A Guide to Writing a Small Business Grant Proposal
Last updated on January 19, 2023 by
While there may be more opportunities for non-profit organizations when it comes to grant funding, grants for small business owners are not rare.
In fact, small businesses received more than $334 billion in total award obligations through the SBA in 2021, spread across more than 9 million transactions and 7 million new awards. Over $254 million was spent through grants alone. The amount spent on grant awards has risen in 2022 as well, increasing to more than $455 million.
Federal contracts and financial assistance are out there. And that is without mentioning small business research grants and other types of non-governmental contracts and awards.
Grants for small businesses can often be a better option than a loan, as grants do not require repayment of any kind. The caveat? Your goals need to align with the goals of the organization or awarding agency you’re seeking a grant from.
Many grants are dedicated to supporting non-profit work or specific research initiatives. However, small business grants are dedicated to helping owners and founders achieve specific business goals or projects that align with a funding agency’s mission or a particular initiative.
This includes research grants designed to support businesses working on research and development that has a high potential for commercialization. As a biotech founder, CEO, or employee, this is most likely the exact type of grant you’re looking for.
Like non-profit grants, small business grants are offered through both government and non-government agencies. Furthermore, unlike loans, grants do not need to be paid back.
In this article, we’ll review small business grants, grant proposals, and how to write small business grant proposals. We’ll also review some best practices for grant writing, the differences between a “good” and “bad” proposal, the various types of grants available, and additional resources to help you write a small business grant.
What Is a Small Business Grant Proposal?
A small business grant proposal, like a typical grant proposal, is a clear and concise presentation of what you’re proposing to do before it actually happens. It usually takes the form of a written document that you either prepare online or physically.
You send your proposal to a particular funding agency that’s providing a grant opportunity you’re interested in.
The presentation should thoroughly explain the reasons for your proposal and why you’re applying for grant funding from a specific funder. Explain the who, what, when, where, how, and why of your proposed project or program.
When you clearly and concisely explain your proposal in an organized and well-thought manner, you will have a better chance at receiving approval from the grant reviewers.
What Are the Steps to Developing a Grant Proposal?
There are several steps you should take to develop an effective proposal. First, begin with an idea, followed by planning, strategy, and success.
What is the idea you’re hoping to make a reality? It’s ideally something you’re already working on and are seeking additional funding to help continue developing, but it can also be something you’re planning on starting and need funding to begin that journey.
Once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, you need to start planning. Flesh out the details of what your program, project, or initiative is all about that you’re seeking funding for.
After planning, you’ll need to start forming a strategy. This involves detailing your approach and methodology regarding bringing your program or project to life. How will you effectively put your plan into action?
With a strategy in place for success, you’ll be able to show the funder how you will accomplish what you’re setting out to do and how you will evaluate your accomplishments, giving the funder confidence in you by showing them you’ve got a game plan.
From here, you will want to take some additional steps before you start researching grant and developing your proposal:
- Make sure your idea can be funded, as some things are not eligible for grant funding
- Read the grant application guidelines carefully, they will help you determine if you actually qualify or not
- Make note of the eligibility requirements and what the funder is requesting; you might not be eligible or have everything they’re asking for
Lastly, ask yourself:
- Is my proposal doable?
- Does it have a focused goal?
- Can you provide everything a funder is asking for in the application? (If you can’t, you’re putting yourself in a position to become disqualified, wasting time and effort)
- Is it in alignment with your own goals and, most importantly, with the goals of the potential funding agency?
- Is there a beginning, middle, and end? (Granting agencies do not fund projects forever; in fact, most grants only last a year or two, depending on who’s providing the grant)
- Can you meet the deadline? (Grants have deadlines; if you start too late, you’ll have to rush and that can lead to mistakes and disqualification)
Grant Proposal Review & Common Elements
Grant proposal guidelines and instructions vary from funder to funder. This means the required information and formatting may be different from proposal to proposal. To better understand the common elements, it can help to review grant proposal guidelines and instructions to get a sense of what will be asked of you.
In the guidelines that you can typically find on the funding agency’s website, you’ll see exactly what you need to do in order to apply for a grant. While following these guidelines and instructions does not guarantee you’ll get funding, it does increase the likelihood of getting approved.
If the guidelines provide a list of do’s and don’ts, take note. Funding agencies will have various requests for you that include things they’d like to see in your application and things they wouldn’t like to see.
There may also be a checklist for completed requirements. If that’s the case, you can use the checklist to track your progress and make sure you don’t miss anything. Budget your time to make sure you’ve got enough time to get everything together that is required of you before the deadline. You don’t want to rush. It can lead to mistakes, which will automatically disqualify you in most cases.
Similarly, if you don’t complete and submit the proposal by the listed due date, your application will automatically be denied. We can’t stress this enough—give yourself enough time!
