Times are tough for small business, but help is available, from both the government—federal, state or local—and the private sector. It may be in the form of a grant, a loan or a leg up competing in a difficult business environment. Here’s a breakdown to help you sort through what’s available.
Federal stimulus aid
Businesses of all sizes have been negatively impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some are just getting started, while others have had to rethink their business model. President Biden's recently enacted coronavirus stimulus bill is designed to help, providing $1.9 trillion in assistance to businesses and individuals. The bill includes aid in the form of tax credits, loans and grants.
[Read: Small Business Update: More on PPP Loans and the Employee Retention Tax Credit]
Begin your search for a grant from the federal government at Grants.gov. This government site offers the most comprehensive database of funds the government is going to give away. There are thousands of grants to apply for, with opportunities for companies from all backgrounds.
Keep in mind that not all assistance flows directly from the federal government to small business. Some funds are distributed to state and local governments and agencies, nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher learning. These entities, in turn, distribute the funds, or use them to provide technical or educational assistance on a local level.
In addition to the programs listed here, be sure to check with your state and local governments and use the resources listed below. When searching through grant and contracting options, note that you may qualify for more than one program.
As illustrated by the following sampling of grants, the assistance available to you from the government will vary, depending on your specific situation.
- COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Through the SBA, small businesses can receive up to $10,000 in Targeted EIDL Advances. These businesses must be located in low-income communities and be experiencing a loss of revenue due to the pandemic.
- National Institute of Health Grants. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is currently funding grant opportunities related to COVID-19 research. These grants are reserved for small businesses that develop and research biomedical technology. There are multiple grants available with deadlines throughout 2021 and beyond.
- Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) is for live venue operators like theaters and museums that were in operation as of Feb. 29, 2020 and were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Small businesses can apply online and receive equal to 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue or $10 million, whichever is less.
- Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR). The SBIR offers grants to small businesses so they can participate in federal research and development with the potential for commercialization. It’s a highly competitive awards-based program that helps businesses achieve scientific excellence and technological innovation. To qualify for SBIR grants, you must operate a for-profit company and satisfy other requirements.
- Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR). Similar to SBIR, the STTR program focuses on funding research in the R&D arena. However, what separates the STTR is the requirement that the small business have a formal collaboration with a research institution. To qualify for STTR grants, you must operate a for-profit company and satisfy other requirements.
- Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) Grants. The Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) Grant Program is open to nonprofits, state entities, tribal entities, higher education institutions and public bodies in eligible low-income rural areas. These four-year grants range from $500,000 to $2 million and can be used to create and augment high-wage jobs, accelerate new business formation, support industry clusters and maximize the use of local productive assets.
- U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). Targeted grants and loans designed to aid minority-owned businesses are offered throughout the year. Minority-owned businesses can find information about local MBDA Business Centers at MBDA.gov.
- U.S. Small Business Administration State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). Intended to assist small businesses desiring to export product, this program distributes federal funds through state entities. Small businesses that meet the criteria set by each state can use the financial assistance to participate in foreign trade missions and shows, obtain entry to foreign markets, develop websites and design international marketing products or campaigns.
- U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). The EDA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce offers ongoing funding opportunities for projects that support regional and national economic development. Applicants can apply for a variety of rolling-basis EDA investments that fund projects in construction, non-construction, planning, technical assistance, research and evaluation, higher education and more.
As you would expect, acceptance of free money from the government comes with a fair amount of paperwork. Applying for a grant can be time-consuming and technical. You want to make sure, therefore, that you are eligible before applying. In addition to the legal and administrative prerequisites, there are ongoing reporting and auditing requirements.
Government contract assistance
The federal government spends billions of dollars on goods and services each year. A lot of that money is spent through a competitive bidding process. Programs have been put in place to assist some small businesses with the process, allowing them a better chance to compete for those federal dollars.
- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program. The federal government seeks to award at least 3% of all federal contracting dollars to such businesses annually, so this program helps with meeting that target. This federal contracting program offers assistance to small business owners who are service-disabled veterans. Eligible small businesses must be over 50% owned/controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans, have day-to-day operations and long-term goals managed by at least one service-disabled veteran and have a service-connected disability.
- Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program. The federal government seeks to award at least 5% of federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses annually. Through this SBA program, the Office of Women’s Business Ownership provides support to women entrepreneurs by offering business training, counseling, federal contracts and access to credit and capital. Their goal is to offer equal opportunities for all women in business.
- 8(a) Business Development Program. The purpose of this program is to assist small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged entities. This is achieved by limiting competition for certain government contracts to businesses participating in the 8(a) business development program. To participate a business must be certified as an 8(a) entity.
- HUBZone Program. This program aids businesses in underutilized business zones by making them more competitive in regard to some government contracts. Businesses that join the HUBZone program can compete for set-aside contracts as well as receive preference on others, including a 10% price evaluation preference in open contract competitions.
Natural Resource Sales Assistance Program
In addition to the billions of dollars spent purchasing goods and services, the federal government also sells large amounts of natural resources and surplus property. The SBA Natural Resource Sales Assistance Program sets aside a percentage of these goods for bidding by small businesses only. In addition, federal agencies sometimes divide surplus materials into smaller parcels, making it easier for small businesses to purchase. The five categories are:
- Timber and related forest products.
- Strategic materials.
- Royalty oil.
- Leases involving rights to minerals, coil, oil and gas.
- Surplus real and personal property.
The program also provides training for small businesses on government sales and leasing.
General small business grants
There are many nonprofit and corporate entities offering grants and other assistance to small businesses. Here are a few such programs that are open to qualifying small businesses in any industry:
- The Barstool Fund. This grant is for small businesses affected by COVID-19 who kept on many employees during the pandemic and has a proven track record of success. Winners are chosen on a rolling basis; apply today for a chance to receive funding for your business.
- GoFundMe Small Business Relief Fund. GoFundMe’s Small Business Relief Fund will match $500 grants to qualifying small businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and raise at least $500 through a GoFundMe campaign. The fund is backed by GoFundMe and corporations like Intuit QuickBooks, Yelp, GoDaddy and Bill.com. Small business owners with existing campaigns can add the hashtag #SmallBusinessRelief to their campaign and fill out this form to confirm their business.
- Nav Small Business Grant. Nav offers up to $10,000 quarterly to small businesses looking to expand. All you have to do is fill out the application form and share your voting link to your audience, explaining who you are and what challenges you have overcome/continue to struggle with. While applications close on August 6, voting ends on August 8.
- Small Business Impact Award. Bank of America and Mastercard have partnered to sponsor the Small Business Impact Award. This $10,000 award will be given to four small businesses that thrived in the last year despite large obstacles. To apply, visit the organization's website and answer this question: "In the last year, how has your business made a positive impact on your customers, your employees and your community?" Winners will be selected at a virtual ceremony in October 2021.
- Walmart Local Community Grants. Through this small business grant, local organizations can receive funding from Walmart and Sam’s Club facilities. Grants range from $250 to $5,000. The deadline to apply is December 31, 2021.
Industry-specific small business grants
Some small business grant programs are confined to a specific entrepreneur demographic or business profile and they often have an application process that is easier to navigate. This is a sample list, so be sure to check with nonprofits and large corporations in your geographic area or industry.
- Amber Grant Foundation. With a simple goal of supporting women entrepreneurs, the Amber Grant Foundation was founded by WomensNet in 1998. The foundation awards a $10,000 grant each month and an additional $25,000 grant each December to women entrepreneurs with a compelling story.
- Libraries Transforming Communities. COVID-19 affected many businesses, including libraries, especially those in rural areas. To help libraries in small and rural communities, the American Library Association is giving up to 650 qualifying libraries $3,000 to use toward increasing media literacy or creating new COVID-19 safety procedures. The third grant round closes September 16.
