What is WomensNet?
WomensNet is an organization that supports female entrepreneurs, primarily through its monthly Amber Grants. This grant program was created in 1998 to honor the memory of an aspiring entrepreneur, Amber Wigdahl, who died at 19 before she was able to accomplish her dreams.
WomensNet was founded by Amber’s sister who wanted to “make it possible for other women to achieve the dreams that Amber never had the chance to pursue,” according to the website. Though the grants are relatively small, they are helpful for budding entrepreneurs who may struggle to find funding elsewhere.
Additionally, they are relatively easy to apply for and require nothing but a strong vision and desire to create: “All we ask is that winners ‘pay it forward’ someday to like-minded women who might be starting out in business.”
Though the Amber Grants are a core part of WomensNet’s mission, they are not the only resources the organization makes available to female entrepreneurs.
The WomensNet website itself is a great source of information for all things grant — providing, for example, a detailed state-by-state breakdown of how and where to apply for grants in the United States, as well as a list of local business resources and helpful links.
You can also sign up for the WomensNet email service which will keep you in the loop about grant opportunities and tips.
In general, if you’ve ever had a question relating to small business grants, WomensNet is a wonderful resource. It has pages on everything from private donor and foundation grants to Federal Department of Education grants to State level NCLB and education grant competitions. The WomensNet blog is also worth a read if you’re in search of business advice or updates on grant opportunities.
How to Apply for an Amber Grant
There are two types of Amber Grants. The first is the monthly grant, recently doubled from $2,000 to $4,000, which is awarded to one winner each month.The second is the significantly larger, year-end Amber Grant, which is worth $25,000 and is given to one of the year’s 12 monthly recipients.
If you win the monthly grant, you are automatically in the running for the hefty, end-of-year grant, which doubles your incentive to apply.
Amber Grant Qualifications
A big draw of the Amber Grant is that it doesn’t have any particular qualification criteria. All WomensNet requires of its applicants is the following:
- You are 18 years or older
- You live in the U.S. or Canada
- You are a majority owner of the business
As of 2018, nonprofits are not eligible for Amber Grants. Those filling in the application are required to pay a $15 fee.
About the Amber Grant Application
Unlike other financial grants for women, it is relatively quick and painless to apply for an Amber Grant — it requires no tedious paperwork or essay-style answers. You simply fill out the quick online application which asks a handful of questions; the longest expanding on your business and what you would do with the grant money.
WomensNet advises interested applicants to speak from the heart (avoid sounding too corporate) and make clear what is important to them. “No business dream is too big or small,” reads the application. “Our past Amber Grant recipients have included everything from scientific inventors to bakers.”
To join the pool of 400 to 700 monthly applicants, you must apply before the end of the month. After careful review, the winner is selected by the WomensNet advisory board and announced 7-10 days into the new month. If there is a larger-than-average applicant pool, WomensNet will award grant money to multiple winners.
Additionally, if you don’t win a grant one month, you can apply again for a different month. You can also send edits/updates to your application via email. The year-end grant winner is selected by the community through online voting and announced in December. The maximum number of times you can win an Amber Grant is currently twice.
How to Prepare
To improve your chances of winning, carefully read the WomensNet website and its application tips page. It also may be useful to browse the profiles of past winners, which are listed on the website.
“We’re looking for a number of qualities: passion, business savvy, vision, and so much more,” reads the website. “Beyond that, details are vital. While we do our own research prior to selecting finalists and winner (or winners), assume that we’re 100% unfamiliar with your company, industry, and market.”
How Grants Help Grow Your Business
Due to a general lack of funding and opportunities, grants can be absolutely game-changing for female entrepreneurs. Before you breathe that sigh of relief, however, make sure you have a plan of how best to use the precious funds.
For some businesses — especially those in the earlier stages — it may just be about survival, using the money to meet demand or stock inventory. For others, grant money provides support to invest in the future. For example, updating your equipment, improving your technology, or paying down debt to set yourself up for lower-interest loans in the future. A representative of WomensNet explained that “The most common use of grant funds is to increase marketing/visibility.”
Whatever you use the grant money for, keep in mind your ultimate goal and the reason you started your business in the first place. Grants are an investment in you and your ideas, so the best thing you can do is let that belief carry you onward and upward.