Grants seldom used for small-businesses start-ups

Friday, March 15, 2002

By Rick Sparks

University Extension

JACKSON -- Rick Sparks, business and industry specialist with the University Extension office in Jackson, hears this question at least twice a week: "Do you have any grants to start a small business?"

According to Sparks, grants are usually made by government agencies or non-profit foundations. Very seldom are they intended to fund for-profit enterprises like a small business.

The grants that are available for small companies tend to be focused on very specific purposes, such as providing childcare or working with disadvantaged children. Grants of that type may not be used for general business operating purposes.

"A great deal of misinformation exists in the marketplace regarding the availability of money to start companies or expand existing firms," said Sparks. "The reality is that in spite of what the television infomercials claim, the majority of capital available to the small business sector comes through loans.

"Some of those can be negotiated at a reasonable rate, and some require a guarantee. But 'free money' for small businesses is virtually non-existent."

The few grants available to small businesses from government agencies are specifically designed to help the agency meet its goals. For instance, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program does make grants to high-technology companies to conduct individualized research that will benefit the agency. A grant proposal is necessary, and the program is highly competitive. Only a few companies may actually qualify for this type of assistance.

"Unfortunately, there are some individuals and companies who take advantage of small business owners by selling them books and directories supposedly listing a myriad of grant programs for entrepreneurs," said Sparks. "For $30 or $40, business owners are promised a comprehensive list of sources for 'free money.' We often have to spend a great deal of time convincing folks that the claims are only half-truths.

"We can't offer you free money, but we can offer you technical assistance, counseling and other educational resources without a fee."

Sparks said his organization can help you prepare to access capital through other avenues. You will need to prepare a business plan and demonstrate that you have a good understanding of finances and the other factors affecting your company. University Extension can work with you on that, and in the end, you will have a healthier business.

There are many conventional business loans available as well as special loan programs through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Extension can assist you in finding capital for your business.

For more information, contact Rick Sparks at the University of Missouri Outreach and Extension Center in Jackson at 243-3581. Or visit the Web site at:

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