A lack of financing is one of the greatest obstacles to starting or expanding a small business. Even when presented with a clear vision and a solid business plan, financial institutions are often reluctant to lend to small businesses because they lack a track record. By virtue of their lower credit scores and business age on average, women-owned businesses face even bigger barriers to financing than men: They're approved for funding at a lower rate and smaller amount, according to a 2019 Biz2Credit survey. The average funding amount for women-owned businesses in 2019 was $40,513 compared to $69,596 for non-women-owned businesses—a difference of 41%.
Fortunately, there are many organizations that offer women-owned businesses grants, which represent free money you don't have to repay. Learn how to write effective grant applications and identify sources of small business grants to boost your odds of getting one for your women-owned business.
In 2019, women-owned businesses had an average credit score of 590, which was 23 points lower than that of non-women-owned businesses. Lackluster credit can be an obstacle when getting loans but not grants, which don't have to be repaid.
Tips for Writing Small Business Grant Applications
As a result of the high demand for many small business grants, the competition is fierce, and the application process is often onerous and time-consuming. Applying for a grant for a women-owned business is normally a one-shot process and requires more than just a great business idea. To have the best chance of success, a grant application must:
- Follow the instructions: Carefully read the grant application requirements to ensure that you provide mandatory and optional information in the recommended format and via the recommended submission route. Information requirements range from informal forms with a brief description of your business plans to full-fledged grant proposals that must have specific sections, such as the goal, need statement, impact statement, and budget.
- Bolster your case with supporting information: Grant applications may ask for certain information to support the information in your application, such as financial statements. Other types of information, such as video profiles of the business owner or photos of business products, may be optional, but it's a good idea to submit them to strengthen your application and set yourself apart from the competition.
- Be tailored: A one-size-fits-all approach typically doesn't cut it when writing a small business grant because of the unique goals and application requirements of each grant. For example, even if two grants ask for a video introducing your business, record two different videos, each including talking points that are relevant to the specific grant and that demonstrate that you have done your research on the grant-making organization.
- Clearly articulate your vision: Beyond simply including the required elements in a grant application, ensure that your application clearly communicates your business vision and track record with examples, how you plan to use the money, and how your business profile and need for the money align with the goals of the grant program. This step will help you demonstrate that your business aligns with the specific mission the grant aims to advance, which is a key criterion for moving forward in the selection process.
- Be professionally developed, organized, and presented: If writing isn't your forte, request assistance from someone who has excellent writing skills, preferably with prior experience in writing grant applications. If you've already written a draft of the application, have a professional editor look over it. Likewise, if images, logos, or video clips are required, have them professionally produced if you can afford it.
Once you've mastered the art of writing grant applications, investigate different types of loans that are geared toward women-owned businesses. Determine whether the requirements and award amounts for each grant are suitable before you apply.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
The Cartier Women's Initiative is an international entrepreneurship program jointly run by the luxury jeweler Cartier and INSEAD Business School. It provides funding and business mentoring to women-owned businesses via an awards program consisting of two small business grants.
Regional Awards for Women-Owned Businesses
To help seed companies that make a substantial social and economic impact, the Carter Women's Initiatives grants Regional Awards to 21 fellows representing the top three businesses from seven regions: East Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, North America, South Asia and Oceania, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Fellows receive a combination of social capital support such as media exposure, human capital support including mentoring and peer learning, and financial support. Seven winners take home a $100,000 small business grant, and 14 finalists receive $30,000.
To qualify, an applicant must:
- Be 18 or older and English-proficient
- Be engaged in a for-profit business that has been producing revenue for at least one year but has fundraised no more than $2 million
- Have a woman as the founder and in the main leadership role
- Be in the early stage of development (one to five years old)
- Meet at least one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
To apply, submit out an application form via the awards website linked above and provide required supporting information such as a resume, business registration, a pitch deck, as well as optional information such as brochures.
Science & Technology Pioneer Award
The Science & Technology Pioneer Award is given to three women-owned businesses that focus on developing disruptive technological and scientific solutions.
