Small business grants: 21 options to apply for free funds for your business

No matter what kind of small business you own, there are grants available to help your business grow. Read on for details on 21 grant options and databases.

by Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom
updated May 11, 2023 ·  13min read

Small business grants offer funds to grow your business in a variety of ways. In many cases, you can use grants for things like operations, marketing, or expanding your team. Finding out which ones you may be eligible for is crucial so that you can start applying.

In this article, we'll cover the basics of grants and give you tips about how to score more of them.

A man in an apron smiles while looking at a tablet in a plant store.

What are small business grants, and who is eligible to receive one?

small business grants infographic

Small business grants are amounts of seed money given to entrepreneurs to build upon their business. Grant money is considered “gifted," and you are not required to pay it back. Sometimes, you may need to pay taxes on the amounts received, so please consider this and talk to a tax professional.

To secure a grant, you may have to do things like:

  • Meet eligibility requirements
  • Submit applications
  • Go through interviews

In exchange, you could be awarded financial resources to build your brand, team, and operations.

Government entities or private businesses establish most grant programs because they want to help others succeed.

Tip: Search grant databases, such as GrantWatch, to find available grants in your industry. GrantWatch is an online hub for more than 26,000 grants in the United States and Canada in which you can browse various funding opportunities easily by filtering your specifications.

Grants vs. loans: What's the difference for entrepreneurs?

loan is funding you must pay back to the creditor who loaned you the money. In contrast, a grant is “gifted" money you don't need to pay back.

You will have to apply for both grants and loans, but a loan application considers your ability to repay the money while a grant application considers your merit as it applies to the rules of the grant.

4 types of grants available to small businesses

Four types of business grants

Grants of many types are available to small business owners and grouped into four main categories. Your eligibility for these grants will depend on your products and services, how you own your business, and your business's mission.

The four types of grants available to business owners are:

  1. Federal grants: The government gives grants to stimulate the economy and draws from the U.S. general federal revenue.
  2. State grants: These can be smaller than federal grants, but because of their state-specific requirements, the competition is often slimmer. This makes them more attainable for many organizations. Even smaller than a federal grant, they can still be a much-needed financial boost.
  3. Local grants: Small establishments are the main focus of these grants that directly stimulate the community around them.
  4. Corporate grants: These grants, given out by corporations, can have various requirements, come in different amounts, and be suited for specific or broad types of businesses. In most cases, companies set aside money at the beginning of the fiscal year and host competitions to distribute funds.

Grants for starting a small business

illustration we are open sign

There's plenty of grant money available for entrepreneurs. Look into funding from the following sources to help your business. These grants were available at the time of publishing and may not still be available.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources created in 2002. It's an e-government program operated by the Office of Management and Budget. The program provides resources and assistance for grant seekers to find and receive funding.

  • Award amount: Varies
  • How to apply: Visit the website for details on specific grants.

The website allows you to search for federal grants and check your eligibility before applying for one. You can also track your grant applications once submitted.

2. Local chamber of commerce

Start by researching grants within your community—your local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start.

  • Award amount: Varies
  • How to apply: Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce for information.

Although some grants have stipulations like industry, business type, size, and location, your local Chamber of Commerce should be able to connect you with grants that fit your situation. Their team can also provide your small business funding services, tips, and resources.

3. Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)

The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) is a competitive grant program for small businesses. This program helps fund entrepreneurs in the research and development industry to support scientific and technological innovation.

  • Award amount: Phase 1, $50,000–$250,000 for six months or one year; Phase 2, $750,000 for two years (only available for businesses who previously received a Phase I grant).
  • How to apply: Apply with a specific solicitation if you meet industry requirements.

solid business plan is a must before you apply. A plan will clarify your business's direction and how it can benefit your community.

4. Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR)

Small Business Technology Transfer Programs are similar to SBIRs but focused on the technology industry. This grant is issued to businesses in the technology industry.

  • Award amount: Phase 1, $50,000–$250,000 for six months or one year; Phase 2, $750,000 for two years (only available for businesses who previously received a Phase I grant).
  • How to apply: Apply with a specific solicitation if you meet industry requirements.

These grants help fund innovative technological advancement in many fields with the intention of boosting the economy.

5. FedEx Small Business Grant

FedEx hosts a small business grant contest to provide funding for ambitious entrepreneurs. The contest has tough competition, with nearly 18,000 applicants for the tenth annual grant in 2022.

  • Award amount: $15,000–$50,000
  • How to apply: Visit the FedEx website for specific application details.

