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

Times are tough for small business, but help is available, from both the government—federal, state or local—and the private sector. It may be in the form of a grant, a loan or a leg up competing in a difficult business environment. Here’s a breakdown to help you sort through what’s available.

Federal stimulus aid

Businesses of all sizes have been negatively impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some are just getting started, while others have had to rethink their business model. President Biden's recently enacted coronavirus stimulus bill is designed to help, providing $1.9 trillion in assistance to businesses and individuals. The bill includes aid in the form of tax credits, loans and grants.

[Read: Small Business Update: More on PPP Loans and the Employee Retention Tax Credit]

Government grants

Begin your search for a grant from the federal government at Grants.gov. This government site offers the most comprehensive database of funds the government is going to give away. There are thousands of grants to apply for, with opportunities for companies from all backgrounds.

Keep in mind that not all assistance flows directly from the federal government to small business. Some funds are distributed to state and local governments and agencies, nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher learning. These entities, in turn, distribute the funds, or use them to provide technical or educational assistance on a local level.

In addition to the programs listed here, be sure to check with your state and local governments and use the resources listed below. When searching through grant and contracting options, note that you may qualify for more than one program.

As illustrated by the following sampling of grants, the assistance available to you from the government will vary, depending on your specific situation.

  • $100,000 for Start a SUD Startup. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is sponsoring the annual 2021 $100,000 for Start a SUD Startup Challenge. An SUD is a Substance Use Disorder, and NIDA will be supporting research for any new business startup with a focus in this area. There will be 10 prize winners of $10,000 each, and winners will also then be eligible to compete for the NIDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants. The submission period will end on November 16th, so eligible entrepreneurs should start drafting ideas now.
  • COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Through the SBA, small businesses can receive up to $10,000 in Targeted EIDL Advances. These businesses must be located in low-income communities and be experiencing a loss of revenue due to the pandemic.
  • National Institute of Health Grants. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is currently funding grant opportunities related to COVID-19 research. These grants are reserved for small businesses that develop and research biomedical technology. There are multiple grants available with deadlines throughout 2021 and beyond.
  • Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) is for live venue operators like theaters and museums that were in operation as of Feb. 29, 2020 and were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Small businesses can apply online and receive equal to 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue or $10 million, whichever is less.
  • Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR). The SBIR offers grants to small businesses so they can participate in federal research and development with the potential for commercialization. It’s a highly competitive awards-based program that helps businesses achieve scientific excellence and technological innovation. To qualify for SBIR grants, you must operate a for-profit company and satisfy other requirements.
  • Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR). Similar to SBIR, the STTR program focuses on funding research in the R&D arena. However, what separates the STTR is the requirement that the small business have a formal collaboration with a research institution. To qualify for STTR grants, you must operate a for-profit company and satisfy other requirements.
  • U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). Targeted grants and loans designed to aid minority-owned businesses are offered throughout the year. Minority-owned businesses can find information about local MBDA Business Centers at MBDA.gov.
  • U.S. Small Business Administration State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). Intended to assist small businesses desiring to export product, this program distributes federal funds through state entities. Small businesses that meet the criteria set by each state can use the financial assistance to participate in foreign trade missions and shows, obtain entry to foreign markets, develop websites and design international marketing products or campaigns.
  • U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). The EDA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce offers ongoing funding opportunities for projects that support regional and national economic development. Applicants can apply for a variety of rolling-basis EDA investments that fund projects in construction, non-construction, planning, technical assistance, research and evaluation, higher education and more.

As you would expect, acceptance of free money from the government comes with a fair amount of paperwork. Applying for a grant can be time-consuming and technical. You want to make sure, therefore, that you are eligible before applying. In addition to the legal and administrative prerequisites, there are ongoing reporting and auditing requirements.

Government contract assistance

The federal government spends billions of dollars on goods and services each year. A lot of that money is spent through a competitive bidding process. Programs have been put in place to assist some small businesses with the process, allowing them a better chance to compete for those federal dollars.

  • Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program. The federal government seeks to award at least 3% of all federal contracting dollars to such businesses annually, so this program helps with meeting that target. This federal contracting program offers assistance to small business owners who are service-disabled veterans. Eligible small businesses must 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 and have a service-connected disability.
  • Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program. The federal government seeks to award at least 5% of federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses annually. Through this SBA program, the Office of Women’s Business Ownership provides support to women entrepreneurs 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.
  • 8(a) Business Development Program. The purpose of this program is to assist small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged entities. This is achieved by limiting competition for certain government contracts to businesses participating in the 8(a) business development program. To participate a business must be certified as an 8(a) entity.
  • HUBZone Program. This program aids businesses in underutilized business zones by making them more competitive in regard to some government contracts. Businesses that join the HUBZone program can compete for set-aside contracts as well as receive preference on others, including a 10% price evaluation preference in open contract competitions.

Natural Resource Sales Assistance Program

In addition to the billions of dollars spent purchasing goods and services, the federal government also sells large amounts of natural resources and surplus property. The SBA Natural Resource Sales Assistance Program sets aside a percentage of these goods for bidding by small businesses only. In addition, federal agencies sometimes divide surplus materials into smaller parcels, making it easier for small businesses to purchase. The five categories are:

  • Timber and related forest products.
  • Strategic materials.
  • Royalty oil.
  • Leases involving rights to minerals, coil, oil and gas.
  • Surplus real and personal property.

