Small business grants can help you secure funding for your business without the added burden of debt—something often associated with loans, credit cards, and other types of financing. Since they don't need to be repaid, many people consider award funds to be "free money" that you can use to grow your business, contribute to your industry, or improve your community.
Grants come in many different shapes and sizes and are awarded by various entities, including federal, state, and local governments, private businesses, and other organizations. To find the best grant, you'll need to do some digging and research eligibility requirements, award cycles, and any stipulations or limitations regarding funding use. The best grant for your business is one that has eligibility requirements your business can meet, is awarded within a timeframe that works for you, and can be used for the needs of your business.
Best Small Business Grants of 2021
- Best Overall: Fedex Small Business Grant
- Best for Self-Employed: National Association of Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants
- Best for Midsize Business: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs
- Best for Veterans: The Veteran Small Business Award
- Best for Brick-and-Mortar: “At Your Side” Small Business Grant Program
- Best for Startups: Nav Business Grant
Best Overall : Fedex Small Business Grant
We chose the FedEx Small Business grant as the best overall because of its basic eligibility requirements, multiple winners, and high award values.
Up to $50,000
12 winners annually
No limitations on how award funds are spent
Applicants cannot be in poor financial standings
Public voting may not be great for businesses without exposure
Only awarded once a year
The FedEx Small Business Grant offers 12 winners the opportunity to win up to $50,000 in grant money and additional funds to be used on print and business services from FedEx Offices. And, since FedEx is a world-recognized shipping and business services provider, finalists also have the opportunity to gain brand exposure during a public voting period and, when combined with the financial reward and fairly basic eligibility requirements, this grant becomes one of the best overall grants for small businesses.
One grand prize winner will receive $50,000 and $7,500 in FedEx print and business services. The second-place winner will receive $30,000 and $5,000 in print and business services, and 10 third-place winners will each receive $15,000 and $1,000 in print and business services.
Though specific deadlines change each year, FedEx typically accepts applications in mid-February with an early-mid March deadline. Once the application period ends, the voting round begins. During this time, the public can vote for their favorite applicant until late March when 100 finalists are selected for the judging period. Grant recipients are selected in early- to mid-May and announced shortly thereafter.
To be eligible for this grant, you must be a legal U.S. resident who owns or operates a small (99 employees or less) for-profit business that has been in continuous operation for at least six months by the application start date. In addition, applicants must have a valid FedEx shipping account number and be in good standings (e.g., no bankruptcy protection or judicial liens) at the time of submission and during the grant award process.
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can apply by visiting the FedEx Small Business Grant website and providing basic information about your business, including your EIN, primary URL, social media sites, digital images (e.g., logos), average sales revenue, and the number of employees. Applicants are also encouraged to submit a 90-second “elevator pitch” video that will be used during the voting and judging period.
Best for Self-Employed : National Association of Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants
NASE Growth Grants are only available to self-employed individuals and grants are awarded quarterly, making them the best option for self-employed workers who need funds to expand or bolster their business.
Exclusively for self-employed business owners
Up to $4,000
Must be a NASE member
90-day wait period for some members
Detailed use of award proceeds required
The National Association of the Self Employed (NASE) is a robust resource for self-employed individuals. Their Growth Grants, which provide up to $4,000 in funds, make the organization a leading grant option for self-employed small business owners.
Since 2006, NASE has awarded nearly $1 million in Growth grants. NASE awards a grant every quarter and accepts applications at the same interval. For instance, applications submitted during January, February, or March will be considered for an April award. Likewise, applications submitted during April, May, and June will be considered for the July award and so on.
To be eligible for a NASA Growth Grant, you must be an active member in good standing. Membership plans vary, and grant eligibility will depend on your membership type and/or how long you've been a NASE member. Annual members, Veteran members, Silver members, and Gold members can apply for the grant immediately, though monthly members or Silver members who pay monthly must wait 90 days after becoming a member to apply for a grant.
