If you ever hear someone promising you “free money,” it’s probably a scam—unless it’s a small business grant.
Seriously, if you receive information stating you qualify for a "free grant," it's probably a scam. Get information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) so you can better recognize and avoid grant scams. If you have been a victim of a grant scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC.
But grants really are free money, it's just that they come with a few hidden costs:
the time it takes to find a grant that you qualify for
the time it takes to go through the application and waiting process, and
the restrictions of using the money in the way grant the prescribes.
We can help you with most of that (when you join the agency), but we have compiled every available grant database into one spot, with some directions on how to apply, and win.
What are small business grants?
Small business grants are funds given to a business by an organization for a specific purpose. Grants are available to small business owners during their startup phase, company expansion, and for research and development.
Unlike small business loans or credit cards, grants don’t need to be repaid, and they won’t hurt your business credit score. The best part about grants is that this is all non-taxable income and there is no limit to how much you accept.
But grants do come with restrictions—the money has to be spent in a particular way as outlined by the grant provider. And if you don’t play by the rules, there are major penalties.
The different types of small business grants
There are two main types of grants: government and private.
To find federal and state grants, you can browse government databases based on your location and industry. But these are often paid services that are poorly organized and outdated.
Corporations provide grants to small businesses as well. These private grants usually have less rigorous application requirements, but more competition for funds.
You can also apply for a foundation grant. This is another kind of private grant, but instead of a corporation, you’ll receive grant money from a charitable foundation.
Unfortunately, the internet hasn’t invented a one-stop database where you can search for every kind of grant. So we’ve compiled a list of the top government and private grant databases, complete with quick navigation links.
How to apply for (and win) a small business grant
If getting free money was easy, everybody would be doing it. The lengthy application process deters many business owners from applying for funding—but even if the pool of applicants is small, the competition is high. If you find a grant that seems like the right fit for your business, it’s important to stand out from the rest.
Pay close attention to the stringent requirements of each grant application before you start the process. Are you a minority-owned business? Check. Focused on a positive environmental impact? Check. In operation for over three years? Hmm. If you’ve only been in business for two, you’ll have to wait until next year. Don’t try to fudge the truth—you’ll end up wasting valuable time and effort.
Read over the grant application and provide complete and accurate information. An incomplete application will not make it through the screening process. Follow the instructions to the letter—if a section asks for a maximum of one page, don’t write one and a quarter.
Reach out to the grant officer and get a sense of what they’re looking for. What are their needs? Timing? Constraints? The more you know, the better.
A well-crafted business plan will be required. Make sure your business plan describes why your company will be successful, how the funding will strengthen your business, and how you’ll fulfill the specific goals of the grant. (Hire Made today for a complete guide to writing a business plan for more information.)
Follow up with the grant officer after you’ve submitted your application—it’s okay to keep in touch in a non-intrusive way. Ask if they have any questions or concerns that you can address.
Winning a competitive federal grant will boost your organization’s revenues and reputation. But the costs in time and resources can be high, both to apply for a federal grant and to report on results later. We do not encourage you to dive into the process unprepared or unorganized because you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed.
Is your business or nonprofit ready to win in federal grants?
Use our Federal Funding Readiness Checklist to audit your company.
Who is eligible for federal grants?
The federal government awards grants to organizations including:
State and local governments
The intent of most grants is to fund projects that will benefit specific parts of the population or the community as a whole.
Federal small business grants
Federal agencies distribute several grants to small businesses in specific industries like scientific research, technology, and conservation. They also help fund nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and local governments. Federal grants don’t cover the cost of starting up a business or operational expenses. Instead, they place a focus on research and development. You can win grants as a start-up with well written proposals. Ready to get started? You can apply now until April 1, 2022 to join Made Marketing and prepare grant proposals for your start-up today.
Most Common Ways to Search and Apply for Government Grants
To search or apply for grants, use the free, official website, Grants.gov. Commercial sites may charge a fee for grant information or application forms. Grants.gov centralizes information from more than 1,000 government grant programs. It's designed to help states and organizations find and apply for grants.
Eligibility - Most of the funding opportunities are for organizations, not individuals.
How to apply - Get tips and tools to help you with the registration and application process. And, learn how to write a successful grant proposal.
Email notifications - Sign up to be notified by email about new grant opportunities.
Grants.gov is the official access point for grants administered by government agencies. It’s comprehensive with a lot of information on the federal grant process. Start your search for grant opportunities and check “small businesses” in the eligibility box. To read the full eligibility for each grant and apply through Grants.gov, register an account first.
