11 Business Grants for Women Entrepreneurs and 7 Places to Find More
Need money to grow your business? Learn about 18 available grants for funding women-owned businesses and where to apply.
The number of women-owned businesses is skyrocketing, and that number is expected to continue to grow. According to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, in the period from 2014 to 2019, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 21% for a grand total of nearly 13 million, with revenue also rising 21% and totaling $1.9 trillion.
Perhaps even more significantly, that same source found that the annual growth rate in the number of women-owned firms was double that of all other businesses. As of 2021, women-owned businesses employed more than 10.1 million people.
Like any start-up, women-owned businesses need capital. You can go through traditional bank loans or other types of lenders, but you also have another option: grants.
Why are grants important?
The reality is that even the most innovative and well-thought-out business ideas won’t come to fruition without adequate financial backing. Lack of capital can tank a start-up or prevent a sophomore business from taking off and expanding. Unfortunately, data indicates that women entrepreneurs may have difficulty qualifying for traditional small business loans, and when they do, the funding may be less generous than that received by others: according to Biz2Credit’s 2020 Women-Owned Business Study, the average amount of funding provided to women entrepreneurs is 33% less than what their non-women-owned business counterparts receive.
This is where grants come in. Instead of a traditional loan, which you have to pay back with interest, grants are more like gifts. If you qualify, you get the money and you don’t have to pay it back. Grant funding can be a great opportunity for women who have challenges qualifying for traditional funding and present opportunities to compete in the entrepreneurial playing field.
How grants work
Grants are obviously preferable to loans since they’re basically free money. Of course, it’s not as simple as asking and receiving. The application process can be long and intensive and often involves a significant waiting period. You’ll also have to meet specific requirements to qualify.
Grants exist in many forms, from federal grants to state grants to grants funded by private organizations, non-profits, or charitable foundations. The grantor (the entity dispersing the grant funds) will determine the qualifications and stipulations of the grantee (the person or organization receiving the money).
Many experts advise women-owned businesses to start researching grants at the state level. The requirements for state grants may not be as stringent, and more options may exist than with federal funding. Each state will have a state website with a business section detailing available small business grants for women and minority businesses. Many states also have grant programs for women-owned businesses in traditionally male fields, like construction. So, start with your state’s website and check out what options are available.
11 Grants for Women-Owned Businesses
As we mentioned, there are lots of grants available at every level of government and in the private sector. In addition to checking out those options, make sure to take a look at these 5 grants. They’re some of the best available and if you qualify, they can make a huge difference in your business.
1. FedEx Small Business Grant
FedEx awards grants of up to $50,000 to several winners of their annual FedEx Small Business Grant. There are gold, silver, and bronze winners – who also receive various FedEx business products to supplement their prize winnings. Entry for the grant money requires a business plan, business description, and photos and video (optional) of your intended business goals. To read about previous FedEx Small Business Grant winners, visit here.
Accion Opportunity Fund also partners with FedEx through the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab. The program is designed to help diverse small business owners, primarily women and people of color, who are looking to develop or expand their e-commerce operations as they continue to adapt their business models in the wake of COVID-19. Recipients get a $5,000 business grant to support their e-commerce growth plans. They also gain access to immersive e-commerce courses and workshops, coaching from industry experts, networking with fellow entrepreneurs, and online sales support and order fulfillment assistance. Applications are currently closed but you can check the website for future rounds.
2. The Amber Grant Foundation
The Amber Grant Foundation started in 1998 with the mission of giving grants to women-owned businesses. Today, the Amber Grant Foundation offers a $10,000 grant to one women-owned business each month. At the end of the year, one of the monthly grant awardees will receive a larger grant amount (to the tune of $25,000!) to fund her business.
The board selects the winners of the grant and rewards those who demonstrate both strong entrepreneurial ideas and passion for their business ideas. To view past recipients, visit here.
3. National Association For The Self-Employed Growth Grants
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) is a nonprofit organization focused on providing tools and resources to entrepreneurs looking for assistance with running businesses successfully. In addition to a wide variety of members-only resources, NASE offers business development grants, called Growth Grants, of up to $4,000. These grants can be used for “marketing, advertising, hiring employees, expanding facilities and other specific business needs.”
In order to apply for a NASE growth grant, you must be a member in good standing, demonstrate that the grant could fulfill a business need, provide a detailed explanation of how you would use the grant funding and how it would increase your business success, and submit supporting documents (e.g., a business plan). To learn more about recent NASE grant recipients, visit here.
