The Best Business Grants For Women
Do an online search for “business grants for women” and a slew of articles will come up. But when you click to read the articles, you’ll find that there is scant, if any, information on actual grants. Often, when you do find the name of a specific grant for female-led businesses, like the “Huggies Mom Inspired” grant, there will be no link to apply, because the program has been discontinued (the Eileen Fisher Grant for Women was also recently discontinued). Most of these articles will also toss you a link to Grants.gov—which does not offer any grant expressly for women-owned businesses.
The truth is that while there is a lot of demand for business grants, i.e., free money to help start or continue your business, there are hardly any such programs in existence. Both government and private grants do exist, but most of that money goes to not-for-profit organizations, and the majority of these programs do not give preferential treatment to female applicants.
However, there are a select few grants offered specifically to female owners of for-profit businesses. This article includes real grants for women entrepreneurs only. Meaning, there will be an actual link to apply in most cases. Woohoo! Hopefully, this will save you some time scouring the web. I could only find a handful of legit, worthwhile business grant opportunities for women, but if you know of any others, feel free to mention them in the comments!
Table of Contents
1. Amber Grant
The Amber Grant began in 1998. After a young woman named Amber died before being able to fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams, WomensNet started offering grants for women in Amber’s name. These are smallish grants, but they are very accessible and easy to apply for. Amber Grant awards $2,000 to a woman-owned business every month, and at the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly qualification winners wins another grant for $25,000.
Amber Grants do not have any particular qualification criteria, other than that recipients must be female entrepreneurs (age 18 and up) living in the United States or Canada. Amber Grants are open to any type of business.
How To Apply
Simply fill out the application template on the Amber Grant Application Page and pay a $15 fee. The application deadline is on the 30th or 31st of every month.
Amber Grants receive between 200 and 600 applicants every month. Amber Grants recommends that rather than trying to “sound professional” in your application, you focus on conveying the passion you have for your business. Make sure you read the application tips for more advice on how to put your best foot forward so you can secure the monthly grant.
2. Cartier Women’s Initiative
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, a joint partnership created in 2006 by Cartier, McKinsey & Company, and INSEAD business school, awards annual grants to support projects by women entrepreneurs. This is one of the largest and most prestigious business grants for women, but the competition is steep. A total of seven laureates receive the first-place award each year, while 14 runners-up receive the second-place prize. The first-place prize in this international women’s business competition is $100,000; second place comes with a $30,000 prize.
Women entrepreneurs in the initial stages of business development (two-three years old), in any country, of any nationality, and operating in any industry can apply for this grant. The business must have an original concept and the business must have a for-profit model.
You can download the official Cartier Women’s Initiative rules of participation for more details.
How To Apply
When applications are open (only during certain times of the year), you will be able to apply using the online Cartier Women’s Initiative application form. The 2020 application deadline is August 14, 2019.
Before applying, be sure to read up on the grant application process. In addition to filling out the application form, you’ll need to supply supporting documentation including your resume, scanned copy of your business registration, proof of patent (if applicable), and detailed financials. Optionally, you can also include three additional attachments, such as your logo, images of your product, press articles, etc.
3. Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program
Fashion designer and philanthropist Tory Burch created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to help empower female entrepreneurs. The Foundation has been quite successful in this goal, and today runs one of the most preeminent business grant competitions.
Each year, up to 50 finalists of this grant competition receive a $5,000 grant for business education, a one-year Tory Burch Fellowship, and a four-day business workshop at Tory Burch Headquarters in NYC. Note that the $5,000 grant cannot be used for purposes other than business education.
Fellows will also participate in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition before a panel of judges. Previously, the winner of this competition would receive a $100,000 award, of which 50% was a grant and 50% a “recoverable grant” (a fancy way of saying 0%-interest loan), but this is no longer the case. Tory Burch says of this change:
We no longer have a competition for the $100,000 grant investment. Instead, we believe that more than one entrepreneur should have access to potential investment opportunities. Select entrepreneurs participating in the Fellowship will have the opportunity to pitch at our official Pitch Day on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Funding is not guaranteed.
Applicants to this business grant must be female business owners who meet the following criteria:
- Own a majority stake in for-profit business, from any industry, in early-stage growth (minimum of 1 year and no more than five years of operations), generating minimum revenues of $75,000
- Manage said business on a day-to-day basis
- 21 years or older as of the application due date
- Legal resident of the United States
- Proficient in English
Read more about Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Grant eligibility on their website.
How To Apply
The application period is pretty short—it opens in early fall and closes in November. But that’s okay; in between application periods, you can download the application help guide to start perfecting your business plan and application essay so you will be ready to go when the next round of applications opens. Once the application period begins, you will be able to see the application on the Tory Burch website.
4. Girlboss Foundation
Launched in 2014, The Girlboss Foundation funds female entrepreneurs pursuing creative endeavors. Specifically, these grants are for women in the fields of art, fashion, design, and music. Every six months, one grant beneficiary receives $15,000 to be used for a creative project within the following 12 months, in addition to online media exposure.
Girlboss also hosts the annual Girlboss Rally to empower women entrepreneurs. The event is growing in popularity and in 2018 the Rally was expanded from one day to two.
In 2018, Girlboss additionally teamed up with Uber for the Uber Pitch competition for female entrepreneurs that awarded a grand prize of $95K, a runner-up prize of $65K, and a third-place prize of $55K. The three winners were selected following their live pitches at the Girlboss Rally in November 2018. While it looks like Uber Pitch may have been a one-time competition, I’m excited to see what other corporate partnerships and grant opportunities Girlboss might unveil in the future.
