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Small business grants: 40+ grants and resources to fund your future without debt

Small business owners face many challenges, including securing the funding needed to start their business. Nevertheless, there are resources available to help overcome this problem. Small business grants provide funding for operations without the burden of monthly loan payments and interest rates.

In this guide, we'll cover ways to get a small business grant. Keep reading for a comprehensive overview of small business grants, or use the links below to go directly to a specific topic.

Grants are a great way to turn your business idea into a reality or to get financial assistance to grow. Taking the time and effort to apply for small business grants while also trying to run your company can be challenging. However, you can more easily secure funding for your business by taking a strategic approach and doing your research.

What is a small business grant?

A small business grant is money that’s given to you to help fund your business. Grants are available from a variety of sources, including the federal government, educational institutions, nonprofits, corporations, and other organizations.

Many grants are designed to help entrepreneurs further their business initiatives. Simply put, grants raise capital for your business without you needing to take out small business loans, rack up credit card debt, or give up ownership. Business grants are beneficial because money awarded doesn’t need to be paid back.

Wait…that sounds like free money.

That’s a common assumption, but it’s hardly the case. Most grant programs have a fairly rigorous application process. This often requires a well-crafted business plan, detailed reporting or financial statements, and a business idea rooted in serving the greater good.

Organizations that provide grants are typically interested in supporting businesses that share their goals. For instance, an ocean advocacy organization might offer grants to companies that specialize in products that reduce plastic pollution.

The funding prerequisites or motivations vary depending on the type of grant. While there usually isn’t a repayment requirement, there are expectations, such as transparency and reporting, that help hold grant recipients accountable.

What is the difference between a small business grant and a small business loan?

With small business loans, you are expected to pay the money back to the lender. Small business grants don't need to be paid back. Another major difference between grants and loans is that grant money is typically restricted to certain uses. When you apply for grants, look for guidelines that tell you how you can use the grant money.

Small business grants by category

The different types of grants available for small businesses are nearly endless. It's important to learn more about the grants before applying, because not every grant is going to be applicable to your small business. Many grants target specific initiatives such as scientific research, technical assistance, or economic development in rural areas—meaning eligibility is limited.

To help you get started, here are some of the most common types of grants and examples of potential grants you can apply for.

Federal small business grants and startup grants

The United States government rarely conducts research or creates new technologies on its own. That’s why—when a political platform promises dedication to something like environmental sustainability or curing diseases—government agencies award grants to small businesses already striving to meet these goals. The same is true for growth grants meant to fuel innovation through startup businesses.

Federal grants typically fall into one of four main categories:

  1. Research and development grants
  2. Exporting grants for selling internationally
  3. Nonprofit or local government work grants
  4. Other agency-specific federal grants

1. Research and development grants

Many government goals require research and development. From health care to the environment, the government needs private businesses and organizations to conduct research and develop products, services, and programs to address problems.

Take a look at some of the programs below to see how the government works with small businesses to efficiently research problems and develop responsive solutions.

  • Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR): The SBIR program awards grants to U.S.-based small businesses federal research or research and development (R&D) that can be commercialized, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
  • Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR): The STTR program has the same mission as SBIR: to fund research and development projects that meet federal needs. Collaboration with a research institution is a necessary component of the program, according to the SBA.
  • America’s Seed Fund: Through America’s Seed Fund, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides grants of up to $2 million to startups and small businesses doing innovative technology work. 

2. Exporting grants for selling internationally

The federal government is interested in increasing exports, so it provides grants to decrease barriers for small businesses. In fact, the federal government manages a specific program that increases the export capacity of U.S.-based small businesses.

3. Nonprofit or local government work grants

Because nonprofits are issue-driven, their goals often align with federal government goals. However, many nonprofits have small budgets and less ability to raise money from outside investors and banks.

That’s why the federal government funds many nonprofits on either a one-time or renewal basis through various grant programs. Here are a few of many examples.

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants: Both for-profit and not-for-profit research institutions receive grants to research health issues that are critical to the U.S. and world. Types of NIH grants include research grants, career development awards, research training and fellowships, program project or center grants, resource grants, and trans-NIH programs.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants: The EPA awards more than $4 billion annually to fund environmental projects. These grants are typically awarded to nonprofit organizations and state governments.
  • Department of the Interior (DOI) grants: DOI oversees domestic lands, water, wildlife, and energy through scientific study and projects. The DOI manages an extensive grant program that helps fund nonprofit work in these areas.

4. Other agency-specific federal grants

The federal government offers a wide array of small business grants that can apply to a variety of industries. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), for instance, have their own federal small business grants. Some examples of agency-specific federal grants include:

State and local government grants

State and local governments across the country issue grants to address needs specific to their geographic area. For example, the city of Los Angeles’ environmental grants focus on water usage and clean air, while the state of Kansas favors soil preservation.

