It seems like female entrepreneurs have been smashing the glass ceiling in recent years, with women-owned businesses growing at 1.5 times the national average from 2007 to 2014. But the reality is a little more complex: Despite this phenomenal growth, female entrepreneurs frequently find it difficult to secure funding for their companies, with only about 4 cents on the dollar of all small business loans going to women.
This funding gap means that female entrepreneurs are starting with considerably less capital than their male counterparts. But there is hope: The federal government pledged to increase its contracts with female-owned firms, and there are several organizations offering small-business loans and angel investing specifically for women-owned businesses. And organizations spearheaded by female executives and funders, such as DigitalUndivided and Springboard Enterprises, are addressing the funding gap by offering support through mentoring and financial assistance.
Beyond these options, there are some grants and competitions that should be on your radar if you’re a female entrepreneur seeking capital. Don’t miss applying for these grant opportunities, which offer funding that doesn’t have to be repaid.
1. Amber Grant
WomensNet awards a grant of $500 every month, and at the end of the year, one of the 12 monthly winners receives the $1,000 Amber Grant. The grant parameters are fairly broad, with an emphasis on passion and business smarts. During the application process, you can indicate whether you would also like to be considered for angel investing or mentoring.
2. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program
Every year, the Eileen Fisher corporation awards $120,000 to up to 10 recipients, at a minimum of $12,000 each. This grant is for female-owned businesses that are working toward positive social and environmental change, and that have moved past the startup phase and are ready for expansion. Your business should have been operating for at least three years and your revenue for the most recent year should be under $1 million.
3. The Halstead Grant
Calling all jewelry makers: Female designers with businesses under three years old are eligible for this annual corporate grant. Recipients are awarded a $6,000 cash grant, $1,000 toward Halstead jewelry supplies, and marketing via the company’s website and social media.
4. InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge
Part of the annual InnovateHER Innovating for Women Business Summit run by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women's Business Ownership, this competition seeks “innovative products and services that help impact and empower the lives of women and families.” (This competition is open to entrepreneurs of any gender.) The challenge awards $70,000 annually to three contestants, with the first-place winner receiving $40,000.
5. Open Meadows Foundation Grants
Open Meadows funds women-led projects that promote gender, racial, or economic justice. Awards are under $2,000, and applications are accepted in the spring and fall of each year.
You can search for grants and angel investors for women across industries in the Grants for Women database (it also includes non-business grants, so search carefully). Your local Women’s Business Center, Small Business Development Center (SBDC), or SCORE office can also help you find regional grants and loans that are a good match for your business.
Of course, there are lots of grants out there that aren’t exclusively for women, so make sure you check those out as well. As more and more female-owned companies succeed, they pave the way — and open more opportunities — for others to do the same.
Meredith Wood is the Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith manages financing columns on Inc, Entrepreneur, HuffPo and more, and her advice can be seen on Yahoo!, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, Intuit, the SBA and many more.