Where to find small business grants

Explore free financing available through the SBA, your local government and corporations.

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Business grants are one of the few financing options you don’t have to pay back. But it’s not all that simple.

Grants can sound like a walk in the park, but there’s a reason that businesses turn to other types of financing first. Grants take a long time to find, even longer to apply for — and did we mention they’re extremely competitive?

Still, they might be worth looking into. After all, “free” is pretty hard to beat.

Is my business eligible for a grant?

Standard business grants don’t operate like business loans in terms of eligibility requirements, though qualifications for both grants and loans widely vary.

When you apply for a grant, you aren’t just convincing the donor to give you funding — you’re convincing them to give you funding over everyone else who applied. That’s one of the big differences between business loans and grants.

Grants tend to have a larger social cause in mind, such as encouraging women or minority entrepreneurs or helping out a particular community. You can also find grants specific to industries or regions.

Federal grants for small businesses

The US government provides business grants at the federal and state level. Federal grants, however, don’t typically go to small businesses unless they’re involved in technology, development, scientific research or other issues of national concern. If this sounds like your business, you might want to look at two grant programs offered through the Small Business Administration (SBA):

  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program grant. The SBIR grant is designed to move government economic development initiatives into the private sector by funding tech businesses. You can apply to participate in SBIR through several federal agencies, which have their own guidelines.
  • Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) program grant. The SBTT program is a slightly more rigorous version of SBIR. It’s available to businesses in the technology sector, and you’re required to work in partnership with a research institution if accepted. Like the SBIR, you can only apply through federal agencies.

All grants are competitive, but the SBIR and SBTT grants are especially difficult to get. That doesn’t mean you should write them off, but you might want to also look at other federal grant listings on Grants.gov.

State and city grants for small businesses

Small businesses outside of the tech sector might have better luck looking local. State and city grants tend to offer less money, but they’re also less competitive than other types of grants. Because they’re tailored to your community, these grants could have requirements that you’re more likely to fit.

You might want to start your local grant search with:

  • USA.gov. This site has a section that provides a directory of small business resources by state, including grants, loans, tax incentives and training programs. It’s worth a look even if you aren’t sure you want a grant — you just might find financing you didn’t even know was an option.
  • Your local Economic Development Administration (EDA) office. State and city EDA offices might offer grant opportunities you won’t find on USA.gov. You can find your local Economic Development Administration office on its website.

If neither of these options do it for you, search for business grants on other grant directory websites.

Typically, your business will need to be located in a specific state or city to qualify for a local grant — on top of other grant-specific requirements.

Qualifying for a local grant

As with federal grants, state and city grants tend to be highly specific when it comes to eligibility.

To qualify, you’ll typically need to:

  • Operate a business in your city or state of residence
  • Require funding for a specific project, rather than working capital in general
  • Be in business for more than six months

Small business grants from companies

Businesses that don’t qualify for a government grant might want to turn to the private sector.

Many large corporations and national organizations run foundations that offer grants to small businesses, often within a specific type of industry or charitable cause. You might want to start with these four popular ones:

  • Chase Mission Main Street. Chase Manhattan Bank awards $150,000 each year to 20 businesses who can tell the most compelling story of their business and its affect on their communities through an essay contest.
  • Wells Fargo Community Investment. Wells Fargo offers grants to small businesses in almost every state, with a focus on nonprofits. Small businesses involved in education, environmental conservation, housing, veteran care and disaster relief might want to take a close look at this program.
  • FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. Every year, FedEx awards 10 small businesses with grants of up to $50,000 and up to $7,500 in FedEx Office print and business services. To enter, you simply need to answer a few questions about your business, what inspired you to start it and what you’d use the funds for. The contest is then open up to the public for voting.
  • National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants. If you’ve been a NASE member for at least three months, your business may be eligible for a $4,000 growth grant. Applications are accepted on a continual basis throughout the year and reviewed every three months.

Eligibility requirements, as always, highly vary with corporate grants. You generally won’t be able to get a grant if your business is less than six months old. You could also have trouble finding a corporate grant if you run a for-profit business or political organization. However, if you’re a for-profit business that’s involved with charitable activities or works to improve a community, you may still qualify.

Finding a corporate grant

Search engines are your best bet to find a corporate grant. Try searching for grants by industry and your financial needs, rather than corporate grants in general — it’ll take you a lot longer to weed through foundations that can’t do anything for you. For example, if you own a restaurant in Chicago, you could simply search for “restaurant grants Chicago” to quickly narrow your focus.

Competitions for small business grants

Get your business’s name out there while you apply for funding by entering a grant competition in your industry. Even if you don’t win, you stand to get lots of free advice, feedback and exposure for your business by entering.

One contest you might want to consider is LendingTree‘s small business grant competition, which grants the winner $50,000 and is open to small businesses of any industry nationwide. Or find more contests at Challenge.gov, which provides a listing of government challenges small business owners can compete in for prizes.

Didn’t get the grant? Compare business loans instead

Our top pick: LoanBuilder, A PayPal Service Business Loans

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Our top pick: LoanBuilder, A PayPal Service Business Loans

Customizable loans with no origination fee for business owners in a hurry.

  • Min. Loan Amount: $5,000
  • Max. Loan Amount: $500,000
  • Requirements: Annual business revenue of at least $42,000, at least 9 months in business, personal credit score of 550+.
Updated January 29th, 2020
Name Product Filter Values Min. Amount Max. Amount Requirements
LoanBuilder, A PayPal Service Business Loans
Annual business revenue of at least $42,000, at least 9 months in business, personal credit score of 550+.
Customizable loans with no origination fee for business owners in a hurry.
National Business Capital Business Loans
Your company must have been in business for at least 6 months and have an annual revenue of at least $100,000.
Get a large business loan to cover your financing needs, no matter what the purpose is.
OnDeck Small Business Loans
600+ personal credit score, 1+ years in business, $100,000+ annual revenue
A leading online business lender offering flexible financing at competitive fixed rates.
First Union Lending Unsecured Long-Term Business Loan
450+ credit score, 3+ months in business, $15,000+ monthly revenue, no open bankruptcies
Unsecured funding and more for all credit types.
Sheer Funding Business Loans
6+ months in business, 550+ credit score, $150,000+ annual revenue, eligible industry
Multiple financing options available for business owners with less-than-perfect credit scores.
Efundex long-term business loans
2+ years in business, 620+ credit score, not a sole proprietorship or nonprofit, strong financial history
Financing for high-risk industries with transparent rates and terms.
Kabbage Small Business Line of Credit
1+ years in business, $50,000+ annual revenue or $4,200+ monthly revenue over last 3 months
A simple, convenient online application could securely get the funds you need to grow your business.
LendingTree Business Loans
Varies by lender and type of financing
Varies by lender and type of financing
Varies by lender, but many require good personal credit, minimum annual revenue and minimum time in business
Multiple business financing options in one place including: small business loans, lines of credit, SBA loans, equipment financing and more.
Lendio Business Loan Marketplace
Must operate a business in the US or Canada, have a business bank account and have a personal credit score of 560+.
Submit one simple application to potentially get offers from a network of over 75 legit business lenders.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Finding free funding for your business isn’t impossible. But make sure you’re ready to invest the often intensive time and resources in researching and applying for grants.

If you want your money more quickly, consider other business financing options. In fact, some lenders specialize in financing for women business owners, offer special loan programs for minority-owned businesses or cater to businesses started by veterans.

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