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Updated: March 27th, 2020
For female entrepreneurs, more capital is available than ever—but still not as much as there should be.
It’s an interesting time in history for entrepreneurial women. Women own over 9.4 million businesses in the US, representing a rate of growth 1.5 times faster than others in recent years. In 2015, the government awarded a record 5% of its $90.7 billion in contracts to women-owned businesses.
Yet female business owners are far less likely to hire employees, get financing, or bring in as much revenue as their male counterparts. Fewer women seek VC funding or small business loans—but the acceptance rate among those who do is much lower than among men.
Research bears this out: When a Harvard Business School study asked potential investors to rate a series of pitches, 32% of investors said they’d fund a business whose pitch was read by a woman. When a man read the same script, over twice that many said they’d fund the business.
The good news is, awareness of gender inequalities in business is growing. Forward-looking foundations, government agencies, and companies have independently created the following grants for women entrepreneurs and women-led firms.
These grants vary from $500 to $100,000. All are open to applicants across the country (and, in one case, across the world).
The Tory Burch Foundation offers a wide range of services to women entrepreneurs, including workshops, access to capital, and networking events. Each year, up to 10 fellows are chosen to receive a $10,000 grant (for education), a three-day workshop, one year of mentorship, and the opportunity to win an additional $100,000 in the annual Fellows Competition.
Eligibility: Managing owners of 1- to 5-year-old businesses from any industry. Applicants must be 21 or older and proficient in English.
This competition is open to any gender, but looks to reward businesses with “innovative products and services that help impact and empower the lives of women and families.” Each year, together with universities, accelerators, and other partners, the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership hosts the InnovateHER Challenge. The Challenge culminates at the national level in three awards of between $10,000 and $40,000.
Eligibility: The business must provide products or services that have an impact on women and families, have the potential for commercialization, and fill a market need.
The Amber Grant Foundation has been awarding $500 to a woman-owned business each month since 1998. At the end of the year, the Foundation awards an extra $1,000-$2,000 to one of the monthly grant winners. Entry requires completing a short form and sending in a $7 fee.
Eligibility: Women with new or small businesses in any industry, especially those focused on educational programs for girls
Each year since 2007, Cartier has been awarding 15 women around the world a package of $100,000 in prize money, inclusion in a press conference and the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship 6-Day Executive Program, and one-to-one business coaching.
Eligibility: For-profit social good businesses, 2 to 3 years old, anywhere around the world. The business must be based on an original concept and be led by a woman 18 years of age or older with a good command of English.
Eileen Fisher awards $100K to multiple women business owners each year who are are doing amazing things for the environment or for specific communities.
Eligibility: Innovative, impact-focused businesses that have been in operation for at least three years and are majority women-owned.
Twice each year, the #GIRLBOSS® Foundation awards $15,000 to female entrepreneur-creatives. Grants are awarded to applicants that demonstrate creativity and innovation, business acumen and planning, and financial need.
Eligibility: Applicants must be at least 18-year-old US residents who identify as female. These entrepreneurs must have businesses within design, fashion, music, or the arts.
Halstead Bead Incorporated, a supplier for jewelry businesses, offers an annual Business Development Grant to encourage makers to plan for business and become economically independent. Since 2006, one recipient receives a package (currently worth $8,500) to start their jewelry business.
Eligibility: Jewelry creation and design professionals and students may apply.
National and international grants for women across industries are, naturally, very competitive. None of the hundreds of equally (if not more) competitive federal grants available via Grants.gov are specifically for women-owned businesses. But many states, counties, cities, and local companies offer grants to those who know where to look!
Contact your local WMBE Office, Women Business Center, and SBA Office for information on the most relevant local opportunities for your business.
State agencies often emphasize certification as a Minority/Woman Owned Business. They can help you find grants as well as potential contract opportunities with the state government. Click here for a list by state.
The SBA’s 100+ Women Business Centers are located across the US. They offer a huge range of support services in multiple languages to women starting and growing businesses, with a focus on those who are disadvantaged. Click here for a list of WBCs by state.
If you don’t have a WBC nearby, simply visit your local SBA Office. They will help you apply for a grant as well as help you find new grant opportunities.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.