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Grants are like free money for small businesses: Unlike loans and other debt, grants don’t typically require you to pay anyone back. Of course, finding and qualifying for public or private funds takes some effort. To help make the process a bit easier, here are five potential sources of grants for small enterprises and entrepreneurs.

    1. State and Local Agencies — The federal government doesn’t make general grants to small businesses, but your state or local government may offer other financial-assistance programs, such as low-interest loans. Contact your state’s economic development agency as a starting point. This online directory lists local and international agencies, too.

 

    1. Uncle Sam — As noted, the Feds won’t send you general grant money just for starting or expanding a business. However, the U.S. government does offer specific funding programs, many of which are available to small businesses and entrepreneurs that meet certain criteria. Examples include health-related research and green product development. Grants.gov offers a comprehensive search tool for federal monies.

 

    1. Opportunity Fund This California nonprofit offers a mix of microloans, microsavings, and commercial real estate financing to small businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its 2012 Start-Up Funding Challenge awards grants of $2,000 to $5,000 — but you’ll have to hurry, as the application deadline is April 15. Located elsewhere? Look online or ask around in your community about nonprofit organizations that promote entrepreneurship and business ownership through similar programs.

 

    1. Amber Grants — Sometimes a modest amount of money can have a major impact. The Amber Foundation Grants have been supporting women entrepreneurs since 1998. The grants, usually $500 to $1,000 each, are intended to help with “the small but essential expenses that can often make the difference between getting started or being forever stalled.”

 

  1. Love a Local Business — Intuit’s Love a Local Business grant competition has given more than $1.1 million to winning small businesses since its inception. Nominations are a great way for fans — customers, employees, vendors, and others — to recognize and reward your business. This month, one small business will win a $25,000 hiring grant. For more information, click here.

Of course, grants aren’t the only means of securing additional funds. To explore other financing options (beyond traditional bank loans), check with The SBA and services such as the Intuit Loan Finder and Multifunding.com.

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