You’ll also see in the guidelines that a grant proposal must include information submitted in a specific order. Make sure to do this, and follow the instructions for each section exactly. Funders will most likely reject your application if your proposal is not in the correct order.
There are additional requirements for proposals that can include submitting the proposal to a specific address or department, rules about how you can submit the application, and reporting leadership or major staffing changes after you’ve submitted your proposal.
Do your diligence and read the guidelines and instructions carefully. Grant proposal reviews can be the best way to learn what to expect. That said, there are some elements, or sections of information, seen across many different types of grant proposals. These can include:
- A cover sheet or letter of intent that allows the agency to estimate how many independent reviewers will be needed; it also helps the agency avoid potential conflicts of interest in the review
- A short executive summary, or “abstract” in the non-profit world, summarizing your grant proposal
- A table of contents; it should help the reviewer find what they need quickly and easily should they want to flip to a specific section
- A needs statement and problem statement describing the purpose of your project, the need you’re addressing, or problem you’re solving, and why the project is important
- A project description or narrative explaining the project you want to fund in greater detail; you can separate different ideas into sections to better explain each aspect of your project and review the expected outcomes; this description can sometimes be included in the executive summary
- A list of your goals; ideally you will pick SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timeline) goals
- A description of the methods you will use, in addition to project management plans and timeline, illustrating how you will achieve your goals and objectives
- A staffing list showing how you will staff your project
- A detailed budget explaining what the money will be used for
- A cover letter providing an introduction of yourself or your business as the grant seeker, in addition to a description of your ethos, professionalism, and proposed project or business goal
You will most likely need to include information about yourself and your business as well, including:
- Your business’s mission and history
- Your business’s financial health and stability
- Any additional support documents, usually in the form of appendices; additional records, endorsements, tax status information, personnel bios, letters of support, etc.
Including this information is not only important, it’s necessary. Without it, your application will be disqualified.
Remember, this isn’t the exact order for every grant proposal. Proposals vary from funder to funder, and each may ask for a different order that the information above should be included. It’s vital that you follow the grant’s instructions exactly and include everything that’s asked for.
Before You Start, Research
Before you start writing your grant proposal, you’ll want to research the grant or grants you are applying for and the organization to whom you are submitting your proposal. This is part of the pre-award phase, covered in more detail on grants.gov.
Also consider who your audience is, what the grant’s expectations are, and how you will achieve your goals if you secure funding. To properly prepare for your application, it’s important that you:
- Follow the steps for developing a grant proposal listed above; this means clearly defining what you want to do, why you want to do it, how you’ll do it, when you’ll do it, and who you’ll do it for—remember to be SMART when defining your goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.)
- Identify an awarding agency or organization that funds projects or goals like the one you have in mind and figure out if their goals align with your own.
- Identify a grant funding opportunity before you begin the application process; it’s important that you find a grant that matches your proposal and goals and a funder whose mission aligns with yours.
- Review the agency’s grant proposal guidelines, eligibility requirements, and instructions document to determine if you are eligible and have everything on hand that they’ll require.
- Register to apply for grants through websites like grants.gov and sbir.gov; depending on the agency, you will have to go through several steps to register and may be required to complete different types of registration to receive all the necessary identification.
- Review any grant proposal samples you might have or can find in order to get a better understanding of what a good or bad proposal looks like.
Research will help you identify a grant you can actually apply for, an agency that will want to work with you, and a better feel of what the funder’s interests actually are. This will vary from funder to funder, but doing your research will help greatly.
How to Write a Small Business Grant Proposal
The grant writing process can be quite arduous. But, there are a variety of ways to approach it. The best way you can handle the writing process, in our experience, is to begin with great research, followed by developing an effective proposal that carefully follows all the instructions and guidelines a funding agency provides, including everything they ask for. It’s all about giving the information that is required, not pushing the information that you want.
After taking all the necessary steps, such as registering your business in the proper places, identifying a grant funding opportunity, and determining your eligibility, you’ll begin preparing your written application and developing your proposal.
Below we break down the basic approach to writing a small business grant proposal based on our own experience as a small business.
Keep in mind that this is a guide for you to learn how to write a proposal. We outline a general approach of how to write a small business grant proposal. It will help you be well-prepared to begin the writing process, but does not necessarily follow exactly how a funder will want you to put together your proposal. Remember to follow instructions carefully!
Be meticulous in your following of the proposal’s instructions. This means including all the necessary documentation, completing the required forms, and staying on top of deadlines.
Write Your Cover Letter
You can start by writing your cover letter. However, it may help to leave this till the end of your application, as you might have a clearer idea of the main parts of your proposal and their value.
