There is grant money out there to start a business or give an existing business a shot in the arm, but it does take some work to get your hands on an infusion of cash that you don't have to pay back.
"There is money out there, but there are a number of ads on television and the Web that present a lot of misinformation as if it is a free-for-all out there, and that just isn't the case," said Ron Flavin, a grant writer and author of "Business Grants: Everything You Need to Know to Connect with Local, State and Federal Grants for Business" (Booklocker.com).
He said competition for the $500 billion in government grants available is still open, but only 5 percent of those grants are awarded to businesses. "The rest of the grant money is awarded for law enforcement, public safety, universities and other areas, he said.
Your business can improve its chance of being awarded a grant if the purpose is aligned with national priorities such as network security, renewable energy and job creation, Flavin said. "I worked with two attorneys to secure a Department of Energy grant for an innovative data server that only uses 10 percent of the electricity of a traditional data server," he said.
While the Small Business Administration's website is a rich resource, don't overlook state and local sources for grants, Flavin said. "I recommend the economic development office of the state, county and city your business operates in," he said. "These grants are often less restrictive than federal government grants and it is likely there is less competition."
Tell your story
When apply for a business grant be prepared to tell the story of your business, said Anthony M. Figliola, vice president of Empire Government Strategies.
Figliola said it is important to have a clear message about how you will use the money.
"Will you be using the money to add employees, make capital investments, upgrade equipment or other things that will help your business grow?" he asked. "Also, especially when you are apply for state and local grants, mention that you will be buying equipment locally, for example, if that is the case. That will be an added benefit if you are going to help another local business."
He stressed that keeping records of applications is important and can help when applying for multiple grants.
"Much of the paperwork is redundant, so it helps to have that information available when applying for multiple grants, Figliola said. "It also helps you remain consistent in your message about how you will use the money and other numbers that are required on the applications."
Look beyond the government
Experts said to keep in mind that not all business grants are bestowed by the government. For example, Brother International Corp., the printer company, recently launched a $25,000 grant program for small-business owners in conjunction with StartUpNation, a resource for small-business owners.
"Despite economic barriers to obtain start-up capital, small-business owners remain resolute and enthusiastic in their pursuit to doing more with less and living out their dream," said John Wandishin, vice president of marketing at Brother International. "This grant program signifies an opportunity to help entrepreneurs rise above financial challenges."
The entries will be judged by originality, vision and practicality, said Rich Sloan, co-founder of StartUpNation. "According to our research, the vast majority of businesses start with $5,000 or less. The application for this grant is brief and the money is available in quick order, which is not always the case with government grants."
Where can you find grants?
Grants.gov is a good place to start when looking for grants, said Bev Browning, vice resident of grant professional services for eCivis, Inc., which provides a suite of Web-based software applications, along with grant-writing and grant-management services. Grants.gov is the federal government's e-portal for 26 grant-making agencies. The website is a central storehouse for information on more than 1,000 grant programs and provides access to approximately $500 billion in annual awards, said Browning, who is also founder and director of the Grant Writing Training Foundation and author of Grant Writing for Dummies, 4th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, 2011).
- Browning offers other tips for finding business grants:
- Talk to community and economic development agencies about your project and ask for help with funding your program development or research endeavors.
- Contact your governor's office and ask about state agency grant funding and other monies that may be available for your business.
- Consider your vendors to see where you're spending your money, so you can get some of it back.
- Call your congressional team members to let them know more about your business and its need for grant funding. Ask if they can start to track any federal dollars that fit your needs.