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Small Business Grants for Women

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, contributing more to job creation than larger enterprises. While women make up a disproportionately small percentage of that ownership (~29%), they are increasingly taking on entrepreneurial roles and taking on the risks involved to accomplish the task. Those risks are real: some figures put the failure rate as high as 80% within the first two years.[1]

Small ventures are always a huge risk, no matter how great the idea. Although they contribute roughly 45-46% of all nonfarm GDP, they still maintain a high turnover rate, often leaving idealistic owners, and their employees left holding somewhat empty bags.

Thankfully, assistance does exist and can reduce risk. Many new and potential can turn to a variety of public and private financial assistance to get a small business up and running. A large amount of that financial assistance, both in the way of grants, loans, and general aid, is designed specifically for women.

Government Grants
The federal government faces legal limitations when providing financial aid to certain groups, including grants specific to different racial groups and for different genders. There are still options within the government that do target and benefit women.

InnovateHER provides creative business owners with prizes - This unique program works more as a competition than a funding operation. The Small Business Association hosts the InnovateHER Summit yearly, looking for women with big ideas and innovative plans. The organization is looking for plans that: "(1) Have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families (30%), (2) Have the potential for commercialization (40%), and (3) Fill a need in the marketplace (30%)." The top prize awards $70,000 to the winning individual/team. Although the challenge is open to both genders, the focus is specifically for women.

Women's Business Centers can provide easier access to capital - Sponsored by the federal government Small Business Association, these centers provide access not only to startup funding but also to other needed information and resources for budding entrepreneurs. These centers are operated on a state level, meaning there is likely a location near you.

Private Grants
Walmart sources specifically from female entrepreneurs - Walmart has launched an initiative to help drive economic empowerment by sourcing more products from women-owned suppliers. This program does not provide funds, but female entrepreneurs may be able to reach a valuable preferential partnership with the super store.

The #Girlboss Foundation gives one grant per year to female entrepreneurs - Founded by a woman entrepreneur, this foundation provides resources to help other women starting from the ground up.

The Eileen Fisher company provides thousands of dollars in grants for women - Providing money through their Women Owned Businesses program, this organization provides women with start-up funding.

Additional Opportunities
Actual and prospective female entrepreneurs should consider various other funding means, including grants and loans not specifically designed for women. The following options are a good place to start:

FedEx Grants - FedEx provides $75,000/year in funding, dealt out among several contenders. The organization looks for those with innovative and unique ideas and products.

Small Business Innovative Research Grants - Funded by the Small Business Administration, this program gives money to small enterprises working toward developing new and innovative technologies.

Google for Entrepreneurs - Google utilizes its vast wealth and resources to help technology-centered entrepreneurs get up and running, as well providing resources to help them grow.

The Idea Cafe - This small organization has a rotating round of grants from different organizations. Check back here regularly for new opportunities.

Tips for Applications
A good plan and creditworthiness may be enough to get a loan, but grants are typically limited and competition-based. If you're hoping to qualify, be sure you go into the application process with a full arsenal.

Have a well-written, thorough business plan - A good plan is essential to getting your application recognized. You need to lay out everything you plan to do, down to the very small nuts and bolts. It's a good idea to take a few, sometimes free courses at a local community college on how to develop a plan to get yourself started.

If providing a product, have a working model - A 20-page document will only get you so far. Funding organizations typically want to see an idea that is starting to make progress. If you've yet to get your idea off the ground, make sure you have something tangible to show the organization before applying. Consider including videos and presentations to highlight your idea, especially if you do not have a product to display.

Conduct inquiries to determine whether you have a market - Your idea may be great on the surface, but it can be difficult to convince others that it's valuable. Market research comes in handy here. Hand out flyers, conduct the internet and in-person polls and surveys. Build a customer profile. Determine if there's an actual market for the services or products you're hoping to offer.

Seek and provide outside assistance and verification - Has your idea been through the fire yet? If you're the only one who has heard your idea, chances are you haven't seen where it might fail. Seek expert help that can provide you with a more critical eye. You may discover you have to take the idea back to the drawing board -- and that's ok.

Starting a business is a major commitment and entails substantial risk. It can also be a life-changing experience that opens up a new world of self-reliance and self-driven success. If this is the road you choose to take, be sure that you're ready, plan well, and look into all possible sources of help!