The 14 best business grants for women (and how to get them)
It’s no secret: Women face hurdles in uncovering funding opportunities for their small businesses. After all, women have long held fewer assets and have less access to capital than their male counterparts. Married women weren’t even able to get credit in their own names until the mid-1970s (and when they were issued credit, banks often discounted their incomes by 50% when calculating limits).
Times have changed, but funding is still a challenging journey for female founders. Did you know that only about 9% of venture-backed startups are women-owned? Female entrepreneurs take home an even tinier portion of that capital—just 2.3% of venture funding. When they turn to loans, female business loan applicants are approved for less funding at higher rates than their male counterparts. They took home just 13.7% of Small Business Administration loans in 2021.
Has that meant women have gotten discouraged from starting their own businesses? No way. Despite obstacles to funding, women-led companies employ 10.1 million workers and have grown to more than 40% of all U.S. businesses.
If that includes you, you’ve come a long way, and we know you can go even further with the right support. Grant money is one of the best ways to fund your small business. But what do you need to qualify? We’ve got the details on some of the best grant opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
Why get a business grant for my small business?
Grants are free money! There are a few forms of small business funding, and grants are the most attractive since they do not need to be repaid. There’s also:
- Debt funding: Like small business loans, which need to be repaid to the lender with interest
- Equity funding: Like venture capital investment, which requires business owners to surrender a percentage of their companies in exchange for a cash infusion.
Grants require neither equity nor payment. They simply exist to help small business owners make their businesses successful. You can use them for hiring, advertising, equipment, or the new supplies you need to scale. However, some grants have stipulations about how you can use the money.
Are there downsides? Grant funding is tough to get, with high competition for limited funds. With no strings attached, that’s only logical. There are also stipulations on the types of businesses eligible for grants and a time commitment to apply for funds.
Once you’ve looked into each of the following programs, check out Grants for Women. The organization doesn’t offer grants but does a great job locating and publicizing many smaller grants aimed at female entrepreneurs. While some of the small, specialized grants you may find aren’t great for scaling a startup, they can be ideal for a small business owner to power their growth.
Best business grants for women entrepreneurs
Grants solely for female entrepreneurs
1) Amber Grants for Women
This grant program has become a force for female entrepreneurship. It honors 19-year-old Amber Wigdahl, who wanted to start a business before dying. The grant program helps 2 women per month achieve what Amber could not, awarding them $10,000 apiece. At the end of the year, monthly winners are eligible for a $25,000 grant, awarded to 2 women each year.
- Best for: Businesses with at least 50% women-owned for- and non-profits across many categories, from creative arts to trades and products.
- How to apply: The application process is easy. Fill out the application and pay $15 to offset the costs of administering the program. You’ll be eligible for all awards that pertain to your business category. You’ll need to tell the story of your business, your passions and challenges, and what you’ll do with the money.
2) Cartier Women’s Initiative Award
Cartier’s awards have been empowering women entrepreneurs across the globe since 2006. Women-owned or women-led businesses can apply for awards across 10 global regions (and you can find award recipients in 62 countries). In addition to regional awards, there is a dedicated diversity award and one for science and technology. First, second, and third place winners receive $100,000, $60,000, and $30,000, respectively, plus human capital support like peer learning sessions, executive coaching, and training in different business areas. New fellows also get media exposure and ongoing support from a community of fellows.
- Best for: For-profit, women-led companies around the globe whose work is driven by social and environmental sustainability. To qualify, applicants should be early-stage (1 to 6 years in business) and already generating revenue. All business sectors are welcome.
- How to apply: Applications open annually for about a month every spring. You’ll need to submit a resumé, business registration documents, pitch deck, and video of yourself answering questions about your business in English to qualify. Promising applicants are invited to a second round where they’ll present their business to a panel.
3) Fearless Fund
Remember when we said less than 3% of venture capital goes to women? Would you like to guess how much goes to women of color? It’s less than .5%.
The Fearless Fund aims to bring venture funding to growing early-stage (preseed, seed, and Series A) companies owned by women of color. Their Women of Color program awards up to 150 small businesses between $10,000 and $20,000. Their Strivers Grant Program has partnered with Mastercard to offer 11 total $10,000 grants to small businesses owned by black women.
- Best for: Women of color in the U.S., but there are even more opportunities for local women of color entrepreneurs in these cities: Atlanta, Birmingham, Dayton, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and St. Louis. You should have a for-profit business, preferably earning at least $100,000 per year.
- How to apply: There’s an application period annually in January, with winners announced in the first week of April. Your application will include your business details, how you’d use the grant, how you could benefit from networking opportunities with other women in the program, and where you see yourself in the coming year.
4) Visa Everywhere Initiative
VEI grants help women scale their socially conscious ventures in the global startup community. This year, they awarded a fintech and social impact award of $100,000 each and provided mentorship and press for winners.
