The estimated 11.3 million women entrepreneurs in the U.S. make up 38 percent of all private businesses and 16 percent of all revenue from U.S. businesses. While these numbers show growth over the past few decades, it’s clear that in general, women still lag behind their male counterparts in the number of businesses they own and in the size of those businesses (as seen by their revenue).
One major area where women struggle in business is with financing–getting money for their business. The sad reality is that more women are turned down by banks for small business financing than men and for a variety of reasons including bias and a lack of female venture capitalists. Whatever the reason, lack of financing can keep women-owned businesses from being started or from growing as much as they otherwise might after they are started.
Grants Can Help Women Entrepreneurs Get Money for Their Business
Meeting the challenges of starting a new business or growing your existing business can leave you wondering how to get the money you need to move forward. You may consider several options, including tapping into your personal savings, taking out loans, using credit cards, borrowing from family members, or even selling personal assets.
While there are several ways to get money for a business, grants should not be overlooked. What makes grants so special is that the funds do not have to be paid back. There are many grants available to women-owned businesses that can provide funding in lieu of loans and help women accomplish their entrepreneurial goals whether banks or investors are willing to fund them or not.
A positive thing about grants for women-owned businesses is that women don’t have to compete with men for the funding, which puts them on an even playing field and makes the funding process fairer for them. It only makes sense to take advantage of these opportunities, which are meant to encourage women entrepreneurs and help them bring their ideas and plans to fruition.
Make no mistake: it isn’t easy to get grants. There is usually intense competition, and the process is cumbersome. While grants may be looked at as “free” money, those who get these awards are well aware that they have spent many hours and worked very hard to get them.
Where to Get Money With Grants for Women
Grants to women-owned businesses can come from the government, mostly on the state level, from non-profit organizations, and from established businesses, which are often women-owned, that want to encourage further business development.
State grants are usually listed on each state’s website under incentives and programs for businesses. The Minority Business Development Agency also lists state offices on its website that may have information related to grant programs for women-owned businesses.
Another way to find grants for women’s small business start ups is to simply Google search your state and women-owned business grants. Just be careful to research any findings thoroughly and stay away from grants that have large application fees, which are likely to be scams.
A List of Grants for Women Entrepreneurs
A good place to start for grants may be the Amber Grant foundation, which awards one $500 grant per month and an additional $2,500 to one of the monthly winners each year. The application for the grant is the easiest known, with just two questions: “Tell me about your business” and “If awarded the grant, what are your plans for the funds?”
InnovateHer is a yearly challenge that requires the submission of ideas for products and services that would improve the lives of women and empower them. Participants must enter a local contest first to move on to compete nationally for prizes up to $40,000 toward the business.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers $2,000 to $10,000 Community Action Grants to women-owned businesses that contribute to the organization’s goal of encouraging women to pursue higher education and promoting equality for girls and women at the community level.
Women’s clothing retailer Eileen Fisher offers $120,000 in yearly grants to up to 12 recipients whose businesses are at least 3 years old, don’t have revenues of more than $1 million in the previous year, and are focused on “creating environmental and social change” through their businesses.
The Huggies Mominspired Grant Program gives $15,000 to moms with product ideas that “celebrate the joys of motherhood.”
There are many other grant programs available that are not exclusive to women-owned businesses or are specific to one state. Another good idea is to see whether an established company similar to yours or in the same general area of business is offering any grants for small business startups to help them along the way.
While many grants don’t specify being for women-owned businesses only, at least some of those will be actively seeking more women-owned businesses as recipients to bolster their diversity. Sometimes this will be evident in the application process through the questions asked.
The Grant Application Process
Each grant will have its own application process, and many of these are long and complicated. It’s important to give all of the information requested and be as detailed as possible in the descriptions and as convincing as possible about why you are the best person to receive the grant.
While most startup businesses don’t have money in the budget to hire grant writers, you may already have an employee or contact with grant-writing skills that you can tap into and use. Organizations that provide help and support to women entrepreneurs may be able to help with grant writing as well. Sometimes it’s difficult to toot your own horn, but it’s important to do so when filling out grant applications.
If you know anyone who is involved with the grant-awarding decision or the company awarding the grant, trying to meet with them in person may be a way to make yourself memorable so that you might have a better chance of getting the grant. Sometimes it really is all about who you know, but be careful not to push too hard or seem like you’re trying to exert undue influence.
Government Grants for Small Businesses and Startups In Canada
It is difficult to find listings just for women-owned businesses in Canada, but you can find grant opportunities that may be looking to make diverse awards by looking at the websites for the different regions and provinces of Canada. Some of the terminology and methods are different in Canada, however.
Many forms of funding we might call grants are set up in Canada as what they call awards, contributions, shared costs, subsidies, tax credits/rebates or non-repayable loans. A number of these funding types are more of a matching idea where the business owner needs to put up a certain amount of money that is then matched by the grant.
Certain areas of Canada offer more grants than others. Northern Ontario offers more grants than some other areas, and everyone who starts a business in the Northwest Territories is eligible for a $15,000 grant each year through the Entrepreneur Support Program.
Business startups and the growth of existing businesses is encouraged by many organizations and government agencies, and this is doubly true for women-owned businesses. The bottom line is, grants are one of the best ways to get the money you need to meet your business goals and do your part to keep the economy growing.