8 Best Small Business Grants in 2021

Free money for your small business might sound too good to be true, but with small business grants — it’s entirely possible. Small business grants are funding that is awarded to qualifying applicants that you don’t need to repay. Sounds good, right? The first step is to look for the best grants for small business. We are here to help with the 8 best small business grants in 2021.


Best Small Business Grants

Small business grants are funding to start or maintain small businesses and support the entrepreneurs running them. The best part is that you don’t have to repay the money you’re given. There are many grant options available to small businesses, so we compiled the eight best small business grants of 2021 based on a specific set of criteria.

Our Approach:

Choosing the best business grant comes down to three things:

  1. The type of business you have
  2. The needs of your business
  3. What you want for the future of your business

Our Top Business Grants for 2021:

  1. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program offers the best federal small business grants for tech companies. The SBIR program is a highly competitive grant program that provides funding for qualifying small businesses to engage in technological research and innovation.
  2. The US Economic Development Administration (EDA) offers the best state small business grant for innovation. EDA grants are state-level funding awarded to small businesses that prioritize entrepreneurship and innovation to stimulate economic growth.
  3. The FedEx Small Business Grant Contest offers the best corporate small business grant for growth. FedEx awards $25,000 in grants to 12 qualified applicants as well as additional services each year through their small business grant contest.
  4. The Amber Grant is the best small business grant for women. The Amber Grant is awarded monthly with one of the monthly winners receiving additional funding annually as well.
  5. The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) offers the best small business grant for minorities. The MBDA currently offers three ongoing grants for minority-owned businesses.
  6. The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grant offers the best business grant for startups. NASE provides grants for established startups that are seeking funding to take their business to the next level.
  7. The StreetShares Foundation offers the best small business grant for veterans. The StreetShares Foundation provides grants not only for veterans but for their spouses as well to start small businesses.
  8. The Microenterprise Development Program offers the best small business grant for refugees. The Microenterprise Development Program grants are available to refugees looking to start a business or support their existing business.

Best Federal Small Business Grant: SBIR Program

Grant amount: $150,000-$1 million

The SBIR program provides grants for small businesses and entrepreneurs to enable them to develop and research high-tech innovations for federal agencies that have potential for commercialization. Common areas for businesses that receive this funding include homeland security, clean drinking water, healthcare, green construction, and more.

The mission of this program is to support scientific excellence and innovative technology to grow and build the US economy. For technology businesses, the SBIR program provides substantial seed money and contracts with government agencies that will help qualifying businesses research and develop new technologies.

To apply for an SBIR business grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Applicants must be a for-profit business.
  • Applicants must have less than 500 employees.
  • A majority of ownership must be held by one or a combination of the following:
    • One or more individuals that are citizens or permanent residents
    • Other for-profit businesses
    • Venture capital-operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms. 

Pros

  • Winners of the SBIR business grant can be provided with grants and contracts with 12 government agencies.
  • While the grant amount starts at $150,000, promising and successful candidates can receive up to $1 million in additional funding.
  • Each of the participating government agencies creates its own guidelines and eligibility requirements which means you have a better chance at securing funding if they align with a specific agency’s requirements.

Cons

  • This grant is highly competitive, which means only a small number of applicants receive grant money through this program.
  • The application process is lengthy and time-consuming, which can be a struggle for small business owners. 

Best State Small Business Grant: EDA

Grant amount: Varies depending on the grant

The EDA is an agency of the US Department of Commerce that provides grants, resources, and support for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The mission of this agency is to provide small business owners with the free tools and funding they need to dedicate their time to innovation and entrepreneurship.

To find grants from the EDA, you can easily search their database of available grants and find local funding opportunities by searching for resources in your state.

To apply for an EDA business grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Due to the EDA being only a source for finding grants, eligibility will vary based on the grant you’re applying for. Be sure to read the requirements carefully before proceeding with your application.
  • Since loans are processed through Grants.gov, applicants must create an account on the site.

Pros

  • The EDA provides an easily searchable database of available grants, making it convenient to find the right grant for your business.
  • There are state-level resources available for small businesses through the EDA.
  • Grants are available at various times of the year, so you don’t have to worry about meeting a singular deadline.

Cons

  • Since this isn’t a specific grant offered by the EDA, finding the best one for your business can be overwhelming.
  • This is a widely used source for small businesses, meaning grants may be highly competitive.
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State and Federal Business Grants

Read our full list of the best federal and state small business grants.

Best Corporate Grant: FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

Grant amount: $15,000-$50,000

FedEx offers one of the best-known small business grants. Developed to support businesses looking to grow — this is a great grant option for businesses looking to scale their small business. Twelve contestants are chosen to receive grant money, with the first place winner earning $50,000 and $7,500 in FedEx credit.

Unlike other grants with formal application processes, the FedEx small business grant only requires a one-minute video, a logo submission, photos that capture your business’s personality, and a short profile to enter.

