Minority-Owned Businesses

Think you might qualify as a minority-owned business? We'll tell you exactly what you need know to get certified and take advantage of the grants, loans, and government programs specifically designed to help minority-owned businesses like yours grow.

April 16th, 2019   |    By: The Startups Team    |    Tags: Funding

What is a minority-owned business?

In order to be considered a "minority" in the world of small business, you must be at least 25%...

  • African-American
  • Hispanic-American
  • Asian-American
  • Pacific Islander
  • Alaskan Native
  • American Indian

Women-owned businesses, on the other hand, are another category.

In order for a business to qualify as minority-owned, it needs to be at least 51% owned by a person or persons from one of those groups.

Additionally, you’ll often need to be certified as a minority business enterprise (MBE) or a disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) in order to qualify for certain loans or grants.

That’s not the case for all loans and grants, however, so make sure it’s a requirement before going through the process of getting certified.

More on MBE certification below.

How do you start a minority-owned business?

In order to start a minority-owned business, you need to be a minority and start a business!

When we start talking about certification, things get a little more complicated. MBE certification is handled through the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).

Here’s what you’ll need in order to become certified as an MBE.

Criteria for MBE certification

In order to qualify for certification, your business must meet the following criteria, from the NMSDC website:

  • Business owners are United States citizens.
  • Must be at least 51% minority-owned, operated, and controlled. For the purposes of NMSDC’s program, a minority group member is an individual who is at least 25% Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American. Minority eligibility is established via a combination of screenings, interviews and site visits.
  • Ownership, in the case of a publicly-owned business, means that at least 51% of the stock is owned by one or more minority group members.
  • Must be a profit enterprise and physically located in the U. S. or its trust territories.
  • Management and daily operations must be exercised by the minority ownership member(s).


While the specific documents you’ll need will vary based on the type of business you’re running, here’s a sample from the NMSDC website of the documents required for a corporation:

  • The History of Business
  • Certificate of Incorporation
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • Stock Certificates and Stock Ledger
  • Minutes to Board of Director’s meetings as well as Shareholder’s meetings
  • Bylaws (executed and attested) and Amendments (if applicable)
  • All agreement(s) pertaining to ownership, operation, and control of the business
  • Business cards that list appropriate corporate titles, copies of resumes, copy of driver’s licenses and proof of US Citizenship (Birth certificates or U.S. Passports only) for all Principals
  • Corporate Bank Resolution Agreement(s) to include Bank Signature Card(s)
  • Business Lease Agreement(s) (and Security Deeds if home-based)
  • Proof of general liability insurance and in some cases bonding
  • Copies of the businesses’ canceled checks


Once you have all of the paperwork lined up, you can apply for MBE certification on the NMSDC website.

After registering with the agency, you can take as much time as you need to fill out of the application — it will save your progress for you. Once you’ve paid the required fees, your application will be considered complete.

It can take up to 90 days for you to find out whether or not you’ll be receiving certification.

Your application will be reviewed by the NMSDC Certification Committee and then their decision will be reviewed by their Board. If those two groups approve, they’ll let you know via email and mail. If you’re not approved, you can submit a letter of appeal.

Benefits of being a certified minority-owned business

The main benefit of getting certified as an MBE is the availability of certain funds that specifically designated for minority-owned businesses.

From specific grants and loans to government programs that are required to award a certain percentage of their contracts to MBEs, there are quite a few funding options that open up after certification.

Of course, it’s worth it to assess whether or not you’ll be interested in those types of funding before you go through the process of becoming certified as an MBE.

Most tech startups, for example, probably won’t be seeking government grants or contracts. But we don’t know the specifics about your company, and it’s absolutely possible that you could go for that money. So definitely assess that for yourself before you get certified.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the funding options that are available for certified MBEs.

Grants for minority-owned businesses

There are four levels of grants for minority business owners:

  1. Federal
  2. State
  3. Local
  4. Private

Federal grants usually offer the most money — and have the most competition. They’re also pretty specific and usually tied to a government agency that has clear requirements for qualifying for the money — and for what they expect you to do with it.

State grants, on the other hand, are usually less money than federal grants but also — depending on your state — less competitive. State governments may work with the federal government to administer money that’s been set aside specifically for small business grants.