This grant is open to small business models with a story “worth telling," so if you plan to apply, pinpoint what makes your business unique.

6. National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grant

The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grant was established in 2006. Over the years, NASE has awarded roughly $1,000,000 to entrepreneurs to help grow small businesses.

  • Award amount: Up to $4,000
  • How to apply: Visit NASE's website for information on the grant and how to become an NASE member.

You must be a member of NASE to apply for this grant, but winners can receive up to $4,000 to go toward marketing, team growth, and other needs.

Small business grants for women

An illustration shows a smiling woman with paperwork in the background

Several small business grants are available exclusively to women, and more arise every year to tackle inequality in funding.

7. Amber Grant Foundation

WomensNet founded the Amber Grant Foundation in 1998. Its mission is to help aspiring female small business owners fund their dreams in honor of Amber Wigdahl, the grant's namesake.

  • Award amount: $10,000–$25,000
  • How to apply: Visit WomensNet's website for details on monthly and annual grant gifts. This grant has a $15 application fee.

In the first week of every month, $10,000 is awarded to a woman pursuing her entrepreneurial passions, from “scientific inventors to bakers," according to the WomensNet site. At the end of each year, it also grants one woman $25,000.

8. Live Your Dream Award

Each year, the Live Your Dream Foundation grants $2.1 million in educational funds to women on behalf of Soroptimist International. This foundation focuses on women who have survived sexual violence or other traumatic events.

  • Award amount: $1,000–$16,000
  • How to apply: Visit Soroptimist's portal for more information.

The Live Your Dream Foundation offers programs and funding that help women build confidence, advance their careers, and overcome unexpected situations. Though prize money ranges from $1,000 to $10,000, becoming an international finalist allows winners to receive a maximum of about $16,000.

9. Cartier Women's Initiative Award

This grant program is for eco-friendly and sustainable women-owned businesses around the world. Cartier offers three funding types: regional awardsdiversity, equity, and inclusion awards, and science and technology pioneer awards.

  • Award amount: $30,000–$100,000
  • How to apply: Visit the website for more information on various awards.

10. American Association of University Women (AAUW)

The American Association of University Women not only offers academic and research grants but also grants for career development for women looking to change careers or reenter the workforce.

  • Award amount: $2,000–$20,000
  • How to apply: Visit the website for a timeline and eligibility requirements.

In addition to grants for individual career betterment, the AAUW also grants funds for projects that encourage and jump-start young girls' careers in technical fields.

11. Stacy's Rise Project

Stacy's Snacks is a women-led brand that launched the Rise Project to help women grow their businesses in the food industry. The project offers funding in addition to mentorship and opportunities for community and networking.

  • Award amount: $10,000
  • How to apply: Visit the website for grant information

Past winners have received more than $450,000 to grow their products with mentorship.

12. Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship Grant

Designer Tory Burch has a fund with the goal of mentoring and uplifting women entrepreneurs across all walks of life.

  • Award amount: $5,000
  • How to apply: Visit the website for details on the fellowship program and the foundation itself.

In addition to a monetary grant, the Fellowship program offers a year-long education model with mentorship tailored to your needs. The foundation also offers a peer network of other recipients and a trip to Burch's New York office.

Small business grants for minority groups

An illustration shows a woman in profile next to a bag of money and some paperwork.

Many small business grants celebrate this diversity by offering grants specifically for minorities to help you and your business grow.

13. Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)

The Minority Business Development Agency helps grow minority business enterprises (MBEs) through its programs, services, and funding.

  • Award amount: Up to $350,000 initial grant
  • How to apply: Visit the website for more information.

The MBDA offers business centers across the nation that offer “high quality, technical assistance to minority business enterprises," according to its site. Entrepreneurs can receive mentoring, counseling, and assistance with funding and growth.

14. Sephora Accelerate

Sephora is a makeup retailer that launched its Accelerate grant program to uplift minority business leaders. Each fall, this program helps fund and mentor entrepreneurs in the beauty industry.

  • Award amount: This is a non-monetary award that offers mentorship and a potential Sephora-exclusive product launch
  • How to apply: Visit the website for more information on eligibility and selection criteria.

Though rewards for this grant aren't monetary, they do involve a hefty financial advantage. Winners receive access to a six-month boot camp and are eligible to launch their products directly with Sephora.

15. National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)

The National Minority Supplier Development Council is a top corporate membership organization that offers business services and networking opportunities to connect you with investors and build your practice.

  • Award amount: Varies
  • How to apply: Visit the website for more information on offerings and one-off funding and grant opportunities.

