Startups need money the way people need air. It's how they keep going. You can look to angel investors or venture capitalists, although that means losing some amount of control. Or there are SBA loans. But you can also look for grants. There are sources for women or minority entrepreneurs and virtually anyone else.
The money may not be enough to keep you afloat for several years, but it can make a big difference. Here are 13 places to find small-business grants. And although there's no way to know if LendingTree will repeat its $50,000 small-business grant competition, it still has information on applying for grants and what grant issuers are looking for.
Many federal agencies have grant programs, which you can access through a single site. Here are some examples.
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture -- Besides agriculture, the USDA has a focus on rural areas, where about 20 percent of the population lives. It has multiple grant and loan programs for rural small businesses, including the Rural Business Investment Program.
2. SBIR and STTR -- The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs promote innovation research and development for many government agencies. The former focuses on small businesses that can perform R&D a given agency might find useful and which could eventually be commercially viable. The latter is a program in which certain agencies license technology for small businesses to turn into commercial ventures. Both use a three-phase structure with grants that run from at least $100,000 in the first phase to as much as $1 million in the second. The third phase of SBIR projects can involve follow-on funding or contracts, depending on the agency.
3. Government challenges -- Federal agencies frequently issue challenges on a wide array of topics, whether student architectural design competitions, videos about public safety, fighting corrosion on steel structures, and much more. Challenge.gov is a clearing-house you can browse to see what money you might be able to compete for.
State and local government
State and local governments often have various types of financial assistance, including grants, for small businesses. Doing a search on the government websites of your state, county, and town or city is a must. But there are some central starting points that are helpful.
4. State and territory business resources -- The federal government has a site for state and territory business resources. Go to it, select your state or territory, and get a list of potential resources. I chose Colorado and found a number of grant programs.
5. STEP Grants -- Many states receive money from the Small Business Administration for STEP, or State Trade and Export Promotion, Grants to help companies expand their marketing and sales. You can see the latest awardees at the SBA's site. See if your state is listed, and then do a web search for STEP and your state to find the government office that handles the program.
6. State small-business grants -- To see if your state has other grant sources, do a Web search for your state name along with the phrase small business and the word grants. I tried it for New Mexico and found, for example, a small-business grants program through New Mexico State University. A similar search for Connecticut turned up the state's Small Business Express Program, which has grants to increase employment among small businesses. See what resources might be available in your area.
7. Amber Grants -- The Amber Grant program makes monthly grants of $500 to women, with an annual $2,500 grant being made to one of the monthly winners.
8. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest -- FedEx runs an annual contest in which small businesses compete to win up to $25,000 in cash and $7,500 in print and business services.
9. Miller Lite Tap the Future -- The beer brand runs an annual competition in which five semifinalists win $20,000 each and the grand prize winner receives a $100,000 development prize. Submissions run from February to mid-April.
10. National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grants -- NASE members can apply for $4,000 grants to finance a specific need, like website creation, equipment, or hiring part-time help.
11. Global Innovation Exchange -- This internationally supported organization lists funding opportunities around the world that focus on innovation. Choose grants on the left side of the page and see what might be available.
12. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program -- The clothing company offers $10,000 minimum grants to up to 10 women-owned businesses a year.
13. StreetShares Foundation -- StreetShares, a small-business funding community, has a foundation with an annual grant competition for businesses owned by veterans, reservists, or active-duty members of the armed forces or the spouse of such a person. There are three grants annually: $2,000, $3,000, and $5,000.