Published: August 30, 2022 | Updated: August 30, 2022

Want free business funding? Ask the feds

Sholeh Patrick

Sholeh Patrick

We tend to think of government as “they,” when in reality it’s “we.” We fund it and we comprise it. So why not get returns on our taxes more directly?

For small businesses and startups, the federal government provides opportunities to do just that in the form of contracting and grants. In fact, federal and state government agencies (the latter includes federal funds funneled through states) are among the biggest distributors of business grants. Navigating that world may seem intimidating, but getting a payday makes it worth the effort for entrepreneurs and small businesses ready to grow.

Getting started is a two-step process: First, identify grants which fit your business; some are based on type of business or project, others on who owns them (e.g., veterans or minorities — including women). Second, register online with the federal system and apply. To determine if your business qualifies as "small" for government contracting purposes, use the SBA’s Size Standards Tool (

Federal grants This comprehensive database of small business grants administered by various federal agencies is a good place to start.

Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs: Nonprofits with 500 employees or less may qualify for SBIR and the STTR grant programs focusing on technology-based and scientific research and development (

USDA Rural Business Development Grants: Many North Idaho locales are perfect for these. This Department of Agriculture administered program offers financing for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees in rural communities who gross less than a million per year (


SAM: To apply for federal business grants or bid for federal contracts, the small business must be registered with SAM — the online System for Award Management — and get a UEI, or Unique Entity Identifier number at (the old DUNS numbers were eliminated in April 2022). Your SAM profile should be carefully done; it’s like your resume for grants and contracting bids.

Free guides are available from

Applicants also must find the NAICS code matching the products and services they provide, via the Census Bureau’s North American Industry Classification System (, to be ready to complete application forms. Some businesses have more than one NAICS code.

State assistance

Idaho STEP grants: The State Trade Expansion Program, funded in part through the U.S. Small Business Administration, is designed to increase the number of Idaho businesses who export, or increase the value of exports from Idaho. Help with application processes is available from Idaho Department of Commerce (

Small Business Development Centers: When you don’t know where to start the local SBDC office in the Hedlund Building at North Idaho College offers free information and support for small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. They can also connect small-business owners with training, webinars, and business counseling as well as grant opportunities. Some services are free, others are relatively low-cost (

Next time: Tips on how to win government contracts

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email