Funding Challenges That Women Entrepreneurs Face
Women face inordinate challenges and find themselves behind their male counterparts when it comes to business ownership and funding. While there are many incredibly successful women entrepreneurs, women remain underrepresented at receiving the necessary capital to build and scale their businesses.
Business owners already struggle to qualify for business loans or other forms of financing as they try to build business credit and their actual businesses, however women business owners are at the top of the list. When loans are tough to come by, money can be in short supply and small businesses struggle causing founders to take on more debt than necessary.
If you are a woman looking to start or grow a business, these small business grants for women and other resources may be just what you need to get started and take your business to the next level.
What Is a Small Business Grant and Why Are They Important?
If you’re unfamiliar with grants, it’s important to understand that they are a form of non-dilutive funding that doesn’t require you to give up any percentage of your company and you do not have to pay them back. Funds provided often come from local, state, or federal governments, private foundations or corporations and are designed to help small business owners—in this case, women—launch and scale their businesses.
What Can You Use Small Business Grants For?
Owning your own business means that you have various expenses that need to be paid. Some grants allow you to use the funds for any business-related expenses, while others may have more specific parameters. Grants can help with marketing and advertising, contracting help in customer service, or purchasing much needed equipment or materials. However, it’s always best to read the rules and regulations before applying to make sure you can use the money for what you need.
The Best Small Business Grants for Women
Here’s a list of grants that are specifically catered to women business owners and one’s for everyone that women should also be applying for:
1. Amber Grants for Women
The Amber Grant is a monthly $10,000 grant. Additional smaller grants may be awarded as well. One of the 12 monthly recipients will be awarded an additional year-end grant of $25,000 in December. Women can apply at the Amber Grants for Women website, and winners are picked from a judging panel from WomensNet.
This grant started in 1998 when a 19-year-old young woman named Amber passed away before reaching her entrepreneurial dreams. The grant is designed to help women reach that same goal in her honor.
How to Apply
The application process for the Amber Grant is simple. The site asks for information about your business and what you would do if awarded the money. There is a $15 grant application fee, though you may request a waiver.
2. Fearless Fund
The Fearless Fund was created to help women of color business owners. They have launched grant opportunities in partnership with Mastercard, Goldman Sachs, the Tory Burch Foundation, and many more. According to their website, they invest in “early-stage”, high growth businesses led by women of color.
They have recently launched the Fearless Striver’s Grant Initiative for Black women-owned businesses which has a rolling deadline through 12/31/2022. Eleven small businesses will receive $10,000, digital tools to help their business, and one-on-one mentorship.
Check here for the official rules.
3. SoGal Startup Grant
SoGal Foundation has partnered with Winky Lux, bluemercury, twelveNYC, Twilio, and other sponsors to make a small step towards progress by providing several $10K and $5K cash grants to black women or nonbinary entrepreneurs. Just as importantly, grant recipients also receive mentorship and help navigating the fundraising process and access to the SoGal Foundation and SoGal Ventures teams.
How to Apply
- Self-identify as a black woman or black nonbinary entrepreneur (including multiracial black women and nonbinary people)
- Have a legally registered business
- Plan to seek investor financing in order to scale, now or in the future
- Have a scalable, high-impact solution or idea with the ambition to be the next billion-dollar business
Fill out the form on their website. Grants are made on a rolling basis.
4. Tory Burch Foundation
The Fellows Program from the Tory Burch Foundation is a year-long program that offers a fellowship of virtual education, networking opportunities, and intensives along with a $5,000 grant. Winners are also invited to the Tory Burch offices for workshops and networking opportunities.
How to Apply
Review the criteria and apply on the Tory Burch Foundation website. Eligibility requirements include that the business must be majority women-owned, and a for-profit early-stage business (preferably earning at least $75,000 in revenues) operating in the U.S. Note that currently, applications are closed, but you can sign up to be notified when they open the next round.
