Women-owned businesses are a fast-growing small-business category in the United States, and they make a significant contribution to the economy.
These businesses created 8.4 million new jobs between 2007 and 2012, according to a 2019 report from the National Women’s Business Council. Yet, the report says, women business owners raise less capital than their male-owned counterparts.
Socially conscious firms and nonprofit organizations are aware of the financial gaps between men and women and make an effort to close it with small-business grants designed to support female entrepreneurs, whether you run a startup, nonprofit, or local business.
Small-Business Grants for Women
These nine grants specifically aim to support women in business, nonprofits, and the arts, so eligibility requirements include gender identity. Tons of small-business grants are available regardless of gender, so keep an eye out for additional funding opportunities in your industry.
1. Amber Grants: $10,000 & $25,000
WomensNet, an entrepreneurial community for women, launched the Amber Grant in 1998.
Each month, the organization awards a grant of $10,000 to a woman-owned business. At the end of each year, one of the year’s monthly recipients receives an additional $25,000 grant.
The application is simpler than for most similar opportunities. You tell the organization about your business and what you’d do with the money and pay a $15 application fee.
To be eligible, you must be a woman who’s a majority owner in a for-profit business operating in the U.S. or Canada and be 18 years old or older. Women who run a business in any industry qualify.
The three-woman WomensNet Advisory Board selects a monthly winner from among applicants and announces grant winners about a week into the following month.
Judging criteria are vague, but they note that they look for “passion, business savvy, vision, and so much more.” Fill your application with details to get the judges excited about supporting your business.
2. Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards: $30,000 or $100,000
The Cartier Women’s Initiative annual grants are for women-led businesses in any industry anywhere in the world.
Each year, 21 businesses across seven world regions receive grant funding, business coaching, and a scholarship to attend international business school INSEAD’s Social Entrepreneurship Executive Education Programme. To participate, you have to be able to commit to spending three to four hours per week from January to April participating in the program, plus one week of in-person workshops in early May.
One laureate from each region receives $100,000, and two runners-up from each region receive $30,000.
To be eligible:
- The company must be an early-stage for-profit business that’s been generating revenue for at least one year.
- A director, general manager, or CEO leading the company must be a woman.
- Your business must meet at least one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals around social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
- Your business must not have raised more than $2 million in dilutive funding from investors.
- You must be 18 years old or the age of majority in your country.
- You must have a good command of English.
The annual application period isn’t set in stone, but the organization tells Money Crashers the 2020 period is between June and August. Applicants receive results in January, and Cartier announces laureates in May.
3. Shirley Holden Helberg Grants for the Mature Women: $1,000
The National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW) supports women who are professional artists, writers, and musicians through a biennial conference, webinars, scholarships, and grants.
The Shirley Holden Helberg Grants for the Mature Women are three grants of $1,000 each in arts, creative writing, and music to women 35 years old or older.
To be eligible, you cannot have ever been an NLAPW member at any time. The organization accepts applications annually in fall.
4. Chicago Foundation for Women Grants: $15,000 – $150,000
The Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) grants are between $15,000 and $150,000 for Chicagoland advocacy or direct-service businesses and groups that promote women’s economic security, freedom from violence, and health.
Organizations must be nonprofit; located in Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, McHenry, or Will counties; have women in leadership positions; and work to benefit women and girls in underserved communities.
Your organization must follow CFW guiding principles, which include:
- Intentionally benefitting women and girls
- Supporting women’s reproductive rights
- A board and staff whose demographics reflect the communities you serve
- Being accessible to people with disabilities
- Being inclusive and respectful of LGBTQ people
The foundation accepts applications for those in the economic security category annually in the fall and those in the other two categories each spring.
5. Ms. Foundation: Amounts Vary
The Ms. Foundation grants go to reproductive health, affordable child care, and gender-based violence-prevention organizations of all sizes around the U.S. The foundation bases grant amounts on the organization’s or project’s budget.
Grantees also receive organizational support, leadership training, and networking opportunities with fellow Ms. Foundation grant recipients.
Generally, the foundation sends requests for proposals to select organizations, but it occasionally hosts open calls for applications. Eligible organizations must be 501(c)(3) nonprofits based in the U.S.
6. Eileen Fisher Grants Supporting Women in Environmental Justice: $10,000 – $40,000
Environmental justice grants from sustainable women’s clothing retailer Eileen Fisher support nonprofit organizations and programs. To be eligible, nonprofits must demonstrate women’s representation in organizational leadership or create opportunities for women to pursue leadership roles in environmental solutions.
Eileen Fisher women-owned business grants total up to $200,000 annually in grants between $10,000 and $40,000.
To be eligible, your organization must:
- Be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with women in executive positions
- Provide direct services, primarily to those who identify as female
- Have leadership whose demographics reflect those you serve
- Provide financial statements for one year
- Have a good command of English
The company takes applications annually in April and notifies recipients in October. It selects grantees based on alignment with Eileen Fisher values and grant themes, financial need, potential for measurable impact, demonstration of understanding of issues facing women, solving root causes of environmental or gender injustice, and engaging all genders.
7. Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Grants: $500 – $1,500
Formerly Money for Women, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund makes project grants to feminist writers and visual artists. It doesn’t fund business projects, but if you’re self-employed as an artist or writer, you can use these grants to support your work.
