Small business grants are defined as money given to a business that does not need to be paid back. The funds mostly come from governments, nonprofit organizations and other businesses.
This article will address some things businesses should know about grants and will offer some suggested places to safely search for business grants.
Grants do not mean “free money”
There is a misconception that grants are like gifts – free money that is given to the recipient that can be spent as the business owner sees fit. While it’s true that they generally don’t have to be repaid, there are restrictions on how the cash can be used. Almost all of them will require that the money be spent in a certain way on particular things and be used to reach specific goals.
Grants are usually competitive and limited
Grants tend to be specific to either a particular field of business or use. A good example is the California Dream Fund. The NorCal SBDC Network teamed up with the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GoBiz) to provide eligible small businesses the opportunity to apply for a grant award of $5,000 to $10,000. Not every business could get the grant, though. The eligible businesses had to meet very specific criteria, attend a series of free business training sessions and create a business plan to have a chance at a grant. Also, the opportunity lasted for only a few months during 2022 before it closed.
In addition, if you apply for a grant, you will likely find yourself in a large applicant pool pursuing a very limited amount of funds. Grants are (unsurprisingly) popular, and funds are almost always very limited. For example, usually about 1 in 10 (this number varies from year to year) of first-time applicants for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the National Science Foundation will get an award; meaning 90% of applicants are usually turned down.
There are a lot of scams out there and you need to be careful when looking for grants. Check out this article from the Motley Fool website — it discusses some of the more common scams and how to avoid them: https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/small-business/articles/grant-scams/
Also, the Federal Trade Commission has a webpage on common US Federal Government grant scams: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/government-grant-scams
By the way, you should NEVER pay for a listing of US Federal Government grant opportunities or pay to apply for a US Federal Government grant. All available US Federal Government grants are listed on the website grants.gov and access to that list is free.
Places to search for grants
Due to how fast many grants come and go, we recommend clients keep an eye on a few websites. These are the main places to search for a grant that may be right for you.
grants.gov — this is a free, searchable database for all available grants from the US Federal Government. Again, the Federal Trade Commission says “Don’t pay for a list of government grants — and don’t pay any up-front fees. The only place to find a list of all available federal grants is at grants.gov. And that list is free.”
grants.ca.gov — this is the California state government grant portal
cfnorthstate.org/grants/ — this is a listing of local, Northern California grants
sbir.gov — SBIR is a 40+ year old US government program that funds small businesses that have risky, innovative ideas with grants and/or government contracts. We highly recommend you give us a call to learn more and help you navigate the SBIR application process.
nerdwallet.com/article/small-business/small-business-grants — NerdWallet has a newly-updated (November 2022) list of grant opportunities for small businesses from Federal, State and private organizations.
uschamber.com/co/run/business-financing/government-small-business-grant-programs — finally, the US Chamber of Commerce recently compiled a list of grant opportunities that were, at the time, available for small businesses. Again, these opportunities come and go, so be forewarned that, just because a grant program is listed here, it may not be active.
And as always we are here to assist if you have any questions about a grant or need help with the process.