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.
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.
- 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.
- NIA Research and Entrepreneurial Development Immersion (REDI): Entrepreneurial Small Business Transition Award: Research and Entrepreneurial Development Immersion (REDI) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant applications are now open for those qualified. This funding opportunity aims to support early-career scientists who have an interest in entrepreneurship to make an easier transition into the industry. Those who have “strong research skills and experience in technology discovery” in addition to an interest in growing their entrepreneurial skillsets are highly encouraged to apply. Applications will be open until February 17, 2023.
- 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.
Service Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (SDVTEP): The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced a funding opportunity to support service-disabled veterans interested in becoming entrepreneurs after service. The SDVTEP will provide both training and an award of a minimum of $50,000 and a maximum of $150,000. Those eligible must submit an application no later than 11:59 pm. ET on August 18.
- 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.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Modernization Technical Assistance Center (SEMTAC): The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeks to increase the number of businesses eligible to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits with this new grant of $5 million. To be eligible to accept SNAP benefits, businesses typically must meet the technological requirements of SNAP, including specific online shopping technology and other systems. For some businesses, the labor and price required to install these systems are too high. This grant will help close this gap and allow more businesses to participate in SNAP. Applications are being accepted until September 6.
- 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.
- Amazon Products For Tomorrow Program: Amazon opened its first-ever Products For Tomorrow program this summer, inviting applicants to submit innovative product ideas that also promote sustainability. Five selected businesses will receive a $20,000 grant, access to the Amazon Launchpad program, product placement opportunities within Amazon storefronts, and access to guidance and assistance with sustainability certifications. Those interested have until August 18 to apply.
- 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.
- Fresh Start Business Grant: If you’re a new business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur looking for capital to grow or launch your business, the Fresh Start Business Grant was made for you. Incfile, a company that helps form businesses, wants to support those looking to start new ventures. Recipients of the grant will receive $2,500 in addition to Incfile’s free gold plan. The first deadline of June 30th has passed, but two other deadlines of September 30 and December 31 are still open.
- 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.
- 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.
- Venmo Small Business Grant: The Venmo Small Business Grant will reward 20 new and existing Venmo Business Profile customers with $10,000 to use for expenses like rent or for digital marketing opportunities. In addition to the cash grant, PayPal Holdings Inc. will also offer recipients access to technical expertise and mentorship. To apply, set up a Venmo Business Profile and complete the application before August 11.
- 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.
- 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.
- EnrichHER Grant: Does your small business need new equipment, a new marketing campaign, or product expansion? The EnrichHER small business grant will help your business get the funding you need. This program gives eligible entrepreneurs — especially women and people of color — and businesses $5,000 to help with smaller expenses. There is a $37 application fee, and this application round is rolling.
- The Entrepreneurial Spirit Award by SIA Scotch: SIA was founded by Carin Luna-Ostaseki, one of the first Hispanic entrepreneurs to create a scotch whiskey brand. Part of SIA’s brand is to support other small business owners of color and provide them with equal opportunities in the food and beverage industry. The Entrepreneurial Spirit Award will provide 11 small business owners of color with $10,000 plus mentorship from Luna-Ostaseki herself. There are several specific eligibility requirements outlined on the grant page that applicants should review before applying. Applications close on September 26.
- 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.
- The HEY Global Climate Fund: Are you a young entrepreneur or do you know one who’s interested in stopping climate change? The HEY Global Climate Fund was created to support young climate activists take steps toward implementing change and increasing young entrepreneurship in the climate activism space. Selected projects will receive $5,000 grants. Participants must be between 13 and 27 years of age. Applications are due by September 2.
- 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.
- Jack Daniel’s New Beginnings: Make It Count. Throughout the month of August, Jack Daniel’s is accepting applications for Black small business grant competition called New Beginnings: Make It Count. This is the third cycle of the competition, which offers $40,000 in grants to Black-owned businesses in the Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Richmond, Virginia areas. Interested entrepreneurs can learn more and apply on Jack Daniel’s website by August 31, 2022.
- Live Your Dream Education and Training Awards: The Live Your Dream Awards is a fund created for women who act as the primary source of income for their families. The Soroptimist International of the Americas (Liveyourdream.org’s sponsoring organization) aims to support these women by providing them with grants for furthering their education or training. Applicants are eligible for awards starting at $1,000 up to $10,000. Head over to the grant page to read more about the eligibility requirements and apply before November 15.
- The Lyfebulb-Veloxis Innovation Challenge: The Lyfebulb-Veloxis Innovation Challenge was created by Lyfebulb, a patient-empowerment platform, and Veloxis, a specialty pharmaceutical company, to find solutions to improve lived experience and outcomes for patients affected by transplants. Solutions can include anything from improvements to a patient’s quality of life to new patient monitoring technology. Finalists will be invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges during a two-day summit. The top prize is a $25,000 monetary grant, and smaller grants will be given to runners-up. Those interested must apply by August 21.
- 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.
- National Geographic Explorer: Those who would like to dedicate their time to exploring new horizons should consider applying for the National Geographic Explorer grant. Level 1 funding for this grant was created to help those new to the field get established and join the renowned National Geographic Explorer Community. Recipients receive up to $20,000 in funding and will have opportunities for training, networking, receiving mentorship and coaching, and more. Grant proposal submissions are due October 12.
- 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.
- RTC Women in Tech Fund: Rewriting The Code (RTC) works to support college and early career women in tech by providing them with opportunities to help disrupt gender and racial inequality in the industry. The RTC Women in Tech Fund provides financial resources to women enrolled in undergraduate tech programs to help cover costs that may be an obstacle to education. There are three different grants available depending on each applicant’s specific financial needs. All applications are accepted 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 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!
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.
- Funding options for minority-owned businesses, including multiple grants, funding sources and low-cost loans that are intended to help minority-owned businesses grow.
- Funding options for women-owned businesses, including ten programs, agencies and organizations that are helping women entrepreneurs be better represented in the ranks of American business owners.
- SBA Small Business Development Centers, which can help companies of all kinds locate additional funding opportunities at the national and local level.
- SCORE, which can assign a volunteer business mentor who can provide guidance on numerous topics, including funding and operations.
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