The best grants for small business in California
If you’re looking for free funding to help grow your business in the Golden State, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’re going over the latest and greatest grants for small businesses in California.
We’re covering grants specific to California and, more broadly, grants available to any small business owners in the US, along with tips to streamline your grant application process. Keep reading to get the scoop!
Grants for small businesses in California: The six best options
Let’s start with the six best California-specific options for small business grants.
The California Dream Fund Grant
First up is the California Dream Fund Grant. To be eligible, you need to have registered your business or obtained a business license in California after July 1, 2019.
In order to apply for this grant, you need to complete an “intensive” training program at participating Technical Assistance Expansion Program (TAEP) centers. If you finish the training successfully, you’ll then be able to apply for a microgrant of up to $10,000. The amount of money you receive will depend on your business operations.
California Paid Family Leave Program Grant
The California Paid Family Leave Program Grant was created to help California small businesses with the costs of providing paid family leave to their employees, like training other staff members to take on the responsibilities of the employee on paid leave, for example.
There are two tiers: one for businesses with 1-50 employees ($1,000), and another for businesses with 51-100 employees ($2,000).
The Kern County Small Business Micro-Grant
This $2,500 grant is specific to Kern County, and applies to businesses who have, so far, not received any COVID-19 financial assistance despite being negatively impacted by the pandemic. To be eligible for this grant, your business needs to have less than $50,000 in revenue and less than five full-time employees as of 2019.
Social Entrepreneurs for Economic Development Grants
The Social Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED) Initiative was created to support immigrants and limited English proficient (LEP) individuals facing employment barriers through grants, training, and services. Grants are awarded to businesses in California who address a social problem or community need.
Santa Clara County Microbusiness COVID-19 Relief Grants
The Santa Clara County Microbusiness COVID-19 Relief grants are available for businesses that have been, and still are, affected by the pandemic in Santa Clara county. You’re eligible to receive up to $2,500 in funding if your business has less than $50,000 in total revenue, less than five employees, and has been in operation since 2019.
Mono County COVID-19 Financial Assistance Grants
This $5,000 grant is available to businesses in Mono County that have between zero and five low-to-moderate income employees and have suffered from financial loss as a result of the pandemic.
EmployABILITY Business Grant
Offered by the Demand Side Employment Initiative (DSEI) from the California Department of Rehabilitation, the EmployABILITY Business Grants range between $20,000 and $200,000. The funds can be used by small or medium sized California businesses to help with hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.
Additional California small business grant resources
The grant options we've outlined here are just the beginning! There may be more options for your business, depending on your background and industry. Here are some other grants available on the federal level for small business owners across the US:
The Amber Grant Program
This grant is for women-owned small businesses across North America. Every month, a new business is granted the Amber Grant, worth $10,000. If you are one of the recipients, you can also apply to another Amber Grant at the end of the year worth $25,000. WomensNet, the advisory board of the Amber Grant program, even has a handy article on tips for writing a winning Amber Grant application.
US Small Business Administration (SBA) grants
The SBA offers several different types of small business grants you can apply to, like COVID-19 relief programs, research and development, and management and technical assistance.
Grants.gov is a database of federal government small business grants that lets you search for grants by eligibility criteria, industry, and keywords. Grants.gov is your oyster!
Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs
Also under the SBA grant program umbrella are the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer programs (STTR), which provide funding to small businesses doing research and development in the technological and scientific fields “with the potential for commercialization.”
SoGal Black Founder Startup Grant
Grants of $10,000 and $5,000 from the SoGal Black Founder Startup Grant are available to Black women or Black nonbinary entrepreneurs with a “scalable, high-impact solution or idea with the ambition to be the next billion dollar business.”
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants
The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants of up to $4,000 are available to NASE members. Applicants need to get specific about what they plan to use the funds for and how the funding will help their business grow.
Small Business Readiness for Resiliency Program
The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and FedEx are offering over 100 grants of $5,000 to small businesses as part of their Small Business Readiness for Resiliency Program. The grants were created to help small businesses prepare and bounce back after a natural disaster strikes their areas.
How to find the best small business grants in California for you
We know taking the time to find and apply for grants is no small feat. The whole process can be super daunting, but we have some measurable tips to get you started.
