This is Part 14 of our Back to College series, which aims to help college students thrive as small business owners. In Part 13, we covered stories from entrepreneurs who started businesses in college. To view all the posts in the series, click here.
Grants for Young Entrepreneurs
If you’re starting a business while in college, it can be hard to know where to look for funding. Many businesses started by young entrepreneurs are bootstrapped businesses – started with very little cash and lots of “sweat equity,” ingenuity and hard work. But if you have a business idea that can only be realized with an infusion of capital, you might want to consider applying for a grant.
There are a variety of small business grants dedicated to young entrepreneurs. The challenge is knowing where to look, and figuring out whether a grant is the right fit for you and your business. If you’re willing to put in some time and effort to do research and hone in on the right grant opportunities, you might find that small business grants can be a great source of funding for your business.
Here are a few ideas of where to look for Small Business Grants as a young entrepreneur:
Business plan competition:
Your college might have a small business/startup business plan competition to award cash prizes to the most promising and well-crafted business ideas. Check with your local business school or startup incubator for more details. Even if you don’t win any money, participating in these contests is a great way to network, meet some new potential partners/customers/ referrers and get some valuable insights into how to market and pitch your business to investors and the public.
Grants.gov is a federal government website that contains a wide range of federal grant listings from many different grant-issuing federal agencies. You can search for grants for small business and other relevant categories. The grants are constantly updated with close dates, so be sure to apply early if you see a grant that looks like a good fit. One precautionary note: federal grants are often highly specific – they want to give money to organizations that are working on very precisely-focused problems or issues related to public policy – and there are often significant strings attached to the grant; you need to be prepared to show that you’re using the federal government grant money in the way it was intended.
Local Chamber of Commerce:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce runs a Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which provides grants and awards to young entrepreneurs via local chambers of commerce that participate in the program. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce for ideas and information about any available small business grants – and even if they don’t have grants, they will likely be happy to get to know you and connect you with other resources, networking opportunities and possible mentors and partnerships. Chambers of Commerce love to support young entrepreneurs, even if it’s in ways that don’t involve directly giving you money.
The Grants Register:
The Grants Register is an annual guide to professional funding, with a listing of more than 4,200 grants. One advantage of this resource is that it’s well-vetted and comprehensive – you can feel confident than any grants listed in this book are up-to-date and verified. However, this book is not cheap – the eBook version costs $349. So you need to be ready to spend some money just to get access to the grant listings – and there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually find a grant that is the right fit.
Save money on student loans:
It doesn’t quite count as a “grant,” but the federal government now offers an Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan for student loan debt, where borrowers can reduce their loan payments based on a sliding scale relative to your income. This can help young entrepreneurs reduce their monthly loan payments and free up more money to invest in starting their business – essentially working the same way as a grant!
Grants for Women-owned businesses:
If you are a woman and a young entrepreneur, you might qualify for a special grant designed for women-owned businesses. Check out this article from Kabbage CMO Victoria Treyger for a list of ideas.
Financing help for Minority-owned businesses:
If you are a member of a traditionally underrepresented racial/ethnic minority group, you might be able to get help from the U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency. They have 40 business centers throughout the U.S. and offer grant competitions along with other services for minority-owned businesses. These grants and assistance programs are not specific to “young” entrepreneurs, but they might help you!
Before you apply for a small business grant, do your research and be cautious. Google any grant to make sure it’s legitimate and has not been accused of fraud; be suspicious of any grant program that has an expensive application fee, for example. Also, make sure that your business is truly the right fit for the goals and mission of the grant program. There are many grants out there, but many of them are so specifically targeted and limited in scope that they might not work for your business, and you’ll be better off spending your time trying to raise funds in other ways. But with a careful strategy and research-based approach, getting grants for your small business can be a worthwhile way to get the cash needed to help your business grow!