The number of U.S. businesses started by women in the past decade has grown nearly four times the amount of all new businesses started in the country. Yet, when it comes to applying for small business loans, men have a 15 to 20 percent higher approval rate than women entrepreneurs.

Fortunately, there are other ways for women entrepreneurs to raise startup and growth capital. Grants make an attractive option: unlike loans or investment capital, entrepreneurs don’t have to pay them back, pay interest on them or pay origination fees. Nor must they give away equity in their business, as they might to investors.

While many grants exist for all small business owners, a number of them cater specifically to women entrepreneurs. Below are some of the most popular grants for women small business owners to consider:

Federal Grants

The database Grants.gov lists all grants sponsored by the federal government, including small business grants. Detailed application instructions and requirements can be found here. In addition, the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs offer grants for small businesses that contribute to federal research and development. Eligibility requirements can be found here.

Regional Government Grants

Hundreds of Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, and economic development centers throughout the country offer grants or training in securing small business capital.

Grants Awarded by Brands

Many of the biggest household-name brands that run annual grant contests for small business owners and several of these programs cater exclusively to women founders. Eligibility requirements can vary widely from grant to grant — for example, a major beauty brand’s program is open to businesses in the beauty industry only. The publicity that comes from winning one of these widely promoted grants can be invaluable to a new business.

Foundation Grants

The Amber Grant Foundation, Girlboss Foundation and Open Meadows Foundation all offer grants for women business founders. Grant amounts awarded range from $2,000 to $25,000. In addition to capital, winners stand to gain mentorship, a community of business peers and potentially increased media coverage.

Accelerators

Many small business accelerator programs include a financial reward. Even when they don’t, accelerators typically train women to raise funds and often introduce them to investors looking for new businesses to finance. Springboard Enterprises, Women’s Startup Lab and Upstart are among the many accelerators specifically designed to help women founders obtain funding and grow their business.

National Association for the Self-Employed

This trade association for self-employed people offers business growth grants of up to $4,000 to members who’ve belonged to the organization at least 90 days.

Grants for Women

This database of financial awards for women includes a number of small business grants among its many offerings.

Before Applying for a Grant

Although small business grants are “free money,” some business grants come with strings attached. Before you pursue them, make sure you know both the pros and the cons, which may include:

  • Time commitment. Applying for business grants can be time-consuming. Each grant has its own criteria for eligible businesses. Researching which grants you qualify for takes time. So does assembling the necessary application materials for each grant, which might include a business plan, written proposal or video explaining how you’d use the funds, photos of your company, social media handles and an application fee. Once you’ve sent off your application, you may wait several months or more to learn whether you’ve won the grant.
  • Specific spending requirements. Many small business grants have rules for how the money must be spent. If you accept a grant for business growth activities like purchasing inventory, renting commercial space and marketing your products, you must stick to your proposed spending plan and timeframe. You can’t spend the award on other expenses. If you do win an award, many grantors will require progress reports on how you’ve spent the money and how doing so has impacted your business.

Increase Your Chances of Success

The more effort you put into applications, the greater your odds of landing a grant. Michelle Goodman, a Seattle-based business journalist, offers four tips to help improve your chances:

  • Do your research. Look into the financial awards received by companies you admire. Ask fellow entrepreneurs and advisors for their recommendations, too. Compile a list of grants you intend to pursue, noting the deadlines, qualifications and winner obligations carefully.
  • Start applications early. Assemble the necessary materials as soon as possible so you have time to do your applications justice. Requisite materials can include your pitch deck, references and a video explaining why you’re applying, to name a few. If the sponsoring organization offers a webinar or other grant application training, do you best to attend. Such information can be helpful.
  • Tailor applications for each award. Come up with core answers to questions about your corporate mission and what you’ll do with the award. But be sure to study each contest’s specific requirements and modify your answers accordingly.
  • Enlist help. Ask business peers and mentors to review your applications for mistakes, clarity, relevance and overall quality. Be sure to ask colleagues with experience applying for business grants for their feedback, too.

Applying for business grants takes work. But if you invest the time to get your applications right, the financial payoff and boost to your growing business can be well worth it.

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