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 providing real information about this scam.

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.

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.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

There are a few highly competitive private sector grants for certain types of businesses, and a few specifically for woman-owned businesses.

  • 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 (read FedEx’s tips here).  Good for existing businesses.
  • Miller Lite Tap the Future Business Plan Competition. The Tap the Future grant offers a large sum of money to up-and-coming businesses, but you’ll have to be committed to the competition to win. It’s open to startups, young businesses, and individuals with a business plan that have not yet formed an entity. If your application is selected, you’ll be invited to a LIVE pitch event in one of 5 cities across the U.S. Five semi-finalists will be chosen to compete in another LIVE pitch event to become finalists before a grand prize winner is chosen. Semi-finalists receive a $1,000 check, finalists a $20,000 check, and the grand prize winner gets a whopping $100,000.
    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.
  • LendingTree Business Grant. Last winter LendingTree ran a $50,000 small business grant contest. There’s nothing up yet about a 2018 contest, but keep an eye out. The 2017 winning business had a focus on education and community development as well as growing their business into a franchise model.  Good for: new and existing businesses.
  • Mission Main Street Grants. Each year, Chase Bank has offered $2 million to 20 young, small businesses. 2015 was the last year they ran their Mission Main Street Grant contest, but keep an eye out for a 2018 contest.  Good for: young businesses.
  • 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.
  • Halstead Jewelry Grant Award. Are you a jewelry artist? If so, submit your portfolio and business plan to Halstead for their annual jewelry grant award. In addition to funds, Halstead aims to help jewelry artists develop their business, their plan, and hit their goals.  Good for: jewelry artists, startups less than three years old.
  • Fundera’s Zach Grant: Submit a three-minute video to compete for a $2,500 grant awarded annually.

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]