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

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.

  • Mission Daybreak Challenge. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes the need for more support for suicide prevention among Veterans and has developed the Mission Daybreak Challenge to help find solutions. Mission Daybreak calls on researchers, technologists, advocates, clinicians, health innovators, Veterans, service members, and others to help develop comprehensive ideas and share their expertise. Those interested in participating must submit detailed concepts by July 8. The total prize pool is $20 million. There are two phases: phase 1 will award 30 finalists with $250,000, and phase 2 will award two first-place winners with $3 million each, among other financial awards.
  • 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.
  • PHS 2022-2 Omnibus Solicitation of Small Business Innovation Research Grant Applications: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are sponsoring an opportunity for small businesses. Any qualifying small business — those with the research capability and technical expertise to contribute to the R&D missions of both the NIH and the CDC — is invited to apply for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant application related to qualified topics. Interested applicants can find a list of qualified topics in the grant announcement.
  • 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.
  • Small Business Transition Grant for Early Career Scientists: Both academia and small businesses help stimulate the US economy and produce products or services that benefit the US population. The NIH aims to support both industries while acknowledging there are often problems that arise when transitioning technology and products from academic laboratories to a small business setting. The Small Business Transition Grant for Early Career Scientists provides funding to those making this change to ensure that the best, most experienced teams are hired and the projects have enough resources to successfully launch in a small business setting. Requirements for applicants are detailed in the grant announcement. This grant will be open until August 23.
  • Trade Adjustment Assistance For Firms: In the early 2000s, the U.S. Department of Commerce sponsored the Trade Adjustment Assistance For Firms (TAAF) program to help financially assist manufacturers affected by import competition. Through this program, firms can qualify for up to $75K in federal match funding to help them financially recover from import competition and general business decline. The Economic Development Administration (EDA) funds local assistance centers that are available to help applicable businesses apply and reduce application paperwork.
  • 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.
  • Dream Big Awards: Applications are now open for the US Chamber of Commerce’s Dream Big Awards 2022. The Dream Big Awards is an annual program that recognizes the achievements of small businesses across America that have contributed to the country’s economic growth. This year, the winner will be announced at The Big Week for Small Business and receive a $25,000 cash prize. Eligibility criteria are outlined in the grant announcement and applicants have until Friday, July 8, to submit materials.
  • 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.
  • Love, Tito’s Small Business Grant Program: In celebration of its 25th anniversary, popular vodka brand Tito’s wants to give back to the small business community through Love, Tito’s Small Business Grant Program. Ten business owners will each receive a $25,000 grant to help support both their vision and growth. Applicants must have a meaningful and demonstrated connection to their communities and a compelling vision, as well as align with Tito’s values of love, grit, kindness, family, meaning, and purpose. Applications close on June 30.
  • Small Business Digital Ready Program: In partnership with Verizon, National ACE has developed a digital readiness program to help small business owners succeed in a digital world. The free online curriculum includes expert coaching, peer networking, and other resources to support your small business. Those who register for the program and take two courses are eligible for a $10,000 grant. This opportunity is rolling, and you can learn more at the program’s webpage.
  • Small Business Readiness for Resiliency Program: Small businesses often feel the effects of a natural disaster the hardest. It can be difficult when starting a business to suddenly have to raise money to repair a roof or attend to flood damage. To help offset some of these concerns and costs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and FedEx have teamed up to create the Small Business Readiness for Resiliency (R4R) Program. The program helps small businesses put plans in place to prepare for disaster and also provides immediate emergency funding when necessary. There will be more than 100 grants of $5,000 each available to be distributed between May 2022 and June 2023. Application materials can be found on the U.S. Chamber’s webpage.
  • 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.

