Are you a female entrepreneur looking to start or grow a business? Then you probably want to know what small business grants are available for women. Whether you run a business in the UK or the US, we hope this comprehensive guide will help.
The proportion of small businesses owned by women in the UK and the US has never been greater.
That means more and more women are looking for cost-effective ways to help finance those businesses.
While small business loans and credit cards can release the capital to cover the costs associated with setting up and growing a business, they can be expensive ways to borrow money and you might be tied into an agreement for longer than you might like.
So, what’s the solution?
How about some free money!
It might sound too good to be true, but that’s exactly what small business grants for women are.
In both the UK and the US, pots of money are made available by the government and other organisations that only female business owners can apply for.
And, if your application is successful, you’ll receive the money with no repayment terms or interest rates attached.
While free money can never be a bad thing, there are a few caveats attached. As you’d expect, the application process for small business grants for women is extremely competitive. In some cases, the money also has to be used for a specific purpose.
There’s also no real central hub where you can find all of the small business grants for women, as they are offered by a diverse group of organisations and institutions.
That can make finding grants that are available to the type of business owner you are and the sector you operate in a challenge, but that’s something we hope to fix.
What Small Business Grants are Available for Women in the UK?
(1) The Women in Innovation Awards
Is your UK business at least one-year-old and contributing to a greener world, developing new treatments and services for healthcare patients, tackling climate change or marrying together artificial intelligence and data? Then the Women in Innovation Awards 2020 could be a source of funding for you.
A new wave of funding has recently been announced that will see up to 10 women secure £50,000 and receive a bespoke programme of coaching, mentoring and innovation growth support.
Since the launch of the awards, the number of applications has increased by 70%, so competition is fierce, but with the potential for such a significant cash injection, it’s worth taking the time to apply.
(2) Back Her Business
The Back Her Business initiative was launched by Natwest in 2019 to help more female entrepreneurs start their own businesses.
The initiative gives participants a crowdfunding platform to raise the money they need to launch their businesses and provides coaching, workshops and mentoring sessions.
To apply, UK-based, female-led start-ups must set up a crowdfunding project with a minimum target of £1,000. Natwest will then match the funding successful applicants receive up to a maximum of £5,000. The initiative is ongoing so applications can be submitted at any time.
(3) Global Fund for Women
The Global Fund for Women supports organisations that are led by groups of women and trans people who are committed to advancing gender equality and human rights in their communities and tackling the biggest challenges faced by women and girls today.
The fund provides flexible cash grants that can be used to cover start-up costs such as operating and programme expenses or be put towards more specific expenses such as travel and the implementation of educational programmes. To apply, businesses must be based outside the US and be run by a group of women (the fund awards grants to groups, not individuals). Applications can be made all year round.
(4) Cartier Women’s Initiative
Every year, the Cartier Women’s Initiative invites women from around the world to apply for one of its 21 grants. To apply, businesses must be early-stage, have an original concept and have the potential to grow significantly over the next few years. The main leadership position must also be filled by a woman who owns a significant stake in the company.
The 21 successful applicants are given access to workshops, exclusive networking events, one-on-one coaching sessions and the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship 6-Day Executive programme. 14 of those finalists will also receive grants of $30,000 (£24,000), while the seven winners will receive the equivalent of $100,000 (£80,000).
(5) Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
If you’re a female entrepreneur with an existing business or want to start a business in the tech or computing industries, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology hosts two awards, the Abie Awards and the Pass It On Awards, which could provide the vital funding you need.
The Abie Awards recognises female entrepreneurs who are working in the tech industry or empowering those who are. There are numerous awards across categories such as technical leadership and technical entrepreneurship. The winners receive cash grants of up to $50,000. The Pass It On Awards offers smaller grants of up to $1,000, which can help to cover the costs of projects that benefit women and girls in computing.
Any woman aged over 18 and either working in or aspiring to work in the computing industry can be nominated. The specific entry criteria will differ depending on the award you’re nominated for.
(6) UK Government
Although the UK government does not offer business grants for women specifically, it is a major funder of UK STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) businesses. If your business operates in one of those sectors, you may be able to access grants offered by government organisations such as Innovate UK and the Regional Growth Fund. The UK government’s website lists more than 100 grants that are available across the UK that you may be able to access depending on your industry, region, business stage and number of employees.
(7) Female Founders Fund
This early-stage fund seeks to invest in women-led start-ups that are making an impact in e-commerce, web-enabled products and services, platforms and marketplaces that connect buyers and sellers. Although this is not a small business grant, as an equity stake will have to be given in return for the investment, this could be a viable way to raise capital if small business grants are not available.
To apply for funding, applicants should submit their pitches to the Female Founders Fund via email.
(8) AllBright Collective Pitch Days
Rather than providing funding, this organisation supports female-led businesses across various industries by providing everything from networking opportunities and digital courses to access to members’ clubs and introductions to investors.
To be eligible for AllBright’s monthly Pitch Days, which are held in London, your business must be operational and have at least one female founder and be generating revenue or have an existing investment.
(9) Female Founder Office Hours
Need advice about how to scale up your start-up or are you searching for a source of funding that can help you grow faster? At the Female Founders Office Hours event, hosted at Founders Factory in West London, you can benefit from one-to-one sessions where you will receive tailored advice about your start-up.