Once you’re a NASE member, you can apply for the grant online. Though NASE does not provide a specific list of eligibility requirements, they do outline the selection criteria they use to determine winners. This includes an identifiable business need, a detailed use plan for proceeds, the likelihood that the grant will satisfy the identified business need, and the impact the grant will have on the growth and success of the business.
Best for Midsize Business : Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs
We chose the SBIR/STTR grant program as the best option for midsize businesses because the program offers ongoing opportunities in multiple industries and extends eligibility to businesses with up to 500 employees.
Significant award values
Businesses with up to 500 employees may be eligible
Ongoing grant opportunities
Lengthy application process
Grants may come with long-term requirements
Reporting is typically required
The Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs (SBIR/STTR) extend grants to businesses with 500 employees or less, making it a solid option for midsize businesses that may not meet the size limits of other grants. The program is not limited to a single grant but awards federal grants and contracts based on the needs of U.S. government agencies. As such, award amounts, application deadlines, award dates, and fund availability vary.
Grants are typically awarded in three phases, and funding is dependent on the phase and project. For instance, Phase I awards typically yield grants between $50,000 and $250,000 for six or 12 months, while Phase II awards typically yield grants for $750,000 over the period of two years.
To be eligible, your business must have 500 or fewer employees and qualify as a Small Business Concern (SBC) as defined in SBA regulations. Eligibility guidance also dictates that a business must be organized as a for-profit entity that is more than 50% owned and controlled by one of the following:
- One or more U.S. citizens or permanent resident alien
- Another for-profit small business entity
- Multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms
Because the SBIR/STTR grant programs offer federal grants and contracts from multiple government agencies, additional eligibility and qualification guidance can vary based on the grant to be awarded. If you’d like to be considered for an SBIR or STTR grant, you can review available grant opportunities as well as detailed application process information on SBIR.gov.
Best for Veterans : The Veteran Small Business Award
This StreetShares Foundation Grants awards veteran business owners with up to $15,000 in funds to start a business or nonprofit venture, making this our grant of choice for eligible veterans and their immediate family.
Funds can be used to start or grow an early-stage business
Eligibility extends to spouses and family members of veterans
Limited to applicants who are considered low-income
Entrants must participate in an educational program to be eligible
Limited information available online
The StreetShares Foundation is a non-profit organization that aims to educate and support the military community, including veterans, their spouses, and their children. Their efforts include the Veterans Small Business Award grant that can be used to help low-income veterans and their families start a business or grow an existing one that’s considered to be in “early-stage” development. As such, the Veterans Small Business Award is a great option for eligible members of the veteran community.
The Veterans Small Business Award grant is awarded periodically over the course of a year and includes three winners. First place winners receive $15,000, second place winners receive $6,000, and third place winners receive $4,000.
To be eligible for this StreetShares grant, you must be a veteran, reserve or transition active military member, the spouse of a military member, or the surviving spouse or child of a member who died on active duty. In addition, you must be considered “low-income” or lack the means to begin a business or non-profit organization. If you’re applying as an existing business owner, you must have majority ownership (51% or more) of the entity.
In addition to basic eligibility requirements, applicants must also engage in educational content on the StreetShares site. This includes downloading and viewing specific materials as outlined on the StreetShares website and attending a virtual entrepreneurship coaching event that typically takes place in June. Applicants are also required to create and upload a video pitch that highlights how their business will impact the military community.
Information regarding the next award cycle is not always readily available on the StreetShares Foundation website. If you are interested in applying for this grant, it’s a good idea to monitor the site and the StreetShares social accounts for the latest grant information.
Best for Brick-and-Mortar : “At Your Side” Small Business Grant Program
The grant is designed to help support the small businesses that play a vital role in communities across the nation. Applicants must have a physical location in Main Street districts, making this a great opportunity for brick-and-mortar businesses.
Up to $10,000 award
Exclusive to brick-and-mortar businesses
At least 50% of funds go towards diverse-owned businesses
Business must be in a qualified location
Must employ less than 20 fill-time employees
Funds must be used for eligible expenses
The “At Your Side” Small Business Grant Program is sponsored by Main Street American and Brother International, to help small businesses in communities across the United States. Awards range from $5,000 to $10,000 and are only available to businesses that have a brick-and-mortar location in a designated “Main Street district,” making the program a great resource for small businesses that serve customers from a physical location.
