Small-Business Grants for Women: 7 Opportunities for Free Money


Want free money for your business? Of course you do. Fortunately, small-business grants offer just that.

And while other types of business financing (like loans) can’t set aside money specifically for women, plenty of grants can and do. So if you’re a female business owner, there are grants meant just for you.

Below, we’ve rounded up the best small-business grants specifically for women and women-owned businesses. We’ll tell you what makes them great and help you decide whether or not you should apply.

Before we get started

We want to be clear that it can be really hard to get a grant. Most of them (including most grants on this list) have ultra-specific application criteria and usage requirements. And competition is very stiff. So after learning about our favorite grants for women, stick around for some advice about finding more grants as well as alternative ways to fund your business.

Grants for women small-business owners
OrganizationGrant amountOpen toApplication cycleGet started
Amber Grant$4,000–$25,000Women entrepreneursMonthlyLearn More
Girlboss FoundationUp to $15,000Women entrepreneurs in design, fashion, music, and arts industriesQuarterlyLearn More
Cartier Women’s Initiative$30,000–$100,000For-profit, early-stage businesses led by womenAnnualLearn More
Tory Burch Foundation$5,000 Female business owners earning at least $75,000 in annual revenueAnnuallyLearn More
Boston Women’s Fund$10,000/yr. for 5 yrs. or $15,000Women-led organizations supporting social and economic justiceUnlistedLearn More
Asian Women Giving CircleUp to $15,000Arts and culture organizations led by Asian American womenAnnualLearn More
Eileen Fisher$10,000–$40,000Women-led organizations with a focus on environmental and intersectional  justiceAnnualLearn More
Data effective 6/11/20. At publishing time, amounts and descriptions are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.
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Amber Grant: Best overall

Yes
  • You’re happy with a smaller grant.
  • You can make your case through writing.
  • You’re in the US or Canada.
No
  • You’re a nonprofit.
  • You prefer a formal pitch.
  • You don’t want to pay an application fee.

The Amber Grant might be the best-known grant program for women business owners, and for good reason.

Unlike other grants that accept applications for only a small part of the year, the Amber Grant always accepts applications. That’s because it rewards new grants every month, whereas most grants have an annual award. Those two facts make the Amber Grant more accessible than most.

Plus, the Amber Grant doesn’t require a complicated application, and it doesn’t have many applicant requirements. Just about any female entrepreneur can apply (as long as you’re not a nonprofit). And you only have to answer a couple of questions about your business and what you’d do with the money. Easy peasy. (Yes, you should take time to answer carefully. But it’s still easier than other applications.)

Now, the Amber Grant is the only grant program on this list that has an application fee. You have to pay $15 to apply. That fee helps keep the grant fund going, so it’s probably a worthwhile $15. Still, it’s something to be aware of.

You should also know that Amber Grants are smaller than most other grants. In 2020, grant recipients get $4,000 (normally, it’s just $2,000). At the end of the year, one of those recipients will get an additional $25,000 grant. But for most recipients, it’s just the one-time $4,000.

So no, the Amber Grant is not the biggest, and it’s not entirely free. But with few restrictions on who can apply and one of the easiest applications we’ve seen, the Amber Grant is our favorite small-business grant for women.

Girlboss Foundation: Best for creative projects

Yes
  • You work in design, fashion, music, or the arts.
  • You’re happy to craft a comprehensive application.
  • You have a specific project in mind.
No
  • You work in other, non-artistic industries.
  • You don’t need money for a specific project.
  • Your project isn’t achievable within 12 months.

If your business falls within the categories of design, fashion, music, or the arts, then the Girlboss Foundation grant might be your best bet.

This grant has been designed to fund creative projects in those categories. So if you’ve got a project in mind, you can apply by submitting details about the project itself, how you’d use the funds on the project, and your ultimate goals for the project. You also need to include a brief pitch deck.

And since you’re a creative type, Girlboss Foundation doesn’t want to limit you to simple answers. It invites you to submit a video, websites, a portfolio, and other multimedia as part of your application.

Note that your project needs to have an estimated completion date within 12 months to be eligible for the grant. But if that’s not an issue, then the Girlboss Foundation grant is the best grant opportunity for women in the creative arts.

Cartier Women’s Initiative: Best for business development

Yes
  • Your business has been around for 1 to 5 years.
  • You want training and mentorship.
  • You are the primary leader for your business.
No
  • You’re a nonprofit.
  • Your business isn’t earning revenue yet.
  • You don’t want a long-term commitment.

