10 Jul Grants Available to Maine Businesses
As a growing company, it’s important to consider a range of ways to finance your business. These typically include bootstrapping (self-funding), debt (loans) and equity (taking money from angel investors, venture capital firms or other private investors in exchange for a share of your company). But grants may be an option for your business as well. While we typically think of grants going to non-profits, a number of Maine organizations make them to select for-profit businesses as well. Here’s our roundup of the main sources of grants available to Maine businesses. Not all of these make sense for all businesses; some are restricted by industry, and some are targeted to younger entrepreneurs.
Organizations that make grants to Maine businesses
MTI is the first stop for many Maine tech firms seeking financing. A nonprofit formed by the Maine Legislature in 1999, MTI’s mandate is to promote research and development that brings new products to commercial reality. Part of that work includes making grants to businesses, including both companies as well as startups that are not yet incorporated. MTI’s many grant options include those below, and more on the MTI website:
- TechStart grants: up to $5,000, awarded monthly on a rolling basis, for purposes included intellectual property filings, market research and developing business plans.
- Seed Grants: up to $25,000, awarded three times a year, for prototype development and testing, field trials, technology transfer activity, and other work.
- Accelerator Grants: up to $50,000, awarded monthly on a rolling basis. These grants are earmarked for companies that have already been chosen for funding under the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program or are executing a Development Loan (DL) program.
- Cluster Initiative Program Grants: up to $50,000 (for planning, pilot and feasibility study projects) or $500,000 (for implementation); applications accepted anytime and awarded on a rolling basis. Earmarked for projects that advance industry clusters that MTI has identified as having high growth potential.
- Alliance for Maine’s Marine Economy Capital Grants: from $25,000 to $500,000, for select business in the the aquaculture, fisheries and marine sectors.
Many of MTI’s grants are restricted to seven industries: information technology, precision manufacturing, biotechnologies, composites & advanced materials, environmental technologies, forest products & agriculture and marine technology & aquaculture. See their website for more info.
Libra Future Fund, a nonprofit affiliated with and funded by Maine’s Libra Foundation, was formed in 2005. Seeking to help keep young people in Maine, the Libra Future Fund makes grants to entrepreneurs in the 18-29 age range. Unlike MTI, the Libra Future Fund does not restrict its grants to particular industries; it has funded software companies and medical device manufacturers as well as food makers, a barber shop and a surfboard company. Grant amounts are capped at $5,000 and can be used for market research, prototype development, securing trademarks or other Intellectual Property (including legal and filing fees), among other things. To receive a grant, a business does not need to be formally organized as a corporation or a limited liability company; many recipients are solo entrepreneurs.
Libra Future Fund President & Treasurer Erik Hayward encourages applicants to give thought to the financial projections they will include with their applications. “One or two years out [from receiving a grant], where will the company be?” Erik also notes that the Libra Future Fund has a bias toward businesses that have a scalable model; the mission of the Fund, after all, includes creating and keeping jobs in Maine.
Libra Future Fund also offers another benefit to startup companies in Maine: the free use of co-working space at its scenic Pineland Farms center in New Gloucester, including wifi and parking. This service is not limited to the Fund’s grant recipients, and is not restricted to businesses in the 18-29 age range. More info here.
Maine Quality Centers at Maine Community College System
The Maine Quality Centers provide customized workforce training grants to companies that are expanding their Maine operations, relocating to Maine, or training their employees.
Startup Pitch Competitions
Each year, Maine startups have a variety of startup pitch contests from which to choose. Most, if not all, offer cash grants to winners. These contests include:
- Gorham Savings Bank’s Launchpad: $50,000 grand prize, plus a separate package of a $10,000 cash grant plus $10,000 in donated services.
- Top Gun, the annual business accelerator program run by the nonprofit Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, provides a $25,000 grant to the winner of its grand finale showcase. Apply in October of each year to join the Top Gun program.
Other government grants
Finally, the Grants.gov website can help you navigate more federal, state and local government grants that may be available to you.
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A word on financial plans: as Libra Future Fund President Erik Hayward notes above, your chances of receiving a grant from his organization increase with the quality of the financial plans you submit with your application. This is good advice for any other grant application, too. For help developing your business’s financial projections, we recommend working with SCORE Portland, or the Women’s Business Center at Coastal Enterprises Inc., both of which offer free guidance to business owners. These are just two of the many free and low-cost organizations in Maine that help startups succeed.