Small Business Grants – A Guide to Free Business Funding

Small Business Grants – A Guide to Free Business Funding
Jackie Lam
on May 15, 2017
Read in 24 min

Whoever said “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” apparently hadn’t heard of small business grants.

Because when it comes to funding for your small business, there’s nothing more awesome than free money.

Yes, you read that correctly.

If you’re just getting your venture off the ground, or plans for growing your company are in the works, a grant can help with some of the capital you need to make your vision happen.

Because it’s not a loan, with small business grants, you won’t have to worry about terms, interest rates, limitations, or wading through the application process.

And the best part is that you don’t have to pay any of the money back.

Here’s the thing: small business grants tend to be pretty specific.

And just because it’s not a loan doesn’t mean there aren’t certain requirements and stipulations.

The money given to you needs to be spent on whatever is permitted per the program, or you need to fulfill the requirements.

For instance, if you get a grant for your startup with the expectation that you’ll create 10 jobs in the next two years, and you don’t keep your promise, you may have to repay that money.

If you’re not sure you can fulfill the requirements of the grant, it might be easier to just stick with a business loan.

We work with a variety of lenders, some of whom offer business loans:

Funding Options APR Do you qualify? Time in Business Annual Revenue
Funding Option
Get Started
APR
5-50%
Estimated Apr
Do you qualify?
500
MIN CREDIT SCORE
Time in Business
At least 6 months
Annual Revenue
At least $100K
Funding Option
Learn More
APR
1.5% - 10%
Monthly Fee Rate
Do you qualify?
N/A
MIN CREDIT SCORE
Time in Business
At least 1 year
Annual Revenue
At least $50,000

Because a grant is essentially free money, which is pretty much the unicorn of small business funding, competition is stiff.

On top of that, we’ve seen ourselves how hard it can be to find these grants.

Websites promoting business grants might be outdated, hard to understand, or you’ll need to dig a little bit to find exactly the info you’re looking for.

To make it easier for you, we’ve compiled this comprehensive list of different small business grants divided into several categories:

Federal Small Business Grants

Many U.S. departments offer federal funding in the form of small business grants!

As you’ll see, many of the grants will involve research and development to advance government programs, initiatives, and help bolster the economy.

The types of small businesses that are eligible to qualify run the gamut, from owners of childcare centers to farmers to those working on renewable energy.

Some of the grants have pretty specific topics and industries they fund, so you’ll want to scour carefully through the fine print.

The funding for many of these grant opportunities is doled out in phases.

And you’ll want to pay attention to the fine details and keep a close watch on the submission deadlines.

Small Business Innovation Research Program

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program supports small businesses to engage in federal research and development to help boost the economy.

Its mission?

To foster technological and scientific excellence by investing federal research funds.

As of December 2016, 160,000 awards are granted each year.

Wowza.

Small Business Technology Transfer Program

Similar in mission to the SBIR, the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program includes joint ventures for small businesses and nonprofit research institutions.

A special requirement of the STTR program is that small businesses collaborate with a research institution in Phase I and Phase II.

A three-phase program, awards granted during Phase I normally don’t exceed $150,000 for 1 year, and Phase II awards aren’t greater than $1,000,000 for 2 years.

As you’ll see, a lot of federal grants fall either under the SBIR or STTR.

Department of Defense

The Department of Defense can help provide funding for your entrepreneurial efforts if you’re developing technology to help advance the Navy, Army, Air Force, and DARPA.

You can also do an awards search by state on their site.

Department of Energy

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science awards grants to small businesses each year.

The DOE’s three main goals are clean energy, fostering science and engineering in the U.S., and enhancing nuclear security.

You can learn more by watching an informational webinar and staying on top of announcements for funding opportunities.

Small Business Grants Through the Department of Education

The Department of Education’s offers grants for small businesses on developing products for teachers students from prekindergarten through Grade 16, such as pre-writing and pre-reading, STEM skills, coding, and web design.

A full list of topics can be found on National Center for Educational Research.

