Women’s Initiative Award
This international awards program grants women entrepreneurs with cash prizes of $100,000, $60,000, and $30,000, for first, second, and third place, respectively, across nine regions of the globe. The Cartier Women’s Initiative Award grants are part of a fellowship program that also offers coaching in finance and communications, as well as a mentorship program. Being a for-profit in the early phases of development with a positive impact within its industry are among the eligibility criteria. The recently launched Science & Technology Pioneer Award rewards scientific innovation startups.
12. Tech Startup Grant
Women Who Tech has created an annual Tech Startup Grant program that awards $20,000 in equity-free grants to women-led startups around the globe (one $15,000 Innovation Grant and a $5,000 Impact Grant). Five finalist startups will be chosen to participate in a six-week virtual program that includes honing pitches and venture capital fund introductions. Startups then pitch to an eight-person panel composed of VCs to compete for grants. The application process is free.
13. Visa Global She’s Next Grant Program
Visa and IFundWomen have teamed up to create the international She’s Next Grant Program for female entrepreneurs. Last year’s awards ranged from about $4,500 to $10,500 and were awarded to female business owners located in Chile, Poland, Dominican Republic, and Vietnam, as well as in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa), Baltic, and Nordic regions. A separate program recognizes female business owners in Canada.