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Raising capital is critical to the success of many companies. However, women-owned businesses face unequal challenges when it comes to securing business financing and investments. Despite the fact that women owned more than 40% of businesses in the U.S. by 2019, almost 98% of venture capital for new startups went to male founders in 2020.
Women business owners often struggle to qualify for business loans at a disproportionate rate compared with their male counterparts. Only 12% of women business owners said they received the full financing amount they sought from lenders in 2021 compared to 14% of male-owned businesses, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2021 Small Business Credit Survey. It’s also important to note that 80% of women business owners and 82% of businesses owned by men sought Covid-19 relief funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that year.
When business loans and equity financing prove difficult to come by, female entrepreneurs can consider business grants for women, too. Competition for business grants can be high, but, if you qualify, you can gain an infusion of cash for your company that you never have to repay.
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Private Small Business Grants for Women
- Amber Grant
- SoGal Startup Grant
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
- Cartier Women’s Initiative Award
- Eileen Fisher Women-owned Business Grant
- Tory Burch Foundation
- The Halstead Grant
- The Girlboss Foundation Grant
- National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grants
- Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs
- Program for Investors in Microentrepreneurs (PRIME)
1. Amber Grant
At 19 years old, Amber Wigdahl passed away before she had the chance to turn her business-related dreams into reality. In 1998, WomensNet founded the Amber Grant program in the aspiring entrepreneur’s honor.
Later, WomenNet expanded its program to include grants for:
- Different business categories
- Monthly ($10,000) and year-end grants ($25,000)
The organization awards at least $35,000 in grant money each month. The funding is available to eligible women-owned businesses whose applications stand out to the selection committee.
You can submit applications for Amber Grants online. A single application enters you for all grants that you and your business are eligible to receive. The organization reviews the applications it receives each month and announces new monthly grant winners by the 23rd of the following month.
2. SoGal Startup Grant
The SoGal Startup Grant is a program that aims to support Black women entrepreneurs. Although this demographic is the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs (at any point in recorded history), Black women founders receive less than 0.5% of venture capital funding.
Winners of the SoGal Startup Grant get a cash award of either $5,000 or $10,000 in startup funding. They also receive professional guidance to help navigate the fundraising process. This benefit aims to even the business playing field, promoting a more equitable chance for black women founders to scale their businesses.
To be eligible for a SoGal Startup Grant, you need to identify as a Black woman or nonbinary entrepreneur (multiracial individuals in these categories may also apply). Additionally, you must own a business that’s legally registered, demonstrate a plan to seek investor capital and share your business idea—an idea with the potential to scale to a billion-dollar business.
3. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
FedEx developed the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest as a way to support U.S. small businesses that were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Grant recipients receive checks for $50,000 (grand prize winner), plus additional credits (up to $7,500) to use at FedEx Office for business printing services.
Applicants need to be U.S.-based small businesses (for-profit), earn under $5 million in annual sales, and have shipped goods in the preceding 12-month period. Eligible businesses can create a FedEx account and enter the 2022 grant contest until February 28, 2022. The voting period and when FedEx announces the top 100 winners runs from March 22-31, 2022. The final winners are announced May 4, 2022.
4. Cartier Women’s Initiative Award
In 2006, Cartier Women’s Initiative founded an annual program with the goal of empowering female entrepreneurs. Businesses that are women-owned or women-led can apply for the awards, including:
- Awards across 10 regions. A total of three grants are awarded per region, totaling to 30 grant awards. Each first-place awardee receives $100,000; each second-place awardee receives $60,000; and each third-place awardee receives $30,000.
- Science & Technology Pioneer Award. The award amounts are the same as for the regional awards.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award. Cartier Women’s Initiative doesn’t yet disclose the award amounts for this grant, but the next application window will open May 16, 2022. You can sign up for a newsletter on Cartier Women’s Initiative website to get more information on this award.
You can download the application for the Cartier Women’s Initiative regional awards online. To be eligible, you’ll need to demonstrate that your business is woman-owned or woman-run, and has a mission of making a meaningful and sustainable impact on society or the environment. Applications for 2023 grants will open on May 16, 2022, and close on July 15, 2022.
Eligible grant applicants also need to:
- Own or run for-profit businesses
- Be in the early stages of development (between one to five years)
- Show that it’s been earning revenue from sales (goods or services) for at least one year
- Have raised a minimum of $2 million in funding
- Meet at least one of the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals
Founded in 2000, GrantsforWomen.org is an online platform that helps women business owners find and research a variety of grant and scholarship opportunities. The platform aims to enable women around the world to achieve their business-related goals.
The grant application process varies from one program to the next. GrantsforWomen.org can help you discover grants that might be a good fit for your business. From there, you’ll need to follow the instructions provided by those individual organizations when you’re ready to fill out an application.
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6. Eileen Fisher Women-owned Business Grant
The Eileen Fisher organization—a women’s clothing brand founded over three decades ago—awards $200,000 in grant funding each year to eligible women-owned businesses. Individual grant sizes range from $10,000 to $40,000 each.
Women entrepreneurs involved in the following areas may be considered for grant funding.
- Helping women participate in decision-making processes (especially those with positive environmental results)
- Promoting female participation in a sustainable economy
- Teaching women and girls how to adapt to climate change and/or how to influence current climate change policies for the better
Although the program is temporarily suspended, when it is active, you can access an online application. To be eligible, your business should also be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered with the IRS (or have a fiscal sponsor) and be able to prove that it provides direct services to its customers. You also need to be able to complete your application and any follow-up interviews in English.