Enhance Safety of Children Affected by Substance Abuse

Given by the Department of Health and Human Services, this grant offers funding for enterprises with a specific purpose: increasing the well-being and enhancing the safety of youth affected by parental substance abuse.

If you have a company that focuses on providing services and activities to these at-risk children, you might be eligible.

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA offers entrepreneurs small business grants for R&D to help propel the nation’s green economy and further developments in sustainability.

Typically the funding for Phase I is $100,000, and up to $300,000 for Phase II to help and commercialize technology for the marketplace.

Homeland Security 

Since 2004, the Department of Homeland Security awards small business grants for innovation in chemical and biological defense, cybersecurity, explosives, and maritime security.

NASA

Want to work with NASA? Small businesses with under 500 employees and non-profit research institutions are eligible to apply.

Like the SBIR and STTR, the program is broken down into three phases for funding.

You can check out the schedule and awards and participation guide on its site.

National Institute of Food & Agriculture

The Department of Agriculture support research and development in agriculture, such as plant protection, food science, rural development, and biofuels, and aquaculture.

National Science Foundation

The NSF provides small business grants for organizations that are involved in scientific discovery.

Grants are provided in two phases: A proof-of-concept / feasibility grant, which is for 6–12 months and is an award of up to $225,000; and possibly a longer development grant, which is for 2 years and up to $775,000.

Awards are granted according to different topic areas, and you can sign up to receive alerts on when funding is available.

National Institute of Standards & Technology

The NIST is dedicated to advancement on a variety of topics such as information technology, cyber security, electronics, nanotechnology, and transportation.

If your small business fits the bill, you might be eligible for a grant.

National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health provides seed money to companies dedicated to creating biomedical technology to save lives.

Designed to help small businesses get the wheels in motion on federal R&D, funding is divided into three phases.

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

The National Technology Partnerships Office awards companies with funding that supports NOAA’s mission on climate monitoring, coastal restoration, and fisheries management.

Rural Energy for America Program

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program offers unrestricted small business grants in rural areas of $20,000 or less, and restricted grants of up to $500,000.

The funds may be used for renewable energy systems and the purchase, construction, and installation to improve energy efficiency.

Value Added Producer Grants

The VAPG program helps agricultural producers to help with expenses, such as marketing and advertising, inventory, and paying salaries.

This grant is awarded through a national competition, and favors farmers and ranchers who are starting out, are socially disadvantaged, or a cooperative.

Farmers’ Market Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

If your small business is focused on providing healthy food to the economically disadvantaged, then you might be eligible for this grant.

The Farmers’ Market Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offers funding for farmers’ markets and farmers to participate in SNAP outreach and education.

Grants for Researching Oral Diseases and Disorders

If your small business is involved with the training, research, and dissemination of oral health, then you can apply for this grant.

Your work can entail anywhere from oral microbes to periodontal diseases.

Volpe

If your company is dedicated to tackling challenges in transportation, you might be eligible for funding from Volpe.

The National Transportation Systems Center is focused on developing technology on railways, infrastructure systems, safety management, and air traffic.

Wood Utilization Assistance

The WUI grant helps companies that focus on biofuels, forestry, and wood to develop and commercialize your services and products.

Learn more about the federal Small Business Administration and it’s financing programs.

Small Business Grants At the State Level

Funding opportunities at the state level are like the middle children of government grants: the amounts aren’t as robust as federal grants, but they aren’t as specific as local ones.

Some grant programs provide money that can be used to export local goods internationally, while others are designed to attract businesses to move to the state.

A key thing to note: many states have similar programs.

If you see something that interests you, check and see if your state offers it.

Arkansas Technology Transfer Assistance Grant Program

The TTAG program offers funding to help small businesses develop or improve innovative products and processes by transferring technological solutions to technological, industry-based issues.

Funding is available for up to $3,750 to help with costs associated with transferring new or existing technology to an Arkansas-based enterprise.

Each small business can receive assistance for up to two transfer projects per year.

Colorado Export Development Grant

If you’re a Colorado resident and want to export your products, the CEDG offers grants of up to $4,000 for small businesses in the 14 industries, which include bioscience, creative industries, and tourism.

