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Top 9 grants for startups
Find out how to fund your startup without paying interest on a loan.
Updated . What changed?
Competition for business grants is fierce, but if you have a company dedicated to improving the lives of others and are committed to research, you may qualify for a grant from the US government, your local state or other organizations. Grants are hard to win and many require you to use the funds for a specific purpose. But with so many grants out there, with a bit of searching, you can find your business the free money it needs.
Getting a startup grant during COVID-19
Many of the big startup grant programs are still up and running. But startups established before March 2020 that are struggling due to COVID-19 might benefit more from local assistance program. Visit our page on coronavirus grants for businesses to learn more about your options.
What's in this guide?
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
If you’re running a startup focused on research and development, you may be able to snag a grant from the SBIR. Overseen by the US Small Business Administration Office of Technology, this program focuses on small businesses that want to work directly with the federal government to create innovative technology.
To apply, submit a proposal complete with of a business plan, executive summary, estimated costs and a technical proposal. You can browse open solicitations on the SBIR site.
Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)
Similar to the SBIR, the STTR is another federally-funded program that helps small businesses collaborate with nonprofit research institutions, universities or a Federal R&D center. Although highly competitive, a tech-focused startup looking to do good for the community could benefit from a STTR grant.
The solicitation and proposal process has many of the same requirements as the SBIR program. This is because both are run by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and work with many of the same federal agencies.
National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)
The National Association for the Self-Employed has $4,000 offers its NASE growth grants to its members. Unlike many grants which outline a specific purpose, you can use your grant to cover anything your business needs to become more successful. However, you must be a member of NASE to apply. Your application should include an explanation of need and how your business will use the grant, demonstrate how the grant will improve your business and have supporting documents like a resume or business plan.
FedEx runs a yearly contest that awards 10 small businesses with a grant and business services. First place wins $25,000 in grant money plus $7,500 in FedEx print and business services. Second place wins $15,000 and $5,000 in print and business services. Third place has eight winners who are awarded $7,500 and $1,000 in print and business services.
You’ll need to provide short answers to a series of questions. For the 2018 competition, these included an elevator pitch that sets your business apart and an explanation of how your business would utilize the grant. After a voting period, top-ranking businesses go through a second round of applications.
Street Shares Foundation
Veteran-owned small businesses can benefit from a grant from Street Shares Foundation. Every month, three grants are awarded to businesses. Amounts are $15,000 for first place, $6,000 for second place and $4,000 for third place.
Applicants must be at least 21 years old and a veteran or active-duty member of the US Armed Forces. You must submit a two-minute video that describes the business, product and how your business will benefit from the grant.
Womens Net has been offering its Amber Grant to women-owned businesses since 1998. Each month, a business wins a small $1,000 grant and becomes eligible for a much larger $10,000 grant. The winner of the contest is determined by an online vote. At the end of the year, one of the monthly winners wins the grand prize.
The application is simple — provide your name, email, what your business does and how the grant would benefit your business. However, unlike many other grant options which are free to apply to, the Amber Grant has an application fee of $15.
Visa’s Everywhere Initiative is set to challenge startups to meet the needs of Visa and its partners. The 2018 challenge included questions that revolved around strengthening partnerships with merchants and customers, exploring how to create better access to digital payment systems and utilizing technology to tackle financial management and commerce.
This grant program functions more like the SBIR or STTR programs run by the federal government. Winning startups work with Visa to develop new technology and ways of conducting business.
Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)
The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), part of the US Department of Commerce, has grants available for businesses owned by ethnic minorities. The award amount varies, but if your business qualifies, you could snag a grant to help expand your organization.
The process is much longer than other grant applications. It takes at least six months, but may be longer. Grant amounts vary, and your business must be registered with the MBDA to qualify.
Every year, a $1,000 grant is given to small business by Idea Cafe. While small, a handful of finalists will receive both the prize and $1,500 in advertising, on top of the free publicity received by competing for votes. This certainly won’t be your quickest way to grant money, nor your most lucrative. But if your business needs a small bit of money and a lot of talk, applying for an Idea Cafe grant may be a smart move.
Compare business loan options
While many lenders aren't open to startups you can compare top lenders that offer startup loans if your business doesn't qualify for a grant.
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Free money is out there for your business. While applying for grants can take valuable time, receiving a grant can make a difference in the day-to-day operations of your business — especially if you win a larger one or get access to free advertising.
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