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22 min. read
Updated October 27, 2023
When it comes to funding, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Aside from every business having unique funding needs, each funding option differs in availability, terms, funding amounts, and eligibility criteria. We’ve compiled a list from a variety of places to help you research and narrow down the best option for your business.
Estimating your startup costs is not only a necessary element of your financial plan, but it can help you determine how much funding you really need. This can immediately give you a jumpstart on your financing search and narrow down potential options simply based on the amount they offer.
Additionally, having a cohesive financial plan in place can improve your chances of actually being approved for funding. It showcases forward-thinking on your part and for traditional loans, investors, and any other funds that require a business plan or pitch, it’s necessary to even be considered.
Once you’ve planned out how much you’ll need, it’s time to survey your options.
One of the most widely available options is a traditional business loan. And while the process and requirements may be fairly similar no matter the lender, there are different loan options you’ll want to consider.
Small Business Administration loans are often one of the first places that small business owners in the United States think of looking for a loan, and they’re right to think this way. This can be a great option if you fit the criteria.
If you’re unsure if you qualify, take a look at this article for details on the SBA Loan program. Or if you’ve applied and had your application rejected, check out this article for ways to improve your chances of being approved if you reapply.
Bank loans may be the most obvious solution for business owners looking for funding. While lending standards have become stricter over time, there are often funds set aside strictly for small businesses depending on the lender.
Shop around and look for lenders that you can actually talk to a real person when applying. This helps ensure that you’re filling out the necessary paperwork and provides insight into what you can do to improve your chances of being approved. You’ll typically have better luck chatting with a real person at a local bank or credit union, so do your research and chat with multiple institutions to find the best fit.
This is a dedicated government fund that provides capital for small business loans through specific lenders in each U.S. state. The primary benefit of this program is that it’s designed to grow the economy.
The more a bank increases its loan output the less it pays for funding. Giving access to loans to more businesses and potentially passing along better rates or terms to business owners. You can review which banks are participating and download an application through the Treasury website, which is updated on a monthly basis as banks enter or exit the program.
Entrepreneurs can also look into various grants to support their budding idea. These are often difficult to acquire and include very specific eligibility requirements, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a viable funding option. Here’s a list of places to find that perfect grant for your business.
Since 2006 the National Association for the Self-Employed has given out $650,000 in grant money. Applicants can receive up to $4,000 and must use the money for marketing, advertising, hiring employees, or expanding facilities. You do have to be a member of the association to apply, which costs $120 a year.
Nav is an online marketplace that matches small business owners with their best business financing options by using credit and finance data. Each quarter, Nav gives away 3 grants, with the top grant winner receiving $10,000. This is to provide relief to small businesses that are struggling right now and hopefully empower them to reach their next level of success.
The application is easy. Simply explain your business, the challenges you are facing, and how the grant money would help push you in the right direction. All details about Nav’s Small Business Grant can be found here.
One of the more lucrative federal grant programs is the Small Business Innovation Research Program, which helps businesses with research and development projects.
The program, which is coordinated through the U.S. Small Business Administration, offers several kinds of grants: open, closed, future, and solicitation listing. You’ll want to research which option is best for your company.
Expect a lengthy qualification process and, if selected, a strict measurement plan to ensure the money is going to good use.
Female business owners can take advantage of the Amber Grant. This grant was launched in 1998 by Womennet to help entrepreneurs succeed. Each month, one woman is selected for a $500 grant. At the end of the year, one of the winners is selected for a $2,000 grant.
It’s a simple application process. You just have to answer a few short-answer questions through an online form and pay a $7 application fee.
The SBIR/STTR grants provided by the National Institute of Health Funding are going to apply fairly specifically to technology or research-based businesses. If you fall within an eligible business-type, you can speak to a program manager before applying to discuss the technology or study you plan on using the grant for. This gives you an idea of what the institute is interested in and willing to fund, as well as guidance on how to develop your application.
Possibly the most widely available grants are provided by the U.S. government. However, these are typically industry-specific, meaning that you’ll need to look into what’s available for your business type. The SBA offers a convenient area on their website to conduct research about which may be right for you.
Financial technology (fintech) lenders are institutions that provide loans or lines of credit as an alternative to traditional bank or government loans. More and more of these funding options are becoming available, and typically provide similar loan amounts and lending terms.
That being said, you’ll want to check out a lenders track record, services, application requirements, and customer support, as well as loan terms, to find the best option. Here are just a few of the platforms currently available.
If you run an eCommerce business through the likes of eBay or Amazon, Kabbage is a great option for you. Overlooking the traditional collateral and credit score criteria associated with most loans, Kabbage is more concerned with your status as an online seller. You still need well-documented accounting data and cash flow statements, but the rest is determined by customer feedback, selling history, turnover, and other digital metrics.
