Raising capital for a small business is challenging. Add social and economic barriers to the mix, and it can become overwhelming. Entrepreneurship in Virginia is no exception. Fortunately, there is help for historically underrecognized groups of small business owners, including women, people of color, veterans, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities.
The persistence of systemic discrimination and structural inequities has resulted in these groups receiving disproportionately less investment when fundraising to launch their businesses. There are other obstacles too, like navigating online resources as a non-native English speaker, high costs for assistive equipment to accommodate disabilities, or little to no credit history when transitioning out of military service.
Where some lenders have seen these hindrances as reasons not to bankroll these entrepreneurs, others have seen opportunities. In this article we explore funding options and programs for each of these under recognized groups, with a brief description and links for information on how to apply. Local and Virginia-specific selections were made when possible. Entrepreneurs of any background have an advantage from living in the Coastal Virginia area, which has a robust small business support system in place.
Featured are a collection of grants, no-interest loans, programs to connect entrepreneurs to startup capital and more. These items should not be seen as a comprehensive index of funding assistance, but a starting point for further research. Don’t be dismayed if there’s not something that’s not an exact fit—keep looking!
- Newport News e-commerce Grant Program Women and minority-owned businesses that are registered as a licensed e-commerce service provider in Newport News can apply for up to $4,500 in grant money to support their e-Commerce ventures. Call Economic Development Authority staff at 757-597-2840 to learn more.
- HerRise Micro-grants Since 2017, HerSuiteSpot has partnered with the Yva Jourdan Foundation, Inc. to offer HerRise MicroGrants of at least $500 to qualified women of color entrepreneurs. If your business is owned by more than 51% women of color, registered in the U.S., and meets other conditions, you can apply at the HerSuiteSpot website
- Amber Grant WomensNet gives out a minimum of $10,000 every month in Amber Grant funding for women entrepreneurs, as well as other awards like the $10,000 Business Category grant, $10,000 Startup Grant, and annual $25,000 Amber Grant prize.
- StartOut Growth Lab a startup accelerator that connects LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs with legal advice, networking opportunities and other resources through a five-month program. Previous graduates of the lab have raised $763 million in funding. The application period for the next cohort begins in November 2023.
- National Pride Grant Founders First Community Development Corporation (CDC) also invests $25,000 in 25 businesses with LGBTQ+ leaders every year. The business must have at least two employees and have been in business for over a year, among other requirements.
- Backstage Capital Investments LGBTQ+ other under recognized entrepreneurs can apply for pre-seed, Series A, and other round funding with Backstage Capital, which prioritizes diverse-led startups. Mentorship opportunities and help with fundraising are also offered to approved founders.
Communities of Color
- B-Force Accelerator This 12-week program is designed for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs who have been in operation a couple of years and are looking to raise capital. Participants will receive free legal consultation, accounting assistance and other services. For the upcoming B-Force Accelerator groups, Black BRAND is targeting the Hampton Roads region. The business owner must physically reside in Hampton Roads or the business must be located in Hampton Roads in order to qualify.
- Expand 757 Small Business Loan Program Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Hampton Roads is offering up to $50,000 loans with 0% interest for minority and immigrant entrepreneurs as well as others. Recipients will also get access to one-on-one coaching for their loan through the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
- Wish Local Empowerment Program This grant program offers up to $2,000 to qualified Black entrepreneurs to assist with inventory management, labor costs, or whatever else drives the business. Winners of the award must list their business on Wish, an e-commerce website.
- Boots to Business Veteran entrepreneurs can access this training track within the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program through a number of locations in the region, including Fort Lee, Langley AFB and Hampton Roads Navy. The two-day course helps connect attendees with Small Business Administration resources and other funding options.
- Virginia Beach Small Business Capital Access Program Made possible by LISC Hampton Roads, this program offers no-interest loans between $10,000 and $25,000 to veteran and other underrepresented entrepreneurs in Virginia Beach. To be eligible the business must have been founded before December 2019 and meet other prerequisites.
- Military Entrepreneur Challenge These events hosted by the Second Service Foundation given veteran entrepreneurs the opportunity to compete for starting capital to expand their business. In addition to the prospect of financial backing, participants also get the chance to learn and network with their peers.
People with Disabilities
- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small-Business Designation Certified service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs can apply for this designation which is then featured in the vendor database for the Virginia Small, Women-owned, and Minority Owned Business (SWaM) program. If not SWaM certified, applicants should first contact the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity.
- Assistive Technology Loans For disabled entrepreneurs in need of adaptive equipment for their business, the Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority provides alternative financing for anything related to assisting with that individual’s disability, like hearing aids or vehicle modifications.
- TRANSFORM Business Grant Organized to fund various underrepresented entrepreneurs, including those with disabilities, the TRANSFORM business grant considers applications from business owners who have a social cause and need help financially. Recipients receive a $1,000 microgrant as well as a year-long assistance program.
These lists of funding sources for these under recognized groups is a testament to the fact that while social inequality hurdles remain for entrepreneurs, help is out there. Many of these programs not only give money to aspiring business owners from disadvantaged backgrounds, they link them to mentors and strengthen bonds with others in the industry.
Whenever discussing business resources, the bottom line comes down to money, but overcoming these historic biases will depend on the human relationships formed by entrepreneurs across these different groups and beyond. Bridging the funding gap means taking another step to forming a stronger, and importantly, more diverse Coastal Virginia business community.
For consumers, remember that sales is a primary driver of income for a business as well. Support local businesses, especially those operated by underrecognized owners. The many funding initiatives highlighted here make an impact, but making business more about talent and initiative and less about identity will be a collective undertaking.