How to get a small business grant (includes FREE checklist)

13 min read
Stacey Hartman

Applying for a small business grant is not for the faint of heart. But worry not. We’re here to help you navigate your way through the grant application process. 

This article will equip you with general knowledge about grants – the pros and cons, the types of available grants, where to search for grants – and provide you with a checklist for the entire grant process and a grant tracking spreadsheet to stay on top of your applications. Hopefully, this guide will help demystify the process.

With that said, though, if you decide to move forward with pursuing a grant, it is still strongly encouraged that you seek out help from a local small business resource center, such as your nearest SBDC (Small Business Development Center) or your local Chamber of Commerce. We’ll discuss that as well in this guide. 

Now let’s jump into the nitty gritty.

Editor's Note: Feel free to go ahead and make a copy of our grant application checklist and grant tracking spreadsheet before diving into our guide.

Disclaimer: This content should not be construed as legal or financial advice. Always consult an attorney or financial advisor regarding your specific legal or financial situation. 

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The advantages and disadvantages of grants

Starting a business comes with a lot of expenses, so the opportunity to get funding that you do not have to pay back might seem like something too good to pass up. Grants have their definite advantages. However, they also have certain drawbacks that you should consider before pursuing a grant for your startup or small business.


  • “Free” funding: Grants provide money that does not need to be repaid, offering a significant financial advantage compared to loans. They are not really “free,” as you will be dedicating a lot of your time to applying for the grant (and later, doing the required reporting), but any money you do get won’t represent a repayment that impacts your cash flow. 
  • No equity or ownership loss: Unlike equity investments, grants do not require giving up ownership or a share of your business to someone else. 
  • Support for specific projects: Grants often target specific projects or initiatives, such as research, development, or social impact, which can help businesses accomplish their goals that align with these initiatives. 


  • Highly competitive: Grants are usually highly competitive, with many applicants vying for limited funds. As such, it can be challenging to secure a grant. 
  • Stringent eligibility criteria: Grants typically come with strict eligibility requirements, which may exclude many businesses or projects. 
  • Limited use: Grants are typically designated for specific purposes, so they are not suitable for general operating expenses, day-to-day costs, or general efforts to grow the business. 
  • Complex application process: The application process for grants can be time-consuming, and it requires detailed proposals and documentation. 

Types of grants and where to find and apply for them

Grants can come from the government, local organizations, or corporations. The types of grants that small businesses can qualify for will largely depend on a few requirements. As we mentioned earlier, the funding that comes from grants typically has very specific stipulations. 

For example, some grant funding can only go to businesses owned by women, veterans, Black individuals, LGBTQ individuals, etc. Or, the grant’s awards might be designated for businesses in specific industries, like agriculture, technology or research and development. In addition, the grant might come with reporting or training requirements that can be fairly stringent, depending upon the nature of the grant, the industry you’re in, and the entity offering the award. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most common sources of small business grants. 

State and local grants

Starting with state agencies and local resources is the first step you should take with any grant. Small business centers in your area and local chambers of commerce will be able to connect you with local grant opportunities, while also being able to provide guidance for federal and corporate grants. 

These local and community groups want to see local businesses thrive. 

Because of this, they’re best equipped to help connect you with city-specific or community-specific grants or very low- or no-interest loans. 

Resources for local and state grants: 

  • America’s SBDC (Small Business Development Centers): Here you can find local SBA Resource Partners that can help you with grants, loans, mentoring in entrepreneurship, and anything else related to helping small businesses succeed.

    Tip: On the results page, look for the results labeled as “SBA Resource Partners” instead of the district office, as the local offices often have more community-specific information and grants on their websites.
  • Council on Foundations: This website will show you community foundations with connections to grants and assistance programs in every state. 

Federal government grants

According to, federal grants are “a way the government funds your ideas and projects to provide public services and stimulate the economy.” Since the money from federal small business grants must be directed towards very specific programs and support for those programs, you cannot apply for grants simply to cover everyday costs, regular expenses for growth, etc. Per, organizations that can qualify for government grants include: 

  • State and local governments
  • Universities
  • Research labs
  • Law enforcement
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Businesses

Resources for federal government grants: 

Non-government and corporate grants

If none of the grants from government agencies apply to you, there are also options available from private sources. These grants come from nonprofit organizations, private individuals, and for-profit companies, and typically award funds to companies engaged in the causes they support. These private funders use grants to encourage action, such as community development, establishing environmentally friendly businesses, and creating jobs in specific industries.

Just like government grants, finding applicable corporate grants can be a time-consuming process, as there are hundreds of such grants available. Once again, local small business resource centers will be the best place to start, as they should be aware of local corporate grants and can help you with identifying which corporate grants and other funding opportunities might apply to your new business. 

Corporate grant opportunities: 

The groups listed below are only a few of the well-known small business grant opportunities from established corporations. There are numerous other corporate grants available each year, so connecting with your local chamber of commerce or small business resource center can help identify corporate grants that are a good fit for your small business. 

Other non-government grant opportunities: 

Grant application checklist

There is no one-size-fits-all application process. They vary widely depending upon the grant and who offers it. Be prepared to provide details about your business (such as a strong business plan), personal information and why you are applying for funds. You will likely also need to demonstrate that you fit into the category of business the grant is designed to help. 

