The good news: There are grants available for women-owned businesses. However, none of them come from the federal government. Yes, President Obama proclaimed March 2012 as “Women’s History Month” but he did not announce government funds earmarked for women’s business purposes. The federal government does not award grants to women-owned (or any other) small businesses to help them get started or to grow, period.
There is still good news: Opportunities and Resources for Women-Owned Business do exist even if they don’t come from Washington DC. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) did say that the president's proposed budget would help women-owned businesses because it would support growth and lending, give small businesses greater access to credit, and reduce small business taxes. So we can reasonably expect a more favorable business environment in the coming year.
You can (and should) ignore advertising pitches that claim they can get you federal funding (they can't) and focus your efforts on real opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Women are occupying more and more high-level executive positions as well as starting new businesses at a very high rate.
Overviews of promising examples of each follow below, along with a recent (and somewhat controversial) book by the (female) COO of Twitter:
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Of course you can get a lot of information and support from the resources listed in our “gender-neutral” article on Grants for Business. Our focus here is the availability of women-specific educational/inspirational as well as financial resources for either starting or growing their own business. Following are overviews for some promising examples of each :
The Small Business Administration: a good place to start for the basics. Though the SBA does not award grants, it does provide government backing for small business loans through 3rd party lenders, and they can direct you to possible sources of financing. In fact as part of the Recovery Act the SBA has helped back over $16 billion in loans that went to small businesses, and they report that 20@ of that money has been loaned to businesses owned by women. The SBA also provides a myriad of services in general and you can learn more in our article about the SBA website. They specifically support women entrepreneurs through a network of Women’s Business Centers. Offering both technical and management help, they are particularly interested in helping those who are challenged economically or socially. They offer support in a number of languages. You can learn more by visiting the sba.gov website and going to the Office of Women’s Business Management.
The Minority Business Development Agency also has special programs, training and financial support resources for women who are also members of a minority. Recent programs have specifically promoted Latinas and young Spanish speaking entrepreneurs. It's worth taking a look at even if you are not in a minority group!
Microfinance Options: If you need more one-on-one ongoing support and are interested in a microloan, check out our articales on Microfinance in the United States and Microfinancing Opportunities. Many of the beneficiaries of these programs are women.
A Timely Book: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operation Officer of Facebook) is a though provoking and inspiring book for women in business (or thinking about business).
Serious and often humorous Sandberg offers informed opinions and advice for women who want to achieve both professional success and personal fulfillment.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Award: This is an impressive award designated for a for-profit business in its early stages (not older than 3-4 years, depending on the stage of development and sales). A woman must be the primary leader of the business. Contestants are drawn from around the world but must have a good command of the English language. Judges look for an innovative concept, a unique approach within the applicant’s country or marketplace, the potential for significant revenues and indicators of likely ongoing success and growth. Environmental impact will also be assessed. The application for this award must be top notch! See the Cartier website to learn more about the application process and requirements and be sure to investigate their toolbox section for guidance. You can also look at previous winners to better understand what is important to the judges.
The Eileen Fisher Busniess Grant Program for Women: This program awards grants—sometimes as many as five—in the amount of $12,500 to those with winning applications. To qualify, your business must be based on an innovative concept, be sound and sustainable from an environmental standpoint, be owned 100% by women and run over 50% by women, and currently be either at the start-up stage or 3 years old or less and ready to tackle the next stage of your business plan. You must also be either a for-profit business or a “social enterprise” — part for-profit and part non-profit (hybrid). You must have a solid business plan and show clearly how the grant money would help to advance your operation. Learn more at the Eileen Fisher website.
Amber Grants: This appears to be a solo operation with an owner who awards small grants ($500-$1500) in honor of a younger sister. Past winners and contact information are listed and the awards appear to be legitimate though the application requirements are minimal and very informal. As always, proceed at your own risk. To apply you must pay a fee—which is not typical—of $7. A detailed business plan is not required—just register and then answer some simple questions about your motivation, your idea, how you would use the funds if awarded and any other information you’d like to provide. Learn more about Amber Grants and consider contacting previous winners before you proceed.