The money can be used toward expenses such as travel, trade shows, and business development.

DC STEP

Is your business ready to export and located in the District of Columbia?

Then you may be eligible to apply for a State Trade and Export Promotion grant (which is available in many states), through ExportDC, which you can put toward certain international marketing costs.

Requirements include being in business for at least one year.

ExportMD Program

Are you planning to market or grow your business internationally?

Then the ExportMD Program may be able to help.

The Maryland Office of International Investment and Trade offers support to Maryland businesses with a network of 11 foreign countries.

Idaho STEP

If you run a Idaho-based small business, you can apply for the Gem State’s STEP program.

Awards range from $3,000 to $15,000, and a 35% cash match is required.

A total of 40 awards are available, and companies can be given multiple awards.

Kansas Attraction Development Grants

Kansas’ Attraction Development Grants provide funding to develop new tourist attractions or enhance existing attractions within the state.

The deadline for submissions is October 31.

Kansas Job Creation Fund

The Kansas JCF provides grants to help attract new business to Kansas.

Payments are made to small businesses over the course of three years.

Louisiana Community Development Block

The Pelican State’s Community Development Block focuses on improving living environment and expanding economic opportunities for Louisiana residents in low to moderate income areas.

Funds are distributed through state agencies, local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

You can contact the state or local government branch to see if your small business can receive funding for community work.

Maryland Child Care Quality Incentive Grant Program

The CCQIG awards grants to child care providers to use toward projects that improve the quality of child care in Maryland.

It also supports efforts to boost children’s school readiness.

To be eligible, you must have run an accredited child care facility for at least two years in Maryland.

Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority & Fund

The MEDAAF offers grants and loans to support a wide range of initiatives, from local strategic planning to arts and entertainment districts.

Your company’s project has to be within Priority Funding Areas.

Minnesota Crop Research Grant Program

Funding from Minnesota’s AGRI CRGP can be used toward applied crop research to improve the agricultural product.

As you can imagine, research projects must be conducted in the state of Minnesota, and benefit the state for the next 3 to 7 years.

Note that most states have their version a CRGP.

Minnesota Dairy Business Planning Grant

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture awards funding for startup or existing dairy producers.

The DBPG can offer up to 50% of eligible costs related to the project up to $3,000, and the funding needs to go toward something pretty specific:

To an independent third-party that is helping with the start-up, modernization or expansion of a dairy farm.

Minnesota Emerald Ash Borer Community Preparedness

If your small business deal with pest control and insect infestation of the emerald ash borer, you may qualify for some funding from the Minnesota Emerald Ash Borer Community Preparedness Forest Protection Reserve Appropriation.

Two million dollars have been allocated to these efforts, and see if you can snag a chunk for your company.

Minnesota REETAIN

Minnesota’s Retaining Early Educators Through Attaining Incentives Now (R.E.E.T.A.I.N), gives bonuses to experienced, well-trained professionals who work in child care.

Annual bonuses range anywhere from $500 to $3,500, and can go toward expenses to help a program be boost its profitability.

Nebraska Child Care Grant

If you run a child care home or center in Nebraska, you may be eligible for the Nebraska Child Care Grant.

Child care homes can receive a maximum of $5,000, while homes can be awarded up to $10,000.

New York City Commute Enhancement Grant

If your small business is committed to efforts related to commuting in the city, you may qualify to receive a grant of up to $10,000 from the City of New York.

To receive more info on the NYCCE grant, you can download the PDF on the home page and fill out an info form.

North Carolina Recycling Business Development Grants

Is your small business involved in issues of sustainability and waste reduction?

Then check out  the grants awarded by North Carolina’s Recycling Business Assistance Center. 

Grants are given on an annual basis to the state’s recycling businesses.

North Carolina IDEA

If you’re a startup in North Carolina with high-growth endeavors, look no further than to its NCIDEA program, which awards with two programs:

The SEED program and the Ecosystem Partner Grant, which offers awards anywhere from $75,000 to $250,000.

The competition, however, is pretty stiff.

Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development

Grants offered by the TNECD’s “FastTrack” program can go toward infrastructure development, job training, and a discretionary fund.