Challenge.gov is a list of creative, technical, and scientific competitions and prizes run by agencies across the federal government in order to drive innovation. Search through open competitions on their homepage to see the type of challenge, prize amount, and host agency. If something catches your attention, register for an account to participate and submit your entry.
GrantWatch is a website to locate funding through federal, state, local, foundation, and corporation grants in the U.S. and Canada. Filter your search for small business grants or go to the specific section for businesses. Before seeing the full eligibility for a grant, you’ll have to pay to become a member.
Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)
SBIR is a competitive grant program that encourages small businesses in the U.S. to engage in research and development for federal agencies. It’s an awards-based program for high-tech innovation, overseen by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). To qualify, you must operate a for-profit business with less than 500 employees and fulfill all eligibility requirements.
Browse "solicitations" posted by federal agencies and filter by program, agency, or phase. Click any headline for further details on how to apply.
Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR)
The STTR program is another competitive grant program that expands funding opportunities for innovation research and development for federal agencies. Both the SBIR and the STTR programs encourage research partnerships, but STTR requires each applicant to collaborate with a non-profit research institution during the first two phases of the program. To qualify, you must operate a for-profit business with less than 500 employees and fulfill all eligibility requirements.
See a list of solicitations posted by federal agencies and filter by program, agency, or phase. Click any headline for further details on how to apply.
State small business grants
Federal small business grants are limited by industry and in number, and they’re often very competitive. Don’t feel discouraged—look for grants at a state or municipal level for access to a wider variety of lesser-known opportunities. Below are some places to start looking, but we recommend doing a deep dive into what your own state and local area can offer.
Economic Development Administration (EDA)
The EDA is a U.S. Department of Commerce agency that offers grants, resources, and technical assistance to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. Discover grant opportunities and search for your state’s agency—each one helps local small businesses find financing, secure office space, and recruit employees.
Click here for the full breakdown on how to apply for an EDA grant.
The State Business Incentives Database
The State Business Incentives Database is a national database for economic developers, business development finance professionals, and economic researchers. The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) created it to provide data on incentive programs from all U.S. states and territories. Before you register, read the membership benefits and pricing to decide if this is right for you.
Use this guide for database information and how you can access its features.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
Your local SBDC provides support for small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. by helping existing businesses remain competitive in a competitive market. Often associated with the state’s economic development agency, your SBDC can help connect you with financing, networking opportunities, and business mentors.
Use this portal to find the nearest SBDC to you.
Corporate small business grants
If you have a great business idea and you’re looking for startup funds, you may want to move beyond government grant programs and focus on corporate-sponsored funding. Large companies, like FedEx and Visa, will often provide a hefty sum to small businesses for entering (and winning) a contest or pitch competition. Bonus: even if you don’t win, there’s the potential of a runner-up prize or publicity for your business.
Pro tip: do some industry-specific research on the top names in your area of business. Although more obscure and harder to find, some companies will fund small businesses who are tailored specifically to their industry.
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest provides a top prize of $50,000, along with funds towards print and business services. The contest will be reopening on February 16. In the past, it has been open to for-profit businesses in operation for at least six months with no more than 99 employees. Read the full rules and eligibility.
Click here to learn about what you’ll need to prepare to enter.
National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE)
If you’re a member of NASE, you can apply for their small business grants. One grant is awarded per month up to $4,000. Login, set up an account, and read the grant guidelines before you start your application.
Click here for more information on the NASE grants and how to become the next grant recipient.
Patagonia Corporate Grant Program
The corporate grant program at Patagonia gives between $10,000 and $20,000 of funding to innovative nonprofit organizations that work to preserve and protect the environment. Read the grant guidelines for more details on whether your small business meets the requirements.
Click here and follow the portal when you’re ready to apply.
Nav’s Quarterly $10,000 Business Grant
Each quarter, Nav—a financing marketplace for businesses—awards a $10,000 grant to a small business (and two lesser grants for runner-ups).
You don’t need to meet any special criteria to apply. You just need to sign up for a free Nav account and post on social media about what your business plans to do with the grant.
You can learn more here. The grant will reopen in early March 2022.
Demographic-specific small business grants
If you’re a woman, veteran, or minority business owner, there are financial incentives funded by corporations, special interest groups, and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that aim to help underrepresented demographics.
The Amber Grant
Awarded once per month, the Amber Grant gives $10,000 funding to a female entrepreneur. Each year, one of twelve monthly grant recipients gets an additional $25,000 in funding. Applying is fairly straightforward—you just need to fill out a form online. However, there is a $15 fee to apply. The Amber Grant is run by WomensNet, an organization for female entrepreneurs.