Although grant opportunities run the gambit, access to the NMSDC's roster of mentors and community small business advisors is top-notch.

16. Operation Hope Small Business Empowerment Program

The Small Business Empowerment Program from Operation Hope offers eight and 12-week entrepreneurship training programs with funding opportunities.

  • Award amount: Varies
  • How to apply: Visit the website for details and other entrepreneurial growth opportunities.

17. SBA Funding Programs

The SBA grant program offers a few funding options—research and development, exporting, and associate rewards. Grants vary by year, and eligibility may differ depending on each grant offering.

  • Award amount: Varies
  • How to apply: Visit the website for more information on grant offerings.

The SBA also offers a Veterans Business Outreach Center services for veterans to help assist in operations, funding, and other business needs.

Business grants for veterans

illustration small business grants for vets

Thanks to certain organizations, veterans are on the receiving end of many small business grants and programs.

18. The Second Service Foundation

The Second Service Foundation's mission is to inspire and support military entrepreneurs. It grants businesses funding, shares educational content, provides mentorship and coaching, and hosts networking events.

  • Award amount: $4,000–$15,000
  • How to apply: Visit the website for more information on grant offerings.

Since 2016, the foundation (formerly The StreetShares Foundation) has built a strong community of over 85,000 members and helped more than 5,000 entrepreneurs build their businesses.

19. VA VR&E Business Ownership Track

If you're a veteran with a disability and an entrepreneurial passion, reach out to the VR&E Self-Employment Track program. This program helps coordinate services to build your business—starting with your business plan. Team members assist in small business operations, marketing, and finances.

  • Award amount: Non-monetary. Assistance with planning and growing a business.
  • How to apply: Visit the website for more information on program benefits.

While the program isn't a monetary grant, the resources provided to recipients are valuable for planning and scaling a business as a veteran.

Business grants for startups

An illustration shows a rocket hurtling through space.

In all likelihood, you'll need funds to take your business model to the next level. Instead of taking out a business loan, consider these startup grants.

20. Economic Development Administration (EDA) Grants

The Build to Scale (B2S) Program seeks to build regional economies by funding scalable startups through various grant competitions. Total funding stands in the millions, with $45 million in federal funds available to startups in 2022.

  • Award amount: Varies
  • How to apply: Visit the website for details on grant competitions.

The B2S program accepts applications for three different competitions: Venture Challenge, Capital Challenge, and Industry Challenge.

21. LegalZoom's Fast Break for Small Business Grants

LegalZoom has supported small businesses with $6 million in grants and services with the NBA, WNBA, and NBA G League.

  • Award amount: $10,000
  • How to apply: Go to LegalZoom's website and add your contact information to be notified when applications will be accepted again.

Applying for a small business grant: 4 process tips

An illustration outlines four tips when applying for business grants.

Small business grants come in many forms and have various requirements. While there's nothing you can do to guarantee you get a grant, there are some things that can increase your likelihood of getting picked for one.

1. Start local

Nationwide grants can be appealing due to their large awards. Before you spend countless hours preparing submissions for nationwide grants, consider starting locally.

Look for any small grants offered by your town or city. Then, branch out to the state level and regional level. These grants may not be as big as some of the ones offered to the entire country, but you'll also be competing with a smaller pool and have a greater chance of winning funding

2. Research prior winners

If you've found a grant that looks like a good fit for your business, do some digging and see who the previous winners were. Note any patterns you see between the business.

Seeing what kinds of businesses are awarded a certain grant can help you narrow down if your business is a good fit, what you could do to increase your chances, and ultimately help you save time by not applying to a grant you're unlikely to land.

3. Take your time with applications

Grant applications can be long and grueling. Take it slowly when filling them out, and don't let yourself get overwhelmed by trying to rush them. A mistake on the application could cost you the grant, so make sure it's time well spent by filling out the forms the right way.

Similarly, take your time developing your story before you start writing grant applications. Many grants may ask entrepreneurs to appeal to emotion in their applications, wanting to hear about the “why" behind your motivation to grow a business besides financial gain. A confident story can be a great asset before embarking down a path of grant applications.

4. Consider hiring a grant writer

Grant writing is an art, so consider hiring a grant writer. A grant writer will know what kind of language to use to make your application stand out, which can make quite the impact when you're competing.

It's worth noting that grant writers can be expensive. So, if you're strapped for cash, you may want to hold off and consider taking some free grant writing courses instead.

Before applying to grant programs, ensure you've covered all your business's legal bases and have a story to tell along with a business plan to show.

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About the Author

Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.