Texas Young Farmer Grant Program

This grant awards funding to young entrepreneurs who work in agriculture.

You must be between the ages of 18 to 46 to apply.

The program’s initiatives include the growth and support of Texas agriculture, helping fulfill an unmet financial need, or developing an operation that impacts the community at large.

Local & Regional Opportunities

Local grants are great in the sense that your odds of receiving it are higher than say, a federal or state grant.

The programs are even neighborhood-specific, which could up your odds of landing one.

Many programs also offer resources, training, and mentorship to help kick-start or grow your company.

Ben Franklin Innovation Partnership

While offered statewide, this local grant program helps tech-focused, small businesses in Pennsylvania get their companies off the ground.

The funding in this program helps local businesses afford to apply for federal SBIR/STTR grants.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Big Idea Contest

This contest awards budding entrepreneurs in Central and Northern Pennsylvania small business grants totaling $150,000 to bring their business ideas into fruition.

Besides a generous awards package, recipients also get free working space and a one-year pass Ben Franklin’s eMarketing Learning Center.

Chicago IncentOvate

This program is available for large cultural institutions in Chitown.

Grants can range anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000.

To apply, your organization must be a non-profit and have an annual gross revenue of over $2 million.

Chicago Small Business Improvement Fund

The SBIF offers assistance to owners of commercial and industrial properties to repair or remodel their facilities.

You can receive a matching grant of up to $150,000 for up to half of the work.

Note that since this grant does not have to be repaid and is open to anyone who owns property, the competition is stiff.

Detroit NEIdeas Grants

In a concerted effort to promote economic growth and entrepreneurship in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park, this program is for small businesses that have been around for at least three years.

There are two separate challenges: a $10,000 challenge, and a $100,000 one.

Green Technology Business Grant Program

Do you have a green business?

Then you may be eligible for Cleveland’s Green Technology Business Grant Program, which is created to attract new green technology businesses or expand existing green technology.

Your company may also be eligible for a $5,000 Moving Assistance Grant.

If you don’t live in Cleveland, you can check if a similar grant program is available in your city.

Job Creation Incentive Program

If your small business plans on creating at least five new jobs within the next year, then you might be eligible for a grant through Cleveland’s Job Creation Incentive Program.

You could get a grant of up to 0.5% of new payroll to the city for up to three years, plus qualify for an additional $5,000 Moving Assistance Grant.

Similar programs exist in other cities in the country, so look locally!

Miami Mom and Pop Small Business Grants

If you operate a small business in Miami, you may be eligible for this small biz grant.

You have to apply according to your district, and the applications and start date may differ.

Learn more about How Mom and Pop Stores Can Stay Competitive

National Association for the Self-Employed

NASE offers grants to small businesses of up to $4,000.

You can use that money toward computers, farm equipment, marketing materials, and to hire part-time employees.

New York City Fashion Manufacturing Initiative

A partnership between the NYCEDC and Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the FMI offers small business grants to fashion manufacturing companies.

The money can be used toward employee training, relocation within one of the five boroughs, technological upgrades, or to purchase equipment.

New York City Job Creation and Retention Program

Focused on expanding your company?

The JCRP offers small business grants to companies in Lower Manhattan who are committed to creating at least 75 new jobs in the next few years.

Orlando Downtown Facade & Building Stabilization Program

This grant is offered to small businesses who own buildings in downtown Orlando.

You can receive $5,000 to $40,000 to improve your building’s appearance.

Note that you can only receive one grant per fiscal year.

Salt Lake City River District Gardens Facade Improvement Grant

If your business is located in SLC’s River District Gardens, you may qualify for a matching grant of up to $5,000.

Note that this is a one-time grant.

St. Paul Department of Economic Development

St. Paul’s initiatives for entrepreneurs include a handful of grants to small businesses to help grow your business or relocate to The Twin Cities.

You’ll also want to check the city of your small business to see if there’s a similar grant offered.

Technology Business Grant Program

If your small business is focused on developing new technology, then look into the City of Cleveland’s grant assistance program.

