Editor's Note: Learn from a panel of experts and entrepreneurs who have successfully financed their own ventures and are helping others do it at the Thought Leaders Live 2013 event May 29, in Long Beach, Calif. Event and ticket information can be found here.
When most people think of grants, they think of money given free to nonprofit organizations. But for-profit companies, and frequently startups, can also win grant money. However, locating the right grant for your business needs will require you to do a fair amount of searching. But don't fret. The pointers below will get you started in the right direction.
Where to Look for Grants
A good place to start is your local bookstore or library. The "Bible" of books about finding grants is The Grants Register (Palgrave Macmillan), which lists more than 4,200 grants. There are a lot of other options, including Grant Writing for Dummies (Wiley) by Beverly A. Browning, Grantseeker's Toolkit (Wiley) by Cheryl Carter New and James Quick, and Demystifying Grantseeking (Wiley) by Larissa Golden Brown and Martin John Brown.
There are other places to look, of course. In addition to winning grants from foundations and corporations, one of the best sources of free money is directly from the U.S. government. For instance, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Technology Innovation Program offers grants to co-fund "high-risk, high-reward" technology-focused research and development projects.
You can bet businesses that win this grant will be scrutinized by a board of qualified experts.
Grants for the Taking• Check out www.grants.gov, the Web site that lists all the federal government's grant programs.
• Buying a franchise? Many municipalities and states have financing programs that can underwrite the cost of a franchise. Be aware, however, that the focus of these programs is job creation. To find programs in your area, call the nearest Small Business Development Center or economic development program.
• If your future business could contribute to community development or empower a group of economically disadvantaged people, visit your state economic development office to find out what types of community development grants are available.
The U.S. Small Business Administration's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program is another government agency to scout for grants. This particular program specializes in funding small businesses with high-risk technologies. Founded in 1982, the SBIR recently awarded funds for research in advanced metals and chemicals, biotechnology, information technology and manufacturing.
If your small business is not tech-oriented, there are other federal grants that might be right for you. For example, a pizzeria that caters to children and specializes in serving nutritious, healthy pizzas may be able to win a grant. You can also check with your state or local chamber of commerce.
Next Step: Get the Grant
Once you've found a program that appears to be a good match for your business, the next step is to get the grant money. It's actually a lot like applying to college. You have to jump through the hoops of each organization, which usually involves writing an extensive essay on why you need the money.
There are several grant-writing businesses out there that can assist you, including Allied Grant Writers, as well as grant brokers -- people who try to find the right grant for you. You pay them regardless of whether they find you a grant. On the other hand, if the broker lands you a $750,000 grant, you still pay them only the flat fee, which is generally from $25 to $100 an hour.
But if you don't have the funds to pay for a grant-writer or a broker, and you're a decent writer, then start researching, fill out the forms and compose the essay yourself. There's no rule that says you can't try to get a grant on your own.