Veteran business grants offer free funding that can help you launch or grow your business, as opposed to small-business loans or other types of debt-based financing that you have to repay.
Applying for small-business grants can be competitive and time-consuming, but the payoff can be worth it if you secure the funds. Here are our suggestions for where veteran business owners can look for small-business grants — plus additional financing options and free resources for running your company.
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Small-business grants for veterans
1. The Second Service Foundation
The Second Service Foundation, formerly the StreetShares Foundation, runs the Military Entrepreneur Challenge, which gives veterans and their spouses the opportunity to win grants for their businesses. To compete in the challenge, you must submit an application that includes a two-minute pitch video explaining why your business should be chosen.
After the application deadline closes, a panel of judges reviews applications and interviews applicants in person at a Second Service Foundation conference. Three finalists give live pitches, and an audience vote determines the winner. The winning business owner receives $15,000. The second-place owner receives $6,000, and the third-place owner receives $4,000.
Warrior Rising is a nonprofit that helps veterans transition to “vetrepreneurs.” The organization runs a six-step business development program that includes training, coaching, mentoring and networking. Through the process, veterans may have the opportunity to present their business idea and compete for a startup business grant.
To qualify, you must be a veteran or immediate family member of one and complete an application. Warrior Rising will consider applications from startups and established businesses.
3. Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab
For small-business owners in Michigan, Grand Valley State University operates the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab. This three-month program offers startup training and networking opportunities for veteran entrepreneurs and their spouses.
During the program, participants prepare for their business launch — identifying potential customers, finding the right tools and meeting with industry experts. MVE-Lab concludes with a pitch competition in which winning entrepreneurs are awarded small-business grants.
4. Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grant
Texas Woman’s University offers this small-business grant to female veterans who are starting or own a business. The annual grant program awards $5,000 grants to business owners throughout Texas.
Grants can be used for a variety of purposes, including equipment, machinery or technology purchases, marketing or advertising campaigns and property improvements. To qualify, you must provide documentation that your business is 51% or more women-owned or -controlled. You also need to provide documentation showing your veteran status.
5. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards
The annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards honor a variety of small businesses and their contributions to the American economy. To qualify, you must have a for-profit business that has been operational for at least one year. You must also have fewer than 250 employees or gross revenues of less than $20 million for each of the past two years.
The grand prize Dream Big winner is awarded a $25,000 grant. Additional category-specific awards are available, including the Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award and the Woman-Owned Business Achievement Award. Applications are closed for 2022, but you can sign up to receive information on the next award cycle.
6. Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs
The SBIR and SBTT programs offer small-business grants to veteran-owned businesses (as well as other companies) that are looking to contribute to federal research and development. The U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA, coordinates these programs, and 11 federal agencies list grant opportunities on the SBIR website. Funding amounts vary based on the individual grant.
To qualify, you must have a for-profit business focused on technological innovation and research with the intent of commercialization. Your business must also be U.S.-based and have no more than 500 employees.
Grants.gov is a database that features more than 1,000 federal grant programs. These small-business grants are offered by a variety of government agencies, such as the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Commerce.
To apply for one of these grants, you’ll want to make sure your business meets all eligibility criteria and register for a Grants.gov account. Although these business grants are not exclusive to veteran entrepreneurs, this database is a good place to start if you’re looking for free funding.
GrantWatch is an online grant listing platform that features hundreds of small-business grants from all over the U.S. You can browse the directory to find a grant that meets your needs and eligibility criteria, including searching specifically for grants for veterans.
Although GrantWatch offers a free membership, the premium membership gives you access to additional features, such as keyword search and the ability to view full grant information. Paid memberships start at $18 for a weekly subscription.
Additional resources for veteran entrepreneurs
Financing advice and business training can be highly beneficial for veterans looking to start or grow their businesses. Finding organizations that focus on veterans-turned-entrepreneurs or working with business mentors who have transitioned out of the military can be particularly helpful.
Here are some resources for veteran-owned businesses, most of which are free.
9. Veteran Business Outreach Centers
The SBA backs 25 Veteran Business Outreach Centers across the country, which provide workshops, training, counseling and mentorship to veteran business owners. These organizations offer services such as business plan preparation, comprehensive feasibility analysis and pre-business plan workshops for entrepreneurs looking to launch a business.