- Live Your Dream: Education And Training Awards For Women. It can be a hustle to be the sole income provider for your family and keep your career goals a priority. The Live Your Dream awards seeks to help women have it all, with over $2.4 million distributed to over 1,500 women annually. Eligibility guidelines for women are listed on the organization's website, and the deadline to apply is November 15. This grant opens on August 1, so set a calendar reminder to go apply!
- NASA Science Mission Directorate Entrepreneurs Challenge. After the success of the 2020 NASA Science Mission Directorate Entrepreneurs Challenge, this challenge has been reinstated for 2021! This challenge asks participants to contribute new ideas toward advancements in technology that will aid the agency's science mission goals. All you have to do is explain and outline your idea to submit during round one. If you're accepted into round two, you'll submit a more detailed description. Winners could receive up to $90,000! First-round proposals are due August 6.
- National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants. According to its website, the NASE has distributed over $1,000,000 in grants to its members. Its growth grants provide up to $4,000 to assist with training, marketing and more. You must be a member for 90 days before you are eligible to apply.
- BIPOC Small Business Grant by Annuity Payment Freedom. This grant by Annuity Payment Freedom was created in response to the impact of the pandemic on BIPOC-owned businesses. There are both marketing grants to help drive traffic and micro-grant opportunities. These are awarded to businesses on a rolling basis, with winners announced on the last day of each month.
- Black Founder Startup Grant. The Black Founder Startup Grant program from the SoGal Foundation and other sponsors provides grants of up to $10,000 to Black and multiracial women and nonbinary entrepreneurs. The program accepts applications on a rolling basis and is open to entrepreneurs with a legally registered business who plan to seek investor financing to scale.
- The Halstead Grant. The Halstead Grant will award grants of $7,500 in start-up capital and $1,000 in merchandise to new jewelry designers working in silver. They’ll also help boost the businesses’ recognition in the jewelry industry. The deadline is August 1, 2021.
- Foundation for a Just Society Grants. Foundation for a Just Society offers grants to local, national, regional, and global organizations and networks that support the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI individuals. You can email the organization for more information on specific grants.
- IFundWomen COVID-19 Relief Fund. IFundWomen launched a COVID-19 Relief Fund that provides community-funded microgrants and free coaching to women-owned businesses affected by COVID-19. Grants are distributed on a rolling basis. To be considered, women entrepreneurs must start a campaign on IFW.
- IFundWomen Entrepreneur of the Year 2021. This award celebrates extraordinary women entrepreneurs by offering a $100,000 equity investment to its winner. If you're a female entrepreneur looking for an investment opportunity, apply now or before the deadline on September 20.
- Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award. Each year, First Peoples Fund, via the Community Spirit Awards, offers $25,000 to Native artists who embody their people's cultural assets. The grant amount goes toward helping support them to carry out their work. Nominations take place from July 19 through August 13, while applications are open from August 20 through September 10.
- Patagonia Corporate Grant Program. Patagonia’s corporate grant program offers between $10,000 and $20,000 of funding to nonprofits with missions to protect and preserve the environment. If you meet the grant requirements, you can apply today.
- Power Forward Small Business Grant. Black-owned small businesses located across New England are eligible for the Power Forward Small Business Grant program. Sponsored by the NAACP, Vistaprint and the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation, eligible businesses with a maximum of 25 employees will be awarded grants of $25,000 on a rolling basis.
- StartOut Scholarship Program. StartOut offers scholarship opportunities to LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who wish to participate in their Founder Program and become a Giving Member. The initiative provides a 12-month membership for those LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who have been underrepresented, underserved and underestimated within their community.
The programs listed above are a good start when it comes to grants and funding. You may find additional resources available by following the links below.
- Funding options for minority-owned businesses, including multiple grants, funding sources and low-cost loans that are intended to help minority-owned businesses grow.
- Funding options for women-owned businesses, including ten programs, agencies and organizations that are helping women entrepreneurs be better represented in the ranks of American business owners.
- SBA Small Business Development Centers, which can help companies of all kinds locate additional funding opportunities at the national and local level.
- SCORE, which can assign a volunteer business mentor who can provide guidance on numerous topics, including funding and operations.