- Best for: Women worldwide whose startups have a global, social mindset, from payment processing and financial services for the unbanked or humanitarian platforms.
- How to apply: Watch this space for the annual awards application season. In 2021, Visa launched the program in March to coincide with International Women's Day.
5) IFundWomen Grants
IFundWomen calls itself a funding marketplace. The organization works with multiple grant partners to boost funding for female-led startups, offer crowdfunding classes, and support local small businesses across the U.S. Members get access to grants with prestigious business sponsors across sectors and an in-house Entrepreneur of the Year $100,000 equity investment.
- Best for: Black-owned companies? North Dakotans? Sports startups? Because IFundWomen partners with multiple organizations, there are numerous grants, each with its own eligibility requirements.
- How to apply: Check out the opportunities and application dates.
6) SoGal Startup Grant
Black women and nonbinary entrepreneurs can apply for several $5,000 and $10,000 grants for startup founders with a scalable, high-impact business idea who will seek future investor financing. Applying for grants is straightforward. You’ll provide your company name, website, or description, plus your industry.
- Best for: Black female founders who will seek additional funding to scale and want lifetime advice on raising capital from a group of like-minded women who have been there.
- How to apply: Applications are rolling, so submit yours anytime you’re ready.
7) Tory Burch Foundation
The Tory Burch Foundation is also a sponsor of the Fearless Fund’s grants to women of color. But they’ve also got their own year-long fellowship program for early-stage founders, which offers networking, workshops, business mentoring, and a $5,000 grant to spend on business education. Fellows’ companies have advantages—29% have surpassed $1 million in sales, whereas just over 4% of all women-owned companies can reach this milestone.
- Best for: Women who can benefit from business education and a cohort of fellows. You must be 21 years old and a U.S. resident. Companies should be early-stage, formed in the U.S., and generating at least $75,000 in revenue.
- How to apply: Applications are open in the fall. Cohorts are announced in the spring, and the program begins each summer.
8) DreamBig’s Women-Owned Business Awards
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognizes small business success with an annual $25,000 cash prize from winners across categories, including a woman-owned business achievement award.
- Best for: Growing companies that have been in business for at least a year and have less than 250 employees or revenues less than $20 million.
- How to apply: Submit an application focusing on how your business started, the challenges you’ve overcome, and your relationship with customers and the community. Business plans, media clips, and community engagement photos can strengthen your application.
9) Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant
Eileen Fisher has lots of resources for nonprofit organizations but has, in the past, awarded grants to for-profit women’s ventures. It’s worth checking out the current opportunities, especially if your venture has a social or environmental mission.
- Best for: Environmental entrepreneurs or businesses that align with the current grant opportunities. You should have 3 years of business acumen under your belt. The program has awarded $100,000 to multiple women business owners.
- How to apply: Current grant programs’ applications are annual and are currently focused on environmental and social causes.
Grants for all businesses
Some of the best grants for women also make awards across gender lines. Here are some programs that can be an excellent support for female entrepreneurs.
10) The Halstead Grant
If you work in silver jewelry, this grant can be a boon to scaling your business. It’s an annual award of $7,500 plus $1,000 in supplies for silver workers. Applications are due by August 1 each year.
A database of government grants, including for small businesses, this portal can be a starting point for finding funds from the federal government. To apply, get a DUNS number for your business, register to do business with the U.S. government, and sign up for an account to search for the perfect grant application for you.
12) SBA Programs
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a government small business resource that sponsors “America’s Seed Fund,” the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) portal, with grants sponsored by government entities like the Department of Agriculture. If your business is involved in the early-stage development of products and research, look here for ways to advance your work. From addressing the needs of people living with disabilities to developing lithium-air reserve batteries, these programs could jump-start your company. The program was designed to support small firms, so you should have less than 500 employees, be a for-profit firm, and meet other criteria.
While you’re looking at SBA programs, check out your local Women’s Business Center. Run by the SBA, these local entities run educational programs like webinars to help educate women on topics from digital marketing to locating grants and filling out applications.
Don’t have a center for women in your area? Small Business Development Centers are also local resources where business owners can get information on federal grants for new businesses.
13) FedEx Small Business Grants
Every year, FedEx gives 3 awards worth $50,000 and 7 runner-up $20,000 awards to small businesses (they’re often product-based businesses that use shipping services to conduct their business). Anyone can vote on the top 100 finalists, but to get there, judges will use criteria like your application essays and how well your business aligns with FedEx’s mission.
14) National Association of Self-Employed (NASE) Grants
NASE awards $4,000 monthly to members who can benefit from funds to hire, buy supplies, or pay for any business expenses they need to grow. You’ll need a membership, business plan, and demonstrate a business need for the funds.
Conclusion: How to insure your small business
Once you’ve got some funds to grow, protect what you’re building with small business insurance. A Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) can safeguard your business with coverages like business interruption and general liability.
Huckleberry can give you a quote in less time than it takes to type “women-owned” proudly on your social media accounts.