How can I get a grant to start or expand my business in Alabama?

Unless your business involves the development of new technology or is a non-profit organization, it is difficult to find a grant to start or expand a small business.

Nearly every day a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) office or the Small Business Administration (SBA) gets a call from someone who has responded to an ad that implies there is free money available to start a business.  It just isn’t true.  If it were, the people who work in those offices would all have one of those wonderful grants and be starting their own businesses. What really happens is that those folks at  SBDC’s all over the country spend a lot of their time trying to keep hopeful entrepreneurs from getting ripped off by potential scammers.

Yes, there is grant money available from private foundations and government entities.  No, it is generally not available to individuals to start for-profit businesses.  There are a few private sector competitions listed below.

The first step you can take is to talk with an SBDC Business Advisor.  Starting a small business in Alabama, or taking steps to save or grow it, is a lot easier after you’ve talked with a small business expert.

Even though many publications and talk shows publicize grants to small businesses, there are only certain types of government grants available to small businesses.  SBA, for instance, offers “Small Business Innovation Research” (SBIR) and “Small Business Technology Transfer” (STTR) grants.  Grants from other agencies may also be available for new technologies, inventions, or products.  The U.S. government does not currently provide grants for starting or expanding a small business.

Finding and identifying government agencies that give grants for specific purposes or in specific subject areas requires considerable time, effort, and research.  Getting a grant is hard work.  Don’t be fooled by advertisements and promotions that state that you can get “free money” just by asking for it. There is a lot of competition for grant funds.  To be successful in winning a grant, you must provide the funding agency with a well-written proposal that clearly states your objectives and sets forth a plan and budget for your activities.  Grants are “free” in that you do not have to pay back the money. However, if you are awarded a grant you may be required to provide periodic progress, program evaluation, and/or financial reports to the government.

Business Plan or Idea Pitch Competitions

Pitch Competitions are available throughout Alabama, and provide an opportunity to compete for prize money (a grant). Each competition has its own rules and requirements.  Some are designed to help companies that are developing new technologies; others are restricted to a specific industry sector. Awards can range from $500 to $50,000 or more. A list of pitch competitions in Alabama is available here.

Private Sector Grant Competitions

There are a few highly competitive private sector grants for certain types of businesses, and a few specifically for woman-owned businesses. Given the frequency at which these competitions change, we suggest that you investigate each of them carefully to determine if you might be eligible to compete, and understand how  and when to apply.

  • FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. Each year since 2013, FedEx has offered $25,000 grants to businesses. The application process is a short one month period, so ready your applications for the February 20th open date. You’ll need to capture your business’s story via video.  Learn more about the FedEx competition here. Good for existing businesses.
  • Miller Lite Tap the Future Business Plan Competition. Discontinued. Good for: startups, young businesses, and planning stage businesses.
  • National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants. NASE Growth Grants are offered to NASE members looking to take their business to the next level. NASE grants are worth up to $4,000 and can be used for all types of activities, like purchasing new equipment, hiring help, and creating promotional material.
    Good for: existing businesses.
  • The StreetShares Foundation Veteran Business Grant. Open to veterans, active duty members, or the spouse of a military veteran or active duty member. Applicants can receive up to $5,000 and will be judged based on their business idea, their expected use of funds, product-market fit, team, and the influence the business will have on the veteran or military community.  Good for: veterans, military members, and military spouses who run a business.
  • IdeaCafe $1K Business Grant. This grant is open to any business owner or person looking to start a business. $1,000 will be awarded to the most innovative business or business idea. Past winners include bakeries, magazines, an art gallery, and a custom cycling company. Applications open in November.  Good for: planning stage businesses.
  • Nav’s “Legitify Your Small Business” Grant. We’re offering a $10,000 small business grant to the most deserving business that applies. The application is easy, we just ask that you let your personality shine.  Good for: existing businesses.
  • Amber Grants. WomensNet founded the Amber Grant Foundation in 1998. The Foundation was set up with one goal in mind: to honor the memory of a very special young woman, Amber Wigdahl, who died at just 19 years old — before realizing her business dreams. Today, WomensNet carries on that tradition, giving away at least $10,000 every month in Amber Grant money.
  • Cartier Women’s Initiative. The Cartier Women’s Initiative is an annual international entrepreneurship programme that aims to drive change by empowering women impact entrepreneurs. Founded in 2006, the programme is open to women-run and women-owned businesses from any country and sector that aim to have a strong and sustainable social and/or environmental impact.
  • The Halstead Grant. Designed to help jewelry entrepreneurs create a strategy to kick-start their careers. The grand prize is a $7,500 cash grant plus other benefits. The deadline is August 1st each year.
  • Tory Burch Foundation. A year-long program to help you lead, grow and scale your business; includes $5,000 grant to advance your business education.
  • Visa Everywhere Initiative.  Global, open innovation program that tasks start-ups and fintechs to solve payment and commerce challenges of tomorrow, further enhance their own product propositions and provide visionary solutions for Visa’s vast network of partners. Four prizes annually, between $10k and $50k.
  • Women Founders Fast Pitch Competition.  $50 application fee.  Top 5 finalists pitch virtually on October 27th to compete for
    $30k+ in cash prizes and over $50k in professional services.
  • Chase Mission Main Street Grants. Discontinued.
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Global Challenges. The foundation awards its grants primarily to 501(c)(3) organizations, but if you run a business that is solving health and development problems through innovation, this grant could be yours. Check here for their open applications and keep in mind that the open grants are usually specific to a particular problem.  Good for: nonprofits or businesses solving health and development problems.
  • Caleb Brown Urban Entrepreneur’s Community Grant. The Caleb Brown Venture Capital and Consulting Project hosts a $1,000 grant aimed at promoting and nurturing young urban entrepreneurs with vision who plan to rebuild local blocks, neighborhoods, and communities “by providing training and jobs to the next generation.” The grant is open to startups and young businesses in urban areas. This contest is run every month—submit your application by the 15th to enter.  Good for: community businesses, new businesses, existing businesses.
  • Fundera’s Zach Grant: Submit a three-minute video to compete for a $2,500 grant awarded annually.

The vast majority of government grants are given to non-profit organizations for programs and services that benefit the community or the public at large.  There are other types of grants such as those from foundations, corporations, or private organizations.  These non-government organizations have specific requirements as to who is eligible to apply for and receive grant funding.  By and large, foundations do not make grants to for-profit enterprises.

Be aware that Government Grant Scams do exist.  Don’t be a victim.

  • BusinessUSA – Access Financing
    This interactive tool from the Federal Government allows you to describe your business and your needs, and generates a list of government financing programs that may be available to you.
  • SBA Loan Programs
    The SBA offers a variety of loan programs for very specific purposes. See if you qualify to participate in the programs described here.
    A central location for thousands of grant programs from the 26 federal grant-making agencies. There are no federal grants to help people start for-profit businesses.
  • The Foundation Center
    Among the features of this independent organization on foundation grants allows grantseekers to pose questions to an online librarian.
  • GrantsWeb
    A compendium of links to private and government grant resources, here in the U.S. as well as abroad.

The Alabama SBDC Network has a talented group of business advisors that are interested in helping your start or grow your business.  Even if a grant isn’t available, you should take a moment to talk with a business advisor about the options that are available.  Business plan competitions are offered statewide, such as Alabama Launchpad, and smaller competitions are offered locally.  Talk with your SBDC business advisor for more information.

Please, don’t send money to this guy:
The only person that has ever received any money from this book is the author.  The Federal Trade Commission won a judgment against this company for[1]