Some business grants for women focus on specific projects, but the Cartier Women’s Initiative focuses on you and your role as an entrepreneur and leader.

That’s likely why the grant size ($30,000 for 14 runners-up and $100,000 for 7 winners) is so large: the Cartier Women’s Initiative isn’t just trying to fund one project—it’s trying to help you and your business thrive. So in addition to that grant money, you also get leadership training, peer learning, strategy mentoring, and more―everything you need to level up your entrepreneurial skills.

Clearly, the Cartier Women’s Initiative can give you a lot. But it also asks for a lot from you. Your business needs to be “early stage” while also producing revenue for at least one year―but you can’t have raised more than $2 million in equity-based funding (like venture capital). You’ve also got to submit an application that includes a pitch deck, résumé, video, and more. Plus, if you get selected, you have to commit to spending four hours per week on grant-related activities.

As you can see, the Cartier Women’s Initiative grant is not for the faint of heart (and you can find even more criteria on its website). Still, if you can qualify, the rewards are well worth the effort.

Tory Burch Foundation: Best for business education

Pros
  • You’re interested in education and networking.
  • You’ve made at least $75,000 in revenue over the past year.
  • You want a chance to pitch to investors.
Cons
  • You’re a nonprofit.
  • You just want grant money.
  • You want the grant to fund a specific project.

Much like the Cartier Women’s Institute, the Tory Burch Foundation wants to help you become a better businesswoman through money and longer-term learning opportunities.

That said, the Tory Burch Foundation’s Fellows Program has a stronger emphasis on formal education. For example, the $5,000 grant component must be used strictly for business education purposes (such as courses, conferences, and workshops). Likewise, its learning opportunities lean more toward workshops than peer learning.

One advantage the Tory Burch Foundation gives you? The chance to pitch to investors. Up to 50 women will get selected for the program and grant. And of those 50, 10 will ultimately get a chance to pitch their business to investors.

Put simply, the Tory Burch Foundation won’t let you fund a project or general business expenses. But if you want to level up your own business knowledge, it can help you do exactly that.

Boston Women’s Fund: Best for nonprofits

Yes
  • Your nonprofit has 501(c)(3) status.
  • Your organization is run by women.
  • You have a specific program you want to fund.
No
  • Your organization is not tax exempt.
  • Your yearly budget is over $500,000.
  • Your program budget is over $250,000.

You have to have a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to qualify for a grant from the Boston Women’s Fund. If you’ve got one, though, this multi-year grant is a great opportunity.

Unlike other grants that just give you a lump sum of money, the Boston Women’s Fund offers a long-term grant. That means you can get $10,000 over five years, for a total of $50,000. (Runners-up can get a one-time $15,000 grant). That makes this grant perfect for funding the kinds of long-term programs typical to nonprofits.

Keep in mind that the Boston Women’s Fund does have some specific criteria for applicants and grant usage. As you’d expect for a women’s grant, the Fund awards the grant to nonprofits led by women and girls. But it’s not just leadership the Fund cares about―the nonprofit should work with women and girls (specifically those from marginalized groups).

To apply, you’ll have to submit plenty of details about your nonprofit organization, your proposed program, and your budget. In other words, it’s a significant investment of your time―but one that could pay off for years to come.

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Honorable mentions

Asian Women Giving Circle

Yes
  • You’ve got a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or get sponsorship from one.
  • You have a specific project in mind.
  • Your project deals with Asian American women and girls.
No
  • Your project is not based in New York City.
  • Your project doesn’t have a social justice component.
  • You don’t have a track record of completing projects.

We like the Asian Women Giving Circle grant, but it’s incredibly niche.

As the name implies, the grant goes to organizations led by Asian American women (or individual artists who can get a nonprofit sponsor). Not just any organizations, though―they’ve got to be 501(c)(3) nonprofits based in New York City. Furthermore, they have to pitch a project that uses the arts to send a message about social justice for Asian American women and girls. Like we said, pretty niche.

But if that describes you and your goals, then you might get one of eight grants awarded annually. Just budget some time for your application, as it’s pretty involved.

Eileen Fisher

Yes
  • You’re a 501(3)(c) nonprofit.
  • You provide direct services to people, with a focus on women.
  • You deal with the environment and climate change.
No
  • You’re for-profit or not tax exempt.
  • You’re a religious or partisan nonprofit.
  • You don’t emphasize environmental justice.

Eileen Fisher offers another grant opportunity that’s excellent but won’t have broad appeal.