5. DreamBig Awards
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts the Dream Big Awards, which recognizes the best American small businesses. The top winner receives a $25,000 cash prize. Categories include Woman-Owned Business Achievement Award, Emerging Business Achievement Award, LGBTQ-Owned Business Achievement Award, and others.
How to Apply
Applicants must meet the following qualifications:
- Be a for-profit business operating for at least one year primarily within the United States
- Have less than 250 employees OR have gross revenues of less than $20 million for each of the two previous years
The application can be found here and opens March 21, 2022.
6. Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards seek to advance women entrepreneurs all across the world, including North America. They will review all applicants and choose 21 finalists, who will receive personalized business coaching prior to Awards week, media visibility, and a scholarship to attend the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship 6-Day Executive Programme.
From the pool of 21 finalists, 7 laureates will be chosen and will each receive $100,000 in prize money along with one-on-one mentoring, while the 14 remaining will receive $30,000. The main leadership position must be held by a woman with good command of the English language.
Applications open on Monday, May 16, 2022, and close on Friday, July 15, 2022.
Additional Grants for All Businesses
Here are a few popular grant programs that are open to applicants regardless of gender.
1. Nav $10,000 Small Business Grant
While not exclusively for female entrepreneurs, the Nav Grant is a great opportunity for a growing business looking to take the next step. First prize winners take home $10,000, and there are four opportunities to apply each year.
How to Apply
The application process is simple. You should demonstrate a challenge that your business is facing, and very specifically how you will use the money to solve that challenge if your business is selected. You can find more information here.
2. EIDL Targeted Advance Grant
Small business owners who apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) through the U.S. Small Business Administration may also be eligible for a Targeted Advance of up to $15,000. This is a grant that does not have to be repaid. This is not a competitive grant; instead, business owners who qualify (including independent contractors and self-employed individuals) will receive the grant until funds are exhausted.
(Note that another SBA loan program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is currently closed to new applications.)
How to Apply
You must apply for the EIDL grant at SBA.gov.
3. FedEx Small Business Grant
While the FedEx Small Business Grant isn’t exclusively for women, the sponsoring company makes a point to fairly distribute awards between men and women. Ten winners total take home a prize, up to $50,000 for first place. Winners also get access to free FedEx Office print and copy services on top of their cash prizes.
This grant recognizes “incredible small businesses from across the country.” If you are a woman that runs such a business, make sure to apply! Note that while the 2021 FedEx Small Business Grants have been awarded, the program will likely open again for new applications in 2022.
How to Apply
Another simple application process, FedEx just asks for your business name and to confirm that you’ve been in business for more than 6 months, have less than 99 employees, and are not a franchise, direct seller, or non-profit. You’ll then need to provide information about your business plan, business story, and what you would do with the grant. Learn more at FedEx.
4. Idea Cafe Grant
Idea Cafe offers grants of $1,000. The quick and easy grant application is highly competitive, but if you have a great business idea that is “ground-breaking or a simple, but yet creative solution to an everyday problem, [Idea Cafe] would like to hear about it.”
This one is not specific to women, like the FedEx grant, but is very friendly to women applicants. The last three winners are women, as a matter of fact. Learn more and apply.
How to Apply
Idea Cafe doesn’t require a purchase or even a complete business plan to enter. As long as you sign up as an Idea Cafe Regular, you can enter for its grant and many others they advertise on its site.
5. The Halstead Grant
The Halstead Grant is an annual grant awarded to an exceptional jewelry designer working in silver. The winner takes home $7,500 and $1,000 in supplies. This grant is certainly not for everyone but can be great for women working with silver jewelry.
How to Apply
Begin by downloading an application here; submissions are due by August 1 each year.
Resources to Find Grants for Women-Owned Businesses
When you are searching for a small business grant for your business, don’t limit your search to grants for women-owned businesses. There may be other grants that are also a fit for your business. Here are some helpful resources for searching for grants:
Grants.gov is the official website for federal grants. You can search for a wide variety of grants offered by federal agencies including the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Justice, and many more. You may search for government grants for free. Note that the federal government does not give out free money to start a business.
