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Alabama Small Business Development Center Network
Alabama SBDC Network

How can I get a grant to start or expand my business in Alabama?

Unless your business involves the development of new technology or is a non-profit organization, it is difficult to find a grant to start or expand a small business.

Nearly every day a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) office or the Small Business Administration (SBA) gets a call from someone who has responded to an ad that implies there is free money available to start a business.  It just isn’t true.  If it were, the people who work in those offices would all have one of those wonderful grants and be starting their own businesses. What really happens is that those folks at  SBDC’s all over the country spend a lot of their time trying to keep hopeful entrepreneurs from getting ripped off by potential scammers.

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How do I get started?

Yes, there is grant money available from private foundations and government entities. No, it is generally not available to individuals to start for-profit businesses.  There are a few private sector competitions listed below.

The first step you can take is to talk with an SBDC Business Advisor.  Starting a small business in Alabama, or taking steps to save or grow it, is a lot easier after you’ve talked with a small business expert.

Even though many publications and talk shows publicize grants to small businesses, there are only certain types of government grants available to small businesses.  SBA, for instance, offers “Small Business Innovation Research” (SBIR) and “Small Business Technology Transfer” (STTR) grants.  Grants from other agencies may also be available for new technologies, inventions, or products.  The U.S. government does not currently provide grants for starting or expanding a small business.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) administers the nationwide SBDC program while implementation of program in Alabama rests with the Executive State Director and the participating organizations within the state.

Finding and identifying government agencies that give grants for specific purposes or in specific subject areas requires considerable time, effort, and research.  Getting a grant is hard work.  Don’t be fooled by advertisements and promotions that state that you can get “free money” just by asking for it. There is a lot of competition for grant funds.  To be successful in winning a grant, you must provide the funding agency with a well-written proposal that clearly states your objectives and sets forth a plan and budget for your activities.  Grants are “free” in that you do not have to pay back the money. However, if you are awarded a grant you may be required to provide periodic progress, program evaluation, and/or financial reports to the government.

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Advising and Technical Assistance

Business Plan or Idea Pitch Competitions

Pitch Competitions are available throughout Alabama, and provide an opportunity to compete for prize money (a grant). Each competition has its own rules and requirements.  Some are designed to help companies that are developing new technologies; others are restricted to a specific industry sector. Awards can range from $500 to $50,000 or more. A list of pitch competitions in Alabama is available here.

Private Sector Grant Competitions

There are a few highly competitive private sector grants for certain types of businesses, and a few specifically for woman-owned businesses. Given the frequency at which these competitions change, we suggest that you investigate each of them carefully to determine if you might be eligible to compete, and understand how  and when to apply.

  • FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. Each year since 2013, FedEx has offered $25,000 grants to businesses. The application process is a short one month period, so ready your applications for the February 20th open date. You’ll need to capture your business’s story via video.  Learn more about the FedEx competition hereGood for existing businesses.
  • National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants. NASE Growth Grants are offered to NASE members looking to take their business to the next level. NASE grants are worth up to $4,000 and can be used for all types of activities, like purchasing new equipment, hiring help, and creating promotional material.
    Good for: existing businesses.
  • The Second Service Foundation Military Entrepreneur Challenge.  (Formerly the StreetShares Foundation.) The Military Entrepreneur Challenge is in partnership with the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program. Open to veterans, active duty members, or the spouse of a military veteran or active duty member. Applicants can receive up to $15,000 and will be judged based on their business idea, their expected use of funds, product-market fit, team, and the influence the business will have on the veteran or military community. A video submission is required.  Good for: veterans, military members, and military spouses who run a business.
  • HelloAlice. Hello Alice is awarding small business owners with $5,000 grants to help them make their next big move. To be eligible, a business must have less than $1M in annual revenue, a commitment to their customers and community, and a clear plan to use the grant funds. You must register to access most resources; the site also includes information on debt funding.
  • US Chamber Dream Big Award. For-profit businesses that have been open for at least one year are eligible to apply.  Grand prize is $25,000. A strong application will draw a clear and concise picture of how the business was started, what makes it unique, and how it has overcome challenges. It should clearly describes your business’s relationship with its community, customers and employees.
  • IdeaCafe $1K Business Grant. This grant is open to any business owner or person looking to start a business. $1,000 will be awarded to the most innovative business or business idea. Past winners include bakeries, magazines, an art gallery, and a custom cycling company. Applications open in November.  Good for: planning stage businesses.
  • Nav’s “Legitify Your Small Business” Grant. NAV is offering a $10,000 small business grant to the most deserving business that applies. The application is easy, we just ask that you let your personality shine.  Good for: existing businesses.
  • Amber GrantsWomensNet founded the Amber Grant Foundation in 1998. The Foundation was set up with one goal in mind: to honor the memory of a very special young woman, Amber Wigdahl, who died at just 19 years old — before realizing her business dreams. Today, WomensNet carries on that tradition, giving away at least $10,000 every month in Amber Grant money.
  • Cartier Women’s Initiative. The Cartier Women’s Initiative is an annual international entrepreneurship programme that aims to drive change by empowering women impact entrepreneurs. Founded in 2006, the programme is open to women-run and women-owned businesses from any country and sector that aim to have a strong and sustainable social and/or environmental impact.
  • The Halstead Grant. Designed to help jewelry entrepreneurs create a strategy to kick-start their careers. The grand prize is a $7,500 cash grant plus other benefits. The deadline is August 1st each year.
  • Tory Burch Foundation. A year-long program to help you lead, grow and scale your business; includes $5,000 grant to advance your business education.
  • Visa Everywhere Initiative.  Global, open innovation program that tasks start-ups and fintechs to solve payment and commerce challenges of tomorrow, further enhance their own product propositions and provide visionary solutions for Visa’s vast network of partners. Four prizes annually, between $10k and $50k.
  • Women Founders Fast Pitch Competition.  $50 application fee.  Top 5 finalists pitch virtually on October 27th to compete for
    $30k+ in cash prizes and over $50k in professional services.
  • WeBackBlackBusiness. From 2020 through 2023, the fund will distribute $5,000 grants to applicants each fall, followed by mentorship and training, and select few will receive $25,000 enhancement grants the following summer.  The grants are designed to provide some assistance to the Black business community to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Global Challenges. The foundation awards its grants primarily to 501(c)(3) organizations, but if you run a business that is solving health and development problems through innovation, this grant could be yours. Check here for their open applications and keep in mind that the open grants are usually specific to a particular problem.  Good for: nonprofits or businesses solving health and development problems.
  • Caleb Brown Urban Entrepreneur’s Community Grant. The Caleb Brown Venture Capital and Consulting Project hosts a $1,000 grant aimed at promoting and nurturing young urban entrepreneurs with vision who plan to rebuild local blocks, neighborhoods, and communities “by providing training and jobs to the next generation.” The grant is open to startups and young businesses in urban areas. This contest is run every month—submit your application by the 15th to enter.  Good for: community businesses, new businesses, existing businesses.
  • Fundera’s Zach Grant: Submit a three-minute video to compete for a $2,500 grant awarded annually.
  • Female Founders Fund: Female Founders Fund is an early-stage fund investing in the next generation of transformational technology companies founded by women. Since 2014, Female Founders Fund has put money toward “category-defining female leaders with a strong community to fuel their success,” mainly in B2B, consumer, healthcare, fintech and social companies.
  • Ladies Who Launch: Ladies Who Launch is committed to bridging the equity gap in entrepreneurship. Launch Program supports women and non-binary entrepreneurs to scale the businesses of their dreams.  Up to $10,000 in grant funds.
  • SoGal Ventures. This is a Women-led venture capital firm that invests in “early-stage diverse founding teams” in the U.S., Asia Pacific, Africa and Europe, including many women-owned startups.
  • Fundid Accelerate(HER) Fund:  Sponsored by Tiger Global Impact Ventures, in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Network and Hello Alice, provides grants up to $50,000 to eligible women entrepreneurs that are leading tech or tech-enabled small businesses, have not (yet) received funding from angel/venture investors, and have a demonstrated need for funding to reach the next stage of growth.
  • Fearless Fund: Fearless Fund invests in women of color led businesses seeking pre-seed, seed level or series A financing. Our mission is to bridge the gap in venture capital funding for women of color founders building scalable, growth aggressive companies. Fearless Fund is built by women of color for women of color. The Strivers Grant will award eleven total grants worth $10,000 each.
  • EnrichHer Grant.  EnrichHer aspires to connect companies led by women and founders of color to capital, coaching and community. They are currently offering grants in the amount of $5,000. Note: $37 application fee.
  • NBMBAA: The National Black MBA Association offers competitions for up to $50,000.
  • Comcast RISE. If your business qualifies, you’ll have the opportunity to apply for monetary grants, marketing consultations, media placements, commercial creative production services, or technology services from Effectv and Comcast Business. Each business received $10,000 to invest in its own growth and sustainability.

The vast majority of government grants are given to non-profit organizations for programs and services that benefit the community or the public at large.  There are other types of grants such as those from foundations, corporations, or private organizations.  These non-government organizations have specific requirements as to who is eligible to apply for and receive grant funding.  By and large, foundations do not make grants to for-profit enterprises.

Be aware that Government Grant Scams do exist.
Don’t be a victim.

  • BusinessUSA – Access Financing
    This interactive tool from the Federal Government allows you to describe your business and your needs, and generates a list of government financing programs that may be available to you.
  • SBA Loan Programs
    The SBA offers a variety of loan programs for very specific purposes. See if you qualify to participate in the programs described here.
  • Candid
    (Formerly known as the Foundation Center and Guidestar.) Through research, collaboration, and training, Candid connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to do it. Candid’s data tools on nonprofits, foundations, and grants are the most comprehensive in the world.
  • Grants.gov
    A central location for thousands of grant programs from the 26 federal grant-making agencies. There are no federal grants to help people start for-profit businesses.

The Alabama SBDC Network has a talented group of business advisors that are interested in helping your start or grow your business. Even if a grant isn’t available, you should take a moment to talk with a business advisor about the options that are available. Business plan competitions are offered statewide, such as Alabama Launchpad, and smaller competitions are offered locally. Talk with your SBDC business advisor for more information.

Contact a Business Advisor

Please, don’t send money to this guy

The only person that has ever received any money from this book is the author.  The Federal Trade Commission won a judgment against this company for fraud.

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