Free Money: Top Small Business Grants

Date: August 12, 2013

Grants can help start or grow even a for-profit business. Here are the five entities most likely to give you their money.

small-business grantsQuick quiz: What’s better than money?

Answer: Free money–especially for a small business looking for a leg up. Grant money is typically associated with non-profits, but that’s not always the case. For-profit businesses can find grant money in a range of places, if they know where to look.

David Donner Chait was awarded a $50,000 grant by the State of Nebraska Innovation Fund for development of a core piece of software to drive Travefy, a website dedicated to planning group travel. He got another $5,000 grant from a state program to cover 60 percent of the cost of hiring a college intern. “These grants have been an essential ingredient in everything that has helped Travefy grow and succeed,” he says.

Read on to discover the top sources for grants to small businesses.

Uncle Sam

The Small Business Administration can tell you where to tap into government largesse. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance also offers an extensive rundown of federal grant programs. Both sources may be great starting points for those seeking to land one of the myriad grants handed out by federal agencies.

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Community Development Corporations

How to Win a Grant

  • Get the ball rolling: Veneka Chagwedera leads a team at the University of Virginia’s Darden Business School incubator, which has supplied a $13,000 grant to launch an all-natural snack food, Nouri. “We were able to demonstrate that we had done the research, that we had already started the actual steps of taking our company to the next level. We talked to farmers’ markets and stores; we really spent a lot of time on the ground. It was very important for [grantmakers] to see that we were already gathering momentum.”
  • Put yourself in their shoes: To win his grant money, Chait asked himself: “What is their goal? What is their most important end? In our case, it was local job creation, the creation of good jobs within their economy,” he says. By showing he could build local jobs, Chait gave grantmakers just what they were looking for.
  • Dig deep: Those with the purse strings want more than just an outline of a proposal. “The more granular the information, the more you create milestones and benchmarks—that is what shows you have really thought it through,” Chait says. “I am talking about weekly milestones, every step of the way.”

These quasi-governmental non-profits exist to spur economic activity at the local level, usually in a specific town or city. They may offer grants to encourage affordable housing, education, youth leadership and solving poverty issues.

Many go a step further, making sometimes substantial grants to private enterprise with an aim toward spurring local employment. Consider Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn Community Development Corp., which recently offered a $25,000 grant to support small business. “I think it’s a testament to the community and how much the leadership really cares about the community here,” tavern owner Brian Ochs told the local media.

In a similar effort, the development corporation Ohio City Inc. last year awarded small businesses grants of between $5,000 and $20,000 to assist in opening or expanding a business in the Ohio City Market District, an area that is home to more than 150 small businesses.

State Agencies

In various states, economic-development agencies support small business through grant programs. California, for example, makes grants in areas ranging from pest management to rural hospital development. The Small Business Administration offers easy links to state agencies. Some states make industry-specific grants, such as North Carolina’s science and technology effort.

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Special Segments

Members of select groups may find themselves eligible for targeted grants that have been set aside to encourage commerce in their communities. Ethnic minorities, for example, can find special grants, as can women. Select industries are targeted as well. The website IdeaCafe, for instance, hosts a competition to identify the “most innovative business idea,” with $1,000 and national publicity as the prize.

Corporate Players

Ever eager to put on a positive face, corporate America has stepped up with numerous grant programs. Miller Lite has announced its Tap the Future business-plan competition, offering up to $250,000 as encouragement to aspiring entrepreneurs. Walmart’s Local Giving Program awards grants of $250 to $2,500 through each of its Walmart stores, Sam's Clubs and Logistics facilities.

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