From National Federation of Independent Business
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to grow your business, hunting for small business grants is a wise approach. After all, they don’t need to be paid back, but they often have high levels of competition and application processes can be complex. But if you’re eligible, prepared, and able to make a great pitch, why hold back?
Many community-minded corporations and organizations offer grants specifically for women. If you’re a female entrepreneur in the early stages of trying to start your business, or well established and looking to grow, here are five of the best grants specifically for women in business.
1. InnovateHER Grant
Sponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the InnovateHER Challenge takes place annually and awards three grants to female entrepreneurs totaling $70,000. The SBA awards the grants to businesses developing innovative products and services that help influence and empower the lives of women and families.
Instead of the SBA accepting applications directly, local competitions are hosted by universities, economic development organizations, accelerators, SBA resource partners, and other economic development organizations across the country. These competitions usually conclude in early June. Check out the competition host locations here.
Local winners are submitted by hosts to the SBA as semi-finalist nominees, then the SBA selects up to 10 finalists to attend the National InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge, usually held mid-year. The finalists pitch their products, services, or ideas to an expert panel and compete for the grand prize grant of $40,000 ($20,000 and $10,000 grants are awarded to second and third place, respectively).
The contest usually opens near the end of the year, host locations are submitted by early June, and nomination applications to the SBA are due by late June.
For more or information or to find a local competition, visit the InnovateHER Challenge website. For another great SBA resource, check out its Women’s Business Center, which lists over 100 centers nationwide designed to help women start and grow small businesses.
2. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program
Eileen Fisher started her clothing company in 1984 with just $350 in startup money. The company’s annual revenues now exceed $300 million, and it doesn’t shy away from paying it forward and fostering growth among the female business community.
The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program began with a single award in 2004 to celebrate the clothing line’s 20th anniversary. It now awards $100,000 in grants for up to 10 recipients annually. In addition to the grant, winners travel to New York City in the spring after receiving their award to spend two days learning and celebrating with the Eileen Fisher community.
Eligibility requirements are pretty straightforward, although these grants are for businesses beyond the startup phase and looking to grow their business. Applicants must be majority women-owned and women-led (a minimum of 51%), have been in operation for at least three years (with financials provided), and have revenues below $1 million annually, among a few others. For all eligibility and application details, visit the Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant website.
3. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
For the last five years, FedEx’s Small Business Grant Contest has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to small business owners across the country. While FedEx’s grants aren’t specifically for female entrepreneurs, women are strongly encouraged to apply and some of the grand prize winners have been female.
FedEx takes an interesting approach to judging applicants, as part of the process requires voting from the general public, so entrepreneurs can use their social media and marketing skills to promote their business and attract support.
In 2017, the contest awarded a grand prize grant of $25,000, a silver prize of $15,000 and eight bronze prizes of $7,500, plus credits for each winner in FedEx Office print and business services. FedEx also offers all contest participants discounts on some of their shipping services.
The contest entry period usually opens in February or March, with the voting period concluding in early April. A judging period follows the voting, and winners are announced in late April. For more information and to apply, visit the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest website.
Related: How to Qualify for Small Business Grants
4. Girlboss Foundation Grants
Since launching in 2014, the Girlboss Foundation has awarded over $120,000 in grants to female entrepreneurs in the design, fashion, music, and arts industries. Girlboss Media was founded by serial entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso, whose book #GIRLBOSS was a New York Times bestseller and was recently made into a Netflix comedy show.
Awarded on a quarterly basis with the goal of empowering women business owners, the grants range between $500 and $15,000, and females 18 years or older are eligible to apply. The foundation aims to award three grants per quarter depending on the number of submissions and amounts requested.
Applicants are chosen by a committee led by Sophia Amoruso and a group of Girlboss staff from different departments including finance, marketing, and design. The committee reviews and judges each project based on creativity and innovation, business acumen, financial need, and clarity of the plan (including budget, timing, and achievability). For more information, visit the Girlboss Foundation website.
5. Amber Grants
Named to honor the memory of a young woman who died at age 19 unable to reach her entrepreneurial dreams, the Amber Grants were launched in 1998 by WomensNet, an entrepreneurial community for women.
While the grants are small, their frequency and easy application process make them one of the best grants available to help women start businesses and grow exiting ones.
Every month, a Qualifying Grant of $500 is awarded to an applicant as selected by WomensNet judges, and at the end of each year, one of the 12 monthly winners receives the $2,500 Amber Grant. Part of the grand prize judging process includes voting on the monthly winners.
The application only requires telling the story of your small business or entrepreneurial dream, and the judges value ideas told straight from the heart equally with business smarts. There’s a simple form to complete and a nominal application fee. Check out the Amber Grant application page to get started.
Related: Other Top Small Business Grants
Another Option: Small Business Loans through Kabbage
In addition to grants, there are a wide variety of loans available for female entrepreneurs.
Through their safe and secure online application or mobile app, businesses can link their latest information to be quickly approved for lines of credit of up to $150,000. Kabbage is committed to supporting small business loans for female entrepreneurs and business owners.