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There are many grant programs available to small businesses, depending on a variety of qualifying factors. — Getty Images/Deagreez

If you’re struggling to secure the financing you need to get your business off the ground, the U.S. government might be able to help. There are many free government grant programs designed to bolster the American small business community.

Some grants are designated for specific groups of entrepreneurs who may be disadvantaged or in a minority population, while others are earmarked for small businesses that want to work on government projects. Each one has different requirements, but you may qualify for more than one program.

To help you get started in your search, here are six free federal grant and contracting programs available to startups through the U.S. government.

[Read: 4 Experts Share Their Business Funding Strategies]

Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses

This grant offers funding to small business owners who are service-disabled veterans. The federal government seeks to award at least 3% of federal contracting dollars to such businesses annually.

In order to be eligible, you must:

  • Be a small business.
  • Be over 50% owned/controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans.
  • Have day-to-day operations and long-term goals managed by at least one service-disabled veteran.
  • Have a service-connected disability.

Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) Federal Contracting

Through this funding program coordinated by the SBA, the Office of Women’s Business Ownership supports women entrepreneurs in their business endeavors by offering business training, counseling, federal contracts and access to credit and capital. Their goal is to offer equal opportunities for all women in business.

The federal government seeks to award at least 5% of federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses annually.

In order to be eligible, you must:

  • Be a small business.
  • Be over 50% owned/controlled by women who are U.S. citizens.
  • Have day-to-day operations and long-term goals managed by women

USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program

This grant program offers both technical assistance and training to small businesses (less than 50 workers and less than $1 million in gross revenue) in rural areas. This initiative seeks to fund projects that benefit rural areas.

Grant money is intended for projects benefiting rural public entities, including:

  • Towns.
  • Communities.
  • State agencies.
  • Authorities.
  • Nonprofit corporations.
  • Institutions of higher education.
  • Federally recognized tribes.
  • Rural cooperatives (as a private nonprofit corporation).

[Read: A Guide to Funding Your Business at Every Stage]

There are many free government grant programs designed to bolster the American small business community.

Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)

This grant encourages small businesses to “engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization.” It’s a highly competitive awards-based program that helps businesses achieve scientific excellence and technological innovation.

Eligibility:

  • Must be a “business concern” (for-profit concern).
  • Must be over 50% owned by:
    • At least one U.S. citizen or permanent resident aliens of the U.S.
    • Other for‐profit small business concerns.
    • Multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, or a combination (no one such firm can own or control more than 50% of the equity.).

Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR)

Similar to the SBIR program, the STTR program focuses on funding research in the R&D arena. However, “the unique feature of the STTR program is the requirement for the small business to formally collaborate with a research institution.”

Eligibility:

  • Must be a “business concern” (for-profit concern).
  • Must be over 50% owned by:
    • At least one U.S. citizen or permanent resident aliens of the U.S.
    • Other for‐profit small business concerns.
    • Multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, or a combination (no one such firm can own or control more than 50% of the equity.).

Grants.gov

There are countless U.S. government grants for various types of small businesses, many offering funding beyond the startup process and unique to specific regions. Browse your options on Grants.gov to find a grant that best suits your business’s needs. However, before applying for a specific funding opportunity, make sure you are eligible.

[Read: 5 Crowdfunding Sites to Fund Your Startup]

The federal government understands the struggle of starting a business — especially as a disadvantaged entrepreneur. If you know where to look, you may find that the government has a grant program that can help bridge the gap between a dream and a growth opportunity.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published March 11, 2020