Best Funding Resources for Female Founders and Female-Led Businesses

10+ min read • May 15, 2021 • Katherine O'Malley

Do you run a female-owned business that’s seeking funding resources to help you excel as a female entrepreneur? Do you need an infusion of cash to get your business back on track after a challenging 2020?

If so, take a look at these female-focused funding resources, ranging from loans to venture capitalists to grants. These sites may help you to secure the funding you need—and maybe will also gain you a support network of other female business owners to help you succeed.

Loans

Small business loans come in all shapes and sizes. Our “Business Loans: Your Guide to Finding and Securing Financing” guide can assist you through the many options: business credit loans, business term loans, short term loans, equipment financing, and more. 

In general, loans exclusively targeting women aren’t as common as loans targeting other underserved populations. But here are a few loan options that embrace diversity:

Microloans are another option. These small loans—typically less than $50,000 but often much smaller—usually have fewer stipulations and offer quicker repayment terms than more traditional loans. Depending on the loan terms, microloans can usually be used for various purposes, from employee wages to buying furniture to covering conference registration fees.

No doubt you read “microloan” and immediately thought of Kiva, a well-known nonprofit that funds entrepreneurs worldwide via microloans. Lendio itself has partnered with Kiva for our Lendio Gives program. 

That said, Kiva isn’t your only option. Many financial institutions offer microloans, including curation lender services from Lendio—so ask what’s available before applying for a larger amount than you need.

Grants

Winning a grant isn’t easy: everyone wants a chunk of free money. You’ll have to prepare to access grants, including potentially having your company certified as a women-owned business. Most grant programs aren’t perpetually open, which means you’ll also need to allocate time to search for grants that fit your business needs and timeline.

Grant options that specifically target women include:

  • The Amber Grant: this option offers a range of grant awards ranging from mini-grants of $500–$2,000, all the way up to a $25,000 year-end grant.
  • Black-Owned Business Center: a HelloAlice and NAACP collaboration that lists funding sources (including grants) for Black-owned businesses
  • Cartier Women’s Initiative: a grant that offers 2 categories: Regional Awards (14 recipients) and a Science and Technology Award (3 recipients). They focus on early-stage investments with different criteria for the 2 categories of awards.
  • EnrichHER: a $5,000 grant for women-of-color-owned businesses
  • Freed Fellowship: a $500 grant awarded every month to an underrepresented founder. Past winners are eligible to win a year-end $2,500 grant.
  • Google’s Impact Challenge for Women and Girls: the focus may shift each year, but 2021’s criteria was to “fund organizations creating pathways to prosperity for women and girls.” 
  • Grants for Women: a comprehensive list of grants targeted for women.
  • IFundWomen (IFW): a “funding marketplace for women-owned businesses.” Check often for new grant opportunities or consider submitting a universal grant application.
  • Ms. Foundation for Women: an organization focused on providing grants to nonprofits that are “women-led movements to advance meaningful social, cultural and economic change in the lives of women.” Watch their site for open calls for applications, as they don’t have scheduled timeframes.
  • SoGal’s Black Founder Startup Grant: a grant that provides $5,000 and $10,000 cash grants to Black women or nonbinary entrepreneurs who have the “ambition to be the next billion-dollar business.”
  • Tory Burch Foundation: this organization also offers 1-year fellowship programs, which include a $5,000 grant.
  • Visa’s She’s Next: these grant opportunities open periodically, and the criteria may vary for each grant.
  • Women Founders Network: this is an award of cash prizes (not a grant) and/or professional services.

And by all means, ask your favorite small business associations and industry associations for other sources of grants. Don’t overlook your local SCORE or Small Business Center (SBC). These folks often have insider information about regional funding opportunities.

Venture Capitalists

Venture capitalists (VCs) can be a company’s dream come true—you get private equity investments in exchange for an equity stake in your company. It’s not a quick process, however. You have to pitch the VC firm, make it through their evaluation process, and then jump through the many legal hoops to complete the deal.

