1. InnovateHER Challenge
InnovateHER provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. to showcase products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families (30%), have the potential for commercialization (40%), and fill a need in the marketplace (30%).
The U.S. Small Business Administration hosts an annual competition for businesses with a marketable product or service that positively affects women's lives. To participate, you must first enter and win a local InnovateHER Challenge to advance to the national semifinal round. The top three national finalists will win $40,000, $20,000 and $10,000, respectively.
2. Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs (SBIR)
The mission of the SBIR program is to support scientific excellence and technological innovation through the investment of Federal research funds in critical American priorities to build a strong national economy (Foster and encourage participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by women and socially or economically disadvantaged persons).
The SBA facilitates these two competitive programs, which ultimately provide grants to small businesses that contribute to federal research and development. Eleven federal agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Health and Human Services, post grant opportunities on their websites.
3. State and local small-business grants
As a general statement, there are no formal grants on the federal level specifically targeted towards women only. However, there are many grants at the state and municipal levels. These programs are very competitive and time-intensive, here are a few resources to assist in your search.
4. Women's Business Centers
The SBA sponsors about 100 Women's Business Centers nationwide, designed to help women entrepreneurs with business development and access to capital. Some, such as the California Capital Financial Development Corp., lend money directly, while others simply help you find small-business grants and loans that you may qualify for.
5. Economic development agencies
Every state and many cities have economic development agencies focused on promoting a strong local economy. Even if the agency itself doesn't offer a small-business grant, it will likely be able to point you in the right direction.
6. Small Business Development Centers
There are hundreds of these SBA-sponsored centers around the country, typically housed at colleges and universities. SBDCs offer free, one-on-one business consulting. Set up a meeting with your local SBDC advisor, who will be able to tell you about grants and other business financing opportunities in your area.
Private small-business grants for women
Some private organizations and businesses have created national grant programs for women small-business owners. Here are two to look into:
7. Amber Grant
The Amber Grant Foundation awards $500 to a different women-owned business every month. At the end of each year, one of the 12 grant winners is awarded an additional $2,000. The application is relatively simple: Explain what your business is, describe what you'd do with the grant money and pay a $7 application fee. The foundation's advisory board chooses the winners, looking for women with passion and a good story.
8. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant
Eileen Fisher, a women's clothing retailer, awards $100,000 to up to 10 women business owners each year. The EILEEN FISHER Women-Owned Business Grant supports innovative, women-owned companies that are beyond the start-up phase and ready to expand their business and their potential for positive social and environmental impact. To be eligible, women must make up at least 51% of your business's ownership and leadership, your business must have been in operation for at least three years, it must not exceed $1 million in annual revenue, and it must be focused on environmental or social change.
(The following grant is not specifically for women, but worth considering:)
9. FedEx Small Business Grant
FedEx awards up to $25,000 apiece to 10 small businesses annually. The application requires an explanation of your business, how you'd use the money, photos of your business and - this part is optional - a short video explaining your business. You don't need a FedEx account to apply.