For example, to win a startup grant for a minority-owned business, you may need to provide proof of social or economic disadvantage and a statement of personal history. Grants coming from private sources may seem even more idiosyncratic; be prepared to answer a lot of questions about you and your business when applying. 

There is nothing easy about completing an application for a grant, so if you’re looking for what’s sometimes billed as easy money, you will need to rethink your approach.

The below checklist can help you through the typical application process associated with most small business grant programs. While the details will vary based on the specific grant you want to apply for, this checklist provides a general idea of what you will need to do. The below checklist also comes in an interactive version, so feel free to make a copy of the checklist and use it for yourself.

  • Understand the general grants lifecycle: Take the time to learn about the entire grant process – from how to search for grants to how to manage and report on funding. This first step is crucial, as it will help you fully understand the complexity of the process and if the amount of funding is truly worth your time as a small business owner. 
  • Evaluate your eligibility: Look through available grants and start flagging ones you think your business might be eligible for. Identify grant opportunities that align with your business needs, objectives, and projects. Explore government, corporate, and local foundation grants. Consider working with your SBDC or other local group to get assistance in identifying potential grants.
  • Learn about reporting requirements: All grants have reporting requirements, which might include progress reports, financial audits, and site visits. Consider if you will be able to keep up with the stringent requirements to maintain funding. Make sure you understand all the requirements and are willing to comply. 
  • Confirm eligibility for the selected grant: Verify (again) that your organization meets ALL the eligibility requirements specified in the grant's guidelines. There can be several required areas (such as geographic and financial), so ensure that your work fulfills each one. 
  • Register with the relevant platforms: There are many different platforms, such as, where you can register and apply for grants. The platform depends on the type of grant – federal, local, or corporate – that you want to apply for. Having an account on the appropriate platform is typically a required part of the application process. 
  • Consider getting professional guidance: Whether you decide to hire a grant writer or get free counseling from your local SBDC, it can be well worth the time and money to have someone with expertise help with your grant application. 
  • Look at prior winners: Most grants will show winners from previous years. Take a look at the list and see if you notice any patterns in the types of businesses being selected. See if your business seems like a similar fit, and, if it's not, consider that perhaps the grant is not a feasible option for your startup. 
  • Prepare and submit your grant applications: Make sure your grant application includes a well-crafted proposal, budgets, supporting documents, and any required forms. Follow the specific submission instructions for the chosen grant opportunity. If you hired a grant writer or are being mentored by a local group, rely on these resources to help you through this part. 
  • Review and revise: Before submitting, thoroughly review your grant application to ensure it meets all requirements and that it makes a compelling case for funding. Revise as needed. You’re probably sick of your own application at this point, but don’t skip this step. Any overlooked errors/omissions can completely unravel the work you’ve done. 
  • Submit your application: Complete the submission process according to the grant's guidelines and deadlines, including submitting electronically or via postal mail. 
  • Track your application: Keep records of submitted applications and deadlines. Ensure you have a system for tracking the status and outcomes of each application. You can make a copy of our simple grant tracking spreadsheet and customize it for your own purposes. 
  • Prepare for post-award management: In anticipation of receiving a grant, establish a plan for effective post-award management, including compliance with reporting, financial management, and project execution. 

Next steps and alternative funding options

If you are successful in securing your small business grant — congratulations! Even though applying for a grant can be challenging and time-consuming, one of the benefits of receiving a grant is that it does not need to be repaid, making it a true boon to the cash flow and annual revenue of a small business. 

However, grant recipients are required to provide all requested documentation — including data and research findings — identifying how they used the grant money and the subsequent results or impact to their objectives. While you might not be required to make any repayments, you will be paying for the grant in the time and energy needed to capture and report information back to the organization that provided it. 

If you can’t find a grant that aligns with your business and its needs (or you’ve decided that a grant and all that it entails is just not for you), consider some other sources of funding for your startup: 

  • Government contracts: You may not qualify for a government grant, but earning a government contract can provide your business with a great financial opportunity. By law, the US government is required to consider buying for small businesses. To best understand the process, check out the SBA's government contracting guide
  • Small business loans: Traditional banks and credit unions, online lenders, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) all offer loan opportunities and business financing for entrepreneurs and small businesses. You'll want to shop around for competitive interest rates and terms. We've got a guide for getting a small business loan that can help you understand the process. 
  • Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow businesses to raise funds from a large number of people, who contribute money in exchange for products, rewards, or equity. 
  • Business credit cards: Business credit cards can provide a source of short-term financing for expenses. They often offer rewards and benefits for business spending. Just make sure to be mindful of the card’s use, as you do not want to negatively impact your credit score. 

Final thoughts on getting a small business startup grant

When you’re running a small business or trying to establish your startup, the thought of “free money” sounds great. However, it is important to remember that the grant process is challenging and could take several months to complete. If your business is in an industry that is eligible for a grant, or your mission is supported by a group offering funding, a grant may be a source of capital for your business. 

You’ll need to do your homework to make sure your business qualifies and have the patience to wade through the application process (and post-grant reporting requirements), but depending on your situation, it could be worth it. 

For your convenience, here’s a recap of the resources provided in this article: 

State and local resources: 

Federal resources: 

Non-government grant opportunities: