Business Grants for Women


Feb 10, 2016


According to the 2015 State of the Woman-Owned Businesses Report:

  • There are over 9.4 million women-owned American businesses, generating nearly $1.5 trillion in revenues and employing over 7.9 million people.
  • In the last 18 years, the number of women-owned firms has grown by almost 75%

But despite their influence and importance, women entrepreneurs are still perceived as “minority business owners.”

Underappreciated and underestimated, they can struggle to obtain financial support to fund their business growth.

Thankfully, some generous organizations and individuals are investing in the future of women entrepreneurs by providing grants.

This article shall focus on private grants for women entrepreneurs who already own revenue generating businesses – at least a $100,000 per year – and are seeking additional capital.


What are Grants?

Grants are non-repayable funds that are offered primarily by government departments, private foundations (e.g. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), corporate organizations (e.g. Macy’s), and non-profit establishments (e.g. Robert R. McCormick Foundation). .

But although – or maybe because – they are ‘free money’, grants are not easy to obtain. Fierce competition, cause-related caveats, and a long-drawn grant application process – with specific guidelines and deadlines for each provider – can throw multiple obstacles in your way.

Increase your chances of success by instituting a strategic search, research and application workflow that minimizes frustrations and maximizes productivity.

Following are some tips:


Understand the Grants Landscape

If you have never obtained a grant before, it is important to educate yourself before moving ahead.

Luckily, there is no shortage of resources promoting the interests of woman entrepreneurships through lobbying, education, training, leadership, and networking opportunities. For instance: State Economic Development Agency, Women’s Funding Network, SCORE, National Association of Business Owners (NAWBO), American Association of University Women, National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), Count-Me-In,  Business Grants and National Women’s Business Council (NWBC).

Study these organizations, talk to other entrepreneurs who have applied for grants, and visit local business chapters (such as an SBA Woman Business Center) or advisors who can guide you in the right direction.


Assess Your Needs

Before beginning your grants search, figure out why you need additional funding. What are your SMART (Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Relevant-Timebound) goals?

Do you want to open stores in new locations, add a new product line, increase your marketing budget, go green, or implement some other novel idea to develop your business?

Clarifying – and writing down – your intentions and motivations will not only set a direction for your business, but will also help you find the most appropriate grant partners.


Determine Grant Opportunities

Start by seeking out local foundations or organizations that offer grants for established women entrepreneurs. (SBA’s local offices or Women Business Centers might offer some guidance.)

Following are also some popular private grant sites that have accelerated the growth of women entrepreneurs:

  • Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant: Gives away $100,000 annually for up to 10 innovative, women-owned companies that are beyond the start-up phase and ready to expand their business in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The minimum reward is $10,000, and participant revenues must not exceed $1 million in year prior to application
  • Chase Mission Main Street Grants: Chase Bank, with LinkedIn as a sponsor, gives away $2 million dollars to 20 established small businesses to raise awareness about their importance in local communities, and enable the winners to expand their business.
  • The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest: Every year, FedEx awards ten small businesses with individual grants for up to $25,000 dollars, with the total allocated grant money being $75,000.
  • Zions Bank Smart Woman’s Grants: Zions Bank awards one $3,000 Smart Women Grant annually in 6 categories: (a) Business; (b) Community Development; (c) Continuing Education and Teacher Support; (d) Child and Elder Care; Health and Human Services; (f) Arts and Culture
  • Huggies Mom Inspired Grant Program: The Huggies® MomInspired™ Grant Program awards $15,000 to passionate and imaginative ‘mompreneurs’ who wish to grow their start-ups.
  • InnovateHer Women Business Challenge: Sponsored by the SBA, this is a nationwide business competition that spotlights the contributions of cutting-edge entrepreneurs with a total prize money of $70,000 (in 2016).


Create a Research System

To prevent overwhelm and action-paralysis due to such a wide range of grant choices, you need to organize your research by:

  • Creating a Master Excel file of all the organizations you stumbled upon during your initial search. Specify the organization name, contact information (URL, phone number, fax, social media), and mission.
  • Scanning each of the websites to select the ones that best fit your financial and business needs. Save this updated list in a separate Most Interested” Excel File
  • Studying the “website, social channels, press releases, publications, past grant recipients, and affiliated partners” of this narrowed list of organizations. Pay particular attention to funding and grant application guidelines.
  • Reaching out personally to each of these organizations for the most updated and accurate information about their opportunities and requirements. Reconfirm grant proposal formatting, submission guidelines, and deadlines (Be aware of multiple deadlines).
  • Choosing the top 1-3 grants that best resonate with you.


Grant Application Process

Congratulations, you are now ready to start applying.

Keep in mind the following two mantras:

  • Double check guidelines and deadlines: Grant review committees aren’t tolerant of mistakes.
  • Show your personality: A rousing, riveting and real story will stand out amongst a sea of me-too

Here are the primary steps of the application process:

  • Give yourself an artificial deadline – say one week prior to the actual one – to avoid last-minute stress.
  • Download and fill the online application.
  • Include the following in your grant proposal:
    • A Statement of Need, showcasing the problems your business intends to resolve and how they align with the grant organizations’ goals
    • A business plan, outlining, at the minimum, the following sections:
      • Mission/purpose, vision, and motive of your organization
      • Unique Service Proposition (What sets you apart?)
      • Product lifecycle (Sales and demand forecasts)
      • Target audience analysis.
      • Marketing plan (Budgets and preferred channels)
      • Management structure of your organization, with professional biographies of the founders and any philanthropic contributions
      • An explanation of how you will spend the grant money.
      • Appendix with supporting documentation, such as business certification, tax-related documents, resume, degrees.
    • A concise executive summary and introductory cover letter to thank the grant review panel and introduce your company.

Review your application package to check for missing documents, wrong formatting, and incorrect information. Submit before due date.

This waiting period – while the review committee is making a decision – can be suspenseful. But instead of fretting over something that’s out of your control, take pride that you did everything within your control. Then get cracking on your next grant application ASAP.

Side Note: Unsure about your grant proposal writing skills? Seek the help of professional grant writers. But remain involved every step of the way to protect your brand reputation.


Stay Calm and Keep Going

The worst case scenario? You don’t get a grant. Be prepared for this worst case, as “free money” doesn’t come easy. If you are unable to attain a grant, fear not. You can continue seeking other grants, and protect your cash flow in the meantime using alternative financing solutions, like short-term advances.