What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about hardship grants? Probably grants that support businesses through a loss of income due to a natural disaster like a hurricane, or the public health emergency of a global pandemic. But hardship grants—and other special grants like it—can support your business through many other scenarios, not just catastrophes.
This type of capital can also help you grow your business; whether you’re getting started, looking to scale up, or you’re facing the challenges of investing in technology infrastructure, to name a few examples.
It can be challenging for a business owner to focus on searching and applying for a possible grant during a crisis, but putting in the time and effort can be fruitful in a time of need. Here’s a primer on everything you need to know about hardship grants for small businesses, including information on the different types of special grants available and how you can apply.
What is a small business hardship grant?
Hardship grants for small businesses are timely funds offered in emergency situations by private and public sectors, such as local or state governments, the federal government, and public/private partnerships. These grants provide temporary economic relief through financial support, but usually only for a set period of time.
A small business could be as few as 100 employees or as many as 1,500, according to the US Census Bureau. Hardship grants can be issued by governments, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, corporations, and universities, among other institutions, or they may be given through public/private partnerships. By definition, hardship grants do not have to be paid back and are neither small business loans nor forgivable loans. However, there may be stipulations as to how hardship grant money can be used by each recipient.
Some hardship grants are awarded in a lump payment with no strings attached; others specify how funding should be allocated—such as for capital improvements, technology upgrades, financial obligations, operating expenses, or even tax relief. Hardship grants are sometimes awarded as services, such as $10,000 worth of business development help, legal services, or time in a co-working space or community kitchen.
Hardship grants may also have unique requirements for eligible businesses. It might be that your business needs to be facing a specific hardship, have a certain number of employees, be located in a specific place, or be a female- or minority-owned business. The application process can be time-consuming, and typically involves gathering tax returns, bank statements, and revenue documentation such as gross earned revenue and gross receipts. So, make sure your business satisfies a hardship grant’s requirements before filling out the entire application.
How to find small business hardship grants
It can be hard to find small business hardship grants. Most US federal monetary assistance aimed at helping businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, such as the loan forgiveness program Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through participating lenders and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, are now over. Still, there are other resources. Sole proprietorships and other small business owners may find up-to-date grant information through internet searches, word of mouth from fellow local entrepreneurs, professional associations, nonprofit organizations, incubators or accelerators, or local SBA offices. Here are some organizations you can look to for grant information:
- Small business development centers. There are small business development centers throughout the US that typically have current information on grants and other resources to help small businesses. SBDCs are funded in part by the US Congress through a partnership with the US Small Business Administration.
- Community Development Financial Institutions. Also known as CDFIs, these are lending institutions that focus on communities, groups, and individuals who might not otherwise be eligible for loans, due to lack of credit history and/or collateral. While CDFIs tend to issue loans—not grants—they are typically knowledgeable about local programs and could have information on grants for small businesses.
- Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA provides numerous online and in-person events like seminars and workshops, some free, to help small business owners find grant opportunities.
- SCORE. SCORE is a national network of mentors willing to pass along knowledge, general business help, and resources on grant funding and other financing options to less experienced small business owners.
- Meetup. Meetup events are informal, local social gatherings inclusive of small business owners spanning different regions, cities, and sectors. Meetup encourages connections—professional or social—with a community of like-minded small business owners. Professional networking can help you tap into hardship grant opportunities much more quickly—information travels fast via the word of mouth of active communities.
Small business hardship grants
There are few grants specifically catering to businesses experiencing hardship. There are a couple of options available for small businesses in two recently hard-hit groups: restaurant owners and farmers. Small business owners across these sectors in need of hardship grants can still apply.
The Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund
Hello Alice and DoorDash have teamed up to provide $10,000 Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund grants to restaurants that have suffered through natural disasters declared by state, tribal, or the federal government—like fires, hurricanes, flooding, and blizzards. Applications roll in three-month increments; the spring funding round ended on January 3, 2023. You can sign up to receive email updates on when the next round of grant applications will open up.
