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How These Four Women-Owned Businesses Won Small Business Grants

Last Updated: December 7, 2021
6 min read

While securing loans or enticing investors can be great ways to fund a business, there’s also an often overlooked third option: The small business grant.

Small business grants may need a bit of legwork in the beginning — typically, writing a grant proposal requires including detailed financial information and a breakdown of how a business will use the grant money to solve that problem or need — but one of the positives is that a grant never has to be repaid.

Applying for a small business grant doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to receive the money, but it’s worth submitting your application. There are numerous grants available for women business owners. Here’s a look at how four women have won small business grants from various organizations to help build their businesses.

Leigh-Kathryn Bonner: Bee Downtown

Leigh-Kathryn Bonner of Bee Downtown holds beehive screen.

Leigh-Kathryn Bonner is a fifth-generation beekeeper from North Carolina. When she wasn’t able to keep a beehive at her college apartment, Bonner asked the company where she interned if she could set up a beehive on its roof. The project resonated with employees and employer alike, who loved the idea of participating in something that was not only interesting, but could also help solve the worldwide problem of declining honeybee populations and contribute to a healthy ecosystem. After other nearby businesses requested rooftop beehives as well, Bonner realized her passion had the potential to become a business.

In 2014, Bonner launched Bee Downtown in Durham, N.C. In addition to attracting investor capital, Bonner also won an Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant in 2017. The grant is for woman-owned small businesses focused on social and environmental impact. Winning the grant involved a long, competitive process. “It was about a year-long process of applying, making it to the next round, and then waiting for the next cut,” Bonner says.

To set her business apart from the competition, Bonner focused on “telling a story to connect with people,” she says. “Often, business owners are so worried about numbers, statistics and data, and that’s important, but taking time to craft that story is vital. When people really understand your story, they want to see you win.”

For Bee Downtown, the grant was “such a gift,” Bonner says. “We were trying to grow and expand our business to Atlanta, and the grant allowed us to hire another person to help us manage that expansion.”

The grant funds that helped the company expand to Atlanta have paid off: Bee Downtown plans to launch more than 100 hives in Atlanta this year, at companies such as Delta, Chick-Fil-A and AT&T, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Jaime Wilhite and Tracie Sandheinrich: Music Therapy St. Louis

Jaime Wilhite and Tracie Sandheinrich of Music Therapy St. Louis.

Jaime Wilhite and Tracie Sandheinrich each had a private music therapy practice specializing in different populations until they merged their businesses in 2018 to create Music Therapy St. Louis. The company serves patients across the spectrum — geriatric, memory care, people with disabilities, children fighting cancer, hospice, rehabilitation — and boasts an all-female team of board-certified music therapists seeking to aid in the rehabilitation, enhancement and maintenance of cognitive, physical, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual functioning.

In December 2018, Wilhite and Sandheinrich won a small Amber Grant from WomensNet and at the end of 2019, they will be eligible to compete for the next annual $25,000 Amber Grant. Like Bonner, They focused on telling their business’s unique story to win over judges. “We are breaking the mold,” Wilhite says. “In an area flooded with contractors, there is no consistency in therapists, quality or continuity of care. In result, we started a company that supports our employees through offering employee benefits, collaboration, supervision and overall team building and staff support. We are the first company to do this in our area.”

The partners plan to use the grant monies to secure a brick and mortar home base where Music Therapy St. Louis can host group music therapy programs and support services. (Currently, the company provides services in other facilities, homes, schools, hospitals and agencies.) In addition, they hope to build a scholarship program for families and organizations that could benefit from music therapy but may not be able to afford it. The grant “opened the doors and jump-started our big picture thinking for our business and our community,” Sandheinrich says.

Farah Allen: The Labz

Farah Allen of The Labz music creation platform.

Developed by Farah Allen and based on blockchain technology, The Labz, is a music creation collaboration platform that allows music creators to automatically document ownership of their work and protect their intellectual property. Essentially, the cloud-based platform collects song data as creators are working on music to facilitate electronic exchanges of contracts and digital copyrights.

In 2018, Allen applied for a grant from Startup Runway, which focuses on providing grants to women and minority-owned businesses in the Southeast. She won over the judges by explaining how her platform helps creatives to maintain ownership of their work and prevents avoid being taken advantage of.

Selected as one of 10 finalists, Allen presented at the Startup Runway Showcase before a number of venture capital investors, where she was awarded the $10,000 grant. “Startup Runway was an awesome experience,” Allen says. “Winning was a great honor, plus, I made great connections and received priceless feedback and advice from investors.”

YiDing Yu, M.D.: Twiage

Boston-based physician YiDing Yu, M.D., developed the mobile app Twiage to help emergency responders share patient information with hospital staff in real time so that the hospital can be prepared in advance for patients arriving by ambulance. The app shrinks EMS wait times by 50 to 65 percent, according to studies conducted by client health systems, according to Innovations in Healthcare.

In 2018, Dr. Yu applied for a grant from the Cartier Women’s Initiative, an organization designed to promote business startups by women working to solve problems in their communities and the world. At the North American Laureate for the organization’s annual international awards, she received the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award: $100,000 in prize money and one year of tailored business training.

“Winning the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award will give us a platform to not only expand in the United States but globally,” Yu said. “This is a challenge that is faced by patients, doctors and nurses around the world.”

Applying for and winning business grants takes time and commitment, but it’s certainly time well spent. “You need to find the right grant for your cause and tell your story,” Wilhite says. “Keep up the fight; you never know when you’ll find the right fit that can open up so many opportunities for your business.”

Finance your business’s future

While grants can certainly help take your small business from point A to point B, they may not be the answer for your business’s day-to-day spending. That’s where a business credit card can help. A good business credit card can be a valuable tool to help your small business cover both daily expenses and long-term costs. It can help keep your personal and business expenses separate, help free up cash and even earn rewards on business purchases, among other things.

Ready to apply for a grant and jump-start your business or business idea? These resources can help you get started.

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