The fund accepts applications annually in January, and the categories rotate each year: nonfiction, poetry, fiction, visual art, and mixed genre. Grantees find out if they received the grant around June.
Your project must use intersectional feminism as a central focus, be highly original, and be well underway by the time you apply. Cisgender or transgender women artists can apply.
8. MBDA Grants: Opportunities Vary
The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce supports businesses owned by people of color in the U.S. through grants, loans, and development programs.
MBDA occasionally offers grants for nonprofit business development, so keep an eye on its website for grant opportunities to support women of color in business.
9. Open Meadows Foundation Grants: Up to $2,000
Note: Open Meadows Foundation is currently reorganizing and not accepting applications, but applications may open again in the future.
Open Meadows supports projects that are led by and support women and girls and promote gender, racial, and economic justice.
Winning projects are focused on activism; political change; and the empowerment of women, black, indigenous, and people of color. The foundation awards grants up to $2,000 once per organization.
To be eligible, your project must:
- Be designed and implemented by women, girls, or both
- Be led and implemented by people who reflect the diversity of the community served
- Promote building community power
- Demonstrate financial need and an organizational budget less than $75,000
The foundation prioritizes small and startup organizations.
How to Win a Small-Business Grant
Whether for a few hundred dollars or tens of thousands, put your best foot forward when applying for a small-business grant. Entrepreneurs who’ve received grants share these tips to win a small business grant:
- Hire an experienced writer to ensure the grant proposal is professional quality.
- Write a solid business plan to show the judges you’ll use their money wisely.
- Be specific about how you’ll use the funds.
- Know your competition so you know what makes you stand out.
- Emphasize your positive impact on the community.
- Hone your network to stay abreast of grant opportunities and develop name recognition with potential judges.
More Small-Business Grants
Female small-business owners can, of course, also apply for grants that aren’t targeted specifically to any gender. To expand your options, explore these other popular small-business grant opportunities:
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. This annual contest awards grants to help U.S.-based small businesses grow and scale. In 2020, it awarded more than $250,000 across 12 businesses.
- SBIR/STTR. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) are SBA programs that award grants to support technological innovation in small businesses.
- The Halstead Grant. This annual award helps silver jewelry artists grow their businesses. The grand prize is $7,500, and the application deadline is August 1 each year.
- National Association for the Self-Employed. This organization awards a monthly Growth Grant of up to $4,000 to a small-business owner each month, as well as educational scholarships for their dependents.
More Resources for Women Business Owners
Explore additional opportunities for training, networking, and financing that support women-owned businesses:
- SBA Women Centers. These centers of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offer services like training and counseling to women who own businesses. Find one in your area.
- SBA Loans for Small Businesses. SBA loans are government-backed loans you can borrow from participating lenders. The SBA website tells you everything you need to know to apply for an SBA-backed loan.
- Investment Funds Dedicated to Women in Business. For investment funds that target female founders, check out Grants for Women, which contains more than grants.
- Tory Burch Foundation. Through its Capital Program with Bank of America, the foundation provides women entrepreneurs with access to affordable loans.
- Other Financing Options. If you don’t qualify for women-focused grants or programs, look into self-financing, borrowing from friends and family, women-focused funds or angel investors, or crowdfunding to fund your small business.
Beware of Small-Business Grant Scams
Infomercials and online ads would have you believe the government makes small business grants to any for-profit business that wants free money.
However, according to the SBA, the federal government generally only provides grants to nonprofits, educational institutions, and state and local governments. Ads for government business grants are probably scams because the U.S. government doesn’t run a business grant program.
Scammers use three common tactics to lure you into believing you’re eligible for a “government grant.” Be on alert — the government will never do any of these.
1. They Contact You to Promote the Grant
If you receive a phone call, email, or letter telling you you’re eligible for a government grant, it’s a scam. Federal agencies never contact business owners to encourage grant applications.
Some private funders, such as the Ms. Foundation, do contact organizations with requests for grant proposals.
2. They Ask You for Money
Scammers tend to have one thing in common: They ask you for money to apply for a grant. The government never charges you for an application, though some legitimate private organizations do.
3. They Claim You’ve Won a Grant You Didn’t Apply For
Scammers sometimes contact you to notify you they’ve awarded a grant you haven’t applied for. The government never does that. You have to go through the application process if you want a chance at funding.
These scammers typically charge a processing fee to “claim” the supposed grant money. The government doesn’t ever do that, either.
Who Can Get a Government Small Business Grant?
The SBA mostly provides loans and other kinds of support for small businesses. But it works with organizations to provide grants to eligible businesses that do scientific research and development.
If you run this type of business, browse Grants.gov to find legitimate government grants for your organization.
Getting a government grant for your small business is unlikely, so beware of scammers who try to convince you otherwise.
Legitimate small business grants for women and alternative financing options can give you the support you need to take your business or project to the next level. Mark your calendar with grant cycles and deadlines, and apply for grants you qualify for.
In the meantime, work on building your personal and business savings accounts or find investors and incubators that can infuse your business with cash quickly. You can also take out a small-business loan, line of credit from Bluevine, or business credit card once you have a solid business plan and know you can repay the debt responsibly.