These centers can also help you understand your financing options and connect you with additional SBA resources, such as community partners, lenders and programs.
10. Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small-Business Program
This SBA program helps qualifying veteran entrepreneurs obtain government contracts. The federal government aims to award at least 3% of federal contracting funds to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses through this program every year.
Among other criteria, participants must own at least 51% of a business and have a service-connected disability, as determined by the VA.
Boots to Business, or B2B, is a free, two-step education and training program offered by the SBA to service members who want to become entrepreneurs. The program includes a two-day introduction to entrepreneurship course, which provides tips and techniques for starting a business, including how to write a business plan. All active-duty military members transitioning out of the military and their partners or spouses are eligible.
Veterans of all eras and their spouses can participate in a similar program that covers the same course material — the Boots to Business Reboot, or B2BR. After completing the B2B or B2BR program, participants can continue their business training with the B2B Revenue Readiness course, which is available online for free through Mississippi State University.
12. Institute for Veterans and Military Families
The Institute for Veterans and Military Families, or IVMF, at Syracuse University provides education and resources for business-minded veterans. The institute holds a variety of training events, including Boots to Business, IGNITE, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans With Disabilities, or EBV, and the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship program.
IVMF also offers a resource library and access to an alumni network to help new and existing business owners find the support they need.
13. Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-Wise, is a three-phase program that offers tools to help female veterans become successful entrepreneurs. Coordinated by IVMF, the program includes a 15-day online training course and a three-day, in-person event as well as ongoing mentorship, resources and support for launching or growing a business.
V-Wise costs $75 and is open to all honorably discharged female veterans, active-duty female service members and the female partners or spouses of the above (including widowed spouses or partners).
14. Veteran Institute for Procurement
The Veteran Institute for Procurement, or VIP, provides training for veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses throughout the U.S. to help them secure contracts from the federal government. VIP offers five accelerator training programs, working with startups and established businesses.
Through VIP, veteran entrepreneurs can access educational events, networking opportunities and community support. Training programs are available to eligible businesses at no cost.
15. Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization
The OSDBU website also houses the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal, which collects resources to help veteran business owners find funding and franchising opportunities, acquire government contracts and access networking connections.
16. State and local governments
Many state governments allot funds specifically to support veteran small-business owners. Some states offer certifications for veteran-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned businesses to help those entrepreneurs compete for government contracts.
Florida’s Office of Supplier Diversity, for instance, certifies veteran-owned businesses and gives them access to a portal that lists government contracting opportunities. Certification and recertification are free.
Through your state, you may be able to take advantage of veteran-focused training programs, webinars and networking opportunities. The Economic Development Administration in your city or state may also be able to connect you with local funding options, including business grants.
Alternatives to small-business grants for veterans
Although a variety of resources are available for veteran-owned businesses, getting a small-business grant can be difficult — and finding and applying for this type of funding can be tedious.
Fund your dreams with a small-business loan
If grants aren’t available for your business right now, check out NerdWallet’s picks for the best small-business loans and compare your options.
If you decide to explore your other financing options, here are some possibilities to consider:
Hivers and Strivers. Hivers and Strivers is an angel investment group that invests exclusively in businesses owned and operated by veteran entrepreneurs. You can receive from $250,000 to $1 million in funding from this group, but you’ll have to be willing to give up some equity in your company. This type of funding is well-suited for early-stage startups that anticipate significant growth.
SBA loans. For established veteran-owned businesses in need of capital, SBA loans can offer large loan amounts, long repayment terms and competitive interest rates. You’ll also need good credit and strong revenue to qualify. Plus, for Express loans, the SBA waives the upfront, one-time guarantee fee for veteran businesses.
SBA microloans. These loans of up to $50,000 are distributed by community financial institutions and may be more accessible to newer, smaller businesses than other types of SBA loans.
Peer-to-peer business loans. Peer-to-peer platforms can help you raise capital directly from investors, and usually, their qualification requirements are less stringent than those of banks. If your business has a compelling story or dedicated customer base, a P2P lending platform may be a particularly good fit.
Online business loans. Startup businesses or those with lower credit scores may find greater flexibility with online lenders. These lenders can offer a variety of products, including term loans, business lines of credit, invoice factoring and equipment financing. Online lenders tend to have more lenient qualification requirements, but their interest rates will likely be higher than that of a bank or SBA loan.