To apply for a FedEx business grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Applicants must have been in operation for over a year.
  • Applicants must have less than 50 employees.
  • Applicants must have been using business shipping services within 12 months of applying.

Pros

  • Twelve winners are selected from applicants of the contest, so if your business isn’t first or second place, you still have ten chances to win thousands of dollars in funding.
  • Winners also receive a credit for FedEx print and business services.
  • Once you’ve entered, you can spread the word to your business’s fans to vote and increase your chances of winning.

Cons

  • Thousands of businesses apply for this grant contest every year, with only twelve winners selected, making this one of the more competitive grants to win.
  • FedEx small business grants are only available to already established businesses. 
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Corporate Business Grants

Read our full list of the best corporate small business grants.

Best Small Business Grant for Women: Amber Grant

Grant amount: $10,000-$35,000

In 1998, WomensNet established the Amber Grant Foundation in memory of an aspiring entrepreneur whose life was cut short. Since then, the foundation awards a woman-owned business $10,000 every month, with one of the twelve winners that year receiving an additional $25,000.

With the Amber Grant, women-owned businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs have the opportunity to explain and articulate their business goals to compete for the grant each month of the year.

To apply for an Amber Grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Applicants must be a women-owned business.
  • Applicants must be located in the US or Canada.
  • Applicants must submit a $15 application fee.

Pros

  • Applying for the Amber Grant is easy, with the only requirement being to tell the foundation about yourself and your business dream. No difficult application process or hefty amounts of paperwork.
  • If you are one of the monthly winners, your loyal customers can vote for your business to receive the extra $25,000 annual grant.
  • There is no requirement for the type of business you operate or would like to operate in order to win this grant. 

Cons

  • This a highly sought-after business grant, making the application process competitive.
  • There is an application fee to compete for this grant.
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Grants for Businesswomen

Read our full list of the best small business grants for women.

Best Small Business Grant for Minorities: MBDA Grants

Grant amount: Varies based on the grant

The MBDA serves as a resource for minority-owned businesses to find grants, consulting, and other forms of business assistance. Unlike others on this list, the MBDA operates by providing grants to their Minority Business Centers located across the US.

By searching for the Minority Business Center near you, you can find grants that your business qualifies for as well as a litany of other resources available to minority-owned businesses.

To apply for an MBDA grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Applicants must obtain a Data Universal Number System (DUNS) to have their applications tracked.
  • Applicants must be a minority-owned business.
  • Applicants must register their application with the System for Award Management Registration (SAM). 

Pros

  • The MBDA serves as a resource not only for grants but also for many other business services for minorities.
  • There are Minority Business Centers all over the US ready to help minority-owned businesses.
  • The mission and purpose of this organization is to support minorities in maintaining their small businesses to promote a successful community of entrepreneurs.

Cons

  • Since the MBDA doesn’t issue grants itself, finding grants can be a little more challenging.
  • The application process can be competitive for these grants, which means accessing funding can be difficult.
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Minority Business Grants

Read our full list of the best minority small business grants.

Best Startup Grant: NASE Growth Grant

Grant amount: $4,000

The National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE) is an organization that provides monthly $4,000 grants for self-employed individuals such as small business owners. To apply for NASE Growth Grants, you must register for an account on their website.

These monthly grants are great for startups that need a little extra funding to hire help, buy equipment, or any other business expenses. Specifically, startups that are looking for extra capital to grow their business may find this grant beneficial.

To apply for an NASE Growth Grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Your business must be a member of the NASE and be in good standing with the organization for at least three months.
  • Supply a resume and business plan along with your application.
  • Demonstrate a business need that could be met with the grant money as well as a detailed explanation of how your business will use the funding.

Pros

  • There are grant opportunities every month, which makes obtaining funding easier than annual grant programs.
  • There is a lot of freedom with what you can use this grant for. Whether it’s payroll, equipment, or software, this grant allows you to support your business in whatever way is needed.
  • Being an NASE member has perks such as tax assistance and database management.

Cons

  • You must be a member of the NASE to apply, which can cost up to $120 annually.
  • Since the Growth Grant is only $4,000, it isn’t ideal for startups looking for a large amount of funding.
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Startup Business Grants

Read our full list of the best startup business grants.

Best Business Grant for Veterans: StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award

Grant amount: $4,000-$15,000

The StreetShares Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides grants and other funding opportunities for veterans and their families to support and maintain their small businesses. The mission of this organization is to educate, support, and encourage veteran entrepreneurship by providing the resources that may be challenging for this community to secure.

This is a terrific resource for veteran entrepreneurs because of its exceptional grant program as well as its access to tools and mentorship.