That said, if you do start with your cover letter, make sure to keep it short but impactful—you need to capture the attention of the agency’s reviewers.
Say what you need without using too much fluff, being as direct as possible without missing the important parts. And make sure to connect your project and goals with the funding agency’s own. If you can make a connection between their mission, funds, and your proposed project, you will have a better chance of getting approval.
Write Your Executive Summary
Next, write your executive summary. This serves as an overview of why your organization wants the grant, what your funding needs are, and how you plan to follow through with the project. Be as engaging as possible, using short and clear sentences that concisely illustrate the main aspects of your proposal.
Introduce Your Business
You can introduce your business next. Share as much relevant information as you can about your infrastructure, history, mission, experience, etc.
Here you include a biography of key staff, your business track record (success stories), company goals, and philosophy; essentially, highlight your expertise.
Client recommendations, letters of thanks, feedback from customers and the general public are must-have things to write in a grant proposal.
Also include all valid industry certifications (ISO or Quality Certifications), licenses, and business and indemnity insurance details.
You need to show that your company or organization has the capacity and the ability to meet all deliverables from both an execution perspective but also meet all legal, safety, and quality obligations.
Write Your Needs & Problem Statements
Now, write your needs and problem statement. It should illustrate the problem you will solve and how the grant funds will help you do it. It will be important to convey the scope of the problem or need of addressing and what sets you apart from others trying to solve the same problem or need. It can be helpful to include any research you’ve done on this matter as well.
Don’t rush this section of the proposal. It’s a critical element. Craft your argument patiently, and make sure to use any supporting data and research you have to back up your argument and plan.
It’s important to keep the language simple as well, as there is a big chance the reviewer doesn’t have the same technical expertise you do. Keep jargon to a minimum, or fully explain what each term means, in order to keep things clear.
Write Your Project Description
Next, write your project description. Clearly explain your goals for the project, how you plan to achieve those goals, and how the grant funding will help. Stick to SMART objectives, ones that can be easily tracked and measured. Doing so will help you demonstrate your eventual successes to the grantor, an important part of the grant process later on.
When you explain how you plan to achieve your goals, it can help to include specific information about your project’s timeline, budget, staffing, the resources and community you’ll leverage, and why you’re in a strong position to tackle a problem or need. It can also help to explain how you will track your project and goals, evaluating your overall success.
Ideally, your project description provides a clear picture of your goals, how you will achieve those goals, what you plan to do with the funds, and how you will manage and measure your project’s progress. If you tie your goals into the funding agency’s mission or goal, you will build an even stronger case for your business.
Write a Detailed Budget
After that section, you will need to write about your budget. It’s critical that you provide a detailed project budget that outlines how you will use the funding and what your operational costs will be. This will also serve to explain your expenses and justify the amount of money you’re seeking.
Provide any financial documents you may have to back up your budget here, and try to stay within the funding limits the funding agency is offering. It’s important to neither overquote nor underquote yourself, because while you might secure the grant by underquoting, you may not walk away with enough funding for your project. Overquote and you may see your application rejected.
When we say provide a detailed budget, we mean it. Include information about all of the costs, whether they’re direct or indirect. This can include everything from personnel, materials and supplies, and equipment to travel costs, advertising, utilities, insurance, and more.
Remember to check your numbers. You want to ensure they’re accurate. Otherwise, your application might not make it through the review process. Simple errors like an incorrect decimal point or forgotten number can significantly distort your budget. If you need to, leverage a team member who is excellent with numbers.
Perform a Final Review & Have Your Team Help
After you’ve finished writing, attached all the necessary documentation, and completed the required forms, you need to review your application! Make sure you have:
- Followed all the instructions
- Stuck within the guidelines
- Included all the necessary documentation
- Completed the required forms
- Formatted your proposal correctly
- Eliminated simple spelling or math errors
It can help to have others review your application as well. They can bring a different perspective and fresh eyes to the proposal and catch things you may have missed. In fact, it can help to have as many people you trust review the proposal. When you’re confident there are no errors, it’s time to submit your proposal.
Properly Submit & Track Your Application
Depending on the funding agency you’re submitting your application to, there will be different instructions for submitting. Figuring out what these submission processes look like can sound a little daunting, but each group will provide clear instructions somewhere on their website on how to properly submit your proposal.
It will be important that, once you submit the application, you make sure to track it to address any errors that are flagged and view the assembled application to ensure it is 100% accurate.
Once you’ve submitted, you can check online that your application has all the correct information and hasn’t been flagged for errors. After making sure your proposal wasn’t flagged, all you can do is wait for a response from the funding agency.
If the review process goes well, you may be asked to provide additional information. The way this request is handled can vary from department to department. For example, the NIH uses the Just-in-Time (JIT) process, located in its eRA Commons.
