Looking for an investor? How about going for the real gold--a free government grant to underwrite your business? Sure, there are federally backed loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, but if you land a grant, you get free money from Uncle Sam.
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.
Research grants offer up to $100,000 for the first six months of R&D, and up to $750,000 for the actual development of a promising new technological product.
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 (http://www.sba.gov) 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."
Imagine having access to credit information on almost 170 million individuals, including who shops where, what they buy, how often they break out their plastic to purchase products and services--and how often they don't pay their monthly bills.
First Data Solutions, a subsidiary of Naperville, Illinois-based First Data Corp., compiles this information and much more in its DQI2r database of almost 90 percent of U.S. households. Small businesses can use DQI2r to select groups of prospects for direct mailings or cold calls, or to obtain credit card information about groups of customers and potential clients.
DQI2r is arguably the most extensive repository of demographic, lifestyle and purchase behavior information available, according to Donna Pennington of First Data. The database contains valuable marketing and financial information about consumers, including age, income, marital status, home and auto ownership, and length of residence.
You can even use the database to select lists of people who contribute to various charities, identify female heads of households, or get additional details on some 36 million homeowners across the country. For more information, contact First Data Solutions at (800) 545-1828.
Hitting The Books
For answers to questions on virtually any subject affecting your small business, check out the Small and Home Based Business Library (). This online business resource provides homebased business owners with immediate access to information on almost every financial subject under the sun, and provides links to a number of other small-business sites on the Internet.
Alphabetized card catalog icons lead to lists of books and articles on numerous topics, such as marketing and special financial services for homebased businesses.
Visitors to the virtual library can find information quickly by clicking on the catalog's "C" drawer, for example, and choosing from such subjects as applying for business credit, credit reports, extending credit, audit checklists for new businesses, and finding capital in cyberspace.
"A lot of the information is just raw text, and some of the data is from other Web sites," says Thomas Belew, the library's Webmaster, "but there's no better free resource for homebased entrepreneurs."
The little search engine that could now operates one of the top financial services on the Web. Yahoo! Finance (http://quote.yahoo.com) has received consistently high marks from home users and Internet reviewers alike, and can be a sure-fire investment asset for any homebased business owner with an eye on the stock market or mutual funds, according to Mike Riley, who produces the service.
"Yahoo! Finance brings together the best financial services and information available on the Web to provide a convenient, easy-to-use resource, all free of charge to users," says Riley. "New features include stock quote information, portfolios, charts, editorials from the Motley Fool, earnings surprises, company profiles, and access to online trading."
Other features include mutual fund profiles of top performers, which include background information, return histories, quote information, portfolio composition details, rank in category and risk information. The site also gives users quick access to the latest stock upgrades and downgrades by leading financial analysts.
Users can research investment opportunities by using corporate profiles from Market Guide and mutual fund profiles from CDA/Weisenberger. They can also create their own portfolios, download portfolio information into popular software such as Quicken and MS Money, get the latest company news and press releases from several major wire services, and access Yahoo!'s extensive collection of investment information.
The site also offers small businesses free e-mail accounts and access to a site where all types of business bargains are available. Michelle Scott of Yahoo! Finance calls it "a one-stop shop for any homebased business."
First Data Solutions, (800) 545-1828.
Kurt Samson is a freelance business writer and public relations consultant in Annapolis, Maryland.