There are a number of sources you can explore when you're raising capital for your small business. You can apply for a loan, pitch an investor, or leverage your own assets, to name a few ways. Another option is applying for a small business grant.
The biggest benefit of using grant money to fund your small business is that it doesn't have to be paid back, but the challenge is finding these grants. In general, federal governments do not provide grants for starting a business, paying off debt, or covering operational expenses. And unless your business is a non-profit or launching a project related to areas such as science, medical research or education, government grants can be very hard to find. Plus, you should also be aware that if you fit into one of those categories and do find and win a grant, you may be restricted in how you can use the funds in your business (i.e., some require that you hire staff or make a specific technology purchase with your award).
Having said that, small business grants are available. The list below includes databases of government grants (if your business is a non-profit or fits into one of the categories specified above), as well as smaller non-government grants that, combined with other funding sources, may help you get the capital you need for your small business.
1. Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA)
The CFDA is a government database that lists all of the federal programs available to organizations and individuals. You are likely to find many grants that you are not eligible for, but it's a good place to start your search.
Grants.gov is the official site of the U.S. government that includes a searchable database, online applications and a tracking system to see how your application is being processed. You can use the site to search all 26 federal grant-making agencies for grants by keywords or more specific criteria.
3. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
SBIR is a federal program, coordinated by the SBA that awards grants and contracts to small businesses engaged in research and development (R&D). The grants fund the R&D necessary to develop innovative technological products that can be brought to market.
4. Your Local GovernmentTake some time to look at your local government websites for your city, county and state to see if they are offering any grants or other financial assistance programs for small businesses. This Economic Development Directory is a good place to start.
5. Small Business-Specific Grant Opportunities
- Amber Grant - The Amber Foundation Grants began in 1998 to help women who are trying to start small businesses, home-based or online. The grants are small, usually $500 to $1000, and are intended to be used to upgrade equipment, pay for a website, etc. - the small but essential expenses that can often make the difference between getting started or being forever stalled.
- Business Owners's IdeaCafe Small Business Grant - The business with the most innovative business idea will receive a $1,000.00 grant, plus $500 in advertising credits.
- Intuit Love Our Local Business - Intuit's Love Our Local Business grant competition has given more than $1.1 million to winning small businesses. Businesses are nominated and voted for by customers, employees, and vendors and the winners have received $25,000 in past competitions.
Although the award amounts may vary and most grant opportunities require a significant effort to win, there are grants available for small businesses. The trick is doing your research and digging deep enough to find them.