To be eligible for the $15,000 biannual grant, Girlboss applicants must be US-based, female-identifying creative business owners (in design, fashion, music, and the arts) who are 18 or older. Note that the Girlboss Foundation only awards grants to individuals; GB can award the grant to an individual representing a business, but not to a business as an entity.
How To Apply
You can apply using the online Girlboss Foundation grant application in June for the first cycle of the year and in December for the second cycle. I would also recommend checking Girlboss’s website and social media to find out about additional grant opportunities.
5. Women Founders Network Fast Pitch Competition
The WFN is an organization that provides both capital and mentorship to women business owners. The organization’s Fast Pitch competition awards $45,000 in free grant money to three female-led businesses each year. A group of “Junior Judges” including girls in grades 6–12 also picks their own winner, which receives $5,000. If you make the top 10 finalists, you’ll pitch your business at a live in-person event in Los Angeles in October.
These are the criteria for this women’s business grant competition, from the WFN website:
- Founder/CEO must be a woman or business must be majority-owned by women
- Must attend in-person to present in Los Angeles at the Fast Pitch Event
- Business must be past the idea stage (revenue preferred)
- Must have raised no more than $1M in outside funding, excluding research grants
- Seeking early-stage businesses based in the USA with high-growth potential
You will also have to pay a $50 or $100 application fee, depending on how close to the deadline you apply.
How To Apply
Applications for the 2019 grant are currently closed. You can apply for the 2020 grant starting in spring 2020. Once the application round begins, the application will be live on the Women Founders Network Fast Pitch website. In the meantime, you can review WFN’s grant application guidelines with detailed information about the contest and tips for applying.
Runner-Up: Halstead Grant
Halstead Grants are given to new jewelry designers who work primarily in silver. While this grant is not strictly for women, I’m including it as a runner-up, as the jewelry industry is mostly female-dominated, and most (but not all) of the past winners of this grant have been women. Plus, there is an actual link to apply for the grant. Score!
The grant consists of $7,500 in start-up capital and $1,000 in Halstead merchandise.
- Applicant must have opened business within the past three years.
- Applicant must be pursuing jewelry design as a full-time career, not as a hobby or part-time job.
- Applicant must be a US citizen.
How To Apply
Download and fill out the Halstead Grant Application. The deadline is August 1st each year. As part of the application, you must submit a jewelry collection along with answers to 15 questions that form the basis of a business plan.
Government Business Grants For Women
There was previously a nationwide business grant competition for women called the InnovateHer Challenge, organized by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. While this grant was discontinued in 2017 under the current administration, the competition may … or may not … return in 2019.
The InnovateHer Challenge awarded federal grant money to three finalists every year from 2015–2017. These grants were reserved for businesses that used innovation to improve the lives of women. The products and/or services offered by the finalists also had to have the potential for commercialization and fill a need in the marketplace. In 2017, first place won $40,000; second place received $20,000; and third place got $10,000. The competition did not take place in 2018.
I inquired with the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership about the future of the grant competition earlier this year, and recently, a representative finally got back to me with the following:
Currently, we are planning an even better and more exciting InnovateHER for 2019! Please be sure to follow us [the SBA] on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn so you don’t miss any updates.
I’ll update this article with more info about the 2019 InnovateHer grant if it becomes available. However, as of June 2019, I still hadn’t heard anything. If I could insert a somewhat passive-aggressive “woman shrugging” emoji here, I would.
Other Government Resources For Women-Owned Small Businesses
Note that the SBA does offer some resources for women-owned businesses, even if it doesn’t necessarily offer actual cash-money. For example, the Women Veteran Entrepreneurial Training Program can help you get free business training if you are both a woman and a veteran. You can (and should) also check with your local SBA Women’s Business Center (WBC) to see what local business resources they can connect you with. These resources may, potentially, include local grant opportunities specific to your city or state.
If you think your business could be eligible for federal contracts, you should also know that the government reserves a certain percentage of federal contracts for women-owned small businesses (WOSB) in industries where women are underrepresented—for example, forestry, construction, HVAC, manufacturing, and many, many others you might not expect, such as beauty salons, nail salons, family planning centers, and women’s apparel manufacturing. (Wow, it sure is depressing that even industries that rely heavily on both women patrons and women employees mostly male-owned, but I digress.) Some federal contracts are even restricted further to economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSB). So, if you own a business in a male-dominated field, which I guess is pretty much all of them, be sure to look into this program.
Grants represent a viable form of free funding for select, exceptionally talented women business owners. If you can present an especially impressive application, essay, business plan, and in some cases an in-person pitch, you might come away with some free cash to help bring your entrepreneurial dreams to fruition. However, such grants are extremely competitive, and in most cases even if you win a prized spot, you won’t receive a large amount of capital. There are some select grants available to small businesses in general, including grants for startup businesses, but these grant programs are similarly competitive. Generally, there just isn’t a lot of grant money to be had for for-profit businesses.
Government-backed loans offered by the Small Business Administration and its partner lenders.
Fast, automated loans offered by independent business lenders online.
Business Lines of Credit
A credit facility from which the business can borrow money at any time.
Business Credit Cards
Credit cards used for business expenses.
Small loans, often used by startups, offered by the SBA, nonprofit lenders, or other sources.
Nonprofit Business Loans
Business loans offered by nonprofit lenders.
Funds sourced from a network of backers or investors.
Free funds granted to businesses, normally for a specific project.
VC Funding/Angel Investors
Investors who give money to businesses in exchange for equity in the company.
If you’re a female entrepreneur reading this article, I strongly recommend you also check out my article on the best small business loans for women. For more guidance on how to get financing for your women-owned business, feel free to contact us!