Women owned businesses are booming in the United States, and there has never been a better time for a woman to start their own business. As of 2017, 11.6 million companies were owned by women, and employed nearly 9 million people. Altogether, women-owned businesses generated $1.7 trillion in sales. Women own 39% of all companies in America.
And there are so many opportunities for women right now, as evidenced by all of the grants available for woman-owned businesses. They are available from the government (state and federal), non-profits, and even private companies. So the question is not “can I actually start a business?” but “how do I apply for a small business grant for women?”
There are three basic steps to apply for a small business grant for women: do your research, do your prep work, and apply.
What Grants Are Available For Small Businesses Owned by Women?
Depending on whether you’re starting a new business or growing an existing business, you’ll want to look in different places. If you’re starting a new business, many government and private companies offer grants anywhere from $100 to $4,000 or more. If you’re growing an existing business, and have been in business for 3-5 years, the federal government offers grants up to $5,000.
Government Grants for Women-Owned Businesses
Although the government has more than 900 federal grant programs, they don’t have one specifically for small businesses owned by women. There are many opportunities for grants for non-profit enterprises owned by women, however.
Either way, you need to make Grants.gov your friend as you begin this search. This database will help you find grants according to your business and industry type, searching through their massive lists of available grants.
You’ll also want to look into state-supported grants, by contacting the Women’s Business Center for your state. This organization is managed by the Small Business Administration and may have information specific to your state.
Some of the best opportunities for grants for women are in the non-profit sector, especially for a business that has been operating in the community and supporting women’s needs for 3-5 years. There are also many grants to be found if you’re starting a technology-based business, through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Finally, if you’re a minority, the Minority Business Development Agency, part of the Department of Commerce, has information about both grants and loans available to you.
Most states have business programs that offer grants, available through that state’s website. States grants are often targeted toward specific industries, or causes. If your company is promoting an ecologically-friendly service, for example, there may be additional grants that you can find.
Many states also have a Minority and Women-Owned Business Lending Program, which, while not grants, offer many opportunities that are not available to the public at large, especially for those who have been unable to secure funding through traditional means.
Private Grants for Small Businesses Owned By Women
A good place to get a start is the Small Business Administration Office of Women’s Business Ownership. While the Small Business Administration does not itself offer grants to women, it has many resources available for women seeking to open businesses, especially connecting them with the InnovateHER Business Challenge, a grant competition for women business owners.
The Women’s Funding Network has more than 100 funds. They’re not all for starting businesses, but the funds and foundations have collectively raised $400 million since its inception, all in support of womens’ causes.
Another excellent resource is the Woman-Owned Grant Database and Membership. This site gives you access to thousands of grants from businesses and state growth programs. There is a membership fee, but the information and opportunities make it worth it.
Corporate and Private Organizations
Individual corporations offer grants through their own websites. A good example is the Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program, started by fashion designer Eileen Fisher. The company awards up to $10,000 per woman, with an annual total of $100,000.
The Amber Grant was launched by Womensnet.com in 1998 to honor a young woman (Amber) who died before she was able to reach her entrepreneurial dreams. The grant gives out $2000 each month, and an additional once-a-year grant of $25,000.
The Girlboss brand offers a $15,000 grant and exposure on the Girlboss website, exclusively for women who start businesses in design, fashion, music, or art.
There are literally thousands of grants like these that you can find by doing research, especially through the databases mentioned above.
Preparing Your Application
Every grant application is going to be different, and just like a resume, you want to make sure that you build your application around the grant’s requirements–don’t just send out the same generic application to everyone. But generally, these are the things you’ll need:
Your business plan is more than just a description of your business, or a demonstration of your product. When you make a business plan you want to sell the grant foundations on your idea, almost as though you’re trying to get them to invest in it–because that’s what they’re doing! They’re investing in you.
You want the plan to include a description of what you’re offering–products and services–and how your business is different than what is already on the market. You want to show what makes you unique and why someone would pick you over your competitor. You also want to show how you will manage your company: how will you find customers? How will you produce your product? How will you find employees? What is your plan for growth?
A business plan should also include a budget, including an estimated Profit-and-Loss document. And every business plan needs a marketing plan.
But remember that you need to cater to the needs of each application. If one foundation wants to know how you’ll be environmentally-friendly, make sure you include that. If another wants to know how you’ll support other women, tell them. Be as specific as possible for each grant you apply to.
Letters of Recommendation
Not every grant requires letters of recommendation, but it can’t hurt to have them in your back pocket in case someone asks. Good people to get letters from include former employers, co-workers, and other professional partners. A professor can be good if you’re coming right out of school, and the occasional personal reference letter can be used if it relates to the application–but make sure that it does.
For example, if a certain grant is targeting women who come from underprivileged backgrounds who have overcome great hardship, then you might want a community leader or a church leader to write the letter for you. But with very few exceptions, this isn’t the kind of thing you ask your mom or friend to write.
Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) status
This is not a requirement for every grant, but if you do qualify then it definitely can’t hurt to include it in your application. To qualify for WOSB status your business must:
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by a woman or more than one woman
- Be “small” according to the Small Business Administration’s definition
- Have filled out the form SF424 (R&R) which can be found at grants.nih.gov
Apply for the Grant
Now that you have everything prepared, you can apply for the specific grants. Make sure you follow the guidelines of each grant. Be aware that some grants get so many applications that if you don’t follow their requirements to the letter, your application may get thrown out without anyone even looking at it.
Make sure that everything has been proofread and double-checked. You only get one chance at each grant.
Then mail or submit your application electronically. Good luck!
How Small Business Funding Can Help
Applying for a grant is a great option, but applying for a grant does not guarantee that you will be the select recipient. If you need a business loan or funding option and don’t want to wait for the grant process or should you get turned down for the grant, you can apply for funding by completing our online funding application.