Small Business

No Federal Grant for Disabled Entrepreneurs


The SBA offers a variety of loan guarantee programs, and your startup might be a candidate for government contracting work

I had to retire due to the physical disability resulting from an ongoing bout with cancer. I've been entrepreneurial my entire career, having started several businesses and managed others. I always had adequate funding in the past, but now all of my "money" contacts and friends do not want to invest money with me because of my disability. I want to start a small mail-order business, and I'm fully competent and experienced to do so, but I can't find investors. Is there government grant money available for disabled entrepreneurs? —N.W., North Hollywood, Calif.

The U.S. Small Business Administration does not give grants to start up or operate small businesses. However, it does offer a wide variety of loan guarantee programs that can help entrepreneurs get business loans from participating banks. You can get more information on loan eligibility at the SBA Web site.

Your new company might be a candidate for government contracting work. Check out the SBA's Small Disadvantaged Business Certification Program, known as the 8(a) Program. Companies that are majority-owned by individuals from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and who can also prove that they are economically disadvantaged, can qualify for an 8(a) certification that allows them to participate in government contracting and set-aside programs.

According to the SBA's Web site, you might qualify for certification as someone with a physical handicap if you can also show that you are economically disadvantaged: "Under the Small Business Act, certain presumed groups include African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Native Americans, and Subcontinent Asian Americans. Other individuals can be admitted to the program if they show through a 'preponderance of the evidence' that they are disadvantaged because of race, ethnicity, gender, physical handicap, or residence in an environment isolated from the mainstream of American society. In order to meet the economic disadvantage test, all individuals must have a net worth of less than $250,000, excluding the value of the business and personnel residence."

You can apply to the 8(a) Program by contacting any SBA district office. The contact information for California regional offices is available here.

If your new business will offer services or products for persons with disabilities, you might find grant opportunities available from nonprofit foundations, says Cynthia Waddell, executive director of the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (BusinessWeek.com, 12/17/07). "But these foundations tend to not fund startups or infrastructure building, and focus on supporting an existing business or expansion of a particular service for persons with disabilities," Waddell says. She also recommends that you contact the American Association of People with Disabilities for information and assistance.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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