If you’re selected to receive funding, you’ll be sent a notice that you have been selected for the award! In the case of the NIH and the SBIR/STTR programs, you’ll receive a Notice of Award (NoA), the official grant award document the department uses to notify an awardee the grant has been made. From there, you will be able to access more information on how to manage the award, and what the post-award process and requirements entail.
In addition, you will gain access to a wide number of agency resources and programs, helping you maximize the benefits of your grant funding.
While the approval rating for grants has increased through 2022, grant funding is highly competitive, and there is a big chance your proposal will be rejected. Don’t give up! It’s important that you keep trying. If the review does not go well, you will be able to reach out to the program official to discuss next steps. You can review feedback, address the issues, and resubmit your application.
12 Tips for Writing A Successful Business Grant Proposal
Below are steps to writing award-winning grants that you can use to improve your proposal, potentially increasing your chances at writing a small business grant application that will get approved.
Develop a Game Plan
Create a game plan for where you’re headed. Don’t dive into effort without knowing exactly what you’re doing. You’re going to want some mode of operation to complete the grant writing process, and a game plan can help you do that. In fact, you’re already using a game plan right now: learning how to write grant proposals in an effective way.
Don’t Rush & Pay Attention to the Agency’s Goals
First and foremost, don’t rush your writing. Grant applications can be long and grueling, and it can be easy to make mistakes if you try to rush through the grant proposal writing process.
Hopefully you start early enough so that you can take your time writing before the deadline gets closer. Making mistakes can make it take even longer to complete your proposal, and will lead to a rejection.
Taking your time will undoubtedly make it easier to craft your story and proposal, leading to a more developed proposal narrative and project description before you start writing grant applications. Having a strong story and a detailed proposal will help you stand apart from other grant applicants, clearly explaining the what, why, and how of your proposal.
Use Rich Media When You Can
Use pictures, charts, and graphics if permitted. Using rich media can help your proposal come to life and convey important points in different ways. While this may be harder to do with certain applications, look for instances where you can add visuals.
Research Prior Winners
If there are previous grant winners for the specific grant you’re applying for, review their business and the project. There may be a connection or similarity between your business and a prior winner that you can integrate into your proposal.
Seeing what kinds of businesses are awarded a certain grant can help you narrow down if your business is a good fit, what you could do to increase your chances, and ultimately help you save time by not applying to a grant you’re unlikely to land.
Search Through Local Grants First
It might be easier to secure a local grant than a federal grant offered nationwide. While federal grants can be more appealing—the award is typically larger—local grants are sometimes less competitive. Start your search by looking at locally offered grants, and expand your search as you rule out grants you might be able to apply for through your city, the state and regional levels.
Apply for Grants of All Sizes
In addition to searching for local grants first, you should also pay attention to funding opportunities of all sizes. Smaller grants can sometimes be easier to secure, and doing so can even make your business more appealing to agencies offering larger grant funds. Showing the support you’ve already received can make you more attractive to grantors.
Use a Team Approach
It’s often helpful and more effective to assemble a team to write your proposal. Ideally you can include people who have review proposals before or someone who has experience as an editor. Your choices do not have to be limited to your business, you can find people outside your organization to help with the process.
Approach The Writing Process Like a Reviewer
It can help to think about your grant proposal like a peer reviewer, rather than a business owner. The funding agencies you’ll send your applications to always have long-term organizational goals and objectives that you will want to appeal to. If you can set your proposal apart from others by showing how your use of the grant funds will directly align with the funding agency’s mission, you may stand a better chance at securing approval.
Provide Up-To-Date Information & Complete All Requests
Provide relevant up-to-date information. If you provide out-of-date information, you will come across as dated. This relates to completing all requests. Remember to give the funder 100% of what they ask for. This means following instructions exactly. You want to provide the information they need, not push your information on them.
Include an Evaluation
Include an evaluation that clarifies how you will evaluate your project or program’s performance. Determine a way to evaluate the project you’ve just received funds before. Will it be internal or external? Funding agencies typically look at evaluations very favorably.
Try, Try, Try Again
Even people who have a lot of experience writing grant proposals face rejection. In fact, most applicants face rejection more than approval. That said, the grant writing process can be highly productive. You get to dial in your objectives, methodology, and more, clearly defining what problem you’re addressing, how you will achieve your objectives, and more.
Don’t let rejection stop you. Try again and incorporate whatever feedback you can get a hold of into your next proposal.
Think About Hiring a Grant Writer
It’s no secret that grant writing can be difficult. If it’s proving too difficult or time-consuming, consider hiring a grant writer to help you complete and submit your proposal. Although these professionals can be expensive to hire, it may be worth the money in the long term.
The writer will likely know the type of language to use to make your application stand out in addition to the correct formatting. Their expertise in grant writing can make the process much quicker as well.