Two common trends show up in state and local government small business grants. First, state and local governments use grant money to attract new businesses and create jobs. Second, they fund projects that meet a specific local need.

Of course, there’s a huge variety of state and local grants—far more than we could possibly list here. But we’ve pulled together some examples so you can get a feel for the different types of grants that are out there.

Grants for women and veterans

Women own only 37.6% of the 32.9 million U.S. businesses, according to the most recent Census Bureau data, even though women make up about half of the United States population. This could partly be due to gaps in ownership funding opportunities for women—a problem that affects racial minorities as well. Both private and government organizations are trying to fix this imbalance through small business grants. There's also grant support for veterans, who own 1.6 million businesses and comprise 4.8% of business ownership.

  • Amber Grants for Women: WomensNet’s Amber Grant program started in 1998 and awards a $10,000 grant to three women-owned businesses each month. WomensNet offers other monthly and year-end grant programs alongside the Amber Grant.
  • Women Business Centers: The SBA sponsors about 100 Women Business Centers across the country. These centers can help women-owned businesses find funding through both federal and private grants.
  • Second Service Foundation's Military Entrepreneur Challenge: This grant program, backed by organizations including the SBA, turns the grant process into a live event.

Demographic-focused grants

More than 11 million business owners identify as members of a minority community, constituting 33.7% of total U.S. business ownership, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. Native American-owned businesses comprise only 1% of total business ownership, according to the SBA, while Black Americans own 10.6% of businesses.

Demographic-focused grants are available for businesses owned by certain minority groups and entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities.

Corporate and nonprofit grants

Grant programs for small businesses don’t end with federal and state governments.

Large corporate enterprises also benefit from the creation of small businesses. Because small businesses create more jobs, they play a key role in stimulating the economy. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats—which means big companies are often willing to grant money to develop the small business world.

Similar to government grants, corporate grants are awarded to businesses that meet a defined set of goals or standards.

Private grants

Private grants are those offered by a private organization or individual. These types of grants usually have fewer restrictions because the funds are awarded by a private entity.

  • Ford Foundation: This foundation has a variety of grant opportunities for organizations that drive social justice and equality.
  • J.M. Kaplan Fund: This private grant program supports entrepreneurs dedicated to solving urgent social and environmental challenges.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation: This foundation provides a variety of grants to support initiatives that help vulnerable communities. 
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: This foundation provides grants to organizations focused on improving health equity and health care for Americans.
  • The Heinz Endowments: This foundation provides grants for organizations focused on sustainability, arts, and more.

How to apply for a small business grant

Competition for grants is often very high. It’s important to spend your time wisely by only applying for grants that are a good fit. This approach can help you use your time most efficiently and hopefully secure funding sooner.

Keep in mind that applying for business grants requires a lot of research and patience. Coming up with a plan can help you streamline the process. Follow these steps to start the grant application process:

  1. Find grant options to apply for.
  2. Carefully review the criteria and application guidelines.
  3. Complete the necessary forms and make sure to include any required documentation regarding your business activities. You may need to provide your business plan, financials, and other information that provides insight into your operations.
  4. Submit your application by the stated deadline.
  5. Continue applying for other grants in the meantime and repeat the process.

Note that you may be required to provide additional information if requested by the organization. Software like QuickBooks Online can help you generate financial statements and reports to be shared with grant providers, if requested. Qualifying for a grant isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort to pursue these opportunities.

10 small business grant resources to guide you

If you want more grant-related advice, programs, and mentorship for small business owners, here are 10 more resources to check out:

  1. makes it easier for applicants to find available federal grants and interact digitally with federal grant-awarding agencies.
  2. U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The Chamber of Commerce keeps a regularly updated list of grants that stretches beyond those available on 
  3. SBA funding resources: The SBA provides startups and small businesses with resources about acquiring necessary funds, including grants.
  4. State Business Incentives Database: An interactive U.S. map detailing incentive programs like grants, loans, tax exemptions and credits, and preferential rates by state.
  5. SCORE: The SBA-backed organization supports small businesses with resources and mentorship, which can be key when seeking funds.
  6. Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): These local assistance programs promote entrepreneurship and small business growth, in connection with the SBA.
  7. Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC): In partnership with the SBA, Women's Business Centers offer training, mentoring, business development, and financing to women entrepreneurs.
  8. Boots to Business (B2B): A five-year business training program backed by the SBA for active-duty service members, veterans, and their spouses. 
  9. Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC): These SBA-backed centers support entrepreneurial veterans and their families with education, planning, and mentorship.
  10. Hello Alice: Hello Alice is a resource center for Black business owners that highlights new funding opportunities, in partnership with the NAACP.

You can also check with your local librarian, your city’s economic development site, or your state’s economic development or secretary of state site. 

Keep in mind that grants often have very strict eligibility requirements and deadlines. Do your due diligence and make sure to follow the rules so you have a realistic chance of being considered for the grant opportunity.

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Small Business Grants FAQ

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