To apply for a StreetShares Foundation grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Applicants must be a veteran, reserve, or transitioning active duty member (spouses and children of veterans who died in active duty can also apply for this grant).
  • Applicants must own at least 51% of the business entity that is applying.
  • Applicants must be low-income or lack financial resources to grow or support their business.

Pros

  • This grant is available not only for veteran and active service military but for military spouses and children of veterans that died in active duty.
  • There are three winners for this grant that receive different sums, so if you are in the top three, you still have the opportunity to earn money for your business.
  • Once applications are submitted, your business’s fans can vote for your business to win the grant money.

Cons

  • The application process is fairly intensive, requiring a pitch video, application, and presentation at the Military Influencer Conference to qualify.
  • Businesses must convey how their business model serves the military and veteran community, which means not all business types will qualify.
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Veteran Business Grants

Read our full list of the best veteran small business grants.

Best Business Grant for Refugees: Microenterprise Development Program

Grant amount: Up to $15,000

Provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Microenterprise Development Program helps refugees develop, grow, or otherwise support their business. The Microenterprise Development Program provides grants for refugees as well as a variety of business services, microloans, and revolving lines of business credit.

For refugees without access to financial services from commercial institutions, this grant program strives to make entrepreneurship an attainable goal.

To apply for a Microenterprise Development Program grant, you need to meet the following criteria/eligibility requirements:

  • Applicants must meet all of the requirements of 45 CFR 400.43.
  • Applicants must be refugees who receive public assistance or subsidies, lack the financial resources, credit history, or personal assets to qualify for funding through commercial sources.
  • Since this grant program is accessed through Grants.gov, you must create an account on the site in order to apply.

Pros

  • Refugees who are not yet citizens may participate in this grant program regardless of the date of their arrival in the US.
  • This grant program prioritizes entrepreneurs who are unable to receive funding from commercial institutions to support or start their businesses.
  • This program also helps refugees secure a business line of credit to support their business and provide loan options for qualified participants. 

Cons

  • While non-citizens can participate in the program regardless of the date of their arrival in the US, priority is given to those who have been in the US for less than five years.
  • This is a highly competitive program, which means there are many other interested applicants vying for the same funding.

Small Business Grants Summary

Free money is a phrase many small businesses are understandably skeptical about. However, with small business grants, there are options for businesses of all kinds to secure free funding to maintain, support, or start their business.

The most important things to keep in mind when searching and applying for grants is to read the requirements carefully, double-check that your application is complete, and reapply if you aren’t the winner. With so many grant opportunities available, finding the right funding source for your small business is absolutely possible.

Alternatives to Small Business Grants

If you haven’t found a grant that suits your business needs, haven’t had success in the application process, or if you’re simply tired of searching, you are in luck. There are many other funding options for small businesses, from loans to business credit. Most entrepreneurs start and maintain their small businesses without grants; you can too.

  • Small Business Loans: Like small business grants, loans are awarded to business owners by outside lending institutions or banks. The key difference is that businesses must repay loans.
  • Friends and Family Loans: Many small businesses use loans from friends and family to start or support their businesses. To avoid tarnishing your close relationships, it’s recommended that you develop a solidified repayment plan and get your agreement in writing.
  • Personal Savings: Otherwise known as “bootstrapping,” most entrepreneurs will dip into their personal savings to start or support their small business. This method requires self-discipline and financial commitment to be sustainable.
  • Investors: Venture capitalists and angel investors are two of the most common investors for small businesses. Both invest money in a business with the hope of a high return on investment; however, venture capitalists typically request to be on the board of directors or to acquire partial ownership.
  • Business Line of Credit: Similar to a personal credit card, a business line of credit is a fixed amount of money available for business expenses that is revolving upon repayment of the existing balance.
  • Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding has become an increasingly popular method of raising funds for small businesses. The benefit of this alternative is that crowdfunding is typically a culmination of several small sums that recipients don’t usually need to repay. 

Small Business Grants FAQ

How do small business grants work?

Small business grants are essentially free money for your business. Once you find and apply for a small business grant, if your business is selected, you receive a sum of money to use to support your business that you don’t need to repay. Often, small business grants come with requirements for how businesses must spend the money.

How do I get a business grant?

Obtaining a business grant is done through an application process. The application process will vary based on the grant. For example, one grantor may require a video essay, while another may require you to submit an online application. The best way to increase your chances of receiving a grant is to look for ones that align with your business model and values.

What are the benefits of small business grants?

The biggest benefit of small business grants is that you don’t have to repay the money you’re given. Additionally, many grantors and programs offer more than just grant money. Most of these programs offer other business services such as business consulting, marketing services, or extra funding opportunities.

How do I determine which business grant is best for me?

First and foremost, find a grant that aligns with your business’s goals, values, and personality. The more your business matches the criteria, the better chance you have of securing the funding. Additionally, look for grants created to help entrepreneurs like you in your community. Grants with very specific qualifications provide more opportunities because they are less competitive.

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