What Makes a Good Proposal?
A good small business grant proposal has a number of identifiable characteristics. None of which are very surprising:
- Easy to understand; it doesn’t need to be sophisticated, it needs to be understandable
- Proposes something that is doable within a certain timeframe
- Clear and concise
- Details what will be done, when it will be done, and how it will be done
- Tells a compelling and exciting story; what led up to your business’s decision to go in this direction, and what benefits people will experience
- Has excellent flow and continuity
- Visually appealing
- Engages the reader and provides social proof
If your proposal has all of these characteristics, it doesn’t guarantee you will get approved. But, it does increase the likelihood you will secure the funding you need. Having a well-written and visually appealing proposal, in addition to compelling research and data, is essential.
What Makes a Bad Proposal?
Sure enough, bad grant proposals have some common traits as well. These include:
- Lacks clarity; make sure the funder knows what you’re proposing to do
- Loaded with errors; if you can’t take care of proposal, how will you treat the money you’re provided
- Unrealistic expectations
- No clear outcomes
- Lack of alignment; doesn’t match up with funder’s goals and how the funder wants to see the world
- Bores the reader; you want the proposal to excite the reader by proposing a brighter future
Bad writing, no matter the context, is just that: bad writing! Even if you believe your proposed project has all the marks of a winner, you will still need to make sure your grant proposal is well-written and thought out to help stand out from all the other applicants and make it easier for peer reviewers to understand your proposal.
Types of Grant Proposals & When to Use Them
There are several types of grants small business owners can apply for. Your eligibility for each type will depend on a number of factors. When to use each type will vary based on your proposed project and goals as well.
Federal grants are a type of government grant or economic aid the US government provides from the funds made available through the general federal revenue. The government gives grants to stimulate the economy and draws from the U.S. general federal revenue. Grants can be funds for a portion of a certain project or organizational costs, or include complete funding for a project or research.
There are more than 1,000 different grant programs available to businesses and individuals that qualify, distributed by 26 grant-specific agencies across 21 distinct categories.
State grants are need-based, state-specific awards that usually provide a smaller amount of funds than federal grants. As they are state-specific, there is often less competition, making them more attainable for small businesses. While they are smaller than a federal grant, state grants can provide the boost an organization needs to carry a project or program further, and demonstrate the project’s attractiveness to other granting agencies.
Local grants are awards issued by a city, county, or township, or any other local government department or agency. that stimulate the economy directly around them. Applicants are only eligible for local grants if they meet specific requirements, the most obvious being whether or not the county or city deems that the business is part of that area. This is typically true if the organization provides services to the city and its residents.
A corporate grant comes directly from a major corporation. Like federal grants, corporate grants will have various requirements, provide different amounts of funding, and be suited for specific or broad types of business or research. Companies generally set aside capital at the beginning of the fiscal year and host competitions to distribute the funds to qualified businesses.
Other Types of Grants: Nonprofits
In addition to the grants dedicated to for-profit businesses, there are four types of non-profit grants. These are dedicated to and designed for non-profit organizations and businesses.
It may not apply to you and your business, but it’s worth mentioning. The four types include: competitive grants, continuation grants, pass-through grants, and formula grants.
Nonprofits, universities, colleges, K-12 schools, and government organizations can apply for competitive grants. Occasionally, a small business may be eligible to apply as well. Competitive grants, like any grant, are submitted for approval and reviewed by a team of reviewers who make a decision to fund the proposed project or not.
Competitive grants simply mean the grant application is competitive and involves an approval process that is performed by a committee or board of directors, who base their decision on different criteria. This also means the grants are discretionary, and do not need to be awarded.
Formula grants are non-competitive, and are typically awarded to support larger programs. Like a competitive grant, formula grants award funds that are distributed to businesses and organizations based on meeting specific criteria. Unlike a competitive grant, these awards are distributed to applicants based on a statistical formula and overseen by a legislative body.
All applicants that meet the criteria will receive funding, but the amount is based on certain benchmarks. This means formula grants are always awarded. Awardees can include states, local governments, territories, and other types of government organizations.
From there, states may be able to allocate money to organizations and businesses for a specific activity. The amount the awardee distributes can be based on the numbers an organization serves or the number of residents in the community.
Like federal, state, and local grants, pass-through grants come from the federal government. The funding is distributed to a state or local government, who then passes on the funding to different organizations, institutions, and businesses. Eligible applicants can apply to states or municipalities for federal funds to stimulate the local economy and make an impact in a specific community or area.
Non-profit organizations can use continuation grants to renew a previously awarded grant for an additional amount of time. Without a continuation grant, the funding for the project would expire. These grant opportunities are also an opportunity for the awardee and funder to foster a relationship. While continuation grants are discretionary and mostly available to existing awardees, new applicants may be considered.