This year, more than 100 female founders will be taking part from across the UK. They will have the opportunity to meet four investors (remotely due to the COVID-19 outbreak) and discuss their tech business idea, ask for advice and pitch for investment.
What Small Business Grants are Available for Women in the US?
According to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the US has 12.3 million women-owned businesses, accounting for 40% of all the privately owned businesses in the US. However, despite the crucial role these businesses have to play in the US economy, many female business owners are having trouble securing bank loans.
The good news is that there are other viable forms of funding out there, including small business grants that are available only to female entrepreneurs. Here’s our guide to help you find them.
(1) Government Grants
Grants.gov Program Management Office contains details of all the federally sponsored business grants available in the US, including grants for small businesses. Although these grants are not female-specific, there’s such a wide and varied range of grants for small businesses in diverse industries that this should be the first place you look.
To view the grants that are available for small businesses, use the ‘eligibility’ filter on the left side of the page. To apply, you’ll need to create an account on the Grants.gov website, register to do business with the US government through its System Award Management website, and obtain a unique nine-digit identification number (DUNS) for your business.
(2) Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)
The Minority Business Development Agency does not provide small business grants itself. Instead, this agency of the US Department of Commerce is responsible for helping women and minorities set up and grow their businesses. On its site, you’ll find information about the state agencies that work specifically with women-owned businesses and some of the available funding opportunities.
(3) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grants
The Small Business Innovation Research program helps small businesses stimulate technological innovation. Part of that mandate is to encourage participation in government contracting by small businesses that are owned by women and minority groups.
11 federal agencies, including the departments of Health, Agriculture, Defense and Human Services all offer grants, which you can search for on the SBIR website using the link above. To qualify for a grant, you must operate a for-profit business with no more than 500 employees.
(4) Girlboss Foundation Grant
If you’re the female or female-identifying owner of a business that operates in the fields of design, fashion, music or the arts, then you could apply for a small business grant from the Girlboss Foundation. It awards biannual grants of $15,000 along with business-building tools and network opportunities.
Successful applicants are those that show creativity and innovation in their chosen field, have detailed financial plans in place and can demonstrate their financial need.
(5) Amber Grant Foundation
The Amber Grant Foundation began way back in 1981 to honour a young entrepreneurial girl called Amber Wigdahl who died at the age of 19. The purpose of the grant is to help female business owners achieve the goals Amber couldn’t in her short time. Every month, a $4,000 grant is awarded to a woman-owned business. At the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly grant winners is awarded an additional $25,000.
To apply for an Amber Grant, you must run a business in the US or Canada and be able to exhibit your passion for your chosen field. Successful businesses also tend to be those that have a good story behind them.
(6) FedEx Small Business Grant
Every year, FedEx awards substantial grants to up to 12 small businesses annually that create sustainable products in niche and under-served markets. This year (2020), the grants were $50,000 for the winner, $30,000 for the second-place business and $15,000 for the ten runners up, creating a total prize pool of $230,000. Although this is not a grant specifically aimed at female-owned businesses, with such generous grants available and a simple application process, it’s certainly worth a go.
To be eligible for a FedEx small business grant, you must operate a for-profit business with fewer than 99 employees and have been operating for at least six months.
(7) The Eileen Fisher Environmental Justice Grant
If you’re the female leader of a not-for-profit organisation in the US that’s committed to sustainability and tackling climate change, the Eileen Fisher Environmental Justice Grant could be a source of funding for you.
The grant awards $200,000 annually in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $40,000. Applicants must provide direct services, be nonprofit and have a mission that focuses primarily on individuals who identify as female. Suitable organisations include those that aim to do one or more of the following:
- Increase women’s participation in decision-making
- Train women and girls in climate change adaptation, mitigation and advocacy
- Engage women in the sustainable economy
(8) NASE Growth Grant
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) offers a $4,000 business development grant to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to take their businesses to the next level. Although the grant is not aimed specifically at women, having awarded more than $1million in grant funding so far, we thought it was well worth a mention.
To be eligible for the grant, applicants must be NASE members and be able to identify a particular business need that they want the financing for. For example, you may want to create a website, buy new computers, hire some part-time help or produce marketing materials.
(9) Women’s Business Centers
Small business grants for women that are available on a national level are extremely competitive and often have thousands of applicants. For that reason, you may have better luck looking at a state and municipal level.
The Small Business Administration sponsors around 100 Women’s Business Centers across the country. Although they do not award grants themselves, they can help you find small business grants and loans in the local area that you may qualify for. They also provide one-on-one counselling, networking, training, workshops, technical assistance and mentoring to female entrepreneurs to help with all aspects of business development.
(9) The Tory Burch Fellowship
The Tory Burch Fellowship competition awards 50 female entrepreneurs with a $5,000 grant to advance their business education and gives them a one-year fellowship that provides access to educational programmes and networking opportunities.
To be eligible for the Tory Burch Fellowship, female entrepreneurs who are 21 years or older must have a majority stake in a qualifying business and manage the business on a day-to-day basis. Qualifying businesses are those that are for-profit, operate in any industry, are at an early stage and have generated a minimum of $75,000 in revenue over the past 12 months.
Small Business Grants are Available for Women – You Just Need to Know Where to Look!
If you’re a female entrepreneur starting or growing a business, we hope this guide helps you access the funding you need. While you may not be eligible for some of the industry-specific grants in this list, there should be something everyone can apply for. Just make sure you check the eligibility criteria for each grant very carefully before you take the time to apply.