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We work in collaboration with thousands of local partners and grassroots leaders across the nation who share our commitment to advancing shared prosperity, creating resilient economies, and improving quality of life.

Overview Who We Are How We Work Partner Collaborations Our Supporters Our Team Job Opportunities Contact Us
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Made up of small towns, mid-sized communities, and urban commercial districts, the thousands of organizations, individuals, volunteers, and local leaders that make up Main Street America™ represent the broad diversity that makes this country so unique.

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Small Business Grants

Supporting Economic VItality for Small Business Owners

Supporting economically vulnerable and under-resourced small businesses with community reach.

Backing Small Businesses presented by American Express

Program Overview

In partnership with American Express, the Backing Small Businesses grant program supports economically vulnerable and under-resourced small businesses with community reach and/​or cultural significance. This year, eligible small business owners could apply for $10,000 grants for projects that grow or improve their businesses by building community, supporting their economic viability, or bolstering meaningful change.

In 2021, American Express and Main Street America created the Backing Small Businesses* grant program to help under-resourced and economically vulnerable small business owners recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and grow their businesses. In its first year, the program awarded $1.65 million in grants to 330 small business owners nationwide, and in its second year the program awarded over $2.3 million in grants to an additional 350 businesses.

In its third year, the program will increase grants awarded and double total funding to more than $5.7 million to further support under-resourced and economically vulnerable small business owners in building their economic vitality and fostering a thriving community. In March 2024, applications opene for 500 small business grants of $10,000 to eligible businesses in the U.S. and U.S. territories.

Of the 500 recipients selected for $10,000 grants, a limited subset of 25 recipients will be awarded $30,000 Enhancement Grants, which will allow those business owners the opportunity to create transformative change within their business and in their community (for example, by giving back, partnering with community members, addressing cultural, environmental and/​or access needs in their community, opening a new location and/​or adding staffing). Recipients of the $10,000 grant will be required to submit a final grant report using a template provided. In addition to questions regarding the completed project, the report will include prompts on how the business would use the $30,000 Enhancement Grant. Enhancement Grant project proposals can be related to the $10,000 grant proposal or they may constitute a separate project.

Please note that project proposals for the $10,000 grant application should be feasible to complete with only the $10,000 award. The $30,000 Enhancement Grants are available only to recipients of the initial $10,000 grant who successfully complete their projects. Enhancement Grant project proposals are completed separately, through the final grant report for the initial $10,000 grant.


Applications are now closed.


Program Background

This program marks the latest effort in American Express’ Backing Small” initiative to provide financial support and resources to independent small business owners who are serving their communities. Other Backing Small programs include Backing Historic Small Restaurants and Backing International Historic Small Restaurants. Backing Small complements American Express’ Shop Small, a global year-round movement to champion small, independent businesses.

Backing Small Businesses is one of many grant programs administered by Main Street America that are designed to enhance economic vitality and foster entrepreneurship in historic neighborhoods and commercial districts. For more information about funding opportunities through Main Street America and its partner organizations, please see our other funding opportunities here.


What do we mean by Community Reach”?

A small business with community reach is involved in and critical to the surrounding community or serves a cultural- or ability-specific need. These businesses are often long-standing or legacy businesses that provide continuity and a sense of identity to a neighborhood or specific cultural group. Businesses with community reach have also been intentional about developing core values and a business model that supports their communities or addresses an acute community need. For example, a business that regularly hosts free concerts featuring local artists, or a shop that provides goods or services that uniquely serve a customer base in the community. 


Eligibility & Review Criteria

What types of businesses are eligible?

Businesses must meet the following criteria to apply:

  • The applicant must be an owner of the business.
  • The applicant must be at least age 18 years or older.
  • The business must be in a bricks-and-mortar” location and operate in an older or historic main street, downtown, or commercial district in the United States. The business must have occupied their current bricks-and-mortar location since January 1, 2024. (Home-based businesses, even those located in historic neighborhoods, are not eligible. Brick and mortar businesses located outside of historic downtowns and commercial corridors, including, but not limited to, office parks and shopping malls are also not eligible.)
  • The business must be an independent business and not part of a franchise.
  • The business must employ 20 or less full time employees.
  • The business must have been in operation on or before January 12023.
  • The business must be a business entity in good standing in the state in which it was formed and the state in which it does business.
  • The business must have an active business license, if required by state or local government. (Applicants may be asked to provide documentation if selected.)
What types of grant expenses are eligible?