Local grants tend to be even smaller but they may be easier to secure because personal connections still mean something! Usually, these grants are about improving your local community, so if your startup or small business is focused on improving your town or county, a local grant is a good option to pursue.

In addition to agency-specific government grants for small businesses, there are grants available that are much more specific.

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.

Another thing to note is that a lot of grant management is handled through the Small Business Association or SBA.

The SBA doesn’t actually manage the money — that’s handled via partner organizations, like community grants — but rather they act as a go-between for the government and partner lending organizations.

Minority Business Development Agency

The Minority Business Development Agency is a government-run agency that helps connect minority small businesses owners with the resources they need to succeed.

Those resources include:

  • Capital
  • Contracts
  • Markets

They operate business centers throughout the country where minority small business owners can go to get help with getting ahead.

The grants offered through the Minority Business Development Agency come at different times, so it’s worth keeping track of what they offer on their homepage.

The Federal And State Technology Partnership (FAST) Program

FAST currently provides $3 million in total funding (up to $125,000 per applicant) for outreach, financial support, and technical assistance to next-generation research and development (R&D) focused small businesses.

They’re especially interested in women, socially/economically-disadvantaged individuals, and applicants from underrepresented or rural areas who are competing in the SBIR and STTR programs.

State Minority Business Grants

In addition to federal small business grants, states also offer minority business grants.

State grants are even more specific than federal grants, and they usually provide less funding. They also work in conjunction with federal and other state grants and many are matching grants, which means you’re required to meet the amount of money they give you.

However, one big pro is that fewer people apply for state grants than for federal minority business grants, so if you find one that’s a good fit, it could be a good deal. You can search for state minority business grants in your state on any major search engine.

You can also turn to the Office of Economic Development in your area.

These offices are run by the Economic Development Administration and offer small businesses help with grants, technical assistance, and other growth resources. EDA grants change regularly, so check in here for information about what’s currently available.

The SBA also runs Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) across the country.

They’re often hosted by top universities and state economic development agencies, which share the cost with the SBA. They offer free business consulting and low-cost training services including:

  • Business plan development
  • Manufacturing assistance
  • Financial packaging and lending assistance
  • Exporting and importing support
  • Disaster recovery assistance
  • Procurement and contracting aid
  • Market research help
  • 8(a) program support
  • Healthcare guidance

Private minority business grants

Private minority business grants, tend to be available for limited amounts of time, so we’re not going to list them with links that will expire in a month or two.

Instead, be creative with your search engine searches.

Try searching “private grants for minority business owners” or “grants for disadvantaged groups.” Or for grants for the specific group you’re a part of. Like we said — “free money” doesn’t come free, but if you do your digging, you might strike gold. Good luck!

Loans for minority-owned businesses

While there’s no one overarching group that provides small business loans for minorities, there are a variety of resources out there, if you know where to look.

Many of these loans and grants exist at a local and state level, so your first move and best bet should be to connect with a local organization that works with minority business owners or with a lending institution that can help you navigate the local landscape.

Some may be listed under loans or grants for “disadvantaged groups” or as loans or grants that specifically target disadvantaged communities.

There are also federal loan programs that specifically target minority business owners, as well as some that are more generally for small business owners who need some extra help.

Here are the top minority small business loans, and a few solid general options as well.

SBA Loans

The Small Business Administration or SBA is a federal government program that provides support to small business owners in the form of:

  • Mentorship
  • Workshops
  • Counseling
  • Small business loans

While the loans are backed by the SBA, they don’t come directly from the SBA. You’ll have to find a local lender who provides SBA loans in order to access the funding.

Here are the three SBA loans that are the best options for minority small business owners.

SBA 8(a) Business Development Program The SBA 8(a) Business Development Program is specifically for small disadvantaged businesses.

In order to qualify, businesses must be owned and controlled at least 51% by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”

In addition to the racial categories outlined above, people can also show that they’re economically or socially disadvantaged by other factors, including “gender, physical handicap, long-term residence in an environment isolated from the mainstream of American society.”

Rather than a loan, the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program is an involved experience. Participation in the program is divided into two phases over nine years: a four-year developmental stage and a five-year transition stage.

In addition to funding, entrepreneurs receive:

  • Mentoring
  • Procurement assistance
  • Business counseling
  • Training
  • Financial assistance
  • Surety bonding
  • Other management and technical assistance

You can learn more about the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program here.