4. Cartier Women’s Initiative Award
The Cartier Women’s Initiative is an annual international entrepreneurship program that was founded in 2006 with the goal of empowering female entrepreneurs. The program is open to women-run and women-owned businesses from any country and sector that focus on sustainability and/or the environment.
Awards are across 10 regions with three grants awarded per region. The prize for the first place award is $100,000, the second place award $60,000, and the third place award $30,000. Winners also receive one-on-one expert coaching, business workshops, and media coverage.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative has distributed a total of $6,440,000 in grants so far to fellows in 62 countries. To meet the eligibility requirements for this award, you must own or run a for-profit business, be in the early stages of development (between one and five years), and meet at least one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
5. Tory Burch Foundation
The Tory Burch Foundation runs an annual Fellows program for women entrepreneurs. The 50 selected fellows receive a one-year fellowship, including a $5,000 grant to advance their business education, access to an online community to connect and collaborate with other founders, and a trip to the Tory Burch offices in New York City.
In addition to being majority women-owned, qualifying businesses must be U.S.-based, for-profit, early-stage (1-5 years), and generating revenues of a minimum of $75,000. Applications for the program open in the fall and there is no application fee.
6. Sogal Black Founder Startup Grant
While Black women founders are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs out of any throughout history, they are also the group most likely to be met with barriers to funding. Black women entrepreneurs receive only 0.5% of venture capital funding, and this is what the SoGal Black Founder Startup Grant aims to change.
In partnership with Winky Lux, bluemercury, twelveNYC, Twilio, Walmart.org’s Center for Racial Equality and other sponsors, the SoGal Foundation provides several $10k and $5k cash grants to Black women or non-binary entrepreneurs.
To qualify, a founder must:
- Self-identify as a Black woman or Black non-binary entrepreneur (inclusive of multiracial Black women and multiracial Black non-binary folks).
- Have a legally registered business.
- Plan to seek investor financing in order to scale, now or in the future.
- Have a scalable, high-impact solution or idea with the ambition to be the next billion-dollar business.
Grants are made on a rolling basis and applications can be submitted through a form on SoGal’s website.
7. Visa Global She’s Next Grant Program
The Visa Global She’s Next Grant Program is a collaboration between Visa and IFundWomen to create access to funding and education for women-owned small businesses around the world. Various global or regional programs are launched throughout the year, many of which offer monetary grants, coaching, and memberships. So far, the program has given out $1.6M in funding to women who own businesses through 149 business and 159 coaching grants.
Keep an eye on the She’s Next Grant Program website for new opportunities to become available.
8. Fearless Fund
The Fearless Fund’s mission is to “bridge the gap in venture capital funding for women of color founders building scalable, growth aggressive companies.” Fearless Fund is proudly built by women of color for women of color. The Fund offers the following grant programs for women:
Fearless Strivers Grant Contest: This grant is offered in collaboration with Mastercard and gives Black women-owned small businesses across the country $10,000 grants as well as digital tools to help them get and sustain their business online. There is a rolling deadline for this grant.
Women of Color Grant Program: Created in collaboration with the Tory Burch Foundation, Goldman Sachs’ investment initiative One Million Black Women, the program awarded 150 small businesses $10,000-$20,000. The 2022 application period is now closed.
9. Dream Big Awards
The Dream Big Awards are presented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to highlight and celebrate the best American small businesses. The winner of the Dream Big Small Business of The Year award gets a $25,000 cash prize, a one-year Chamber of Commerce membership, a promotional video about their business played during the awards ceremony, and a feature article in CO magazine. There are additionally eight other awards, which include Minority-Owned Business Achievement Award, LGBTQ-Owned Business Achievement Award, Woman-Owned Business Achievement Award, and Community Support and Leadership Award.
To qualify, applicants must be for-profit businesses operating for at least one year, primarily within the United States, and have less than 250 employees or have gross revenues of less than $20 million for each of the two previous years.
10. Women Founders Network Fast Pitch Competition
The Women Founders Network Fast Pitch Competition opens every year to early-stage, women-owned businesses with high growth potential. The company must have a founder/co-founder/CEO who is a woman or the business must be majority-owned by a woman. In addition, the business must be based in the United States with no more than $750k in outside funding, including personal cash funds. Judges select the five top finalists who pitch their companies in a way that appeals to Angel and VC investors for the chance to win more than $55,000 in cash prizes and over $100,000 in professional services.
