How To Find Federal, State, & Local Government Small Business Grants
Government grants tend to be highly competitive and specialized, so finding one that closely fits your business's circumstances can be a huge advantage.
Getting a government grant can be like hitting the jackpot. You can get money for your business without any of the burdensome debt obligations that usually go with it. Who doesn’t like free money?
But where do you find them?
While federal small business grants tend to be the most well-known, government grants exist on the state and local levels as well. As grants tend to be highly competitive, finding one that closely fits your business’s circumstances can be a huge advantage. Below, we’ll look into some of the grant programs offered by the government and where you can find them.
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What Grant Programs Does The Government Offer Small Businesses?
When you take all levels of government into account, there is an overwhelming number of grant programs available to small businesses. As grants tend to be specialized, the trick is usually finding ones that fit the nature of your business. Below are some currently popular grant programs for small businesses.
The Small Businesses Innovation Research (SBIR) & Small Businesses Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs
The SBIR and STTR are federal programs designed to help small businesses engage in research and development and connect them to nonprofit research institutions. Basically, the government is looking for businesses that might be able to commercialize scientific discoveries.
Many federal agencies ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Defense participate in the SBIR Program. Just be aware that these grants tend to be highly competitive.
Targeted EIDL Advance
This one probably won’t be around too much longer, but the Targeted EIDL Advance is available to businesses in low-income areas that have suffered financial hardship due to COVID-19. Unlike most grants, the Targeted EIDL Advance isn’t competitive; it’s first-come, first-serve.
State Trade Expansion Program
The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is aimed at helping small businesses export their products to other countries. Though technically an SBA program, funding is sent by the federal agency to state-level organizations, which then decide how to use the funds will ultimately be used. This often takes the form of grants to businesses that are looking to expand their customer base beyond the border.
New York State COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program
An example of a state-level business grant program, New York’s COVID-19 recovery program, offers between $5,000 and $50,000 in grant awards to small businesses that were in business before March 19, 2019, and suffered a 25% loss in year-to-year gross receipts.
Other states have their own COVID recovery grants for small businesses.
How To Find Government Grants For Your Small Business
Government small business grants can be found at every level, from federal all the way down to municipal. Most government entities will have information listed about the grants they offer somewhere, but not every state or town puts that information in the same place. Still, with some googling and a general idea of where to look, you should be able to track down all but the most elusive government grants.
The internet tends to be the resource of first resort, and for good reason — there’s a lot of useful information on it. Further, many grants have online applications, so linking up with the appropriate site can save you a lot of time and effort.
Here’s where you’ll probably want to start looking:
- Grants.gov: The name says it all. Grants.gov is a government database listing federal grants. You can search for grants under the “Search Grants” tab, using a wealth of filters to narrow down your results. There’s also some general information about grants available on the site that can give you an idea of what the federal grant application process will be like and the terminology you might want to know.
- The USDA: The USDA might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking of grants, but if your business is located outside the urbanized periphery of any city with a population of 50,000 or more, you could qualify for a USDA grant. Check with your state office to see what’s available in your area.
- The National Institutes Of Health: If you run a company in or adjacent to the medical industry, the National Institutes of Health can be a great source of grant funding. With COVID still a major issue as of this writing, there are many grants focused on coronavirus-related issues.
- Economic Development Agencies: State and regional grants can be a little trickier to find since not every state or local government presents its grant resources in the same way. One strategy that can be useful is to find your state or county’s (or city’s, if your municipality is large enough) economic development agency’s website, as those will often list business grants. The state-level agencies often have links to the regional and local agencies. The US Economic Development Administration’s economic development directory is a good place to start.
- The SBA: Though many of the Small Business Administration’s grant programs seem to be reaching the end of their funding, the SBA has offered a number of grants for businesses that the pandemic has injured economically. They may not get future rounds of funding, but it’s worth keeping your eye out for them as long as the pandemic roils on. Aside from the aforementioned grants, the SBA also provides grant funding to nonprofit organizations that give guidance to small businesses.
- Search For Targeted Grants: There are large subsets of grants that target specific populations. Though the sites listing these programs are often mixed with private grants, you’ll often find government grants among them. For example, you may want to search for grants for veterans, minorities, or women. You can also search for grants specific to your industry.
Unfortunately, the more well-advertised a grant opportunity is, the more competition it’s likely to have. If it’s on a website, anyone can find it just as easily as you did. However, sometimes you can get ahead of the game by keeping your ear to the ground in your local community. You may be able to unearth some lesser-known grant opportunities this way.
Here are some possible ways to go about it:
- Use Your Local Library: Remember libraries? They’re still around and can be a great resource for uncovering local programs and events. Your librarian can probably point you in the right direction.
- Join A Local Industry Group: Grants are often specific to industries, so getting involved with a local industry group can be a good way to hear about grant opportunities coming down the pipe.
- Attend Industry Events: Likewise, industry events can be a good way to hear about contests, investment opportunities, and grants.
- Connect With Small Business Development Centers: Your city, county, or region probably has a small business development center that the SBA funds. These organizations can be a great source of information and training.
Small Business Grant Application Tips
The major downside to grants is that there is often tremendous amounts of competition for all that free money. Getting a grant can be a time-consuming process with multiple steps and plenty of ways to disqualify yourself accidentally.
If you want to increase your chances of standing out amongst the crowd of applicants, you’ll want to make sure you provide all the information the grant application asks you for. Blank spaces are one of the easiest ways for screeners to weed out applicants. At the same time, you’ll also want to think of ways in which your business could be uniquely qualified for the grant money. You can accomplish that by standing out from the crowd and being very specific about how you plan to use the funds.
For a more in-depth look at grant applications, check out our top tips for writing a business grant application.
More Grant Resources For Small Businesses
Finding the right grant opportunity for your business can be a time-consuming process, but you can save yourself some frustration by taking advantage of the resources we looked at above.
Looking for more information about business grants? Check out our feature on business grants and taxes. Need information on targeted grants? We can help you get started with our grant guides for veterans, minorities, or women.