So as long as you have a solid history of selling online and have your financial documentation in order, you can easily be approved for unsecured cash advancements in just a few minutes.
Similar to Kabbage, OnDeck awards loans based on alternative metrics regarding the health of your business. In this case, they look at the annual revenue of your business to determine eligibility and help tailor the loan and payments around your needs. They also give you the opportunity to apply for either a loan or a line of credit depending on your circumstances, meaning that you can potentially stick with one lender for your funding needs.
PayPal offers both working capital and traditional business loans and will lend based on an existing business’s earnings on its site. The primary limitation of this service is that you need to currently make sales using PayPal and/or operate using a PayPal Business account in order to apply. But if you already utilize PayPal, funding through them is incredibly fast, requires no collateral, and doesn’t penalize you for a low credit score.
One drawback is that a loan through PayPal does not build your business credit, meaning that you won’t be helping your chances of getting a different business loan later on. But if you want to stay within the PayPal ecosystem, it will improve your chances of getting more funding through additional PayPal loans.
Instead of serving as a direct lender, Lendio instead acts as a financing aggregate platform. Working with a network of over 300 lenders, including Kabbage and OnDeck, they match users with the best option for their needs. So rather than reviewing every single fintech organization and filling out different applications, you can simply review hundreds at once and apply with a simple form.
The only drawback of using a middleman like Lendio is that your funds will likely take longer to get to you. But if you’re looking for long-term funding that also provides excellent customer service, Lendio is worth checking out.
On crowdfunding websites, you create promotional materials and set up a page for your business or project to accept financial backing from those who visit the site. Each site varies a little, so be sure to read the fine print as you decide which is right for you.
Another option for crowdfunding is Indiegogo. Similar to other crowdfunding sites, you create a profile, tell your story, set a fundraising goal, and ask for donations. However, Indiegogo’s fee structure is a little different—it’s not an all-or-nothing scenario. Indiegogo takes nine percent of your earnings if you don’t reach your goal, and four percent of your earnings if you do reach it. Here’s the fee structure.
Kickstarter is the most popular crowdfunding site out there; since its inception in 2009, the site has raised $1.7 billion dollars, which funded 85,000 projects.
Like most crowdfunding sites, business owners create a profile page that outlines the business and sets a fundraising goal. Those who donate are promised some sort of reward, like being the first to try out the new product.
However, it’s an all-or-nothing scenario on Kickstarter. In other words, you have to hit your fundraising goal to keep the money. If you fall short, your donors get their money back. Even if you do reach your goal, Kickstarter takes five percent as a fee. Learn more about Kickstarter’s guidelines here.
Kickstarter has the name recognition, but it also has a lot of campaigns. Everything from art projects to business ventures are actively competing for funding, so you’ll want to evaluate the site to make sure it’s the right fit for your business.
Causes has been designed specifically to fund social, political, and cultural initiatives, making it perfect for nonprofit businesses. It’s entirely free to join and also acts as somewhat of a social platform for like-minded people looking to improve the world at large. That means this platform isn’t just useful for acquiring funding but is a great way to connect with donors, partners, and potentially even future employees.
If you operate a digital media business such as a podcast, web series, or blog, a monthly subscription-based model may be more appropriate for you. And luckily, Patreon was designed as a crowdfunding platform specifically for digital creators. Instead of a single upfront investment or financing round, Patreon lets you establish specific tiers at different price-points for your followers to subscribe to.
You can offer exclusive content, merch, access, and other items that grow in cost or quality, basically allowing you to conduct user testing continuously. It’s a great platform to build and directly connect with your audience while still operating across other social channels outside your Patreon.
Just make sure you keep to a schedule or your subscribers may end up finding somewhere else to spend their money.
Think of Fundable as a cross between Kickstarter and traditional venture capital funding. Instead of just posting a single product or service, you promote your entire business on the site, geared toward attracting funding from venture capitalists and other accredited investors. You still post timeline updates and an overall funding goal, but you also need to showcase your overall business plan.
It basically acts as an ongoing pitch, but with a bit of additional investment on your part. Unlike most crowdsourcing sites that typically take out a fee, Fundable charges a monthly payment to stay on the platform. Additionally, it acts as an all-or-nothing funding system, meaning that you need to reach your goal or lose it all.
It’s not always easy to explain your business concept to a banker, but explaining it to your peers is a whole different concept. A lot of startups chose to borrow money from their peers, but rather than asking your college buddy to cough up a few grand, try these websites instead.
