Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of the small business community. Today, about 30 percent of small businesses are owned by women, compared to about 5 percent in 1970. In fact, Alabama outpaces the rest of the country in adding women-owned businesses. The number of women-owned firms in the state has grown 66.7 percent between 1997 and 2013. That’s the 12th highest rate of growth in the nation and better than the national average of 59.1 percent!
The Alabama SBDC Network’s Women’s Business Assistance Program is committed to developing leadership, independence and entrepreneurship for the Women of Alabama. Women are empowered with the tools to make informed decisions about business ownership through training, business coaching and mentoring. Over the last two years, more than 36% of all training attendees were women!
This program is designed to strengthen the state economy by helping aspiring and established women business owners learn more about starting or expanding small businesses, gaining access to capital, and government contracting set-asides for women.
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Alabama: Grants to Start/Grow a Woman-Owned Business
While you may think that federal grants are just a click away, that really isn’t the case. It is true that federal dollars are available in the areas of science, medical research, education and technology development, but no such grants exist specifically for women-owned businesses. The federal government may fund projects that empower women, but such funding is often set aside for nonprofit corporations; for-profit businesses are not eligible.
We have listed below your best options from the private sector. Remember that these are very competitive grants; you may want to review the requirements and application materials with your Alabama SBDC Network business advisor.
- The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program: This program awards five grants per year. The businesses must be 100 percent women-owned and have founding principles of social consciousness, sustainability and innovation, plus be ready to move to the next phase of development. In 2014, the program awarded $125,000 in grants.
- Huggies Brand — Mom Inspired Grants: The grant awards up to $15,000 to advance the development of innovative products inspired by the joys of motherhood. The awardees also receive resources to further develop their products and startup businesses. Ended in 2015.
- FedEx Think Bigger — Small Business Grant Program: Applicants are encouraged to share their visions to receive a portion of the $75,000 awarded in grants. Part of the judging involves the general public voting for the finalists, so participants may promote their businesses while garnering votes.
- Idea Café Small Business Grant: The Idea Café is a free gateway that hosts different grants on its site. Its current grant is the 16th Small Business Cash Grant, which awards one $1,000 grand prize to a business with the most innovative idea.
- InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge: This business challenge is sponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Women’s Business Ownership. The challenge awards three winners $30,000 in prize money for businesses that have an impact on the lives of women.
- Chase Google — Mission Main Street Project: Chase and Google have partnered to award $3 million in grants. In 2014, recipients were awarded $150,000 to help take their businesses to the next level. Recipients also received a trip to Google headquarters, a Google Chromebook laptop and a $2,000 coupon toward a market research study with Google Consumer Surveys.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): Eleven different federal agencies participate in this awards-based program, which incentivizes and enables small businesses to explore their technological potential. Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR): The STTR program reserves a specific percentage of federal research and development funding to provide funding opportunities in research and development. Talk with your Alabama SBDC Network business advisor to learn how you can partner with the state’s major research institutions to compete for one of these awards.
- Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corp (WVEC) Small Business Competition: This competition, organized by Capitol One andCount Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, allows participants to present two-minute pitches for a chance to participate in a nine-month business accelerator program.
- Wal-Mart Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative (WEE): As part of a huge Wal-Mart initiative, sourcing opportunities for U.S. and international companies will increase to $40 billion over five years.
- Zions Bank — Smart Women Smart Money: This Utah-based bank’s grant annually awards $3,000 across six different categories, including business.
Finally, don’t forget to ask your SBDC business advisor about the Alabama Launchpad competition. The goals of the Launchpad Competition are
- Provide proof of concept grants and seed capital to advance early stage technologies.
- Spotlight early-stage business ideas and companies that have considerable market potential.
- Provide a vetting mechanism that helps local investors evaluate the market potential of early stage technologies and companies.
- Connect new entrepreneurs with a network of key individuals and leaders across the state that can help them succeed.
- Build a pipeline of early stage companies that will be become tomorrow’s leading firms.
- Increase collaboration among the participating universities.