How to Find Grants for Small Businesses
There are different databases available online that you can access to search for various small business grants. Some are free, while others require a subscription.
Below we review government grant databases on the federal, state, and local levels, as well as corporate grants you can apply for and the databases you can use to search for private grants.
Federal Small Business Grants & Databases
Government agencies are among the biggest distributors of business grants, supporting a range of enterprises from environmental conservation to child care services. Applying may seem intimidating, but federal grants are great opportunities for small-business owners looking to grow.
Grants.gov allows you to search for grants based on category, eligibility, agency, and funding instrument type. It lists all of the grant opportunities currently available across more than a thousand different programs as well as closed and archived opportunities. It aims to simplify the grant search and application process.
SAM.gov is an official US government website. It is a central database for everyone who makes, receives, and manages federal grants and awards. Government contractors can use SAM, short for Systems for Award Management, to search for grants and contracts and view contract opportunity reports. To use the site and do business with the US government, you need to register your business. Learn more about the website’s requirements and features using its help center.
USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) offers a wide range of grant programs for agriculture- and agriculture science-based research and business initiatives. One such program, the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants (BRAG) program, provides funding to support research that will help regulatory agencies make “science-based decisions about the effects of introducing into the environment genetically engineered organisms (GE).” This includes a wide range of organisms, from plants, microorganisms, fish, and birds to mammals and other animals.
Businesses can view BRAG’s Request for Applications (RFA) to learn more about the grants program, funding opportunity, award information, eligibility information, and more. Businesses can also apply for a grant directly on the agency’s website.
USDA Rural Business Development Grants
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees and manages the Rural Business Development Grant program. It provides funding to strengthen and grow small businesses throughout rural communities.
In order to qualify for funding, businesses cannot have more than 50 new employees. Additionally, the business must have less than $1 million in gross revenue. It needs to also be located in an eligible rural area. Grant proposals are accepted only once per year through the local or state USDA Rural Development offices.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs enable US-based, for-profit small businesses to become involved in federal research & development. The STTR also includes a partnership between the small business and nonprofit research institutions to formally collaborate in Phase I and Phase II.
These programs include a searchable solicitations database you can explore to find potential funding opportunities. These contract opportunities are available through different funding agencies, including the NIH, NSF, and more:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a funding database that allows researchers to search for different types of grants, contracts, and even programs that help repay loans. There is also research training and career development available. You can subscribe to their weekly email newsletter that summarizes the funding opportunities posted each week and stay up to date with what solicitations are currently open.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has an opportunities database that allows you to filter their opportunities according to different factors like award type, directorate, division, and education level. The database lists current, available opportunities with their respective due dates.
However, you can find the agency’s archived funding opportunities on its website as well. Reviewing the archived listings can give you a better idea of what the NSF has funded in the past, what they may fund in the future, and whether or not any of it applies to your R&D.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) lists funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) on their website according to offices within the department. You can search through its database based on program, fiscal year, and post date or close date. Additionally, the DOE lists Open Lab Announcements and Closed Lab Announcements as well.
Through the Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP), the US Department of Defense (DOD) offers a number of grants, contracts, and funding opportunities for organizations and small businesses performing research and development.
OSBP manages a number of DOD programs, from the Mentor Protege Program and Indian Incentive Program to DOD small business program funding, market research, procurement goals, and contracting processes and activities. You can explore the various programs managed by OSBP and search for contract or grant opportunities on its website. These opportunities are mostly applicable to small businesses interested in commercializing their R&D.
State & Regional Small Business Grants & Databases
Economic Development Administration
The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is an agency overseen by the Department of Commerce (DOC). It provides grants, resources and technical assistance to communities based on local business needs and conditions in order to stimulate and support economic growth and development while promoting entrepreneurship.
You can search the site for current and previous funding opportunities spread across the agency’s various programs. Additionally, you can search the economic development directory for regional offices and local resources.
State Business Incentives Database
The State Business Incentives Database is a database created by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). With close to 2,000 programs from around the US, the database gives business owners, economic developers, business development professionals, and economic researchers a place to search for and compare various incentive programs.
Its site includes a map feature you can use to search for grants based on location, and provides information on tax credits and exemptions. To use the site, you must have an account. However, accounts are only available to members of C2ER.
California Grants Portal
The California Grants Portal was developed by the California State Library. It provides a central location for state grant opportunities, allowing state grant-making agencies to add and update their award information, and for grant seekers to search the database for opportunities. This makes it possible for all state grant opportunities to be searchable online.
Each listed grant includes a summary of what is needed to apply and how, along with links that businesses and organizations can follow to learn more. To the same effect, the California Grants Portal site includes an FAQ section.
