This piece was originally published on Entrepreneur.
In 2014, there were close to 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States, a 68 percent increase since 1997, according to The 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report from American Express (AXP). This percentage increase exceeded the national average of small business growth by 1.5 times.
It also illustrated what we already know: Women entrepreneurs are having a tremendous impact on the small business landscape nationwide.
Yet to continue to be competitive and grow, these entrepreneurs have to find funding for their ventures. And, alarmingly, women entrepreneurs are increasingly being turned away by banks for small business loans. Thankfully, they still have other options, given the rise of technology-driven financial lending sources—such as online loans, peer-to-peer loans and crowdfunding.
Then there are government grants. While not widely known or used, these grants are another great option for women seeking extra funding for their business ventures. They just take a little more work.
Business owners often turn to grants because they are not required to pay them back; essentially, you can look at grants as “free money,” but they come with stipulations. Also, understanding and navigating the grant process can be complex.
First, you have to research and find a grant for which you’re eligible. Then, you have to understand the strict application and compliance guidelines you must meet, to be eligible. Third, you have to compete with other businesses for the same pool of money. Fourth, if you’re awarded a grant, you must report on how you used it. Finally, you must devote time and energy to the lengthy application process, then wait for approval. In a nutshell, you need to have all of your ducks in a row, up-front and afterward.
Finding federal and state grants
Many business owners think that federal grants are just a click away. We have all seen the ads promoting free federal money to start businesses. But this is a huge misconception. While there are federal grants available in the areas of medical research, science, education and technology development, no such grants exist specifically for women-owned businesses. You may find grants that fund projects that empower women, but such funding is often set aside for nonprofit corporations, not for-profit businesses.
When researching grants specifically for a woman-owned business, start at the state level. Most states offer grants for women-owned businesses in some capacity. Each state website has a business section where you can find grant and funding opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses. A good example of this is the business section for the state of New York, which lists incentives and programs for businesses. Check out your state’s site to find out what is available for your business.
Another great resource to use in your research is the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). The MBDA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce that assists minorities and women in establishing and growing their businesses. On its site, you can research grants and access links to state agencies that work with women-owned businesses for funding opportunities. Click here to view all of the state agencies across the country.
Private grants for women
To help in your search, we gathered information on these private grants for women entrepreneurs started:
- The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program: Five grants are awarded annually. The businesses must be 100 percent women-owned and have founding principles of social consciousness, sustainability and innovation, plus be ready to move to the next phase of development. In 2014, the program awarded $125,000 in grants.
- Huggies Brand — Mom Inspired Grants: The grant awards up to $15,000 to advance the development of innovative products inspired by the joys of motherhood. The awardees also receive resources to further develop their products and startup businesses.
- FedEx Think Bigger — Small Business Grant Program: Applicants are encouraged to share their visions to receive a portion of the $75,000 awarded in grants. Part of the judging involves the general public voting for the finalists, so participants may promote their businesses while garnering votes.
- Idea Café Small Business Grant: The Idea Café is a free gateway that hosts different grants on its site. Its current grant is the 16th Small Business Cash Grant, which awards one $1,000 grand prize to a business with the most innovative idea.
- InnovateHER: 2015 Innovating for Women Business Challenge: This business challenge is sponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Women’s Business Ownership. The challenge awards three winners $30,000 in prize money for businesses that have an impact on the lives of women. However, be aware of the recent fraud news around the SBA.
- Chase Google — Mission Main Street Project: Chase (CCF) and Google (GOOG) have partnered to award $3 million in grants. In 2014, recipients were awarded $150,000 to help take their businesses to the next level. Recipients also received a trip to Google headquarters, a Google Chromebook laptop and a $2,000 coupon toward a market research study with Google Consumer Surveys.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): Eleven different federal agencies participate in this awards-based program, which incentivizes and enables small businesses to explore their technological potential.
- Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR): The STTR program reserves a specific percentage of federal research and development funding to provide funding opportunities in research and development.
- Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corp (WVEC) Small Business Competition: This competition, organized by Capital One (COF) and Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, allows participants to present two-minute pitches for a chance to participate in a nine-month business accelerator program.
- Wal-Mart Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative (WEE): As part of a huge Wal-Mart (WMT) initiative, sourcing opportunities for U.S. and international companies will increase to $40 billion over five years.
- Zions Bank — Smart Women Smart Money: This Utah-based bank’s grant annually awards $3,000 across six different categories, including business.
Applying for a grant
Once you find a funding opportunity, there are steps required to apply. A few tips to assist you:
- Make sure that your business is eligible for the grant: Read the grant synopsis guidelines and eligibility requirements.
- Create a checklist for all of the documents required.
- Follow the rules. Grant applications can be very technical. It wouldn’t hurt to have a second (or even third) set of eyes when reviewing the application to ensure that you have provided all accompanying documents.
- Start early. Since the application process can be long in some cases, it doesn’t hurt to get a jump on things.
If you find the grant application process too daunting or lengthy for your small business, Kabbage is committed to supporting small business loans for women business owners. Because our application process is fully automated and online, we can quickly provide small business loans of up to $100,000. We use simple, meaningful revenue data from your business to approve your business—not elaborate documentation that takes extensive time to gather. To learn more, visit Kabbage.com.
More from Entrepreneur:
• 5 Unstoppable Female Entrepreneurs Making Their Dents on the World
• U.S. Is No. 1 for Women Entrepreneurs, But There’s Still Room for Improvement
• Why Access Is the Key to Women’s Equality in the Workforce
Victoria Treyger is the CMO of Kabbage, which pioneered the first financial services data and technology platform to provide fully automated small-business loans.