US Department of Agriculture’s Disaster Assistance Program
Farm owners who have experienced hardship through the loss of livestock, including honey bees, can apply for financial assistance through the Farm Service Agency’s Disaster Assistance Program page. The program provides funds to help cover loss due to severe drought, fire, or other natural disasters.
Nine small business grant programs for financial support
- US Chamber of Commerce
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
- The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
- Visa Everywhere Initiative
- Dream Big Awards
- Small Business Growth Fund
- Amazon Small Business Grants
If you’re looking for grants but don’t necessarily fall under the hardship umbrella, consider applying for grants designated for female-, minority-, or veteran-owned business, among other designations, that can still provide financial relief in challenging times.
There are a variety of websites—administered by the federal government, nonprofits, and other organizations—listing grants for small businesses. These include Grants.gov, or Venturize.org, which is managed by Small Business Majority. These grants might be categorized for businesses operating in specific sectors (biotech, for example) or geographic region, or owned by a particular demographic.
The Grants.gov website is a massive federal grant listing geared for any and all entities seeking funding, including individual business owners looking for small business grant programs. You can narrow down listings by clicking “Small business” in the Eligibility section. Grants tend to focus on STEM initiatives, ideal for small businesses in the health or social service sectors, and range from telemedicine training in rural areas to job training for veterans in need.
2. US Chamber of Commerce
The US Chamber of Commerce website provides a listing of financial support for small businesses, including grants through states and the private sector. Some are designated for specific types of business owners, and each grant has its own requirements for eligible applicants, such as the number of employees or revenue documentation. Highlighted grant opportunities include Schedulicity, which recognizes small businesses with awards of $250, $750, or more, based on criteria like industry or community focus, and the $10,000 Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO)/Fiserv Back2Business grant (New Jersey) for Black- or minority-owned small businesses.
3. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
Small Businesses Innovation Research (SBIR) is a program powered by the SBA that gives grants to tech startups with innovative ideas for federal agencies like NASA, EPA, and USDA, among others. The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program partners with nonprofits or other organizations to give grants supporting scientific projects for possible future commercialization. Participating federal agencies have different grants with an assortment of deadlines and criteria.
4. The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) offers $4,000 business development grants for small business owners, including independent contractors and sole proprietorships.Applicants must be NASE members and meet specific requirements, such as a detailed description of how the grant will be used and documentation of how the grant is spent after issue.
5. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
Ten small business owners who enter the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest could win $30,000 each to help boost their business, and one winner gets an additional $20,000 from the insurance company USAA. Applicants must have a FedEx account number to enter and shipping needs for their business.
6. Visa Everywhere Initiative
The global Visa Everywhere Initiative awards tech startups anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, (with a $5,000 audience favorite award) in five regions: Latin America, Asia Pacific, North America, Central Europe/Middle East/Africa (CEMEA), and Europe. The Visa Everywhere Initiative has additional contests for Black- and female-founded startups. The 2023 applications open soon.
7. Dream Big Awards
The winner of the Small Business of the Year award given at the annual US Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards gets $25,000, promotional services through video and print, and a one-year membership to the US Chamber of Commerce. Eight additional prizes are awarded to small businesses across various categories, from LGBTQ-owned companies to businesses with a sustainable or green component.
8. Small Business Growth Fund
This $25,000 grant provided by Mastercard is awarded to US founders of high-growth small businesses ready to take their businesses to the next level. The Small Business Growth Fund has been made possible by the joint efforts of Hello Alice and Global Entrepreneur Network (GEN), currently funding the fourth round. Applicants must have a clear plan on how the grant will help them achieve their business goals.
9. Amazon Small Business Grants
Businesses that sell on Amazon are eligible for Amazon Small Business Grants. The grand prize winner receives $25,000, four finalists receive $20,000, and 10 semifinalists receive $15,000. All grantees receive a free one-year membership to Amazon Business Prime Small or Essentials. Judging is based on a clear business plan describing how the funds would help propel a business forward and give back to the founders’ applicable community.