Devote time to applying for grants
We wish applying for grants could be something you do with your eyes closed, but it does take time. However, we like to think that all the time spent researching and applying for grants is worth it in the end if it means finding great opportunities and—hopefully—free funding.
A tip for managing your time better is to create a spreadsheet or document to track the grants you’re applying for, along with their requirements, application fees, and deadlines. We suggest creating a realistic and manageable schedule for grant research and applications. For example, maybe you’ll spend one hour applying for grants every night before powering down your laptop, or go on a grant-applying sprint for three hours every Saturday morning—whatever works for you.
Consider your eligibility
Before you start applying for grants, be sure to read the eligibility requirements on the official grant application website carefully. You don’t want to waste your time applying for a grant that you don’t even qualify for in the first place!
Also, pay close attention to deadlines. Nothing is worse than putting together a nice shiny grant application and then missing the application deadline by a few minutes.
It’s also important to have a plan for how you intend to use the grant money, since most funds come with specific rules on what you can and can’t use the funding for. Some grant applications will need you to get into the nitty-gritty of how you intend to use the funds, and how your business goals align with their mission, so be sure to have that ready to go.
Some grant committees may also require that your business have a social media presence, so make sure your socials are in good shape. Making sure your business logo is #aesthetic can also go a long way in California.
Assess grant application fees
Ironically, applying for free funding can sometimes come with a price tag. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of applying for a grant when there’s an application fee—especially if it’s on the expensive side.
Let’s go back to that tracking sheet we suggested creating in the previous section. By making a note of the application fees tied to each grant, you can weigh the pros and cons of applying for the grant. If the fee is super expensive and the application process requires a lot of your time on top of that (or if the competition is fierce), it might not be worth applying to in the end. Trust your gut and do what feels right for you.
Consider California small business grant alternatives
Unfortunately, you might not get every grant you apply for, so it’s important to keep other funding alternatives in mind. Here are some more funding options you can consider:
- A small business loan through a California small business bank
- Invoice factoring
- A small business GoFundMe
What to know before applying for a California small business grant
Most grants will require a grant proposal and supporting documents, so be prepared to do some writing (or hire a grant writer)!
A trick to speed up the application process is to prepare for your grant applications in advance by outlining and recording all of your answers to common application questions in one place. Here are some common questions you can answer and include in your master document:
- What’s your business type? Include information about your business structure and business model.
- How are you making revenue? Here, you can outline what your product or service is and the number of sales you need to make a profit.
- Who’s your target market? Explain who your business sells to, and why only your business can solve their problems.
- How will you use your grant? Detail how you plan to use the grant funding. This is especially important if a grant can only be used for certain business operations.
- How are you funding your business? Be sure to mention if you’ve used loans, crowdfunding, or other funding sources.
You can also check out our article on writing effective grant proposals to help you out with your first draft. You can use your master document as a template, and then customize it based on the requirements of each grant to streamline your process. When it comes time to apply for grants, all you need to do is copy and paste!
The benefits of small business grants in California
At this point, you might be wondering if applying for grants is really worth all the effort. As a little motivation, we’re going to remind you of all the benefits of getting a small business grant in California.
For one thing, a grant is literally free money that can help you grow your business, fund development and research, or provide relief from disasters like the pandemic. Need we say more?
Plus, if you and your business score a grant, this builds credibility and shows the world that your business is worth funding (hello, free promo!). Even better, once you’ve received a grant, this raises your credibility and looks great on any future grant applications—increasing your odds of scoring more grants in the future.
And don’t forget about the benefits of starting a small business in California in general! California has the largest economy in the US, with diverse talent and plenty of networking opportunities.
Getting started with grants for small business in California
Now that you have a list of potential small business grant opportunities in California and a game plan for making the application process as efficient as possible, your next steps are:
- Looking into the grants we’ve listed here
- Making a list of the ones you qualify for
- Creating a master document of common grant questions and gathering any relevant information
- Applying! Remember to pay close attention to the eligibility requirements and the application deadlines
You can save this article as a resource and check back whenever you need to. If you’re looking for more resources for running a business in California, you can check out our other California-specific articles for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Good luck, we’re rooting for you!
The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.