Your small business needs to add at least five new jobs within a year’s time.

Corporate Entities

In do-gooder spirit, some major corporations offer small business grants to boost local economy, help budding entrepreneurs develop their ideas, and get them off the ground.

With corporate-sponsored grants, they favor innovation and novelty–

Think disruption and out-of-the-box ideas to boost your chances.

And in most cases you won’t have to feel boxed in by industry or location.

Keep in mind, however, that corporate small business grants are often earned through contests and pitch competitions, with several rounds of elimination.

A Grant for Greatness

Sponsored by AT&T, small businesses can win a $1,000 grant by submitting a two-minute video about an innovative idea.

This can come from a startup, think tank, individual, or just about anyone with a stellar concept.

Coca-Cola Foundation

Coca-Cola’s philanthropic branch focuses its giving to providing entrepreneurship opportunities for women, access to clean water, and the well-being of youth.

Coca-Cola gives 1 percent of its operating income from the year prior.

In 2015 it awarded over $117 million in small business grants to 300 organizations in 70 countries.

Comcast Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs

This nationwide program for startups awards small business grants of $30,000 to both current and aspiring entrepreneurs for their best use of technology.

To apply, you have to submit a 250-word essay by the deadline.

ExxonMobile Foundation

The ExxonMobile Foundation focuses most of its philanthropic efforts on creating economic opportunities for women, math and science education, and malaria research.

FedEx 

FedEx’s annual Small Business Grant contest awards 10 entrepreneurs across the country up to $25,000 plus $7,500 in FedEx print and businesses services to turn their passions in viable businesses.

Winners are announced in the Spring.

Marriott International’s Canvas

Marriott’s Canvas, is a food lab for entrepreneurial food and drink ideas, offers funding for restaurateurs and chefs whose businesses are in the concept stage.

Besides startup money, Canvas also offers professional guidance.

Miller Lite Tap the Future

Miller Lite’s business pitch competition will help budding entrepreneurs kickstart their company with up to $100,000 in small business grants, seminars, pitch opportunities, and mentorships.

The competition is divided into three phases.

Sam’s Club Grant Program

If you run a non-profit that supports small businesses, then you may be eligible to receive a grant.

These grants favor minority- and women-owned businesses.

There are several different grant programs, and award amounts vary greatly, from $250 to $250,000 and upwards.

Learn more about Small Business Loans for Women and Minorities

Wells Fargo Community Investment

The Wells Fargo Community Investment program offers grants to non-profit orgs and educational programs in every state.

You can apply year-round.

Visa Everywhere Initiative

Are you a startup working on technology that provides payment solutions for the future?

If so, check out Visa’s Everywhere Initiative, which offers up to $50,000 in small business grants and an opportunity to collaborate with Visa.

Walmart Foundation

The Walmart Foundation has several opportunities for non-profits and natural disaster rescue efforts.

Similar to Sam’s Club, these small business grants are awarded to orgs that are in step with Walmart’s three main pillars:

Opportunity, Sustainability, and Community.

You can apply for either a grant at the local, state, and national level.

Small Business Grants for Women

Girl bosses can find funding opportunities through small business grants that provide support to boost women’s entrepreneurial efforts.

With the wage gender gap to lack of promotion opportunities in the traditional workplace, these programs aim to level the playing field.

Some of these programs grant favor to endeavors in creating support systems and resources for fellow women.

For other ways to obtain funding for your company, check out our comprehensive guide to small business loans for women.

American Association of University Women Career Development Grant

The AAUW offers funding for women with a bachelor’s degree who are either planning to advance or change careers, or are re-entering the workforce.

Funds can be used toward tuition, fees, books, supplies, local transportation, and dependent care.

For the 2018–18 year, about $3.7 million in funding for 250 awards were granted.

The Amber Grant

Launched in 1998, the WomenNet’s Amber Grant gives $500 to a female entrepreneur.

One grant is given each month, and at the end of the year, one of the recipients is selected to receive an additional $1,000.

The application fee is $7, and the judges are looking for someone with a passion for what she does and a strong story.

