Women are taking up the business challenge like never before. A study from insurance company Hiscox USA shows the number of women-owned small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the U.S. grew 1.5 times more than the national average for all businesses over the past 15 years. As of 2016, more than 9 million SMBs were female-led.
Women still have a harder time securing business financing than men, though, for reasons ranging from having a lower appetite for risk to outright gender bias. These small business grants for women are a valuable way for many SMBs to get the financial kickstart they need. Here are 8 of the best business grants open to female entrepreneurs and business owners.
Nonprofit and Community-Focused Business Grants
Starting a nonprofit company or one that’s focused on community-based activities is often a worthy cause, but it might not be the most popular investment opportunity for your profit-oriented bank. Some organizations have recognized this gap and made provision for it, and you’ll find some of the best grant options available in this field.
1. The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program
Established in 2004, women’s clothing brand Eileen Fisher helps female-owned companies expand their businesses. The grants are awarded specifically for increasing the role of women in environmental and economic sustainability. To be eligible, your business must have been established for 3 years, have revenue of less than $1 million per year and hold registered 501(c)(3) status.
In 2017, Bee Downtown founder Leigh-Kathryn Bonner was a recipient of the Eileen Fisher grant. As a 4th-generation beekeeper, Bonner works with local businesses to provide rooftop beehives in the area, which supports pollination and encourages a thriving ecosystem. Review the requirements for these business grants for women and submit your application online between April 1 and April 30, 2020.
2. American Association of University Women (AAUW) Community Action Grants
The AAUW awards nonprofit, community action grants for programs and projects that promote equity and education for women and girls. The projects must have an individual woman, an AAUW branch, AAUW state organization or a community-based non-profit organization at its head.
Grants issued are either 1-year grants (for community-based projects) or 2-year grants (for new project startups), and in all cases should include specific details of how projects promote learning and equality for females. K-12 and science-, technology-, engineering- and math-focused projects (STEM) get special consideration.
AAUW grants have a history dating back to 1972. You can read about the most recent grantees and what they do. Apply online for this year’s grants for women starting a business or expanding an existing one.
Creative Business Grants
Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation, and while there are many organizations that recognize the latter, only a few are prepared to fund the former. Three organizations that provide funding for women in creative industries are the Girlboss Foundation, Halstead Beads and the Idea Cafe.
3. Girlboss Foundation
Created by the founder of the Girlboss women’s networking organization, Sophia Amoruso, this foundation presents 2 amounts of $15,000 each year in grant money for women in business. Each grant cycle runs semi-annually and, in addition to the funding, the winners get exposure and tickets to the Girlboss Rally. You must be in the fields of design, fashion, music or the arts to qualify for these grants.
The application process includes supplying examples of your work, along with a detailed plan on how the funding will be used to boost your business and a snappy elevator pitch. Click here to apply for business grants for women through Girlboss.
4. The Halstead Grant
This is another grant aimed at encouraging exceptional creative talent, specifically in the field of jewelry design. Each year since 2006, the program has awarded $7,500 in cash and $1,000 in merchandise to a new designer who works mainly in silver.
The application process includes submitting binders with extensive written information as well as portfolio photos. The panel of judges scores applications through several rounds over a full month of judging and then spends a week deliberating to choose the final winner. If you’re interested in applying for this grant, you have until Aug. 1 to submit your entry.
5. Idea Café Grant
Idea Café grants $1,000 to any business owner who has a creative solution to an everyday problem. It’s not exclusively for women but very female-friendly, and the last 3 grants have gone to women entrepreneurs. It funds ideas and projects in line with the company’s goal to promote positive social and environmental changes in the world.
Recent grantees include Mew Haven Cat Café in Connecticut and Flour & Salt Bakery in Hamilton, New York. Application is open to all signed-up members of Idea Café, and there’s no entry fee, purchase or complex business plan submission requirements. Find more details here to prepare your application.
General Business Grants
Of course, if you aren’t eligible for one of the creative or community-focused small business grants for women-owned businesses listed above, you can always apply for a grant that’s not exclusive to a particular demographic or apply for a small business loan.
6. FedEx Small Business Grant
This is another grant that isn’t earmarked only for women, but it’s distributed between male and female business owners. You’ll have to be in operation for more than 6 months and have fewer than 99 employees. Franchise owners, direct sellers and non-profits aren’t eligible to enter.
Winners are determined partly by public votes and also get free exposure via the FedEx media outlets. To apply, you’ll need to compile a business story and plan, details of what you would do with the grant and submit these along with the entry form.
7. Amber Business Grants
The Amber Grant was started in honor of 19-year-old Amber Wigdahl, who died before achieving her dreams to become an entrepreneur. The funds are specifically intended as start-up business grants for women to begin small, local operations.
Monthly grant winners get $4,000 each and are automatically eligible for the $25,000 grant, which is determined by public voting. This is one of the few grants for new women-owned businesses that are open to applications from Canada as well as U.S.-based businesses. Apply for a monthly Amber business grant here.
8. Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards
For businesses that want to play in the “bigger” leagues, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards offer funding to 21 women business owners each year. Winners also get personalized business coaching, media exposure and a 6-day executive program scholarship. Former winners include EzyGain and Siren.care.
Entrants’ businesses must be registered for between 1 and 5 years, aim to grow significantly in the coming year and meet one of the United Nations social, environmental or economic sustainability goals. Submit an online application to enter this program.
Other Business Grants for Women
If none of the listed grants is right for your business, you can visit GrantsforWomen.org for a number of other, smaller funding options. Don’t forget to explore federal business grants for women as well as state-level opportunities, which can take some research to find.
If your business is in its early stages, you can consider looking for an angel investor or applying to investment companies such as 37 Angels and Belle Capital. And for women of color, the JP Morgan Chase program Entrepreneurs of Color is doing great things to help women business owners in the black and Latinx communities.