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Top Small Business Grants in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Small Business Grants
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman
Sulaiman Abdur-RahmanUpdated September 27, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Wisconsin has about 460,000 small business owners statewide who can apply for small business grants. Submitting an application and competing for Wisconsin small business grants can help you grow your small or medium-sized enterprise in the Badger State.Wisconsin’s economy has a gross domestic product of $401.8 billion as of 2022. That’s the 21st largest GDP in the United States out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Small businesses contribute to the nation’s economy.Small and medium-sized firms exported about $6.6 billion worth of goods from Wisconsin in 2021, which ranks 17th in the nation out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau export data.Below we highlight some of the top small business grants in Wisconsin that you can explore.

Grants for Small Businesses in Wisconsin

If you’re looking for small business grants in Wisconsin, here are some potential options to consider:

Collaborative Market Access Grant

  • Program description: This program provides grants to eligible nonprofit organizations, industry associations, or economic development agencies that support export-ready businesses in Wisconsin. Export-ready companies can then receive a portion of the grant as pass-through financial assistance for increasing their exports.
  • Incentive: Economic development organizations can receive up to $150K for helping export-ready companies sell their goods abroad. Your business can then receive a portion of that grant — up to $15,000 — for increasing your total export volume. 
  • General requirements: Here are some of the general requirements for this grant:
    • Operate a Wisconsin-based company
    • Collaborate with an outside organization on a collaborative business project
    • Your collaborative project must be a viable solution for increasing your company’s export volume
    • The outside organization must demonstrate an administrative capacity to manage the project in collaboration with your company
  • How to apply: Contact the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) for application information.

International Market Access Grant

  • Program description: This program reimburses eligible Wisconsin businesses for expenses related to international business development, such as the costs of attending trade shows or growing your presence in foreign markets.
  • Incentive: Receive up to $10,000 in reimbursement for implementing an export project or up to $25K if your company completes the national ExporTech™ program
  • General requirements: Here are some of the general requirements for this grant:
    • Be a Wisconsin-based company in operation for at least a year
    • Manufacture, process, assemble or distribute a product or service with the potential to be exported
    • Be new to export or expand your export volume
    • Wisconsin cost inputs must make up at least 35% of the value of the product or service being exported
    • Agree to a 30% match of the grant funds received
    • Complete the ExporTech program to be eligible for the maximum grant award
  • How to apply: Contact the WEDC organization for application information.

Wisconsin Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) Micro-Grants

  • Program description: The Wisconsin CTC provides micro-grants to eligible technology and research-based Wisconsin businesses that intend to apply for Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) federal funds.
  • Incentive: Be reimbursed up to $4,500 for expenses related to developing a Phase I SBIR/STTR research and development proposal or Phase II SBIR/STTR commercialization plan.
  • General requirements: Here are some of the general requirements for these grants:
    • Be a research or technology business based in Wisconsin 
    • Intend to develop a Phase I SBIR/STTR research and development proposal or Phase II SBIR/STTR commercialization plan
    • Your SBIR/STTR technical proposal is vetted by a federal program officer who gives the go-ahead
  • How to apply: You can access the grant application portal through the Wisconsin CTC website.

Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP) Grant

  • Program description: The ETP grant covers most of the tuition costs of qualified applicants who participate in the ETP course offered at select University of Wisconsin campuses.
  • Incentive: Receive a grant covering 75% of the ETP course fee that typically costs $1,000, and receive training that can help you develop or improve your entrepreneurial business plan.
  • General requirements: Here are some of the general requirements for this grant:
    • Register for an Entrepreneurial Training Program course
    • Meet attendance requirements
    • Complete a satisfactory business plan within the given timeframe by the hosting UW campus
  • How to apply: Contact the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center if you wish to apply.

Wisconsin Fast Forward (WFF) Grants

  • Program description: This program can reimburse eligible employers who implement a workforce training program that provides trainees with transferable skills or industry-recognized credentials.
  • Incentive: Receive up to $400K in reimbursement for your training program expenses, such as the costs of curriculum development, instructor salaries, training materials, or supplies.
  • General requirements: Here are some of the general requirements for this grant if you’re a small business owner:
    • Be a Wisconsin-based employer or partnered with a Wisconsin-based employer
    • Propose a workforce training program
    • Provide trainees with workforce training in Wisconsin
    • Train economically disadvantaged individuals or people who are seeking higher wages and new opportunities
    • Be financially viable
    • Be current on all federal and state tax obligations
    • Match 50% of the amount of the grant with cash or in-kind contributions
  • How to apply: Apply online if and when the Wisconsin Fast Forward grants program reopens.