The program also provides training for small businesses on government sales and leasing.

General small business grants

There are many nonprofit and corporate entities offering grants and other assistance to small businesses. Here are a few such programs that are open to qualifying small businesses in any industry:

  • Alibaba.com Grant Program. In partnership with Hello Alice, Alibaba.com is sponsoring a $500,000 grant to help support online entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life. Chosen winners will receive $10,000 each toward their businesses. To enter, head to their website and share why you think your project or business is innovative in its industry!
  • The Barstool Fund. This grant is for small businesses affected by COVID-19 who kept on many employees during the pandemic and has a proven track record of success. Winners are chosen on a rolling basis; apply today for a chance to receive funding for your business.
  • Equity Match Grant Program. Growing a new business can be challenging, which is why the Equity Match Grant Program is offering grants of up to $10,000 to women-owned businesses in Connecticut. Applications must contain detailed projects explaining how businesses would use the grant to grow, expand and increase profitability. This highly-competitive grant opens on September 7, but the organization's webpage recommends preparing applications now.
  • GoFundMe Small Business Relief Fund. GoFundMe’s Small Business Relief Fund will match $500 grants to qualifying small businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and raise at least $500 through a GoFundMe campaign. The fund is backed by GoFundMe and corporations like Intuit QuickBooks, Yelp, GoDaddy and Bill.com. Small business owners with existing campaigns can add the hashtag #SmallBusinessRelief to their campaign and fill out this form to confirm their business.
  • KKR Small Business Builders. KKR launched its Small Business Builders fund in partnership with Hello Alice to provide COVID-19 recovery grants of up to $10,000 to small businesses. In addition to capital, grantees also gain access to technical expertise, mentoring and coaching opportunities from KKR, as well as Hello Alice's network of resources and online community.
  • New York Start UP! 2022 Business Plan Competition. For the 12th year in a row, the New York Public Library is sponsoring its business plan competition, which provides eligible businesses with $15,000 toward the launch and growth of their businesses. Entrepreneurs will also receive guidance and mentoring from the NYPL's Thomas Yoseloff Business Center. Note that this grant is limited to the residents of Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island.
  • New York State COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program. The state of New York recently opened applications for its Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program. Grant awards range from $5,000 to $50,000 per business based on annual gross receipts from 2019 and can be used for COVID-19 related losses or expenses incurred between March 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021. The State is scheduled to begin notifying selected businesses on June 28, 2021.
  • Ohio Small Business Relief Office Grants. The state of Ohio is currently offering multiple grants and relief funds to local businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to general grants for new and established small businesses, there are also opportunities for businesses in the food and beverage, entertainment and lodging industries.
  • Walmart Local Community Grants. Through this small business grant, local organizations can receive funding from Walmart and Sam’s Club facilities. Grants range from $250 to $5,000. The deadline to apply is December 31, 2021.

Industry-specific and diversity small business grants

Some small business grant programs are confined to a specific entrepreneur demographic or business profile and they often have an application process that is easier to navigate. This is a sample list, so be sure to check with nonprofits and large corporations in your geographic area or industry.