Learn more about how to apply for an Amber Grant.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grants
The USDA offers a variety of grants for small businesses and nonprofit organizations operating in rural areas. They also offer a variety of business loans—so, if you don’t qualify for a grant, you may be able to borrow money at zero interest.
Learn more about USDA grants.
If you’ve given up hope that there’s a grant out there for you, don’t worry. There are lots of other small business funding options—like SBA loans, or a traditional bank loan. If you want to know how long your grant will sustain your business operations, consider tracking your burn rate.
Grants for Black Creatives
Please thank the CEO and Founder of Black People Will Swim, Paulana Lamonier for this curated list of grant and funding resources specifically for Black creative entreprenuers and business owners.
Grow by Invoices2Go
Could you or someone you know use some extra cash to grow a small business? We’re so excited to announce Grow - $200,000 of awards for minority-led small businesses!
Learn more and how to apply here.
The Creative Exchange
Are you a social media agency? The Creative Exchange is hosting their second annual BIPOC Fund, $5,000 worth of services.
Use the link below and apply here: https://norevisions.co/the-fund Deadline: February 28, 2022 @ 11:59 PM.
Girl, Share Your Story Scholarship
The Bestsellers Academy has launched their "Girl, Share Your Story" scholarship! Only for first-time authors, this scholarship opportunity is valued over $300K designed to give them a chance to share their story!
Deadline: April 10, 2022
Apply here: https://mystory.girlshareyourstory.com/
ATT x Dream in Black
Inspiring. Visionary. Culture Shaper. These are the qualities of a Black Future Maker. Dedicated individuals pursuing greater possibilities for the greater good. If this sounds like you, then AT&T wants to celebrate your journey.Share a 30-60 second video of you explaining how you’re pursuing great possibilities in your community and win $10K!
Contest ends December 31, 2022. Winners chosen monthly.
Silver & Riley Women Entrepreneurship Grant
Luxury travel and fashion line Silver & Riley has launched their Women Entrepreneurship Grant. They are giving $2K to 5 women-owned businesses founded after 2/5/2019. Deadline: 2/28
CreativelyMade Creators Grant
Are you a creator looking to get paid to be yourself? If so, Creatively has launched CreativelyMade, a new program that supports rising talent through mentorship and up to $5K in funding.
Deadline: March 2
Peanut Funds Underrepresented Founders
The app Peanut has launched their Peanut StartHer, a micro fund investing in women and underrepresented founders.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis: https://peanut-app.io/starther
CitiTrends Black History Maker Grant
In celebration of Black History Month, Citi Trends, Inc. is acknowledging Black entrepreneurs that are making history today with a for-profit or non-profit business that has a confirmed business history of offering services and/or selling products, excluding any businesses involved in the manufacturing, distribution or sale of food, beverages, supplements or the like).
Deadline: February 28, 2022 @ 11:59 PM
Application Guidelines: https://cititrends.com/bhm/
Capital One Grant Program
Capital One is launching their Capital One Business' grant program on March 10, 2022 awarding $10,000 to 150 Black-owned businesses. Be sure to sign up here for updates until the application is live: aeoworks.org/capitalone/
Asian Women Giving Circle (AWGC) believes culture is an essential part of any strategy for social change and supports Asian American, women-led orgs.
Deadline: 3/11 at 5 PM EST
Apply here: asianwomengivingcircle.org/apply/
The Caress Dreams to Reality Fund
IFundWomen and Caress have partnered up (again!) for The Caress Dreams to Reality Fund.
Amount: $5K grant & 1-year coaching
Deadline: March 4, 2022
Apply here: ifundwomen.com/caress
Skin Health Start-up Accelerator Pitch Competition
Aveeno has launched their Skin Health Startup Accelerator Pitch Competition. You can win up to $100K for your beauty business if you identify as a Black women owned business.
Deadline: April 30, 2022
Apply here: essence.com/aveeno/
Social Impact Fund
If you are a business or a non-profit, apply to win $10K for your business. jlhfund.org
Barclays Share Your Story Grant
Barclays is giving away small business grants.
Grand prize $60k
2nd Place $40k
3rd Place $20k
Then, they’re giving away an extra $2k to small businesses that apply. Don’t delay and apply today. Apply here: https://barclayssmallbizbigwins.com
What is Made?
We're an online business and marketing service powered by real humans. Made gives you a dedicated bookkeeper supported by a team of knowledgeable small business experts. We’re here to take the guesswork out of running your own business—for good. This include full strategy and development as you build your start-up. Your bookkeeping team imports bank statements, categorizes transactions, and prepares financial statements every month. While your marketing and development leads work with you to build and promote your brand. Get started with a free business consultation today!
This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Made and partners, sponsors and affiliates assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.
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