woman small business owner in shop on tablet
From the HUBZone program to Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting program, there are many grants available to businesses depending on location, industry and ownership. — Getty Images/PeopleImages

Since 1953, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has focused on providing assistance to small business owners and entrepreneurs in various forms. On top of providing guidance to small businesses, this federal agency also offers programs to business owners in order to help them receive loans, grants, mentoring, and federal contracting opportunities.

Here are seven programs run by or affiliated with the SBA that small business owners should know.

8(a) Business Development program

One of the most important SBA offerings small business owners should know about is 8(a) Business Development. The 8(a) program connects “socially and economically disadvantaged” businesses with opportunities to compete for federal contracts, get assistance with navigating federal contracting, create joint ventures with mentor companies and receive training and development help.

To qualify for 8(a), your business must be “51 percent owned and controlled by U.S. citizens who are economically and socially disadvantaged” and meet a few other qualifiers, such as having a personal net worth of less than $250,000. The federal government has a goal of awarding at least 5% of contracting dollars for businesses with the 8(a) designation, so if there’s any chance your business qualifies, it’s good to seek out certification.

All Small Mentor-Protégé Program

A unique offering created by the SBA is the All Small Mentor-Protégé Program. This program can help small businesses by letting them team up with established “mentor companies” in bidding for federal contracts reserved for small businesses. The All Small program is not a matchmaking program, so protégé and mentor companies should already be tightly connected when they apply to the program. The benefits of the program are two-fold:

  • Small businesses that may not have the resources, capital or training to win a large contract have a better chance to do so with the help of an experienced mentor, and
  • Large businesses can aid less experienced businesses while also getting a chance to bid on potentially lucrative contracts.

HUBZone Program

The Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) Program has been designed by the SBA to give more contracting opportunities to small businesses located in HUBZones, which are typically areas with above-average economic development needs. To qualify, your company’s principal office must be located in a HUBZone, at least 35% of employees must live in a HUBZone, and the company must be “at least 51 percent owned and controlled by U.S. citizens, a Community Development Corporation, an agricultural cooperative, a Native Hawaiian organization, or an Indian tribe.” Federal agencies attempt to award 3% of their contracts to certified-HUBZone small businesses each year.

The SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs were created to help small businesses compete with larger companies in the areas of research and technology.

SBA-associated grants

The SBA lists grant programs that are associated in some form with the SBA, where small businesses and entrepreneurs can apply for federal and state grants. These grants are generally offered in exchange for “projects to provide public services and stimulate the economy.” SBA-associated grants include the Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program, 7(j) Management and Technical Assistance Services and Program for Investors in Microentrepreneurs (PRIME).

Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Program

The SBA created the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Program in order to help the federal government meets its annual goal of awarding at least 3% of contracting dollars to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. To qualify, your small business must be at least 51% owned, controlled and managed day-to-day by one or more service-disabled veterans, so it’s good to take part in this program if your company qualifies. Notably, a similar program called the Veterans First Contracting Program (which is administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) is not the same program, but qualifying veteran-owned businesses can seek contracts through both programs.

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)

The SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs were created to help small businesses compete with larger companies in the areas of research and technology. These programs typically offer hundreds of grants a year for innovative small businesses that can help create physical and digital tools for federal agencies like the Department of Defense. Examples of the types of work these programs seek out include advanced chemical compositions, military-grade sensors, radar devices, lasers, health monitoring tools, high-tech clothing and more.

Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting program

The Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program has been designed by the SBA to help women-owned businesses compete for federal contracts in “industries where women-owned small businesses (WOSB) are underrepresented.” The list of qualifying industries is incredibly varied and includes bakeries, commercial and industrial building construction, oil and gas pipeline construction, roofing contractors, sewage treatment facilities, tax preparation services and more. The federal government tries to award at least 5% of federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses on an annual basis, so getting certified for this designation is a worthy endeavor.

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