Business grants for women is a popular topic — and no wonder. According to research from Kaufman, 40 percent of first time entrepreneurs in the United States are women.
Even more impressive? The number of women-run businesses in the US is growing at twice the rate of man-owned businesses. The rate of women starting businesses and startups throughout the country is at an all-time high.
But women aren’t getting nearly as much money for those businesses as men are. In the startup world, women founders got only 2 percent of VC funding in 2017.
That means women are forced to look to other money sources when they’re looking to launch a startup or small business. VC money is the “free” money of the startup world. (Well, not “free,” exactly. But, unlike a loan, if your startup fails you don’t have to pay it back. You do have to give up equity and control of your company, however.)
So with access to that funding source so dramatically limited (some might even say inaccessible) many female founders are looking for business grants for women.
Some people describe business grants as “free money” as well, but that’s a misnomer. Like VC money, you don’t have to pay back a business grant. But you “pay” for it with your time and with the restrictions that often accompany grant awards.
While VCs might be more willing to let a startup founder explore and use their money for whatever they believe the startup needs to grow, grants tend to come with very clear stipulations about what they can and can’t be used for.
So keep that in mind a you start looking for business grants for women.
With all that being said, here are some federal, state, local, and private small business grant options available for women, as well as a couple other great resources for support and funding for female business owners.
Unfortunately, most grants aren’t evergreen. Which is to say, they’re not always available. Many grants have very specific timelines for application and they may or may not open up new application periods once that time has passed. Luckily, there are grant databases to help you figure out what’s out there at any given time.
Though not specifically for women, your best bet for finding a grant that matches your startup closely is to search the Grants.gov database to find out what’s currently available and what most closely matches your startup.
You should also check back periodically, as government grants for small businesses end and are added frequently. This is a great resource for both women-only grants and grants that are open to people of all genders.
GrantsForWomen.org specifically lists grants that are available to women-run businesses and non-profits. Use their database to find a good business grant for women for your startup.
Business grants for women
3. InnovateHER Challenge
The InnovateHER Challenge is run by the Small Business Association (SBA). It’s money that goes to woman-owned businesses that create a marketable product or service that helps women or families.
It’s important to note here that you won’t be submitting the application directly to the SBA. Like many other SBA programs, the InnovateHER Challenge is administered through partners, like universities or agencies.
In order to qualify, interested founders can enter a local InnovateHER Challenge. If you win, you’ll advance to the nationals levels. The InnovateHer Challenge offers a first prize is $40k; second prize of $20k; and third prize of $10k.
4. SBA Women’s Business Centers
In addition to helping with loans, the SBA Women’s Business Centers also help women entrepreneurs get access to other types of funding. Some lend money or award grants directly, while others help connect women entrepreneurs with financial institutions.
Find a SBA Women’s Business Center in your region and get started connecting with great resources for woman startup founders and business owners.
5. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant
The clothing brand Eileen Fisher hands out $100,000 per year to 10 woman-owned businesses.
In order to qualify, your company must be at least 51 percent woman-owned and led, be in operation for at least three years, bring in less than $1 million per year in revenue, and have an environmental or social change focus.
This grant opens applications in the spring and they especially like entrepreneurs with a social-good focus. They’ll ask for your financial data and business plan LINK when you apply.
6. Amber Grant
The Amber Grant awards $500 to $1,000 per month to a woman-owned business. At the end of the year, one of the recipients also receives an additional $10,000 grant. Applicants just need to tell their story and submit a $15 application fee, which might be the least amount of “work” of any grant on this list!
They’re also more focused on a great story than anything else for this grant, so this is a great opportunity to work on your narrative. Even if you don’t end up getting the grant, having a strong founding story and narrative is pretty essential for basically any funding opportunity.
7. #GIRLBOSS Foundation Grant
Specifically for woman-owned businesses in fashion, music, and art, the #GIRLBOSS small business grant awards $15,000 plus exposure via the Girlboss website and social media channels. Applicants are judged based on creativity, innovation in the field, business savvy, forward planning, financial need, and proposed work place.
8. Cartier Women’s Initiative Award
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Award is $100,000 or $30,000, depending on first or second prize, that is awarded to 18 women entrepreneurs from around the world, annually. Women business owners who are just getting started may qualify — you can find the complete application information for this small business grant.
All of the finalists get to attend the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship 6-Day Executive Program (ISEP). They also get the opportunity to participate in entrepreneurship workshops, business coaching seminars, and networking opportunities via the network.
9. Open Meadows Foundation
The Open Meadows Foundation awards $2,000 (or less) grants to women-led projects and businesses that focus on advancing women and girls.
In order to qualify, your startup must be focused on activism, political change, or female empowerment. You also must have a budget of $75,000 or less and they especially like small businesses and startups. It’s a great option for social entrepreneurs who are looking to get their startups of the ground.
Women-only incubators and accelerators
Another women-only financing option for people look for business grants for women is women-only incubators and accelerators. Incubators and accelerators both offer varying combinations of funding, workspace, mentorship, and community.
And to clarify terms, incubators usually focus on very early stage startups that need help even getting launched, while accelerators are generally for startups that are further on their way, but need help with growth.
While many women-only incubators and accelerators are based in bigger metropolitan areas, it’s worth doing search for women-only incubators and accelerators in your region, as this is an area that has seen a lot of growth in recent years. It seems like maybe the tech industry is starting to recognize how important it is to include women?
Location: New York City
Monarq is a woman-only startup incubator in New York City that offers a $25k investment, mentorship, and access to investors who are interested specifically in woman-owned businesses.
Mergelane offers VC funding, leadership training, and accelerators to companies with at least one woman founder. MergeLane has 37 portfolio companies, including 27 who have completed their accelerator.
In total, MergeLane’s accelerator cohorts have raised $23.8 million in funding and created 469 jobs, including 46 leadership roles for women.
Investors in women-run startups
12. X Squared Angels
X Squared Angels in an investment group that focuses on women-led startups, which they define as at least one woman in a C-level position. They are based in Ohio and have a fairly rigorous process for qualifying for funds.
13. 37 Angels
37 Angels is an investment group that focuses specifically on women-led startups. (Their current portfolio is one third woman-run startups, but they’re actively trying to increase that number.) They invest between $50,000 and $150,000 per startup. Applications start with a 20 minute phone all to determine fit.
14. Belle Capital USA
Belle Capital USA invests in woman-run startups. In order to qualify for consideration for investment, your startup must have female founder or owner and/or commit to recruiting top female talent to C-Suite and Boardt. You must also meet these requirements.
Women-only crowdfunding sites and equity financing platforms
Unlike other financing options, women are generally more successful than men in crowdfunding. That means mixed-gender sites aren’t going to provide an obstacle the way other mixed-gender funding source might. However, founders looking for woman-only options can look to crowdfunding sites and equity financing platforms that focus specifically on woman-owned companies.
iFundWomen is a crowdfunding site for companies with at least one woman founder. They also offer a pay-it-forward model, expert startup coaching, professional video production, access to pitch competitions with investors, and a private community for our entrepreneurs to collaborate.
SheEO loans out $5,500 per year to five woman-run companies, equity free. Every applicant also gets feedback on their application, regardless of whether or not they’re accepted.
Other funding options
Of course, there are also mixed-gender funding options that are absolutely available to women entrepreneurs. You can learn more about different options available by checking out our full-length articles on the following topics: