The federal government offers grant funding for a number of business-related purposes. While most business grants from government agencies go to other organizations and nonprofits, some programs may be available for individuals. Depending on the scope and target group of the program, eligibility and requirements for such grants may vary.
Understand What a Grant Is
A government grant is an offer of a sum of money for a specified purpose made by the federal government. It's not exactly free money, despite what some TV commercials and website ads might proclaim. Government grants typically come with stringent eligibility criteria and tight restrictions on how and where you can spend that money.
Generally speaking, the federal government issues grants to smaller governmental units, such as states and towns, colleges and universities and nonprofit groups. There are, however, a few grant programs offered by various federal agencies that might assist you in starting up a new business, which can be useful when you are unemployed.
Research Available Grants
The first step is to research available grants to see what funding opportunities meet your needs and the grants you may qualify for. There are a number of websites to use to research grant-funding opportunities. You can also check the websites for granting agencies directly for any new grant announcements.
Don't forget to look for privately administered grant programs as well. Many nonprofit organizations have themselves received federal grant funds and, in turn, administer their own programs. Information on private grants can be found online through general internet searches or on websites about grant opportunities.
Know Which Grants Are Available
It's helpful to have at least some idea of which grant programs exist that might meet your needs before you begin your research. One of the biggest sources of business-related funding is the Small Business Administration, which administers several potential sources of business startup and development funding. However, it's important to understand which of these opportunities can help you directly and which are funded through organizational recipients.
For example, the Program for Investors in Microentrepreneurs grant program is designed specifically to aid low-income, would-be entrepreneurs who are working to build very small businesses. However, to be eligible to apply for PRIME funds, applicants must be private nonprofit organizations, microenterprise development programs administered by state or local governments or Native American tribes. Individuals would have to seek funding from those organizations, not directly through SBA's PRIME grant process.
That being said, individuals and businesses are eligible for a number of other SBA-funded programs that can help with loans, surety bonds or investment capital. It's important to be thorough in your search for potential grant funding, since there are so many opportunities available, each with their own set of rules and restrictions.
Check Your Eligibility
Most federal grants are not open to individual applications. At the same time, the application process for most government grants is long and complex. It can take quite a lot of effort, time and even some money to gather the necessary documentation and submit it to be considered for a grant.
Consequently, it's very important to check the eligibility requirements for any grant for which you're considering submitting an application. Every government grant notice should contain a clear statement of the kinds of applicants, such as other governmental agencies, nonprofits, businesses or individuals that are eligible to receive the funds allotted to that grant. Read this information carefully.
If you don't meet the eligibility criteria for that grant, there's no point in incurring the expense and spending the time necessary to apply. Simply move on to a grant that's a better fit for your circumstances.
Understand the Grant Process
The process from filing your grant application to receiving a decision from the granting agency can be quite lengthy. First, the granting agency will issue a Notice of Funding Opportunity, sometimes referred to as a Funding Opportunity Announcement, or an FOA. This puts the general public on notice that the grant program exists and that the agency is open for applications from qualified entities and individuals.
Assuming you'd be qualified for this particular grant, begin the process of assembling your application materials. This can take up to three or four weeks, depending on the complexity of the grant program's rules and the type of grant in question.
Next, the granting agency will enter a lengthy review process. First, agency employees weed out incomplete applications. Next, the agency performs a more detailed review to assess the strength of each application and to analyze the proposed budgets. Finally, the agency will select a grant recipient or recipients.
After a Grant is Awarded
When the granting agency has made its final decision, it will issue a Notice of Award. After you accept the grant, you're obligated to comply with stringent expenditure and reporting requirements. Once the purpose of the grant proposal is achieved and the funds have been spent, you'll need to cooperate with the agency and participate in a thorough closeout procedure.
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