Prosper is a well-known peer-to-peer lending site. It has the name recognition in the field, with $3 billion given out in loans.
With this resource, you’re given an interest rate based on an evaluation. You create a loan listing so investors can see what you’re all about and what you need the money for. Once an investor commits to funding your loan, you’ll get the cash and set up a payment plan. Rates start around seven percent but can go as high as 35 percent.
If you’ve been in business for a few years, but need some additional capital, check out LendingClub. With LendingClub, loans are financed through investors. You need two years of business history, at least $75,000 in annual sales, and have a good personal credit score. There’s a five-year cap to pay back your loan, and as with any loan, you’ll face interest rates and additional fees.
Upstart is designed to help younger entrepreneurs get funding with little to no credit or financial history. It does so through an underwriting model, that utilizes AI and nontraditional data, to review and evaluate based on things like education level, job history, place of residence, etc. This means that their requirements are far less strict and that eligibility is based solely on forward momentum and potential.
While the loans themselves cap out at $50,000, using Upstart can be a great method to consolidate high-interest debt or fund expansions to your business.
Funding Circle connects your small business with investors. Loans range from $25,000 to $500,000; you’ll speak with a loan manager who will walk you through the process, and you could get funding within two weeks.
Interest rates vary from six to 20 percent, depending on how quickly you pay back the loan. Plus, there are origination fees and late fees if you miss a payment. Check out the rates and fees before you apply.
Peerform is designed to be beneficial for both investors and small businesses. The online portfolio builder helps investors create unique and diversified portfolios specific to their financial goals and willingness to take on risks. For borrowers that have between a 600-700 credit score, it offers incredibly competitive rates, as low as six percent, on short-term loans up to $25,000.
While not the strongest choice to fund a full-on business expansion or startup, it can be a great way for a relatively healthy business to pay off debt, make a large purchase, or cover operational costs for a time.
If you have a strong initial interest in your business and a roadmap for long-term growth, you may want to pursue venture capital for funding. You can utilize the SBA investment finder to find potential investors or utilize one of the following platforms to pitch your business and connect with venture capitalists.
FundersClub was one of the earliest online venture capitalist crowdfunding platforms originally emerging from the YCombinator back in 2012. For businesses, you can either be solely funded by specific investors or be grouped in with similar businesses as a diversified fund to invest in.
While it’s a great way to gain exposure to hundreds of accredited investors, actually getting on the platform itself is fairly difficult. They only accept around 2% of applicants and even recommend that your business be recommended by a founder before applying. But with a strong pitch and the willingness to make connections, it’s still a viable option for small businesses.
MicroVentures is the other original online venture capital platform with a long history of making funding available to early-stage startups. While they originally only offered traditional angel investment and venture capital options to accredited investors, they’ve adapted their platform to make specific investment opportunities available to anyone. This expansion is especially great for business owners pursuing funding as it simply means there are more people looking to invest.
Now, this open nature does have its drawbacks as there are simply so many businesses seeking investment on the site. This can make it easy to get lost in the shuffle if you don’t have a solid pitch or way to standout. But as far as an additional way to potentially seek out investors, MicroVentures is worth exploring even if it’s simply expanding your options.
An angel investor is typically an individual or group that have spare cash available and are willing to provide capital for a start-up or expansion. The primary benefit of having an angel investor fund your business is that it is far less risky than a loan or venture capital as you typically don’t have to repay. Instead, an angel is looking for some sort of share in your business and is willing to look further ahead on seeing any sort of return.
So if you’re willing to relinquish some control and want to seek investment from an angel investor, here are some great options to do so.
Gust operates as both an investment matching network and a tool to make your business more attractive to investors. No matter the stage of your startup, Gust helps you organize specific documentation, set benchmarks, identify gaps in your team, and a number of other methods to grow and improve your business. All with the intent of designing it to be an easy yes for angel investors.
If you own and operate a company focused on retail and consumer products, CircleUp is the perfect platform for you to seek funding. Utilizing their proprietary Helio machine learning platform, CircleUp seeks to provide funding to as many early-stage entrepreneurs as possible.
Taking publicly available, partner, and private data (provided by entrepreneurs), it aggregates the information into a digestible scenario that represents the potential for a business. It even helps CircleUp identify business opportunities around an emerging trend, which can be useful for business owners that may not be aware of how to leverage it.
Offering both credit and equity financing, CircleUp is a diverse option that’s great for those seeking angel investment that also provides insight they can leverage to improve their business.
Think of the Angel Capital Association (ACA) as the hub for a network of angel investment organizations across North America. Less of a virtual platform and more of an opportunity to connect with and build relationships with over 18,000 angel investors, the ACA was designed and currently operates by bringing in angel groups over individual investors.