2. Mogul Millennial
For Black entrepreneurs looking for a list of grant opportunities, Mogul Millennial provides an updated list of the most recent grants and other forms of business funding available. These funding opportunities cover a wide range of stages of business as well as business niches.
Hello Alice helps small business owners with resources about grants, loans, credit, and venture capital. They also have a guide to help you identify the best type of capital to raise for your specific business and its size–while also helping you finetune your pitch deck.
New, smaller grant opportunities are always popping up, and GrantsforWomen.org can help you find new opportunities for business or working capital that may otherwise slip by unnoticed. While this database is not business-specific, you can put in the time to find business grants and possibly help your business get off the ground.
This organization offers a plethora of grant opportunities for women business owners. In addition, they also have a year-round Universal Grant application. They have partnered with companies such as Visa, Neutrogena, American Express, and Caress to offer women entrepreneurs more debt-free funding options.
Tips for Applying for Grants
All grants have terms and conditions that give a detailed breakdown of eligibility. Read them before applying. It’s important to know which grants you actually qualify for versus the ones you don’t.
Remember that most grants will want to know these things:
- Why did you create your business and when
- Revenue from the previous year
- Your backstory
- A breakdown of how you’ll allocate the funds
Utilize Google Docs or your notes app to have those core responses saved. It’ll make the process of filling out applications a bit easier. In addition, many will ask for a video, usually under 2 minutes of why you’re applying for the grant and how it’ll help your business. You should store a video or two with these responses so that you don’t have records for every grant application.
Keeping a spreadsheet of the grants you’re applying to will also help. It’ll help to keep track of due dates, grant types, grant amounts, and the intended hear back date.
As a woman entrepreneur, you want to do whatever it takes to succeed. It may well be worth your time and energy to research grants (or other financing options) to get the funds you need to grow.
Additional Business Resources for Women
Women in business have more opportunities than ever before. With these grants, you have a little more ammunition to reach the next level in your business adventure. If you are looking for additional grant opportunities, be sure to read our list of grants for small businesses for a general audience.
Keep in mind that business isn’t all about grants. While they help, remember to focus on your revenue, bottom line, and business credit score to keep other borrowing and capital opportunities available to you and your business. Here are additional resources that could help you grow your business.
A group of women investors came together to create 37 Angels. They recognize that just 13 percent of angel investors are women, and work to bring that to 50 percent. 37 Angels offers a membership program that gets you networking opportunities, access to invitation-only events, and the chance to participate in its Bootcamp program.
Belle Capital offers investments in early-stage, women-led companies. The Belle Capital fund is targeted to invest in 10 to 15 high-growth companies. Like other venture capital firms, they want to participate and bring expertise to help grow your business. They are looking for small businesses that can reach $20 million in revenue within five years.
Free Business Mentoring From SBA Resource Partners
The following organizations offer free small business mentoring and educational programs. They may also share information about state or local small business grant money as well as feedback on your grant application. They may also be helpful if you are interested in federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants. If you are looking for funding opportunities to grow your business, be sure to take advantage of these resources.
Other Financing Options for Women-Owned Businesses
Financing may be another option for women entrepreneurs who are trying to start or grow a business. There are a variety of small business loans for women that may be available to your business, depending on qualifications. (Note that many lenders prefer to work with businesses with at least a year in business; start-up financing options are more limited.) These business funding options may include:
- Small business credit cards
- SBA loans
- Lines of credit
- Term loans
- Invoice financing
- Equipment leasing or financing
- Business cash advances
Learn how to find and qualify for small business loans here.
One final option? Crowdfunding. With crowdfunding, you raise money from a wide number of individuals using online platforms, which, often, you do not have to pay back. This can be a good fit for some business owners, as the legwork you do to apply for a grant may also help you launch a crowdfunding campaign. Learn more about crowdfunding here.
As a female entrepreneur, you want to do whatever it takes to succeed. It may well be worth your time and energy to research grants (or other financing options) to get the funds you need to grow.
This article was originally written on January 30, 2020 and updated on June 2, 2022.