Neither the SBA nor the Economic Development Administration offers grants to individuals-they make federally backed loans and loan guarantees to small businesses. But each year the federal government awards millions in block grants to state economic development agencies, nonprofit organizations and universities, which then pass the grants along to qualified entrepreneurs. Funds are awarded to small and disadvantaged businesses, companies developing high-tech products, women-owned businesses, companies looking to export, and businesses involved in helping their communities, among others.

The key to getting a grant is knowing where to begin. Start with your state office of economic development, usually listed under "Economic Development" in the Blue Pages of the phone book. Also check with your nearest Small Business Development Center; a complete list of locations is available at the SBA's Web site or by calling (800) 8-ASK-SBA.

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to find out what types of grants are being awarded. Three excellent sources are:

1. The Federal Register. The government's procurement Yellow Pages, this is a compilation of available grants and contact numbers published daily and found at most major libraries and many state offices.

2. Commerce Business Daily. The official record of the Commerce Department's day-to-day business also lists where block grant money is headed.

3. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. Perhaps the best source of government grant information, it's published every June (http://www.gsa.gov/fdac). The catalog includes just about every federal grant awarded to various state agencies and economic development organizations. Armed with this information, entrepreneurs can find out in advance exactly when each group will make a grant available. "The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance is your best bet," says one senior grants administrator at the Commerce Department. "It's a shame more people don't know about it."