5 Ways to Start a Business with Cheap or Free Money

You’ve got the next billion-dollar idea. Or million dollar, or whatever it is. The point is it’s good, and you want to prove its value. This is the stage where most startups die — which is to say before they even get started. Because the most daunting obstacle to seeding the next big idea is capital.

Most first-time entrepreneurs have heard of venture capitalist firms and angel investors. That’s how Facebook got started, right? So why shouldn’t it be you? The truth is it’s extremely difficult and rare for first timers to receive funding this way. In fact, by some estimates, less than one percent of startups are funded by angel investors and a fraction of one percent by VCs.

Problems finding funding to start a business

When looking for outside funding, many entrepreneurs look to friends and family. But do you really have friends and family that are able and willing to shell out $50,000, $100,000 or more to see if your idea is worthwhile? And getting a loan from the bank is a tedious prospect where you may have to put your house or other personal assets at risk. Not to mention there’s the other problem even if you do get funding: giving up too much of your company too early.  You see a big check, give up 50 percent of the company, and end up regretting it for the rest of your life.

These are problems that are unfortunately preventing many good, innovative ideas from ever sprouting beyond the back of a napkin. But what many entrepreneurs don’t know, especially if it’s their first time around, is that there is capital to be had without any strings attached. Here are five ways you can seed your company on the cheap, or even for free:

1. Government grants

Did you know that you can find grant money to fund your startup on the federal, state, regional and even city government level? And they won’t even ask for equity. While what’s offered will vary by geographic location, investing in startups has become an emerging model of how government is enacting economic development. Invest in the next unicorn in the region, and it will create jobs and attract talent to the area.

For example, manufacturing is important to the state of Ohio, wich is why it established the Advanced Manufacturing Program, offering grants of up to $500,000 to promote innovation in manufacturing. Louisiana, a state with a major international port and shipping center, provides grants to small businesses to help increase exports.

These types of focused grants exist in individual states and across industrial sectors, and at both the state and Federal levels. The National Science Foundation, for example, funds about 11,000 proposals a year spanning everything from biosciences to climate-related ventures.

And Louisiana Economic Development’s STEP export program offers reimbursement for small businesses that are either new to exporting or primed for market expansion. Eligible businesses can receive over $6,000 for things like exhibition booth fees, travel, and even business-related meals.

Finally, Connecticut’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund Voucher Program offers grants of up to $50,000 to help pay for new technology, expertise, and prototype development.

However much money you need, and whichever sector you’re in, there’s likely a grant out there that could provide seed money to move your idea forward. And while there will sometimes be certain stipulations you’ll have to meet (for example, extensive reporting and forms to submit), you’ll never have to give up equity or pay back the grant.

2. Crowdfunding

You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter or GoFundMe, but maybe they just seemed like cute platforms for artists. Turns out, Kickstarter has seen over $4.3 billion in pledges. If you need seed money, let’s say $20,000 to develop your app, crowdsourcing could be the answer. In exchange, you offer products or services, but you don’t have to give up equity, you don’t have to pay interest and you’ve already developed a community of potential customers.

Some crowdfunding platforms have taken the step of specifically funding startups, while others are simply open to raising money for any purpose. Fundable, founded by former entrepreneurs and focused on raising crowdsourced capital for startups, generated over $80 million in funding commitments in just its first year. And Indiegogo, another platform with entrepreneurs specifically in mind, has raised over $1 billion in funding for over 650,000 projects.

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This Article first appeared in entrepreneur

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