All three fellows receive a combination of social, human, and financial capital, the latter of which is a $100,000 grant for the top business and $30,000 grant for each of the two finalists.
Eligibility criteria include similar requirements as for the Regional Awards, except there is no revenue or fundraising rule, and the business must be based on the development of new technology, a complex engineering process, or a scientific discovery.
Apply for the small business grant using the same application process used for the Regional Awards.
The Eileen Fisher Supporting Women in Environmental Justice Grant
The clothing company Eileen Fisher offers the Supporting Women in Environmental Justice Grant to businesses that promote the cause of women and the planet.
Every year, $200,000 is doled out in grants; awards range from $10,000 to $40,000.
Businesses must have a demonstrable positive impact on women and the environment, train women and girls in climate advocacy, or involve women in the sustainable economy. In addition, qualifying applicants must:
- Be a nonprofit or have a fiscal sponsor that is a nonprofit
- Provide services directly to beneficiaries without an intermediary and have programs designed or co-designed by the communities they serve.
- Have a mission focusing mainly on women, as well as executive leadership demographics that reflect their beneficiaries
- Have one year's worth of financial statements
To apply, applicants must fill out an application and participate in an interview.
The Amber Grant for Women-Owned Businesses
As a tribute to the late Amber Wigdahl, who never saw her business dreams come to fruition, the Amber Grant Foundation issues Amber Grants to women-owned businesses monthly and annually.
The monthly award is $10,000, and a $25,000 grant is extended at the end of the year.
Businesses must be based in the U.S. or Canada and have women representing at least 50% of ownership. Application requirements are simple: Submit an online application with information about your business and what you would do with a grant, and then pay a $15 application fee.
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
Of course, women-owned businesses aren't limited to applying for grants designed exclusively for women. FedEx runs an annual grant contest that awards free money to help any small business grow.
One grand-prize winner is awarded $50,000, plus $7,500 in FedEx Office services. The silver-prize winner receives a $30,000 small business grant and $5,000 in FedEx services. Finally, 10 bronze winners receive $15,000 and $1,000 in FedEx services.
To qualify, applicants must:
- Be a U.S.-based, for-profit business
- Have between one and 99 employees
- Have been in operation for at least six months
To enter, you must provide:
- Your business's contact information
- A short business profile
- At least four business or product photos, including a business logo
- An optional 90-second "elevator pitch" video
Small Business Innovation Research Grant Program (SBIR)
The government's highly competitive SBIR program provides federal grants through 11 agencies (NASA, NIH, and NSF, for example) to qualifying small businesses, be they women- or male-led, engaged in research and development (R&D) leading to commercialization.
If you believe you have a leading-edge business idea that is marketable, your small business may be eligible for a grant of between $50,000 to $250,000 over a six-month period to help with the initial phase of development. If the goals of the initial phase are met, you may be eligible to receive anywhere from $750,000 to $1.7 million in additional funding over the following two years to further establish the scientific, technical, and commercial potential of the project.
- Be for-profit businesses
- Based in the U.S.
- Be more than 50% owned by U.S. citizens or permanent residents
- Have no more than 500 employees
Each agency designates particular topics of R&D interest, and small businesses are invited to submit proposals and compete for funding according to agency guidelines.
Find a variety of grants from the federal government through Grants.gov. To narrow the search results, enter "small business grants" as a search criterion. Each grant has specific eligibility requirements. Register an account to apply for grants online.
Small Business Technology Transfer Grant Program (STTR)
STTR has a similar mission to SBIR but is only available through five federal agencies (including NASA, NIH, and NSF) and prioritizes funding for businesses focusing on the transfer of technology from institutions to small businesses and the marketplace.
Grant amounts and eligibility and application requirements are generally the same as those of SBIR, but the small business must also partner with a research institution. The partnering institution must be a U.S.-based nonprofit college or university, domestic nonprofit research organization, or federally funded R&D center. The business must perform at least 40% of the R&D, and the research institution must take on at least 30% of the effort; however, the principal investigator at the business can be primarily employed by the nonprofit.