To qualify, you have to have a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides services that focus on women and girls. But more specifically, your work must address climate change or the environment in some way. Plus, Eileen Fisher has strict standards for the leadership composition of your nonprofit organization (mostly women). Religious and partisan nonprofits aren’t eligible.

Eileen Fisher gives out $200,000 in grants each year. So if you happen to meet those strict eligibility requirements, then you can qualify for a grant between $10,000 and $40,000.

Wondering about the InnovateHer Challenge?

In years past, the U.S. Small Business Administration offered a federal grant for women business owners. That grant competition is no longer available, but you can find other federally sponsored grants at challenge.gov and grants.gov.

Business grants for women 101

Now that you’ve seen our favorite small-business grants for women, let’s take a second to talk about the pros and cons of grants and how to find other grant opportunities.

What makes grants great

Grants are one of the best small-business funding options out there for two big reasons.

First, you don’t have to pay them back. More specifically, you don’t have to repay the funds like you would with a business loan, and you don’t even have to give up equity like you would with investors. Grants are just free money.

Second, while grants often have very specific requirements (as you may have noticed in our reviews above), those criteria usually have more to do with what kind of business you have. They don’t require you to have a certain personal credit score or make hundreds of thousands in revenue like many business loans would. That makes them more accessible than other types of business financing.

Of course, grants do have some drawbacks too.

What makes grants tricky

One problem with grants is that the funds are often earmarked for very specific uses. So if you get a grant for a project, you have to use the money on only that project, even if you have other needs. In comparison, something like a business line of credit offers much more flexibility.

Another issue is that grants are very, very competitive. Everyone wants free money, after all. So you’re competing with loads of other women business owners as you try to get a grant. And with all that competition, you have no way of knowing whether or not you’ll actually get the grant. In contrast, business loans usually have clear criteria that make it possible to predict whether or not you’ll get approved.

Put simply, you cannot count on getting grant funding for your business. You should be pleasantly surprised if you get one and not hopelessly disappointed if you don’t.

Even with those drawbacks, we still really like grants. And luckily, you can improve your odds a bit by finding local or otherwise hyper-specific grants.

How to find other grants

We’ve rounded up some of the best small-business grants for women, but there are tons of other grants out there.

For example, you might want to look for local grants. Your local chamber of commerce might have some leads. Universities might be another place to ask. Do you have a local women’s business center? Look there. Basically any place that you’d do networking might help you find grants for local businesses.

If you don’t find anything local, you can look for grants related to other characteristics you have. Are you self-employed? Then apply for a grant from the National Association for the Self-Employed. Were you or your spouse in the military? Then you can try to get a StreetShares Foundation grant.

The point is, you should look for funding opportunities that have specific enough requirements that you’ll have less competition. That way, you can boost your odds of getting the money.

And if you really need funds, we suggest you look at some different ways of financing your business.

Alternatives to small-business grants

As we’ve said, grants aren’t the most reliable way to get money for your small business. So how else can you fund your company?

Business loans and lines of credit

Well, there’s always business loans and lines of credit. Yes, you have to pay them back (plus interest), and you have to meet certain borrower requirements to qualify. But if you do meet those requirements, business loans give you a much better chance of getting money than just about any other type of business financing.

Due to federal law, there are no business loans specifically for women. But we think some lenders work better for women than others (thanks to application processes or other programs). We’ve listed our favorites in our rankings of the best small-business loans for women.

Crowdfunding

Depending on what type of business you have, you might want to consider crowdfunding. With crowdfunding, you don’t have to repay the money you get―though you usually have to reward your backers. Do note that crowdfunding tends to work better for product-based businesses rather than service-based businesses.

There are plenty of platforms that offer crowdfunding for startups, so you can choose one that works well for your business. Some, like iFundWomen, even focus specifically on women-led businesses.

Investors

Finally, you can try to get investors. The form these investors take will depend on what kind of business you have and what your plans for growth are. If you’re a smaller business, you can ask friends and family if they want to invest.

If you’ve got bigger plans for expansion (like get-traded-on-the-stock-market big), then you can also look into angel investors or venture capitalists. These investors give you money that you don’t have to pay back―but you will have to give them equity.

Want more options? Fund your business with a personal loan.

The takeaway

Grant funding is a great way to get free money for your women-owned business. No, you shouldn’t count on getting grant money (the competition is too stiff). But if you meet the eligibility requirements for grants on this list (or for other grants you find), then you should take the time to apply.

After all, someone’s going to get that award money. Why not you?

Grants are great, but you shouldn’t put all your funding eggs in one basket. Find out more about alternative options by learning how to apply for a business loan.

Disclaimer

At Business.org, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don’t guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.