State Trade Expansion Program
The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), provides state and territory governments with funding to distribute to small businesses with export development.
Supported by the SBA, STEP helps small businesses cover the costs to start or expand into international markets. Funding and eligibility requirements vary based on your state, but the money can be used to participate in a variety of business activities.
California Office of the Small Business Advocate
The California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) supports economic growth and development in California, ensuring California-based small businesses and startups have the support and resources needed to search for programs and understand regulations.
CalOSBA’s many funding programs include the California Microbusiness COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, California Dream Fund, and more.
Minority Business Development Agency Centers
The Minority Business Development Agency Centers (MBDA) is a nationally ran network of business development centers that support the growth and promotion of minority-owned small businesses. This includes helping businesses secure funding and contracts and compete in emerging markets.
Search for your local MBDA center and programs to apply for various types of funding, including state and local business grants and loans. The agency also typically holds a small-business grant competition annually. You can find contest updates on MBDA’s website.
Corporate/Foundation Small Business Grants & Databases
Many corporations and larger companies offer nonprofit and small-business grants. While some corporations work solely with nonprofits, others also provide funding to for-profit small businesses.
GrantWatch is a grant listing directory that currently features more than 28,000 grants, funding opportunities, awards, and archived grants—some of the archived grants will become available again as well. These grants come from a wide variety of sources: corporations, foundations, and government agencies on the federal, state, and local levels.
While GrantWatch can be an excellent database to search for grants, it does require that you become a member. With the free account, you gain access to a number of features and can search for grants using different dimensions, such as location and grant type.
However, if you want to get highly granular with your searches, access complete grant information, and access direct links to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in order to apply, you’ll need to sign up for a paid account. The website also provides a wide range of resources, news, and more.
The Sloan Foundation offers grants that support original research and education focused on science, technology, engineering, and more. The foundation’s funds are provided through the accumulated wealth of Alfred P. Sloan, and its mission is to use its funds and grantmaking abilities in the service of the public good.
The foundation selects projects to fund based on proposals submitted by both individuals and teams with original and innovative ideas. It is most interested in projects that have an expected return to society, show strong methodological characteristics, and do not yet have wide access to funding through government agencies, the private sector, or other foundations.
You can learn about the foundation’s grants, its grantmaking strategy, what it doesn’t fund, its grant application process, and more on its website. It also provides a searchable grants database you can use to see what’s currently available and archived.
GrantForward is a funding opportunity database and recommendation service created by academics for researchers. You can search for grants using a specific keyword, however, in order to get complete use of the site and additional searches, you’ll need to create an account. Free trials are available.
GrantForward uses a search algorithm alongside a team of specialists to continuously add new and up-to-date funding opportunities to its database, making sure your searches are as relevant and current as possible. It also provides search filters that make it easy to quickly find a funding opportunity that fits your needs.
The database includes a wide range of grant types you can search through, from fellowships to post-doctoral to equipment, facility, and organization grants. In addition to searching for grants, you can find pre-solicitations and awarded projects as well. However, you’ll need an account to complete these searches.
Nonprofits and professional grant writing consultants rely on Instrumentl to match with the right funders, identify trends, and track and manage grants.
While Instrumentl works most closely with nonprofits, helping match grant writers with private and corporate grants their organizations can use to achieve specific goals, it also provides an extensive database for other opportunities. This includes federal and state grant funding opportunities.
You can search the website’s grant database by focus area, location, or foundation. In addition to its databases, you can leverage Instrumentl’s educational resources to better understand how to use Instrumentl, improve your grant writing, and more.
Visa Everywhere Initiative
The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a grant competition that offers funding to tech-forward startups across five different regions around the globe. Applicants must show how they’ve developed a product or service that creatively involves Visa’s products.
Visa will select the top five finalists in each region — and these businesses will move forward to a global finals event. The overall winner of the competition is awarded a $100,000 small-business grant. Additional grants are awarded to second- and third-place finalists, audience favorites, as well as regional and local winners.
FedEx Small Business Grant
FedEx’s annual grant competition awards more than $250,000 to 10 small businesses. This includes $4,000 in FedEx print and business services and a $50,000 grant to its three grand prize winners. While the 2022 contest has closed, it opens up again each year. Dates are posted to the company’s website once they are finalized.
The FedEx small business grant, as one would expect, is available to US-based, for-profit small businesses that have been in operation for a minimum of six months. Businesses can have no more than 99 employees. You can visit the site’s FAQs to learn more about eligibility requirements and more.
fundsforNGO provides a wide range of resources and services for countless industries. It works to improve access to resources and enable a more sustainable environment. The organization accomplishes this by researching, developing, and curating content that supports the growth and sustainability of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals working specifically in poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
Its many features include business intelligence, training, publications, and networking. However, most importantly for you, it also provides searchable databases of grants, donors, and proposals aimed to help NGOs find the information they need and track funding opportunities. In addition to its databases, fundsforNGOs also assists with grant writing, helping you plan and create your proposals.
