Women have made enormous strides in business in recent years. A good example is the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN. Here is a sample of its findings:
- “It is estimated that there are now 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, employing nearly 9 million people and generating over $1.6 trillion in revenues.”
- “Between 2007 and 2016, the number of women-owned firms increased by 45 percent compared to just a 9 percent increase among all businesses.”
- “Employment in women-owned businesses has increased by 18 percent since the recession, while among all businesses employment has declined 1 percent since 2007.”
Yet there are still many challenges and roadblocks for women small business owners. As described on a story on Kabbage.com: “… Although there are many successful businesses being launched by women, there still is gender discrimination, gender underestimation, and gender harassment. Combined, these issues affect many women, and collectively they are still considered disadvantaged and a minority group.”
One funding avenue that women can try is aiming for a business grant. These grants “help to level the playing field by providing financial assistance that enables them to compete in today’s marketplace,” according to Kabbage.
But these grants may be much more complex than applying for a loan or seeking an angel investor. Here’s a look at how some of these grants work, and some options for women business owners.
Anyone thinking that the federal government is handing out grants to budding entrepreneurs left and right is mistaken. Here’s how Investopedia describes it: “Grants issued by the government require strict adherence to a list of highly specified guidelines and extensive reporting measures to ensure the money is being spent appropriately. Government grants are given only to non-commercial organizations such as nonprofits or education-focused institutions.”
So unless your business falls under that very specific umbrella, don’t waste your time. As Victoria Treyger writes in a story for Entrepreneur.com, women should instead focus their efforts on the state level.
“Most states offer grants for women-owned businesses in some capacity,” she says. “Each state website has a business section where you can find grant and funding opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses. A good example of this is the business section for the state of New York, which lists incentives and programs for businesses. Check out your state’s site to find out what is available for your business.”
Understand the process
The prospect of getting a grant — rather than a loan that has to be paid back — may be an exciting one. But it isn’t necessarily a simple one. Small business owners will have to know what they’re getting into by exploring and researching the process. Treyger examines this in her story for Entrepreneur.
“Business owners often turn to grants because they are not required to pay them back; essentially, you can look at grants as ‘free money,’ but they come with stipulations. Also, understanding and navigating the grant process can be complex.”
The research, Treyger says, starts with determining if you are eligible for the grant, and then understanding the application process. “Third, you have to compete with other businesses for the same pool of money. Fourth, if you’re awarded a grant, you must report on how you used it. Finally, you must devote time and energy to the lengthy application process, then wait for approval. In a nutshell, you need to have all of your ducks in a row, up-front and afterward.”
As with any significant business move, some organization and preparation will be in order. Here’s how Treyger recommends getting ready for the grant process.
- As mentioned, determine if your business is eligible, and read the guidelines and requirements.
- Make a checklist for any applicable documents.
- Follow the application rules, which can be “very technical,” she says. “It wouldn’t hurt to have a second (or even third) set of eyes when reviewing the application to ensure that you have provided all accompanying documents.”
- Get on it. The application process is long, so “it doesn’t hurt to get a jump on things.”
Types of grants for women
Here’s a look at several grants that women can try to enhance their business.
Amber Grant: This foundation gives $500 each month to a woman-owned business, then gives an extra $2,000 to one of the 12 winners. In a story for Nerd Wallet, Teddy Nykiel writes that it’s a fairly easy application process: “Explain what your business is, describe what you’d do with the grant money and pay a $7 application fee. The foundation’s advisory board chooses the winners, looking for women with passion and a good story.”
Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant: Up to 10 women business owners a year have the opportunity to get a grant from the clothing company, and the company’s website reports it awards $120,000 each year. “To be eligible,” Nykiel writes, “women must make up at least 51 percent of your business’s ownership and leadership, your business must have been in operation for at least three years, it must not exceed $1 million in annual revenue, and it must be focused on environmental or social change.”
InnovateHER: The Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership presents this grant, giving $30,000 for three businesses “that have an impact on the lives of women,” according to Treyger’s story.
Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corp: This is a competition presented by Capitol One and Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, Treyger writes. Applicants give two-minute pitches in hopes of being included in “a nine-month business accelerator program.”
Zions Bank — Smart Women Smart Money: Treyger includes this grant from the Utah-based bank in her list. It gives $3,000 annually in six categories.
American Association of University Women: In a story for The Simple Dollar, Kirsten Akens writes that this association gives “community action grants,” which are “dually woman-focused, in that applicants (all U.S.) must either be an individual woman or a nonprofit organization focusing on AAUW’s broader mission of promoting education and equality for women and girls on a community level.” The grants are in the range of $2,000 to $10,000.