If you're looking for a boost for your business, here's some good news: you may be eligible for a special selection of grants tailored to empower female entrepreneurs. These grants are highly competitive and require you to submit an application, but if you aspire to be the next leader among women in business, they offer a unique opportunity to jump-start your next venture.
Grants are funding opportunities you earn based on the merit of your business venture and the challenges you'll need to overcome to make your business successful. Almost every grant program seeks businesses that will significantly contribute to social or environmental causes. If you don't think your business will fit that criteria, you might be a better candidate for a private loan—this way, your business still gets the funding it needs.
Women are a minority among entrepreneurs, and these grants seek to level the playing field and inspire the next generation of leaders. Your business could change the world—why not let it flourish with federal, state, or private grant opportunities?
1. Federal Grant Programs
The federal government offers a host of grant opportunities for non-profits, and these grants usually come in the form of funding for state programs and initiatives. Grants.gov is a broad web portal that connects business leaders to seed funding opportunities, and there's a section dedicated specifically to small-business grants. The database is extensive, but searching for specific keywords can help you find an opportunity that suits your business venture perfectly, increasing your application's chances of success.
2. Women's Business Centers (WBCs)
The Small Business Administration (SBA) sponsors over 100 women's business centers across the US. These educational organizations are tailored specifically to the challenges women entrepreneurs face. Many of these grants prioritize women who are economically or socially disadvantaged, helping them overcome any obstacle to their businesses' success. Even when grant funding is unavailable, these centers are amazing resources for training and counseling to bring ideas to life.
3. Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
Small Business Development Centers are much more common than WBCs; almost all states have several SBDC offices. These offices can be equally helpful in tracking down grant programs in your area and are a gold mine of useful information, expertise, and local knowledge. You can tap into this network to give your small business a big advantage, even if you don't receive funding directly.
4. Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR)
If your business plan is to innovate in your field, you could seek seed funding from the SBIR/STTR network. This program supports technological and scientific innovation that spurs the American economy.
And it explicitly seeks to sponsor female entrepreneurship—that ideal is right in the organization's mission statement. If your business venture is based in science, research, or technology, these grants are a perfect match.
5. InnovateHER Challenge 2017
The SBA-backed InnovateHER challenge is entering its third year and offers over $70,000 in funding for products and services that empower women and families everywhere. This grant is a true competition, and finalists for 2017 have already been chosen. You can put your business idea on the table for this challenge by applying to a host organization in your local area. Host organizations submit their nominees to the national board for review, and the competition is a great way to network with organizations that put women entrepreneurs first.
6. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant
Many private businesses give back to their community in the form of grants and seed funding. As one of the premier privately funded business grants in America that specifically seeks to empower women, the Eileen Fisher grant program is highly competitive, but businesses with the right combination of female leadership and a focus on environmental and social change can receive an award of $100,000.
7. Amber Grants for Women
For smaller businesses and first-time ventures, Amber Grants for Women offers a monthly award designed to bring new ideas to life. Created to honor a young entrepreneur who passed away in 1998, this long-standing program has provided thousands of dollars in funding to women all over the United States. The program has backed everything from outdoor paddle board fitness classes to STEM curriculum for homeschooling. If your idea trends towards outside-the-box thinking, this is the grant for you.
What other opportunities have you found in your local network? Share in the comments below.
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.