Eileen Fisher Grant Program

Sponsored by the women’s clothing retailer, this program is focused on female-led small businesses with initiatives to spur environmental and social change.

Every year 10 women receive anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 in small business grants.

The Halstead Grant

If you are a woman and own your own jewelry-making business, you may be eligible for the Halstead Grant.

The recipient of this annual award gets $7,500 plus $1,000 worth of jewelry supplies from wholesale jewelry supplier.

And the 10 runners-up receive anywhere from $250 to $500.

InnovateHER Women Business Challenge

Co-sponsored by the SBA, the InnovateHER Women Business Challenge awards three projects a total of $70,000 in prizes.

Projects eligible for the competition include forward-thinking, innovative products and services to empower women and families.

Open Meadows Foundation

This grant-making organization provides small business grants for projects spearheaded by females.

Projects need to be focused on political change, activism, or the empowerment of women.

Your organizational budget should not exceed $75,000, and grants of up to $2,000 will be awarded.

Walmart Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative

Walmart’s international GWEEI offers funding, training, and resources to female-led businesses around the world.

As funding is bountiful, this is a grant worth looking into if you’re woman who owns a small business.

Women’s Business Centers

This database of SBA-sponsored centers includes a network of over 100 educational centers that provide resources for women-focused small businesses.

The mission of WBCs is to level the playing field for female entrepreneurs.

Zions Bank Smart Women Grants

Zions Bank awards $3,000 to female entrepreneurs in six categories: business, arts and culture, health and human services, child and elder care, continuing education and teacher support, and community development.

If you have a project that promotes empowerment of women or benefits economically disadvantaged women in Idaho or Utah, you should check it out.

Small Business Grants for Minorities

Like small business grants for women, funding opportunities for minorities are aimed at giving those who have faced social or economic inequality a leg up at entrepreneurship.

These grants range quite a bit in criteria, so if you own a minority-owned business you’ll want to see if you’re eligible.

For additional funding options, we’ve also compiled a comprehensive roundup of small business loans for minority business owners.

Community Connect Grants

The USDA’s Community Connect Grant helps development the development of broadband in rural areas.

To qualify, your small business must be in a rural area that lacks existing broadband speed of at least 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.

Community Programs to Improve Minority Health Grant Program

If you own a small business that’s related to health, you may be eligible for funding to help spread awareness of healthcare for minorities.

Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise

The DOT’s small business initiative provides resources and funding to socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

To qualify, you have to own and control at least 51% of the business operations and a woman or ethnic minority.

First Nations Development Institute Grant

This grantmaking program provides funding and resources to Native non-profit organizations and tribes to support initiatives in arts and culture, agriculture and food systems, health, and nutrition.

The grant cycle varies for each initiative.

Minerals and Mining on Indian Lands

The Department of Interior’s Minerals and Mining on Indian Lands provides funding for Native American tribes to perform technical evaluations of energy and mineral resource potential of Indian reservations.

Minority Business Development Agency

The MBDA offers an annual grant competition that is available for minority business owners.

The total funding period varies, and the MDBA expects to have about $2 million per year to fund assistance awards.

Operation HOPE Small-Business Empowerment Program

Designed to help small business owners in underserved neighborhoods, this program provides lending options, business training, and financial education to budding entrepreneurs.

Small biz owners can also get credit counseling and help developing business plans.

POWER

The U.S. Economic Development Administration Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) is a multi-agency effort to provide resources for populations negatively impacted by the coal economy.

This includes:

  • coal mining
  • coal-fired power plants
  • related transportation
  • logistics
  • and supply chain manufacturing.

POWER grant funds are awarded to projects that produce transformational economic diversification and develop the workforce.

Rural Business Enterprise Grants

The RBEG program awards grants to help with the development or expansion of developing small businesses in rural areas.

To qualify, your company has to have fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in gross revenue.

Small business grants through this program range from $10,000 to $50,000.

SBA 8(a) Business Development Program

While not exactly a grant, the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program helps socially or economically disadvantaged minority business owners receive funding, training, and guidance.

To be eligible, the business must be at least 51% owned by a citizen who has been subject to cultural bias or racial prejudice.