SBA Micro-loan Program BSA 7(m) Micro-loans are approved and financed by the SBA via non-profit, community-based intermediaries.

The loans are quite small, with an upper limit of $50k and an average loan amount of $13K.

The program was created specifically to help women, low income, veteran, and minority entrepreneurs, as well as other small businesses in need of small amounts of financial assistance.

Learn more about SBA Micro-loans here.

SBA 7(a) Loans The 7(a) Loan Program is the most popular SBA small business loan. 7(a) Loan Program SBA small business loans can be used for:

  • Purchasing fixed assets
  • Working capital
  • To finance startups
  • To purchase an existing business
  • Debt repayment

In order to qualify, a company must first meet the SBA size standards. Because SBA loans are specifically for small businesses, they’ve created a “size standards tool” that helps founders and small business owners determine whether or not they qualify.

Once you’ve determined whether or not your company qualifies under the size standards, here is a checklist of the remaining requirements for qualifying for a 7(a) Loan Program SBA small business loan:

  • Your business is for-profit
  • Your business is located in the US
  • You have the ability to repay the loan and manage the business
  • You have equity

Learn more about SBA 7(a) loans here.

Accion U.S. Network Accion is a micro-lending network that does a variety of loans, including those specifically targeting minority business owners.

They do loans starting as low as $200 and go up to $1,000,000 for low-and-moderate-income entrepreneurs who have trouble getting access to funding through other sources.

They also have a simple, one-page application form to get started, making the barrier to access even lower than some other institutions.

Learn more about Accion US Network here.

Union Bank Business Diversity Lending Network Union Bank provides minority small business loans for up to $2.5 million under its Business Diversity Lending Network.

In addition to being at least 51% owned by minorities, the businesses must also have annual sales that don’t exceed $20 million, be in business for at least two years, and need a loan of less than $2.5 million.

Learn more about the Union Bank Business Diversity Lending Network here.

Business Center for New Americans The Business Center for New Americans offers loans to New Americans (sometimes called “refugees”) in the greater New York City area.

The loans don’t require a credit score, but do require:

  • That loans over $3,001 have a cosigner
  • That the borrower match 20% of the loan amount with previous personal investment
  • That the borrower hasn’t declared bankruptcy in the past 12 months
  • That the borrower has sufficient cash flow
  • That they have the required licenses or be in the process of getting those licenses

Learn more about the Business Center for New Americans here.

Balboa Capital Balboa Capital offers loans specifically for Hispanic small business owners, one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in the United States.

The loans are up to $250,000 and are available even to people with no or poor credit scores. Businesses must be at least a year old and generate at least $300,000 in annual revenue. They offer an easy online application and even have Spanish-language staff to help people facing a language barrier.

Learn more about Balboa Capital Hispanic small business loans here.

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Revolving Loan Fund The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Revolving Loan Fund offers loans up to $125,000 to Native American business owners, with fixed interest rates that are generally a bit higher than those from traditional banks.

The loans can be used for:

Expansion Relocation Starting a new business.

They also provide:

  • Technical assistance to Native Americans who are trying to start businesses
  • Bridge financing between Native American businesses and commercial financial institutions
  • Educational assistance and technical support to promote financial capacity building within the Tribes

Learn more about the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Revolving Loan Fund here.

Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) loans Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are small loaning institutions — like credit unions or community development funds — that are specifically targeted to underserved communities, making them a great option for minority small business loans.

In order to qualify, a business/business owner has to:

  • Be certified as a minority owned small business or woman owned small business (MWBE)
  • Have three years of business or personal tax returns
  • Have business and personal credit reports
  • Have six months of business and personal bank statements
  • Have a year-to-date balance sheet
  • Have a year-to-date profit and loss statement

Entrepreneurs can find CDFIs in their local region by searching for their region and “CDFI” in a search engine or through this state-by-state list.

Minority Business Development Agency The Minority Business Development Agency is a government-run agency that helps connect minority small businesses owners with the resources they need to succeed.

Those resources include:

  • Capital
  • Contracts
  • Markets

They operate business centers throughout the country where minority small business owners can go to get help with getting ahead.

Learn more about the Minority Business Development Agency here.

Find a Minority Business Development Agency in your area here.

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The Startups Team

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