While it may be more traditional in nature, it’s still a great method for researching and learning from investors across various industries. It can be a great tool for growing your business even if you don’t end up seeking out funding in the end.
Microloans are simply just smaller business loans. In many ways, these smaller funding options kicked off the explosion of fintech organizations who eventually grew to offer traditional loans as well as microloans. While there are typically specific limitations in regards to how much you can get, a microloan may be a great option if you need a bit of capital to fund specific operational costs, expansions, or projects.
Accion operates as a global nonprofit with the primary goal of helping small businesses secure worthwhile funding partnerships. Aside from loans, they also provide advisory services and continuously lead the charge as thought leaders for financial inclusion.
Additionally, they offer funding opportunities focused on growing organizations that work to accelerate global financial inclusion. While it’s less of a traditional microlender, it does ensure that any investment or partnerships follow a specific methodology and goal. If that matches up with your organizations’ mission, Accion may be a great option for you.
LiftFund runs the gambit in regards to loans. Not only do they offer microloans, but traditional and SBA options as well. This makes the range in loan amounts extremely vast, with the lowest option being just $500 and the maximum being up to one million. It acts as a great option for businesses that are either extremely new or don’t make enough monthly revenue to pursue traditional loan options.
The only drawback is that LiftFund operates similarly to local SBA or credit union locations. This simply means that if they don’t operate in your area you’ll be out of luck and need to find a different option.
Kiva is a great example of an online portal for microloans. The application is simple and the terms are great, with US small businesses being able to take out loans of up to $15,000 at a 0% interest rate. You can invite friends and family to help fund you and then set up a 30-day fundraiser to attract funding from the Kiva lending community.
Once you receive funding, you then have up to 3-years to repay. But you can utilize Kiva as a marketing platform to help build your customer base and accelerate your road to repayment.
The Opportunity Fund operates strictly as a microloan provider for small businesses owned by low-and-moderate-income immigrants, people of color, and women. Their goal as an organization is to promote growth in low-income communities by helping entrepreneurs that traditionally have difficulty acquiring funding. If you fall within any of these categories and have had difficulty acquiring a bank loan or even alternative funding, a microloan from the Opportunity Fund may be a better option.
Looking for a fun way to get your hands on some business capital? Enter a contest. There are several contests that happen throughout the year. If you miss the deadline this year, bookmark the site for a shot next year.
If you’re creating a product or service based on innovative technology, you can pitch your idea during Hatch Pitch, an event that takes place each year at the South by Southwest (SXSW) event. You have four minutes to pitch your startup to judges. Learn more about how it works on the Hatch Pitch site.
Traditionally an in-person event, Disrupt is going all digital this year. Sponsored by TechCrunch, this event is all about hearing from tech founders and networking to build your business. You’ll have opportunities to interact with individuals from similar industries, pitch your business to investors and founders, and gain insight from the best and the brightest from Silicon Valley.
While not necessarily a traditional pitch competition, this event provides a great opportunity for emerging businesses to make their mark and connect with founders.
PITCH provides an opportunity for startups that have received less than $3 million in funding to battle it out and pitch their businesses. The only criteria to actually apply for the competition is that you must be part of the WebSummit Startup Program before applying, which you can apply to here. The primary benefit of being one of the 135 startups to participate is that even if you aren’t the winner, you get a ton of exposure to lenders and investors.
It also ensures that you’ve refined your pitch and get an incredible amount of practice presenting it in front of investors. There are some hoops to jump through to get involved, but it’s well worth the effort if you’re an early-stage startup.
Bootstrapping: the time-honored tradition of doing basically any and everything you can think of to find money to use in your business. While any of the other funding options on this list are viable, you’ll likely find yourself doing some variation of bootstrapping to prepare your business. Here’s what you should be considering.
This is a tried and true method—the people in your life often believe in you and will put their money where their mouth is. Here are some suggestions on navigating fundraising from friends and family.
This is an option for those who need cash quickly and have fairly good credit. Check out this article for more information.
I have a friend who helped pay for massage school by pre-selling massages—she simply offered her massage services for after she would become an LMT (licensed massage therapist), in exchange for a contribution to her tuition. Once she graduated and got her licensure, those who contributed had a “pre-paid” massage waiting for them, which they could schedule at their convenience.
Although this is also known as “betting the farm” and can certainly be risky, it is an option to use your personal savings and/or sell one of your existing assets and use that money to fund your business.
As we’ve written about on Bplans previously, many people have a side hustle until they are able to go full time in the direction of their own business. Renting a room in your house using a popular site like Airbnb is a great example.