Seeking Seed Money

Grants for starting a small business are available through a variety of local sources. Here's how to get them.

Miami Dade Empowerment Trust and got approved. “I would have never gotten the loan without the grant. I established a relationship with them. They saw that I delivered and they grasped the potential of my company,” she says.

The loan breathed new life into Hidden Curriculum. Williams plans to use part of the money to launch a major advertising campaign and has already begun working on The College FAQ Book, which will supplement her course. She’s projecting revenues of nearly $165,000 this year, almost five times more than what she generated after her grant money ran out in 2004.

Williams is one of the fortunate entrepreneurs. Saying that startup grants can be hard to find is an understatement. Many entrepreneurs think business grants are free money–funds that don’t have to be repaid, no questions asked. Nothing could be further from the truth. And while there is money for small businesses out there, especially from the government, there’s often a lot of red tape. If you pay a no-interest loan faithfully for the first three to five years, the rest of the loan is forgivable, says Jerry Kolo, professor of urban economic development at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Lauderdale.

If you’re not up for the task of mining for seed capital, you may as well forget about finding a grant for your startup. “This idea of free, plentiful grants for business startups is one of the most frustrating misconceptions of business financing, especially for aspiring minority entrepreneurs,” says Kolo. In short, you have to know where to look and be ready to spend the time and effort to get what you need.

Here’s what you need to know:
Dig deep. Grants are often buried within other programs used as incentives to attract, retain, or grow small businesses such as enterprise and empowerment zones, says Marie Gill, president and CEO of M. Gill & Associates, a Miami-based firm that provides consulting and grant writing services for small and minority businesses. Incubators, universities, small business development centers, and business information centers, as well as your local chamber of commerce and professional organizations, are also good starting points for getting leads on grants.

Consider contracts. Government money can sometimes come in the form of a contract. “If you can demonstrate that your company can execute a budget line item, if you can shape part of your idea to what the government wants done for a particular project–say something educational or construction-oriented–if you can fill a need, you can compete,” says Francie Ward, CEO of the Business Owners’ Idea Cafe (www.businessownersideacafe.com).

Competitions can yield cash. If your grant application and presentation pass muster, there are organizations that will give you the cash you need. One such competition is the Miller Brewing Co.’s Urban Entrepreneurs Series Business Plan competition (www.millerbrewing.com/inthecommunity or call 877-493-4400). Once you’ve found grant opportunities that you want to pursue, get ready to work. You’ll need to shine. The number of grant seekers can be great, particularly for federal grants where you may be competing with entrepreneurs from

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