  • Amber Grant Foundation. With a simple goal of supporting women entrepreneurs, the Amber Grant Foundation was founded by WomensNet in 1998. The foundation awards a $10,000 grant each month and an additional $25,000 grant each December to women entrepreneurs with a compelling story.
  • Back Black Businesses grant. The Back Black Businesses grant is back for the 2021 application period. With the support of founding partner American Express, the Coalition to Back Black Businesses will continue to support black-owned small businesses by distributing grants until the application period ends in October. To be eligible, you have to express interest in receiving a grant when the program opens by September 22. From there, randomly-selected, eligible finalists will be asked to complete a full grant application.
  • BIPOC Small Business Grant by Annuity Payment Freedom. This grant by Annuity Payment Freedom was created in response to the impact of the pandemic on BIPOC-owned businesses. There are both marketing grants to help drive traffic and micro-grant opportunities. These are awarded to businesses on a rolling basis, with winners announced on the last day of each month.
  • Black Founder Startup Grant. The Black Founder Startup Grant program from the SoGal Foundation and other sponsors provides grants of up to $10,000 to Black and multiracial women and nonbinary entrepreneurs. The program accepts applications on a rolling basis and is open to entrepreneurs with a legally registered business who plan to seek investor financing to scale.
  • Comcast RISE. This small business grant aims to help businesses owned by people of color make advances in marketing, creative media and technology services. To be eligible to apply, businesses have to be at least 51% owned or operated by people of color and have been established for at least a year within located a Comcast Business or Effectv service area. Apply before the October 16 deadline to be considered.
  • Creciendo Con TikTok. Latinx businesses were hit especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Creciendo Con TikTok grant program wants to help. TikTok and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) have partnered to fund a $150,000 grant to support 30 Latinx small businesses. Check the grant page to verify eligibility before the grant period closes!
  • Fiserv + Clover Back2Business. Many businesses faced difficult challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and many struggled to stay open. Fiserv and Clover want to help black- and minority-owned small businesses recover from any COVID-related economic losses by providing grant recipients with $10,000. Right now, the Back2Business grant process is only open to those located in Oklaholma, Texas and the Greater Detroit area, and applications will be accepted through the end of the year.
  • Foundation for a Just Society Grants. Foundation for a Just Society offers grants to local, national, regional, and global organizations and networks that support the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI individuals. You can email the organization for more information on specific grants.
  • Galaxy Grant. Most grants require a long application process. Sometimes essays, recommendations, and even business plans are involved. When entering for the Galaxy Grant, small business owners don’t have to do anything but fill in pertinent demographic information. This $2,750 grant applies only to minority and women entrepreneurs, so if you meet the eligibility requirements, take advantage of this easy-apply grant before it closes on September 30.
  • Go. Be. Elevate Fund. Formerly known as the Good Work Network, Go.Be. aims to help entrepreneurs and small business owners with a focus on diverse and minority businesses. To continue to support small businesses led by women and people of color, Go.Be. will grant up to $4,000 toward any project meant to help grow your small business. To be eligible for this grant, you must be a Go.Be. client, so head to their grant page and see if your small business fits the criteria for entry.
  • IFundWomen COVID-19 Relief Fund. IFundWomen launched a COVID-19 Relief Fund that provides community-funded microgrants and free coaching to women-owned businesses affected by COVID-19. Grants are distributed on a rolling basis. To be considered, women entrepreneurs must start a campaign on IFW.
  • Jane Walker IFW First Woman Grant Program. Jane Walker by Johnny Walker is partnering with IFundWomen to create a grant program that supports women-owned businesses across several industries, including entertainment, journalism, STEM and many more. This year, 15 recipients will receive a $10,000 grant and a one-year IFundWomen coaching membership. To apply, your woman-owned small business should submit a 60-second video explaining how you continue to break boundaries in your industry. Eligibility criteria can be found on the application page. Applications are rolling until October 2021.
  • Live Your Dream: Education And Training Awards For Women. It can be a hustle to be the sole income provider for your family and keep your career goals a priority. The Live Your Dream awards seeks to help women have it all, with over $2.4 million distributed to over 1,500 women annually. Eligibility guidelines for women are listed on the organization's website, and the deadline to apply is November 15. This grant opens on August 1, so set a calendar reminder to go apply!
  • National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants. According to its website, the NASE has distributed over $1,000,000 in grants to its members. Its growth grants provide up to $4,000 to assist with training, marketing and more. You must be a member for 90 days before you are eligible to apply.
  • NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theater. For the third year in a row, the NYC Women's Fund for Media, Music and Theater is sponsoring a grant competition to distribute $2.5 million to women frequently underrepresented in the communications field. Applicants can apply across categories including fiction, documentary, theater and more. This grant cycle will close on November 1.
  • Open Data For Good Grand Challenge. Open Data is an important tool in our daily lives — it's the basis of apps, search engines and the resources we use every day to get information. The United States Census Bureau is giving out a total of $100,000 in prize money to applicants with the most creative uses of open data that help solve problems for the public. The focus is on problems faced in: Climate, Economy and Health sectors. The rules for entry are posted on their webpage and the submission window for ideas opens September 13 and closes on October 18.
  • Patagonia Corporate Grant Program. Patagonia’s corporate grant program offers between $10,000 and $20,000 of funding to nonprofits with missions to protect and preserve the environment. If you meet the grant requirements, you can apply today.
  • Power Forward Small Business Grant. Black-owned small businesses located across New England are eligible for the Power Forward Small Business Grant program. Sponsored by the NAACP, Vistaprint and the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation, eligible businesses with a maximum of 25 employees will be awarded grants of $25,000 on a rolling basis.
  • SoGal Black Founder Startup Grant. This grant gives Black women or non-binary entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive up to $10,000 in a cash grant. SoGal has partnered with several sponsors to create this grant in order to promote and support Black women and those identifying as non-binary having equal opportunities to capital for their small businesses. To apply, you should have a legally-registered business, self-identify as a Black woman or nonbinary entrepreneur, and plan to seek financing now or in the future. This deadline is rolling, so the sooner you apply, the better!
  • StartOut Scholarship Program. StartOut offers scholarship opportunities to LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who wish to participate in their Founder Program and become a Giving Member. The initiative provides a 12-month membership for those LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who have been underrepresented, underserved and underestimated within their community.
  • Swiftarc Beauty Fund. Swiftarc Ventures, a Venture Capital firm, announced this week that they will be funding a $10 million beauty fund aimed at female-led beauty and wellness start ups. This fund is backed by influencial women in the beauty and investment industries and will reward the winner not only with grant money, but peer-to-peer networking opportunities and mentorship. While Swiftarc Ventures hasn't yet released a deadline for applying, this opportunity should be on your radar!

Additional resources

The programs listed above are a good start when it comes to grants and funding. You may find additional resources available by following the links below.

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Published September 20, 2021