To be eligible for an “At Your Side Grant," you must own a for-profit business located in an accredited or Affiliate Main Street America community or Urban Main commercial corridor, a list of which is available on MainStreet.org. In addition, your business must be in good standing within the state it was formed/does business in, be in operation since at least January 1, 2020, and employ 20 or fewer full-time employees.
Grant funds must be used towards eligible expenses. Examples of qualifying expenses include physical improvements to your business space to meet COVID-19 guidelines, equipment to comply with public health or safety guidance, fees associated with expanding to offer e-commerce sales, professional services, rent, payroll, and operational expenses.
Main Street America typically accepts applications in January of the award year, and 200 applications are selected randomly for review and consideration. Applications can be submitted online, and more specific submission requirements will be outlined at that time.
Main Street America awards grants based on several factors, including the feasibility of an applicant's proposal, how helpful the grant will be in addressing a business need, the business’s contribution to the community, and letters of recommendations and supporting documents. Though all qualifying businesses selected are considered for the award, 50% or more of grant funds will be awarded to diverse businesses, specifically those owned by women, veterans, disabled individuals, LGBTQ business owners, and individuals considered part of the black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) community.
Best for Startups : Nav Business Grant
Nav’s Business Grant has easy-to-meet eligibility requirements and applicants can improve their odds by actively engaging in social media to impress voters and judges. This makes it a great option for startups that may not be able to meet the requirements for other small business grants.
Awards between $5,000 and $10,000
No time-in-business requirements
Social media engagement required
Must sign up for a free Nav account
Nav is a free service that helps business owners find the most straightforward path to financing. Nav also offers a $10,000 grant designed to “help a deserving business take their company to the next level." Startups are encouraged to apply, making the Nav Grant our recommendation for businesses in this stage of development.
To apply for this grant, you must first sign up for a free Nav account and submit an application. You’ll also need to write a post on your company's social media accounts letting viewers know what your business does, a challenge your business has overcome (or is working to overcome), and how the funds will help you overcome that challenge.
After your application is submitted, the public can vote for their favorite business. The 200 businesses with the most votes will move on to the next round, and Nav will select the grand winner ($10,000) as well as a runner-up who will receive $5,000.
To be eligible for this grant, you must have a valid email address and a mailing address in the United States. You’ll also need to agree to Nav’s general Terms and Conditions. Nav typically awards grants during the fall, spring, and winter, but specific details, including upcoming deadlines and past winners, can be found on Nav’s Business Grant Contest page.
There are plenty of business grants for those who look. Some grants, like FedEx’s Small Business Grant and Nav’s Business Grant, are open to all types of businesses as they can meet social engagement expectations. These grants may have looser eligibility requirements but that may make them highly competitive. Other grants, like NASE’s Growth Grants, Main Street America’s grant, or StreetShares Veteran grant are awarded to businesses that meet a specific qualification or need.
Similarly, some grants, like many of those mentioned above, have a less formal application process that can be completed quickly online. On the other hand, grants like those offered by the SBIR/STTR program may have a much more intricate and formal application process and stricter eligibility requirements. Overall, the best business grant will vary based on your business, the grant requirements, and the time to funding.
Compare the Best Small Business Grants
|Company||Grant Amount||No. of Qualifications||Availability||Online Application (Y/N)||Awarded Year-Round (Y/N)|
|Fedex Small Business Grant Best Overall||$15,000 to $50,000||13||Nationwide||Y||N|
|NASE Growth Grant Best for Self-Employed||Up to $4,000||1||Nationwide||Y||Y|
|SBIR/STTR Best for Midsize Businesses||$50,000 to $750,000||Varies||Nationwide||Y||Y|
|“At Your Side” Small Business Grant Program Best for Brick-and-Mortar Businesses||$5,000 to $10,000||5||Nationwide||Y||N|
|StreetShares’Foundation’sVeteran Small Business Award Best for Veterans||$4,000 to $15,000||4||Nationwide||Y||N|
|Nav Business Grant Best for Startups||$5,000 to $10,00||4||Nationwide||Y||N|
How to Choose the Best Small Business Grants
Grants can provide a financial boost to your business without taking on debt. However, the key to receiving grant money is to choose the right opportunities. Here are a few tips to help you find the best grants to apply for.