Businesses that are aligned with specific political parties or religions are not eligible for grant funding. Neither are academic institutions, capital campaigns, event sponsorships or organizations led by individuals who do not identify as female.
7. Tory Burch Foundation
The Tory Burch Foundation is another popular fashion brand that sponsors grants for women entrepreneurs. On top of its $5,000 business education grants, the foundation also aims to promote women-owned businesses in their early stages through:
- Access to business capital
- Expert-led workshops (live and on-demand)
- Peer-to-peer network (with the chance to collaborate with other female founders)
The Women of Color Grant Program (sponsored by both The Tory Burch Foundation and the Fearless Fund) is available to women business owners of color. Eligible businesses may receive grants valued at between $10,000 and $20,000 through this program.
Each year the Tory Burch Foundation chooses 50 women entrepreneurs from its pool of applicants to become Fellows in its annual program. To be eligible for grant funding, you must be a woman who owns the largest stake (at least 51%) in her business. You can fill out and submit your application online via the foundation’s website.
8. The Halstead Grant
If you’re a maker of silver jewelry, you may be interested in applying for the Halstead Grant. Founded in 2006, the Halstead Grant gives new silver jewelry artists—women and men alike—the opportunity to apply to receive a $7,500 start-up grant plus other benefits they can use to grow their business. Semi-finalists (up to five in total) may receive smaller cash grants of $250 or $500, plus expert help with the promotion of their businesses.
You can download an application for the Halstead Grant online. The application consists of 15 business-related questions you will need to answer. Once completed, you must send in your application plus design portfolio images by an August 1 deadline to be considered for the current year’s award.
9. The Girlboss Foundation Grant
The Girlboss Foundation offers grants for creative female entrepreneurs. To be eligible for the semi-annual grant, you’ll need to have a women-owned business that operates in the arts, design, music or fashion industries.
Winners of the grant receive $15,000 in funding for their projects. They also get to take advantage of marketing-related benefits with newsletter and social media features by Girlboss.com.
Girlboss awards grants to creative women business owners twice a year—giving out $130,000 in grants since the organization began in 2014. You can learn more about how to apply on Girlboss.com.
10. National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grants
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) has been awarding Growth Grants to its members since 2006. The program awards cash grants of $4,000 to women and men small business owners. Winners can use grant funds for any of the following:
- Advertising and marketing
- Expanding facilities
- Hiring employees
- Other business expenses
Before you can apply for a NASE Growth Grant, you must first become a member of the National Association for the Self-Employed. The membership type you select determines whether you can apply right away (e.g., Annual Members, Veteran Members, Silver Members Paying Annual Fees and Gold Members) or if you need to wait 90 days before applying (e.g., Monthly Members and Silver Members Paying Monthly Fees).
The grant committee reviews applications once a quarter.
Federal Business Grants for Women
One of the first resources you may want to check out if you’re looking for business grants for women is Grants.gov. The website features a list of grants sponsored by the federal government for women and men alike. You can also use the database’s search feature to look for grants designed specifically with women business owners in mind.
First, you’ll need to sign up for a Grants.gov Workspace account. Once you do so, you and other members of your team can edit and complete individual grant applications available through the database.
Make sure you or your business are eligible for specific grant opportunities before you begin the application process. Every funding opportunity listed in the Grants.gov database contains detailed information regarding eligibility requirements.
12. Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs were established by Congress and offer billions in grant funding every year. These two grants are designed to help small businesses partner with research institutions to develop sophisticated technology products, such as new pharmaceutical drug delivery systems or environmental monitoring devices.
Although not geared specifically toward women (women make up between 7% and 22% of grantees, depending on the program), the SBIR and SBTT programs have a congressional mandate to encourage women’s participation. In order to apply for a grant, you’ll need to contact a government agency with an open funding call for projects that your business idea falls under.
13. Program for Investors in Microentrepreneurs
Congress established the Program for Investors in Microentrepreneurs (PRIME) program in 1999 to fund community-based organizations that work with and foster growth for small businesses, particularly from disadvantaged communities. In 2023, it’s expecting to disperse $8 million in funds to local organizations.
PRIME grants don’t go directly to businesses. Rather, it’s for organizations, such as small business assistance centers and tribal nations, to invest in their communities. To access this grant funding, you’d need to contact one of the organizations that received a grant, which you can find on the SBA’s website.
How to Choose the Right Business Grant for Women
There are two primary types of grants available to small business owners—government and corporate grants. On the corporate grant side, requirements tend to be easier to satisfy. But you may face more competition from other applicants as a result of the more lenient selection criteria.
The application process can sometimes be tedious with government grants. As a tradeoff, the pool of applicants may not be as deep—a factor that might improve your odds of receiving the cash award.
With either type of grant, it’s important to review all of the eligibility criteria up front. You don’t want to waste your time (or the selection committee’s time) by applying for grants that aren’t available to you. Your time would be better spent searching for grants that you are eligible to receive instead.
Other Financing Options for Women-owned Businesses
Aside from grants, there are other ways that women-owned businesses can qualify for business financing to support their goals, including:
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The ability to access funding that you don’t have to repay appeals to many business owners. This means you could face a lot of competition when you apply for business grants.
There’s nothing wrong with applying for funding in the form of business grants. But you may want to consider whether other business financing or fundraising options might help you as well—especially if you’re unable to secure enough grant funds to reach your business goals.