Eligible grant expenses include but are not limited to:

  • Accessibility Upgrades (Examples: ramp, menu translation, accessible website redesign for visually impaired people, etc.)
  • Community Events and Programs (Examples: open mic night, public educational/​training workshops, hosting community fund raisers, partnerships with other small businesses)
  • Equipment and Inventory (Examples: point of sale device/​software, purchasing of items for sale, display cases, kitchen equipment)
  • Marketing (Examples: investing in social media campaign, building a website, etc.)
  • Operational Strategy (Examples: branding package, accounting software, business coaching, and other types of support that would increase the viability of your business)
  • Physical Improvements (Examples: signage, awnings, painting facade, new shelving, new lighting, etc.)
  • Sustainability Upgrades (Examples: solar panels, rain garden adjacent to business, investing in reusable/​compostable/​recyclable packaging alternatives, etc.)
  • Technology Upgrades (Examples: building an online storefront, online ordering system, or other e‑commerce platform)
  • Utilities (Note: Must not be more than $2000 or 20% of the requested funds)

Note that payroll expenses are not eligible.

How will judges determine recipients?

Applications will be reviewed based on:

  • Feasibility:
    • Proposed project must be completed with $10,000 grant by September 92024.
  • Need
    • What are the business’s net sales?
    • What are some of the systemic challenges the business is facing? Applicants will be asked to explain the context of the business. For example: is the business experiencing skilled staffing shortages, supply chain issues, and/​or high bank loan interest rates?
  • Impact
    • Applicants should demonstrate both need for financial support and viability of their business to successfully make an impact with a grant. How much will a grant impact the business itself in leveraging sales, grow their customer base, or better sustain the business in some way?
  • Community Reach:
    • How involved is the applicant’s small business in their community?
    • How much would the business serve a community-specific need through a grant?



Informational Webinar


How to Apply

The application period is now closed.

Program Timeline

  • Applications Open on March 142024 
  • Applications Close on April 7, 2024 (or when maximum submissions of 5,000 applications is reached, so early submitting is encouraged) 
  • Grant Recipients Notified by mid-June 2024 
  • Grant Reports Due by September 162024



Small Business Resources


Community Partners

About the Community Partners

CARE

CARE works to save lives, defeat poverty, achieve social justice, and fight for women and girls. Learn about CARE.

Center for Community Progress

The Center for Community Progress is the only national nonprofit dedicated to comprehensively tackling vacant properties. Since 2010, Community Progress has provided urban, suburban, and rural communities battling systemic vacancy with the policies, tools, and resources needed to address the full cycle of property revitalization. Learn about the Center for Community Progress here. 

Disability:IN

Disability:IN is the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide. Learn about Disability:IN.

HIAS Economic Development Fund

EAF provides refugee entrepreneurs access to financial products and services that promote economic opportunity. Learn more.

Hispanic Federation

Hispanic Federation is the nation’s premier Latino nonprofit membership organization that empowers the Hispanic community. Learn more.

National ACE

National ACE serves as a strong advocate for AANHPI small business owners across the country. Learn more.

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development assists Native American tribes and businesses with business and economic development. Learn about NCAIED here. 

Small Business Majority

Small Business Majority is a national small business organization that empowers America’s diverse entrepreneurs to build a thriving and equitable economy. Learn more.

Syracuse University D'Aniello Institute for Veterans & Military Families | Bunker Labs

Bunker Labs provides community, programs, and courses to help military veterans and military spouses start and grow successful businesses and startups. Bunker Labs was acquired by Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans & Military Families January 1, 2024. The strategic endeavor brings together two organizations dedicated to supporting veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs with the goal of enhancing the overall reach and impact of entrepreneurial success within these communities. Learn more.

National LGBT Chamber of Commerce

The largest advocacy organization dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBTQ people, and the exclusive certifying body for LGBTQ-owned businesses. Learn more.


Presented By


Questions?

Contact SmallBizGrant@​mainstreet.​org

or call 3126105613 and leave a voicemail with any other questions. Please allow up to two (2) full business days to respond to all inquiries.

Main Street America (the National Main Street Center) has partnered with American Express to launch the Backing Small Businesses (the Backing Small Businesses grant program”) which is administered by Main Street America. All Applications become the sole property of the Sponsor and information from the Applications may be provided to American Express. Please review the Main Street America privacy policy here.

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