Generally, a VC option is viable only if:

  • you need a large amount of funding,
  • you’re willing to give up a stake in your own business, and
  • your business has proven revenue (other startups might want to pursue angel investors instead)

One of the upsides of VC is that, in addition to funding, you may receive education, support, and a network of female business owners who want to help you succeed. Many of the VC firms listed here don’t “fund and run.” They become your mentors and champions instead.

VC firms that focus their investments in female-founded businesses include:

  • BBG Ventures: focuses on “Seed or Pre-Seed” for female-founded businesses, usually in the B2C space. Their average initial check size is $500,000–$1 million. 
  • Black Girl Ventures: focuses on “Black/Brown woman-identifying founders” who have a “tech-enabled revenue-generating business under $1 million.” They encourage community donations by taking cues from both Shark Tank and Kickstarter.
  • Bumble Fund: seed and early-stage funding focusing primarily on businesses founded and led by women of color and those from underrepresented groups. 
  • Chole Capital: invests in “women-led, seed stage, tech and tech-enabled companies with a product in the market.”
  • Female Founders Fund: focuses on “transformational technology companies” founded by women.
  • How Women Invest: focuses investments in “female-founded/led with a focus on women of color.” They prefer tech-enabled businesses with a “target market over $500+ million, preference for B2B commercialization.“
  • GingerBread Capital: accepts pitches for businesses that are “technology-enabled, where automation, AI and data analytics propel the brand, revenues and customer satisfaction.”
  • Kapor Capital: while not exclusively focused on female-founded business, over 30% of their 1st-time investments are female-founded. They invest in “tech-driven early-stage companies committed to closing gaps of access, opportunity or outcome for low-income communities and/or communities of color.”
  • Operator Collective: invests in enterprise/B2B businesses that already have a product in the market.
  • Pipeline Angels: looks to invest in businesses with a social and/or environmental mission.
  • SoGal Ventures: focuses funding on both women and undervalued entrepreneurs who are “changing the next generation of living, working, and staying healthy.”

Female investors and female-founded investment firms may not fund female-founded businesses exclusively—but they’ve been in your shoes before and may be more apt to help you close the inequality gap in VC funding. 2 dashboards to review are:

  • NFX’s Signal dashboard, which lists top female investors.
  • Pitchbook’s “The US VC Female Founders Dashboard,” which includes a section of female-founded investment firms as well as easy-to-read graphics showing current levels of VC funding of female-founded businesses.

Accelerator Programs

If you’re serious about pursuing VC funding, consider enrolling in an accelerator program: essentially a boot camp for female founders and owners seeking VC funding.

These programs don’t fund businesses directly, unlike the support or education programs attached to some VC funding programs. Instead, they help you to refine your pitch and develop a fundraising playbook. You’re also buying into a network of women who have already sailed those open waters—and often, these same women are potential investors for your company.

Accelerator programs to consider include:

  • All Raise: offers 2 programs, including a “Seed Bootcamp” and a “Post-Seed to Series A Program.”
  • Female Founders Alliance: offers both an accelerator program (“Ready, Set, Raise”) and a “Founders Network” virtual network, if you aren’t quite committed to enrolling in an accelerator program.
  • FemGems Club: this one operates more like a club than a program, but it gives you a direct mentor and holds you accountable to your goals.
  • Global Invest Her: offers masterclasses and resources to “Demystify The Funding Game.”
  • Google For Startups: Women Founders: digital accelerator program for tech startups.
  • MassChallenge: not all of their accelerator programs are exclusively female-focused. They award cash and other prizes to top participants at the end of their accelerator programs.
  • SheWorx: operates as a community-based system rather than a full-fledged accelerator program.

As a women-owned business, it can be challenging to secure the funding you need. Taking advantage of funding resources designed to close the funding gap for women can help you to access the funding you need to launch or grow your business.

Katherine O'Malley

Katherine O'Malley is a contributor to the Lendio blog. A technology geek at heart, she splits her time between traveling, freelance writing, database administration work, and implementing SEO on her travel blog. In her free time, she loves to research the challenges small-to-midsize tourist suppliers face and find ways that technology can help them out.