Who Provides Small Business Grants in Wisconsin?

State-funded organizations and the Office of Skills Development at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development offer a variety of small business grants in the Badger State.You can compare small business grants in Wisconsin with similar programs in other states, such as:

Do You Have to Pay Back a Small Business Grant?

A small business grant typically comes with terms and conditions, and you may be responsible for paying back the grant if you violate those terms. In general, small and midsized business owners are not required to pay back an SMB grant absent any violations.You typically have to sign a funding agreement to accept a small business grant. As mentioned above, the grant may come with certain conditions. Using the grant for an illegitimate purpose may violate the agreement and require business owners to pay back the grant.Small business grants may require you to spend the money by a certain date. You may also have to provide proof of payment and a written statement detailing how you’ve spent the grant.Recommended: How To Get a Small Business Grant

Who Is Eligible for Small Business Grants in Wisconsin?

Local business owners or operators of an enterprise with fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for small business grants in Wisconsin.The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy generally defines a small business as an independent business having fewer than 500 employees. A small business, including individuals with freelancing business ideas, may be eligible for small business grants.

What Industries Does Wisconsin Support With Grants?

Virtually all industry sectors in the Badger State can be eligible for Wisconsin small business grants, including:
  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Customer service
  • Financial services
  • Health care
  • Information technology
  • Manufacturing
  • Research and development in biotechnology
  • Scientific research and development services
  • Transportation, logistics, and distribution

Wisconsin Resources for SMB Owners Looking for Funding

Here are some resources for small and medium-sized businesses looking for funding in the Badger State:

Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

The Wisconsin SBDC is a statewide program that can provide Wisconsin’s small business owners with the following services:
  • Business training courses
  • Confidential business consulting at no cost
  • Specialized initiatives and webinars

SBA District Office in Wisconsin

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency that provides resources and support to small business owners. The SBA Wisconsin District Office has locations in Milwaukee and Madison, and both of those locations serve all 72 counties in the Badger State.

Alternative Funding Sources for Small Businesses in Wisconsin

Here are some alternative funding sources for small businesses in Wisconsin:

Wisconsin State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI)

Wisconsin’s SSBCI is a federally funded program for small business owners in the Badger State. Federal law — the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 — allocates nearly $80 million to Wisconsin’s State Small Business Credit Initiative program.Here’s how Wisconsin plans to use its SSBCI funding:
  • Wisconsin Forward Venture Fund — $25 million. This program will help eligible startups access venture capital
  • Wisconsin Forward Co-Investment Fund — $25 million. These funds will also help eligible businesses access venture capital.
  • WEDC Technology Development Fund — $8.1 million. This funding will expand WEDC’s Technology Development Loan program for eligible new businesses that need financing.
  • Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) Collateral Support Program — $6 million. This program will provide cash collateral to help eligible small business owners access credit.
  • WHEDA Subordinate Loan Participation Program — $6 million. This program uses SSBCI funds to expand Wisconsin’s loan participation. A loan participation program typically allows a state to partner with private lenders to support small business lending.
  • WEDC Capital Catalyst Fund — $6 million. This program will help Wisconsin provide matching funds to nonprofits that operate small business loan programs.
  • WHEDA Capital Access Program — $3 million. This program will promote small business lending activity in Wisconsin. WHEDA can use SSBCI matching funds to support portfolio insurance on small business loans.

Wisconsin Microloan Lenders

Community-based nonprofits may offer microloans of up to $50,000 to small business owners in Wisconsin, including microloans for women-owned small businesses. In general, microloans can range from $500 to $50K and may be available to startups.

Wisconsin SMB Loans from Private Lenders

Banks, credit unions, and private lenders may offer different types of small business loans to Wisconsin business owners.Here are some of the funding products you may consider depending on your needs:

Find Small Business Financing With Lantern

If you need funding to grow your business, Lantern by SoFi can help. Just fill out a simple form and find the right financing for your business.Lantern can help you find fast funding for your small or medium-sized enterprise.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get a small business grant in Wisconsin?
How hard is it to get a business loan in Wisconsin?
What is the easiest SBA loan to get approved for?
Photo credit: iStock/FG Trade

About the Author

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman writes about personal loans, auto loans, student loans, and other personal finance topics for Lantern. He’s the recipient of more than 10 journalism awards and served as a New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists board member. An alumnus of the Philadelphia-based Temple University, Abdur-Rahman is a strong advocate of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
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