Ladies: If you have an exciting idea for a business, but don't have sufficient financing, it may help to look into grants for women. A wide variety of grants and resources for women interested in starting a business exist.
"Grants can be game changers for women starting businesses," says Kari Whaley, an educator and former president and CEO of the St. Cloud, Florida Chamber of Commerce, where she assisted startups.
"Opening a business with guaranteed funding—especially funding that doesn't have to be paid back—can open up greater opportunities in the early phases and allow the business owner to make some decisions that otherwise might not have been possible," says Whaley.
Benefits of Grants for Women Business Owners
Of course, the biggest benefit of grants for women business owners is the fact that "grant money is 'free' and doesn't cost interest or equity," says Meredith Wood, vice president of marketing at Fundera, which provides small business financial solutions.
"A grant could make the difference between a business getting started if it offers startup capital that an entrepreneur might not otherwise have access to," continues Wood. "If a grant offers a more substantial amount, it could even allow an entrepreneur to quit her day job to pursue the venture full time."
Even small grants can make a difference, believes Kate Brodock, CEO of Women 2.0, a media and tech company offering growth resources to women business owners.
"When you're just starting a company," Brodock says, "even $5,000 can be a huge input for getting your idea off the ground."
Grant Perks Go Beyond Funding
The benefits of grants also go beyond the funding, notes Roshawnna Novellus, founder and CEO of EnrichHER, a capital access platform.
"Grants for women starting a business also allow them to gain access to top resources, clients and support that they wouldn't be able to access on their own," she says.
"Depending on the granting organization, additional benefits like in-kind marketing and potential future sales may also go to the grant winner," says Leslie Smith, president and CEO of entrepreneurship hub Epicenter.
"Many business grants for women come with additional incentives beyond financial funding, such as publicity," agrees Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, which assists in business formation.
"The Halstead Grant, for example, provides a $7,500 cash prize to new jewelry businesses," says Sweeney. "Additionally, winners get $1,000 in jewelry supplies and are featured in the media, including a jewelry showcase in the Halstead catalog."
Where to Find Grants for Women
When looking for grant opportunities, Whaley suggests starting locally.
"Get connected with local government offices and associations," she says. "They will have concrete details on grants and can help you with the process."
Check with your local Chamber of Commerce and any women's business centers in your area, advises Karen Nowicki, president and studio owner of Business RadioX.
Tell your story truthfully and openly. Doing so can make you stand out against the competition.
—Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation
"In Phoenix, for instance, we have the Women's Enterprise Foundation," Nowicki says. Most cities have similar organizations."
Some local and county municipalities give grants for businesses starting in certain districts, such as in CRAs (Community Redevelopment Areas), adds Whaley.
"Governments may incentivize opening in specific areas as part of revitalization or economic development efforts," she says. "Many local governments also offer support for women- and minority-owned businesses to attract business growth within their municipal or county government boundaries."
Jo-Anne Dressendofer, president of Slice, a wireless solution company, has found this to be true.
"I now use grants for expansion," says Dressendofer. "We've recently found that there are very friendly grants to kick start opening businesses in cities that would otherwise be unaffordable. For instance, we're in the process of opening our Asbury, New Jersey office with grant funds."
For local and federal grants, check with the SBA (Small Business Administration) and research your options on Grants.gov. Another database featuring grants for women across industries is Grantsforwomen.org.
You can also find grants through trade associations and other organizations. For instance, the NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) awards grants, as does the NASE (National Association of the Self-Employed).
Here are some specific grants for women business owners and what they have to offer.
The Amber Grant
The Amber Grant is a small-business grant named in honor of a young woman named Amber who wasn't able to fulfill her entrepreneurial goals. It is open to women in all industries. The program awards $2,000 to 12 business women each year and a grand prize winner of $25,000.
Cartier Women's Initiative Award
This competition is open to women-run, not-for-profit businesses throughout the world that seek to make strong social impact. First prizes are $100,000 and second prizes are $30,000. Winners also receive business coaching and mentoring for a year after the awards ceremony.
#GIRLBOSS Foundation Grant
The #GIRLBOSS Foundation offers two grants of $15,000 a year to women entrepreneurs working in creative industries.
Open Meadows Foundation
This organization gives grants to women entrepreneurs whose companies promote gender, racial and economic justice. The grants are less than $2,000.
Tips for Winning a Business Grant
Not surprisingly, competition tends to be stiff for grants. In order to have a good chance of earning a grant, keep the following tips in mind.
1. Be honest and transparent.
"Tell your story truthfully and openly," says Sweeney. "Doing so can make you stand out against the competition."
Also be clear about your company's goals, adds Novellus.
"Craft your pitch as a story that articulates your company's mission and the steps you'll take to get there."
2. Take your time.
3. Apply to more than one grant.
The more grants you try for, the better your odds of winning one. Ensure, however, that you are eligible before applying.
4. Double-check submission dates.
"Some grants for women will have multiple submission dates," says Whaley. "For example, they may require a letter of intent in the first phase in order to be eligible to submit the grant application in a later phase."
5. Do your research.
"Find a platform that believes in your mission and has a female focus," says Novellus. "Be sure that the platform you choose has a proven track record to fuel the economic growth of businesses with a similar capacity to yours."
6. Strategically evaluate grant opportunities.
"All grants for women programs aren't created equal," says Smith. "If the application process is long, complicated and time-consuming, and the dollars—and other benefits—received are small comparatively, applying for grants can be a counterproductive time drain."
Read more articles on raising capital.
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