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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.

  • Companies Crushing Pollution Video Challenge. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting a challenge to promote pollution prevention and celebrate companies committed to supporting reduction practices. EPA will grant $5,000 to a company who uses the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program to identify facilities engaging in pollution reduction and illustrates their efforts in a video contest. More details about the challenge and instructions to follow can be found on their website.
  • 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.
  • NIDILRR's SBIR program. The SBIR program aims to support organizations to help advance technology, research, and support the social/economic benefits for the nation. The SBIR will be backing the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) through the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to provide 10 grants that support the improvement of the lives of those with disabilities. The total grant funding is estimated to be $1 million, and an outline of the available grants under this program can be found at the ACL website.
  • Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grants. In order to create high-wage rural jobs, support the launch of new businesses in the industry, and help out in low-income areas, the US Department of Agriculture has launched the Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant program. Grants begin at $500,000 and go up to $2 million for projects that support rural economies, as explained on their site.
  • 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:

  • 500 Global Flagship Accelerator Program. Startups and small businesses seeking funding can do so on a rolling, year-round basis with the 500 Global Flagship Accelerator program. Since 2010, this program has offered businesses the opportunity for a four-month accelerator program based in San Francisco in addition to a $150,000 investment. Rules for applying can be found on the company's website.
  • 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.
  • Business Warrior Small Business Loans. The company Business Warrior understands that it can be difficult to get loan approval through a traditional banking method. To help small businesses get access to capital, Business Warrior is giving $5 million to small business owners. They will provide between $5,000 and $50,000 loans without the high rates cash advance companies normally charge.
  • 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.
  • Grants for Growth. Visa and Uber Eats have partnered to present Grants for Growth, a grant program that aims to support small businesses affected by COVID-19, hurricanes, natural disasters or other unexpected events. The grant making program will provide up to $1 million in grant money, spreading 100 of the $10,000 grants through key large markets outlined on their website. There are several eligibility rules, such as the fact that applicants must have been active partners of Uber Eats as of January 2021 and restaurants or food entrepreneurs applying have fewer than five locations. Read the guidelines carefully and apply before the deadline of January 24.
  • 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.

  • Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator Program. If you're a seller in Amazon's store, you may be eligible for the Black Business Accelerator Program. Created to support Black entrepreneurs, the program offers financial support, mentorship, business advice, and promotional support. Eligible sellers will have access to free imaging services, cash grant opportunities, advertising credits and money toward start-up costs. You can learn more about this opportunity at their website.
  • 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.
  • American Farmland Trust Brighter Future Fund. American Farmland Trust is now accepting for its Brighter Future Fund, which was launched in 2020 to assist farmers in launching, growing, and sustaining farms. This year, they plan to provide resources to farmers who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+). Grants will be up to $5,000 per project and awarded on an ongoing basis to elligible applicants. Please note that applications from the East and Central regions have been closed. The grant program is still accepting applications from farmers in the South and West regions.
  • 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.
  • Doordash Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund. This year has brought many unfortunate disasters across the United States, including fires, floods, hurricanes and more. According to Doordash, the average small business loses $3,000 every day that they remain closed after a natural disaster. To help businesses access quick capital they need, Doordash launched a grant program in partnership with Hello Alice to provide businesses affected by natural disasters with $10,000. Applications are open now and close at the end of January 2022.
  • Do You Fellowship Program. In 2020, digitalundivided invested in over 1,500 Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs in response to economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the company continues to show its support by offering the Do You Fellowship Program! This exclusive grant program will award 10 Black and Latinx women innovators with a $5,000 investment in their business and various mentorship opportunities. Though applications aren't open quite yet, digitalundivided recommends adding your name to their email list to be the first to find out when grants open this 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.
  • 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.
  • Grow by Invoice2go. Grow by Invoice2go will be giving away $200,000 in grant money to small business owners from minority communities. Each recipient will receive up to $15,000, have the opportunity to join the Invoice2go business community and gain access to exclusive workshops. Eligibility requirements and application specifics can be found on their website.
  • Halstead Jewelry Grant. The Halstead Grant is officially open again for applications for the 2022 grant competition. This grant was created in 2006 for aspiring jewelry creators to have easier access to funding for their small businesses. The grand prize consists of $7,500 in start-up capital and $1,000 in merchandise. Check the website for eligibility requirements. Applicants have a large window (until August 2022) to apply!
  • 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.
  • Merchant Maverick Opportunity Grant Program. Over the last two years, restaurants and foodservice businesses have been some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help mitigate losses and increasing costs, Merchant Maverick will be giving $10K to 10 different AAPI-owned restaurants. Any American citizen who is also a member of the AAPI community and who owns either a restaurant, food cart, kiosk, grocery store or other foodservice business (outlined in their eligibility requirements) can apply for this grant. But submit as soon as you can! Merchant Maverick is only accepting the first 5,000 applications submitted.
  • 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.
  • NGLCC XLR8 Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® (LGBTBE) Capacity Development Program. The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) has opened applications for the first cohort of the XLR8 program for LGBT entrepreneurs backed by its founding partner, Wells Fargo. The XLR8 program will provide funding, training, and extensive background knowledge to LGBT-owned businesses by using Wells Fargo resources. XLR8 functions by cohort depending on the income of your business, and the first cohort applications are open until February 1.
  • 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.
  • Rural eConnectivity Program. In an effort to help rural communities recover from the impact of COVID-19, the Rural Utilities Service, a Rural Development agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has opened the Rural eConnectivity Program. The program will offer different levels of funding to projects that contribute toward helping communities affected by COVID-19 and advance equitable access to rural development programs. Applications can be submitted at their webpage.
  • 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!
  • USHCC & Grubhub Restaurant Small Business Grant Program. The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Education Fund has partnered with Grubhub to create a small business grant program benefitting Hispanic-owned restaurants throughout the country. Grants of $5,000-$10,000 will be based on financial need, and applicants must own restaurants that are majority Hispanic-owned businesses with less than 20 full-time employees, among other eligibility requirements. This grant application will close on January 26.

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 January 17, 2022