If accepted, an entrepreneur can receive up to $4 million for goods and services and up to $6.5 million for manufacturing.

SBA LGBT Outreach

The SBA has funding and resources for LGBT-owned and operated businesses.

You can reach out to the SBA or visit their site to learn more about funding opportunities.

StartOut

StartOut is a community for LGBT entrepreneurs that provides resources, education, mentorship, and funding.

They have chapters in Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.

Tribal Energy Development Capacity Grant

While not technically a small business grant, this program provides free money to tribes that are working on legal infrastructure to start a business and establishing tribally chartered corporations.

Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program

This program offered by the USDA provides funding for clean water and sanitation, storm water drainage to households and businesses in eligible rural areas.

If you’re a small business owner operating on a federally recognized tribe, you qualify to apply.

College Students

In addition to small business grants, there are a growing number of business funding opportunities for college students.

These awards for young, fledgling entrepreneurs are more pitch and business proposal competitions rather than traditional small business grants.

What’s inspiring about these funding sources is that these competitions are oftentimes organized by universities, companies in the surrounding area, and by the students themselves.

Besides monetary support, many of these competitions provide in-kind awards, mentorship, and education to accelerate these innovative business ventures.

Learn more about How to Start A Business While Attending College

Duke Start-Up Competition

Founded in 1999, the Duke Start-Up Competition is designed to help Duke student entrepreneurs thrive.

This competition consists of a year-long entrepreneurship competition, followed by an accelerator program.

The grand prize winner receives $50,000.

The Entrepreneur Challenge

The annual Entrepreneur Challenge is a student-run, non-profit competition where students can earn funding for their innovative ideas.

Founded in 2006 at UCSD, students compete in an annual elevator pitch competition and pitch challenge.

It brings together scientists, students, and local professionals and entrepreneurs to foster community and innovation.

Harvard Business Plan Competition

Sponsored by the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition supports the journey of Harvard students and alumni in their new business and social impact ventures.

Teams compete for $300,000 in awards and in-kind prizes.

There are different competitive tracks, such as the student business track, the student social enterprise track, and the alumni track.

McGinnis Venture Competition at Carnegie Mellon University

The Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship’s annual venture competition brings together student entrepreneurs to compete for $60,000 worth of prizes.

Students interact with venture capitalists and seasoned entrepreneurs and receive valuable feedback about their business ideas.

MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

For nearly 30 years, the MIT $100K brings together students and researchers from MIT and the greater Boston area to bring their innovative ideas into fruition.

The competition is made up of three separate contests—Pitch, Accelerate, and Launch.

Each of the three separate contests focuses on specific skills, and besides funding, semi-finalists receive media exposure, discounted services, and business plan feedback.

MIT Clean Energy Prize

Are you a collegiate entrepreneur that wants to make a positive impact on the environment?

The MIT Clean Energy Prize fosters student ventures that show a high promise in clean energy initiatives. This prize awards $200,000 every year.

New Venture Challenge at the University of Chicago

Sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the NVC is one of the nation’s top-ranked accelerator.

Helping students turn their ideas into viable businesses, it has helped over 140 startups launch.

A few of the businesses that got its start at the NVC include Braintree and GrubHub.

New Venture Competition at University of Oregon

The University of Oregon’s NVC awards $50,000 to graduate student entrepreneurs from universities across the country.

The competition consists of six rounds, which includes:

  1. Trade show
  2. Elevator pitch
  3. Start-up round
  4. Semifinal round
  5. Final round
  6. & Lightning round

NYU Stern New Venture and Social Venture Competitions

This entrepreneur’s challenge offers a space and platform to showcase budding entrepreneurs at NYU.

There’s $200,000 in the three rounds to fund startups, plus free services, resources, and technical help to help these ventures get off the ground.

Purdue’s Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition

This competition helps Purdue students learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship by developing and presenting a business idea to a panel of judges.

There are a Gold Division and a Black Division.

  • For the Gold Division, 1st place nets $30,000, whereas 2nd and 3rd place receive $15,000, and $7,500. The top two finalists receive $3,750. 
  • The top winner in the Black Division receives $20,000, whereas 2nd and 3rd place are awarded $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. The two top finalists each receive $2,500.

Rice Business Plan Competition

Hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Rice Business Plan Competition includes 42 teams around the world competing for more than $1.3 million in small business grants and other prizes.

It’s one of the largest and generously funded student startup competitions, and the annual competition takes place over a weekend in spring.

Tufts $100K New Ventures Competition

Winning teams of the Tufts $100K New Ventures Competition receive $100,000 and free legal and advisory services.

There are three tracks for this competition:

  1. Life Science / Medical
  2. Social Impact
  3. & High Tech / General

Alumni, staff, faculty, and both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to compete.

UC Berkeley’s Startup Competition

UC Berkeley’s accelerator startup offers funding, resources, and a curriculum to propel innovative student-generated ideas in the University of California system. $50,000 is awarded annually.

Wharton Business Plan Competition

With over $130,000 in prizes up for grabs, the Wharton Business Plan Competition is a startup showcase where students demo their companies.

Other resources include a one-on-one talks with entrepreneurs, and free small business consultations.

Small Business Grants for Veterans

Veteran entrepreneurs are eligible for some pretty generous small business grants too!

If you are a veteran and want a taste of the business life, several corporations offer incentives to veterans for their franchising program.

One thing you’ll want to note is that rather than free money, these franchise opportunities offer a discount off franchise fees and expenses.

For more ideas on finding small business funding for veterans, you can also check out our breakdown of small business loans for veterans.

7-Eleven Veterans Franchising Program

This program offers qualified veterans up to 20% off the initial franchise fee, up to 65% financing through 7-Eleven, and other special financing.

Note that it’s only available for first-time franchisees.

Little Caesars Veterans Program

This special program provides honorably discharged veterans incentives such as a reduced franchise fee for the first restaurant, and various credits on equipment, marketing, and administrative services.

SBA’s Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program

The SBA gives out $30,000 to three organizations that offer small business grants and resources to women veterans and their spouses.

Past recipients include Bunker Labs, the Lift Fund, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (V-WISE).

Small Business Administration SDVOSBC

While not exactly a small business grant, the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern Program helps veteran business owners get additional federal contracts.

UPS Franchise Discount

This initiative gives veterans who would like to open their own UPS franchise $10,000 off the franchise fee of a new UPS Store location and 50% off the initial application fee.

USDA Veteran and Minority Farmer Grant

The grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides grants to socially disadvantaged, veteran, and tribal farmers and ranchers in 24 states to provide training, outreach, and technical assistance.

There’s $8.4 million to be doled out among the different organizations.

VetFran Business Grant Fund

If you’re a vet who has been granted a franchise from a VetFran-participating company, you are eligible to receive up to $10,000 in funding.

The free money you receive from this grant can be used toward expenses such as business development, education, training, technical assistance, and the purchase of equipment.

So there you have it.

While not a quick or fast process, if you are lucky enough to receive any of these small business grants, that’s money that you won’t ever have to pay back and a vote in your favor.

Good luck, and happy hunting!


Are we missing any small business grants on this list? Please let us know in the comments so we can keep helping entrepreneurs fund their dreams!

If you’re curious about other funding options, one of the lenders in our network might be able to help:

Funding Options APR Do you qualify? Time in Business Annual Revenue
Funding Option
Get Started
APR
5-50%
Estimated Apr
Do you qualify?
500
MIN CREDIT SCORE
Time in Business
At least 6 months
Annual Revenue
At least $100K
Funding Option
Learn More
APR
1.5% - 10%
Monthly Fee Rate
Do you qualify?
N/A
MIN CREDIT SCORE
Time in Business
At least 1 year
Annual Revenue
At least $50,000

Jackie Lam Finance Journalist

Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer and and blogs at Cheapsters, which helps freelancers and artists get creative with their money.

Her work has appeared in Investopedia, Business Insider, Huffington Post, and Acorns’ Grow Magazine.

When not writing about money she enjoys roller derby, volunteering, and writing fiction.

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