Q&A: Women: Start Your Business
If you're a woman starting your own business, finding initial funding can be an overwhelming process. But there are specific services and organizations that can help you find the right grants, both private and government-funded, to suit your business needs.
eHow spoke to Christina Blenk for some thoughts on where to start, and sizes and types of grants.
Blenk is chief woman officer at WomanOwned, an Ohio–based company that provides information, advice and networking opportunities for women businesses owners.
eHow: After starting WomanOwned, what inspired you to help women get business funding?
CHRISTINA BLENK: When I started my own business several years ago, I noticed very quickly that men had golf games and mentors in the community as a way to network in business and women didn’t. Women were missing access to information and access to networking with one another. I started WomanOwned as a side project for articles about what I was learning in business; but our goal now, apart from providing information, is to showcase women’s businesses.
eHow: What is a grant? How can it help women business owners?
CB: A grant is a sum of free money given to people who meet certain criteria. Some grants are given by the state, some are federal and some are gifted by private companies. They can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars in value. Grants can be aimed at helping those with great business ideas get their project up and running or they can help with training staff or expanding an existing business.
eHow: How many grants are available in the U.S.?
CB: In our grant database, we have around 8,000 grants total right now -- those are both public- and privately funded, and not all of these are targeted just to women. However, that doesn’t mean a woman can’t get those grants -- only that they're open to all applicants. You’ve got to go broader [than just grants that are only for women] in order to be sure to get a grant.
eHow: Please give an example of a grant applicable to women only?
CB: There's one for women called the Gift of Freedom award. It’s a biannual $50,000 grant created for writers and comes from a private foundation called A Room of Her Own Foundation. It's aimed at helping women writers follow their dream of writing for a living; it was inspired by Virginia Woolf's assertion that a woman needed money and a room of her own to write.
There’s also another example of one from the McCormick Foundation for $14,000 in start-up funding for women interested in starting a new media venture.
eHow: How should women start looking for grants?
CB: The first thing is to get access to a database of grants. There are only a few online resources to get that access, and WomenOwned is one of them. You can search by state because some of them are state specific and also by category. If a business is in the environmental or green category, there are grants specifically available for those types of businesses. Once you've found the right grant for you, approach that organization directly and find out the application requirements and timeline.
eHow: What's the easiest type of grant to get?
CB: The smallest and probably easiest to obtain are training grants, given at the state level. I received one a few years ago for my company. I had an employee who needed to be trained on Microsoft SQL Server programming and the cost for the training was close to $4,000. I noticed that Ohio had a grant program for employee training. I was interviewed by a state employee at my office, and was then approved for a 50 percent matching grant. I had to show what I spent the money on. The state sent me a check for 50 percent of the cost. I received around $2,000 towards the training costs. If you're starting a business, there will often be training requirements for your staff or yourself.
eHow: What are the essentials to completing a grant application?
CB: First, you must describe your business and put together a proposal or grant package. It has to look professional and it needs to be complete. A mistake I commonly see is applicants not describing their businesses completely. State how the funds are going to be used; explain what you have already done in the business. If this is a start-up, state your work experience prior to starting the business and if you have a background in this new business' field, list your connections or mentors. Then talk about your goals for how this grant money will help. Also, if your grant is a private one, go directly to that organization’s website and find out when the application closes. Many grants are annual, so you need to hit them at the right time.
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