The “dot gov” website maintained by the U.S. government leads you to believe that there are no grants available to businesses that do not adopt the “non-profit” business model. In fact, if you use their search feature and simply look for grants under “any business” you will get a “no results found” message. You will get a lot of advice to visit the Small Business Administration’s website, but nothing on grants.
In reality, there are grants available to for-profit businesses. Corporations and even some government agencies do offer funding to entrepreneurs, and may even fund start-up business costs. Some of this funding may be sourced through what some have called “popularity contests” – that is, your organization signs up with the granting funder, and your eligibility is determined by having your friends “vote” for you online, sometimes through the funder’s own website, and increasingly more often, on Facebook. There are government agencies that provide information on their individual website, such as the FAA.
Not all of this is “free money”, which is what most people think of when they think of grants. Many times, it is the form of free products or services. One such example is British Airways, which offers free air travel for entrepreneurs to present their business plans to prospective enterprise partners or funders (http://businessgrants.ba.com). Corporations often offer significant product savings, enabling new businesses to obtain computers, printers, ink, and even office furniture at substantial savings, rather than direct cash payments. That’s just as good as money, and the grantor knows that their resources are being used exactly as they wish them to be used.
As with any form of grant funding, your needs and the grantor’s program outline need to mesh. Not just a little, but exactly. Grant seekers, whether for-profit or non-profit, often try to develop a program need that will fit the grant guidelines, but that can create a request that looks forced or desperate. Grants are “scored” for applicability and compliance with the application guidelines, and forcing your needs to fit their program can result in the request sounding more like “gimme all your money” than “we invite your assistance in achieving our mission goals.”
To succeed at first asking, research your needs first, and make a prioritized list. Start with some of the local corporations first. Many grantors are location-specific, and often their local public relations or media person may be able to point you to the right program.