- Read all eligibility requirements: Eligibility requirements vary from grant to grant, and understanding those requirements before you apply can save you time and ensure that your application is submitted properly.
- Don’t limit your grant search: Grants are awarded by federal, state, and local governments, private and public corporations, and other organizations like non-profits and small business associations.
- Match grant cycles with your needs: Grants typically are awarded in cycles that include application submission, review, and awards, at minimum. Understanding these grant cycles can help you pinpoint which grants may fit your immediate or long-term needs.
- Submit with care: Grants are highly competitive, and the grant provided and potentially public will base their decision on the application and assets you submit. Take the time to carefully review any requirements and ensure that any assets you submit match those requirements so that your organization is presented in the best light possible.
- Seek assistance if necessary: Some grants are easy to apply for or call for creative submissions, while others have a more formal application process. Don’t be afraid to seek out grant writers or other individuals who can help you submit a quality application.
Small Business Grants vs. Small Business Loans
Both small business grants and small business loans can help you access the funds you need to grow your business, but there are significant differences between the two.
- Repayment Requirements: Grants are considered “free money," meaning you do not need to repay grant funds. If you take out a small business loan, you are responsible for paying back the entire loan plus interest, and you must follow the loan repayment terms as outlined in your loan agreement.
- Availability: Various entities and organizations award grants, and so availability can vary. Often, funding availability depends on the company, its financial resources, organizational initiatives, and any specific business needs the grant may fulfill. Some businesses award grants annually, while others may do so more frequently (e.g., monthly or quarterly). And, because grants are so competitive, there is no guarantee that you'll receive the funds, even if you need them. Business loans are funded by banks, credit unions, and other lenders and are approved and funded regularly. That can make it easier to get a loan when you need it.
- Eligibility: Both grants and business loans carry eligibility requirements, and those requirements can vary based on the organization providing the grant or lender originating the loan. Grant requirements are not typically as stringent as loan requirements, which may include the borrower's credit score, revenue or time-in-business minimums, business plan feasibility, etc.
- Time to Funding: Grant cycles can take several weeks or months, so the recipient may not see the funds for a significant period. Loans, on the other hand, are typically available within a few weeks of application, with some lenders funding loans in as little as one business day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Small Business Grants Available for Most Industries?
Small business grants are awarded based on several factors, including industry, location, and even the mission or purpose of the business. Many grants are not industry-specific and therefore appeal to a wider audience. Websites like Grants.gov can help you identify grants that are available to all small businesses as well as those that are limited to specific industries, like agriculture, health, and education.
Can Start-Ups Receive Small Business Grants?
Small business grants are available to businesses at different points in their lifecycle. Some grants are geared towards businesses in their start-up phase, while others may not include time-in-business requirements. As such, it helps to fully review any grant eligibility requirements and reach out to the awarding entity with specific questions.
How Much Do Small Business Grants Cost?
You can apply for federal, state, and local government grants without any fees, and the same is often true for grants offered by private entities. You may, however, find that there are indirect costs associated with some grants. For instance, the NASE grant is only available to members, and thus membership fees may be considered an indirect cost. Similarly, some grants may require you or your team to submit a video or other media asset, which may also lead to indirect costs in the form of material and labor.
To analyze business grants for this review, we looked at grants that are available nationwide, award funding at least once a year, and are relatively easy to apply for. Then we reviewed each grant to determine what type of business or business owner is most likely to be eligible for the grant. Availability of information, a proven track record of giving, and clear and easy to follow application processes were also considered when selecting grants to include in this review.