While small businesses owned by minorities continue to be at a disadvantage, they are currently growing at an accelerated pace. In fact, some studies suggest that minority-owned companies powered much of the small business growth we saw in the past decade.
Fortunately, dozens of granting opportunities are available to minority small business owners. Applying for grants has pros and cons—the money doesn’t have to be paid back like a loan, but the process is extremely competitive.
While some of these grants aren’t specifically limited to minority small business owners, they are either deeply committed to being nondiscriminatory or geared toward those doing business in traditionally underserved communities.
Grants.gov is the US government’s information superhighway about grants offered by various federal agencies. The website has information about more than 1,000 grants offered through 26 agencies and administrations. Many of these grants are pitched toward small businesses, such as grants available through the US Small Business Administration and the Department of Commerce.
Obtaining access to this information requires some work on your end, though. Your business must receive a DUNS number from business credit bureau Dun & Bradstreet. Then you must register to do business with the federal government. Grants.gov is still the best portal with up-to-date information on what grants are available to small businesses from the government—they even have an app.
2. The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants Program
This “micro-grant” program focuses on helping entrepreneurs expand their businesses via $4,000 grants. To apply, you need to be a member of the NASE and be able to relate to the organization why the money would help your business achieve a specific need, be it hiring help, purchasing equipment, or another line item that would help your small business grow.
While not specifically geared toward minority small business owners, the association says that small business operators of all cultural backgrounds are welcome to apply. One major aspect of this program is that a new grantee is selected every month, so if you don’t receive a grant on your first try, you can apply again in 30 days.
3. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT)
If your small business is in research or technology fields, you should be applying for the SBIR and SBTT grants available through the US government. These grants are highly competitive and the applications require a lot of attention, but the funding can be worth it—depending on the application, businesses can receive between $150,000 and $1 million in funding for research and development.
Some 11 federal agencies are required to reserve funds to award to small businesses through these grant programs, including NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Science Foundation. Because it is the US government, the process is subject to numerous nondiscrimination statutes and Americans from minority groups are encouraged to apply. Especially if you have an invention or are developing technology of some sort, you should apply.
4. Rural Business Development Grants
If you have a small business operating in an area with a population under 50,000, you should look into the hefty Rural Business Development Grants offered through the Department of Agriculture. The program is geared toward businesses with smaller funding needs, although the typical granting amounts can range from $10,000 to $50,000.
Beyond just a business plan, you must show that your small business creates jobs in your area and is in line with local economic development priorities. The funding can be used for a long list of projects, but you must be able to articulate what you will do with a grant in the application.
5. Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)
The Minority Business Development Agency arm of the Department of Commerce offers numerous grants throughout each year for small business applicants with specific projects in mind. The MBDA has dedicated Business Centers meant to help minority small business owners, and visiting one of these facilities can be the best way to see what sort of grants are available for you.
Grants offered through MBDA are competitive, but the funding can be as much as $300,000 depending on your business’s project. One factor to remember is that if your business receives an MBDA grant for a project, you can apply for more MBDA grants for future ventures once this project is completed.
6. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
This grant offered by shipping giant FedEx is highly competitive, but if you have a unique small business idea, it is worth applying for. It is a true contest—in recent years, thousands of American small businesses applied for these $25,000 grants. In 2019, only 12 businesses received grants. These grants are awarded annually, so it’s worth it to apply year after year.
The grants are aimed toward helping unique small businesses grow and benefit their communities. In this way, a compelling entrepreneur backstory, a great idea, and proven roots in a community can be crucial to crafting a great application.
7. Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI) Grant
The US Department of Indian Affairs offers substantial grants to Native American or Alaskan Native tribes, communities, and organizations to study the feasibility of development projects or businesses. In 2019, the department awarded more than $725,000 in NABDI grants. These grants can be used to study the feasibility of specific, community-wide development projects or used to study how a specific small business can impact a Native American community.
The Department of Indian Affairs also has resources for Native Americans looking to open businesses in their communities. They can also foster communication between small businesses and government agencies.
8. Community Programs to Improve Minority Health Grant Program
If your small business is involved in healthcare in a historically disenfranchised community, you may be eligible for the grants available through the US Department of Health and Human Services. These grants range from $275,000 to $500,000 in an attempt to improve healthcare in minority communities.
DHHS offers grants for programs with a wide range of health aims—in recent years, the government provided grants to businesses promoting lupus awareness as well as companies attempting to reduce health disparities amongst minority populations.
9. Asian Women Giving Circle
If you are a female entrepreneur of Asian descent, you should look into funding from the Asian Women Giving Circle. This organization is passionate about funding arts and culture projects led by Asian American women artists and groups. The New York City-based group pools resources to fund projects each year.
While the group doesn’t only fund small business owners, these grants can be very helpful, especially if your venture is creative in nature. In recent years, the organization has provided up to $850,000 in funding spread across several awardees.
10. National Minority Supplier Development Council
This large council is a corporate member organization that is dedicated to boosting small business owners of diverse backgrounds. The council offers a series of grants every year for businesses involved in the global supply chain, including grants for very young entrepreneurs.
To be eligible for these grants, you need to register with the council and have your business certified as a minority-owned company. This deep-pocketed organization has other resources beyond grants, including advisory services for certified members.
11. SBA 8(a) Business Development Program
Though not technically a grant, the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program is a terrific link between qualifying businesses and lucrative federal contracts, including contracts for between $4.5 million and $6 million in work depending on the industry.
The program is notoriously tricky to join, but many small business owners who have gone through it have praised it for giving them a leg up. To join, at least 51% of your small business must be owned by citizens who may have faced prejudice due to their race or ethnicity. You must also show that your business has the potential for success.
12. Operation Hope Small Business Empowerment Program
Operation Hope is geared toward new entrepreneurs looking to start up a business in historically low-income communities. The program is not a grant, but it offers business training and financial advisement for members. The organization also says that it will connect entrepreneurs with future funding opportunities.
The heart of the Operation Hope program is a 12-week training program that provides aspiring entrepreneurs an education in business. This program will help new small business owners grow their companies and have a beneficial impact on their communities.
13. State- and City-Specific Grants
Your state or city likely has specific grants for minority small business owners that are doing business in historically underserved communities. The McInerny Foundation, for example, offers grants for Native Hawaiians who run small businesses in Hawaii. Miami has an annual Mom and Pop Small Business Grant for local entrepreneurs. Cleveland has the Green Technology Business Grant to spur local small businesses to grow.
Check with the SBA and your local Chamber of Commerce office to find out about granting options in your local community.