There are additional resources you can rely on to help with your search for grant funding. This includes various organizations that provide free help for your business. Many sources you can find through sba.gov and sbir.gov, however, you can also review the agencies below.
Small Business Development Centers
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) offer support to small businesses and entrepreneurs. There are local, regional, state, and national offices located across the country, so it can help to find one closest to you.
Some SBDCs are associated with local universities or a state’s economic development agency, as well, and can help connect you with small business grants, federal grants, and business financing opportunities. SBDCs generally offer training, counseling, and technical assistance in addition to support with grant funding.
For example, an SBDC can usually help you create a compelling business plan and pitch for your business, and help you understand how you’ll want to use the grant money you’re seeking out.
This also includes navigating the grant process. SBDC advisors have a lot of visibility locally and can help connect you with small business grants.
SCORE is a nonprofit organization supported by the SBA. It provides free entrepreneurship training, tools, and mentorship to US-based small business owners. Like SBDCs, SCORE is a free online resource entrepreneurs can access when they need help.
You can use SCORE to connect with a wide range of experts based on zip code for free. You can also request a match, search for a business mentor, or find your local chapter to get the advice or expertise you’re looking for. The SCORE mentor you’re matched with will hopefully be able to identify local grant opportunities for you and review your pitch or proposal to ensure it’s compelling and well-written.
In addition to mentorship, you can access a variety of workshops online and in-person. Browse through SCORE’s library of webinars, on-demand courses, and local workshops to find a class that can help you improve. Live classes are also available if you can’t attend workshops in person.
Grant Resources Center
The Grants Resource Center (GRC) is part of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. This subscription service helps college/university offices secure more funding from federal and private groups.
It provides publications on a fixed schedule, management resources, funding resources, and a database where you can search for grants. Searching for a grant requires an account with GRC.
Procurement Technical Assistance Centers
Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) provide assistance to businesses looking to work with the US government, Department of Defense, and other federal, state, and local government agencies. Most of the assistance provided by your local PTAC is free.
If you need to determine if your business is ready for government contracting, eligible for small business certifications, register in the correct place to begin the process, or assistance with researching past contract opportunities, then your local PTAC can help. You can search the SBA PTAC database to find a center near you.
You can also work with a procurement center representative (PCR) if you need help securing government contracts. Because PCRs are able to see government procurement strategies before they’re announced, they are in a good position to help you in touch with a small business opportunity.
Additionally, PCRs also help carry out SBA policies and programs, assist small businesses with payment issues, conduct market research, and provide counseling with the contracting process.
Small Business Grant Proposal Templates
There are many free online grant proposal templates to choose from. A template can help you put together a visually appealing proposal or give you an idea of how to format your own proposal.
We suggest you use a template as a study guide or reference point rather than your actual proposal only because the grant you are applying for may require different formatting or information. That said, here are some resources that provide small business grant proposal templates:
- PandaDoc grant proposal template
- Jot Form grant proposal PDF templates
- Wise free grant proposal template
- Sample.net small business grant proposals in PDF
- Technical Writer HQ grant writing templates
- SampleTemplates grant proposal samples & small business grant proposal templates
- Template.net grant proposal word templates
Conclusion: Applying For a Small Business Grant With Confidence
As a small business owner, things can feel pretty daunting at times. Being able to cover costs, push ahead on new programs or initiatives, and keep everything going requires significant cash flow. Luckily, there are a number of grant funding sources available to small businesses in the US.
Knowing what the grant writing process looks like and how to write a grant proposal before you get started can be a great help, reducing the amount of time, energy, and effort required to put together a winning grant proposal. This guide can serve as the first step toward building the knowledge and confidence needed when applying for a grant, and will make it easier to secure the funding you need to bring your idea to light.
Excedr has worked with a number of clients who secured grant funding in order to fund research and development, specific business initiatives, and provide services to the communities around them.
In some cases, that grant funding was available to use to lease lab equipment. By leasing the lab equipment they needed, our clients were able to extend their funding and save more for their research and development efforts.
In other cases, the grant funding was able to cover a client’s R&D or business costs, freeing up more room in their budget for equipment procurement and other initiatives.
Rather than put all that extra money into purchasing a few pieces of equipment, our clients leased instead, saving money on upfront costs and spreading out payments via manageable and consistent payments. If you’re interested in learning more about our leasing program, our team will be happy to provide you with more details. Contact us and let us know how we can help with your leasing needs.
Good luck on your grant writing journey. Securing grant funding can be an amazing moment and opportunity to accomplish great things!