11. Digitalundivided Breakthrough Program
Digitalundivided is a nonprofit and social startup that develops innovative programs and initiatives with the goal of creating economic growth in Latina and Black women communities. Their BREAKTHROUGH program, in collaboration with JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways, “provides founders with a deeper understanding of their customers, startup funding, growth marketing strategies and networking opportunities to scale their ventures.” Each company accepted into the program receives a $5,000 grant.
To be considered, founders must:
- Identify as a woman.
- Identify as Black or Latina (or both).
- Have a business that’s been registered for at least a year.
- Have majority ownership of an established business with traction.
- Have a technology component incorporated in business (website or mobile app).
- Generate a minimum of $50,000 annual business revenue.
Applications are opened on a rolling basis for specific cities. Check their website to find out what city cohorts will be based next.
Where to find more business grants for women entrepreneurs
Grants.gov is the best resource available to locate government grants. The grants available through this webpage span a variety of different agencies and offer numerous opportunities. However, small business grants may be more challenging to come by through the government. Still, it is worth browsing through the available offerings in order to determine if you might qualify (and to be sure you understand the guidelines and requirements of each).
2. Small Business Development Centers (SBDC)
It can be a little overwhelming to search through all the potential grants available to you, so the SBA has set up Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) all over the country to help you figure out what grants are available. While the SBDCs don’t actually offer grants, they do offer meetings with local advisors that have comprehensive knowledge of the grants in your area and nationally.
For more info and contact information of your local SDBC, visit this resource.
Founded in 2002, Grants For Women helps small business owners, primarily in the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, and South Africa, find and research grant opportunities. The grants differ in scope, region, qualifying criteria, and amount, based on the institution offering them.
Grants for Women provides this resource with the mission of empowering, educating and enabling women to accomplish their goals in the fastest way possible. The website collects the various opportunities into an easily searchable database and it’s an excellent place to start your search for women-focused opportunities. It should also be noted that the database is not business-specific, though many of the grants on the platform cater to female entrepreneurs and startup founders.
4. Ifundwomen Universal Grant Program
While IFundWomen offers several grant programs in collaboration with various partners (such as the VIsa Global She’s Next Grant program mentioned above), the organization also maintains the excellent IFundWomen Universal Grant Application (UGA) database, which stores your information and notifies you of any grants for which you qualify.
5. Women’s Business Centers
The U.S. Small Business Administration has over one hundred Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) that are part of a national network of entrepreneurship centers throughout the United States. The WBCs “provide free, to low-cost counseling and training and focus on women who want to start, grow, and expand their small business.”
While the WBCs don’t offer grants or SBA loans, they can help you identify grants and small business loans in your local area. They also provide networking, training, technical assistance, and mentorship, as well as workshops to help with all aspects of business development.
The SBA also helps level the playing field for women business owners by making certain federal government contracts available to economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses through the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program (WOSB Program). This is typically in industries where women are underrepresented, such as forestry, construction, HVAC, and manufacturing.
If you need funding to develop technology and chart a path towards commercialization, it’s also worth looking at the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
6. Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)
The Minority Business Development Agency is the only federal agency solely dedicated to the growth and global competitiveness of minority business enterprises. While the agency itself doesn’t give out grants directly, it does organize grant competitions every year that are funded by angel investors. The MBDA offers advice on how to find these grants and how to apply on its website.
7. National Women’s Business Council
The National Women’s Business Council is “a non-partisan federal advisory committee serving as an independent source of advice and policy recommendations… on issues of importance to women business owners and entrepreneurs.” One of their biggest areas of focus is access to capital and opportunity for small women-owned businesses, which the NWBC recognizes remains the largest barrier to market entry and success for female founders and women-owned firms. The council offers business mentoring to its members through resources such as webinars, public meetings, and virtual roundtables.
The Bottom Line
Loans are a classic way to fund your business and build credit, but grants can help fill in any gaps. Unlike loans, grants don’t have to be repaid, which means they can help provide capital without adding to the burden of your business debts. In addition, many women-owned businesses find that it’s harder for them to get traditional funding opportunities than for their male counterparts, which can make grants an even more critical source of funding.
Before you commit to a loan, consider checking out the grants available to you. If you’ve considered all your grant options and still need capital, consider a small business loan from Accion Opportunity Fund.