  • Accelerate(Her) Fund: Hello Alice, in partnership with Tiger Global Impact Ventures, has announced The Accelerate(Her) Fund, created to support women entrepreneurs in the tech space. According to the grant announcement, women-owned businesses received a mere 2% of the total capital invested in venture-backed US startups. This new fund aims to give more women the opportunity to receive funding and promote a more inclusive future in tech, contributing up to $50,000. Applications closed on August 5.
  • 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.
  • Antares REACH Grant Program. The Antares REACH Grant Program began to help support small businesses prepare for their next stage of growth. Specifically, the grant program will support businesses more than 51% owned by those who identify as New Majority, which includes women, people of color, military-affiliated, persons with disabilities, or LGBTQ+ community members. Recipients of this grant will receive $20,000 and be eligible for an additional $5,000 grant upon completion of a post-grant report. Visit the Hello Alice grant page to apply before the July 15 deadline.
  • 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.
  • Capital One Business Grant. Capital One announced its Capital One Business grant program this week, which will aim to support black-owned businesses. In partnership with the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), $10,000 grants will be awarded to black-owned businesses to try and supplement any business that was lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Caress Dreams Fund: One of the founding partners of IFundWomen of Color, Caress, has launched the Caress Dreams Fund to continue to support its mission of elevating women of color founders. The fund creates two cohorts of 60 founders (30 in each) who will participate in a crowdfunding accelerator program, ultimately resulting in a $5,000 grant for each business. This will also give applicants the opportunity to pitch and the coaching and creative services necessary to support business growth and fundraising campaigns. Applications are due by July 8.
  • DoorDash’s Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund: The Spring round of DoorDash’s Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund is officially open. The fund was created in response to an increase in damage to small businesses resulting from natural disasters. According to FEMA, nearly 40% of small businesses are unable to remain open after a natural disaster occurs. DoorDash’s grant tries to combat this in its ongoing $200 million Main Street Strong effort to help restaurants rebuild their businesses. You can find eligibility requirements and the application on the Hello Alice website.
  • Etsy Emergency Relief Fund: If you’re an Etsy business owner, you may be qualified to apply for relief funding courtesy of a partnership with CERF+, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping artists prepare for and recover from emergencies and disasters. The partnership was established in 2017, and both companies continue to provide up to $2,500 in funding through the grant program. To apply, you must have been a registered Etsy business for at least one year and have been affected by a natural disaster. This grant opportunity is rolling.
  • Fearless Strivers Grant. This year, Mastercard and Fearless Fund are partnering to create the Fearless Strivers Grant, dedicated to supporting Black women-owned small businesses. According to their website, Black women-owned businesses receive less than 1% of venture capital funding, despite the fact that these businesses are large parts of economic growth. To give back to these businesses, the Fearless Strivers Grant will provide eleven small businesses with $10,000 grants, one-on-one mentorship and digital tools to help foster growth. Applications are open through the end of the year, closing on December 31, 2022.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • IFundWomen Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022: Started on National Women’s Day (March 8th) and closing in June, this is the largest grant provided by IFundWomen. This annual fund honors women and their small businesses through monetary support and business guidance. This year, the Entrepreneur of the Year will receive a $100,000 equity investment, plus access to educational resources and other cash grants. The program criteria and eligibility requirements are outlined on the IFundWomen website. Applicants are due by June 30!
  • 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.
  • OMG! Fund: One of the charms of Airbnb has always been exploring unique homes across the globe. Now, Airbnb wants to give away $10,000,000 to fund the next wave of craziest builds. The company will give 100 people with the best blueprints $100K toward building their wildest housing ideas. In the first round of applications, you simply have to describe your idea. If accepted, you’ll then have to provide a more clear vision of your home through blueprints, plans, and videos. Applications are due by July 22.
  • 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.
  • Queer to Stay Initiative. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and SHOWTIME have launched their third year of its “Queer to Stay” initiative, a program that supports and preserves small businesses that serve the LGBTQ+ community. This year, HRC and SHOWTIME have pledged to support at least 25 businesses across the country that have faced financial hardship due to COVID-19. Business owners with an LGBTQ+-serving business are invited to submit an application for funding using this form between now and August 31, 2022. Funding recipients will be notified in Fall 2022.
  • Rebuild The Block: Rebuild The Block was created with the sole purpose of supporting Black entrepreneurs. Through their grant program and donations, the company provides monetary support to Black businesses to help them connect with community members on a larger scale. Their popular grant program is open right now, but don’t wait to apply — the application form only accepts 90 applicants per three-month cycle. To apply, Black-owned businesses must detail how they’ve been affected by COVID-19 and/or looting destruction. More requirements can be found on the grant page.
  • 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 influential 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 June 28, 2022