Top Small Business Grants in Illinois

By Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman · May 22, 2024 · 10 minute read

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Top Small Business Grants in Illinois

Illinois has about 1.3 million small businesses that collectively employ 2.4 million people — more than 44% of the state’s private workforce. To help small businesses flourish in Illinois, the state offers a number of generous small business grants that can help entrepreneurs launch or grow their companies in the Prairie State. Unlike small business loans, grants typically don’t have to be repaid. While competition for Illinois grants can be stiff, here are five small business grants in Illinois you may want to explore.

Grants for Small Businesses in Illinois

If you’re looking for a small business grant to grow or start your business in Illinois, here are some options to consider.

Illinois Tourism Attraction Grant Program

•  Program description:The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) awards grants to for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, and other entities that develop and enhance Illinois tourism attractions.

•  Incentive: Businesses can receive matching grants ranging from $15.000 to $500,000 to help boost tourism in Illinois.

•  General requirements:

◦  Have a valid federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

◦  Propose a viable project that promotes sustainable economic growth and tourism in Illinois

◦  Have a current System for Award Management (SAM) registration

◦  Have a valid Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) number

◦  Be in good standing with the Illinois Secretary of State, as applicable

◦  Not listed on the Federal Excluded Parties List

◦  Not listed on the Illinois Stop Payment list

◦  Not listed on the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Provider Sanctions list

•  How to apply: Contact the DCEO if you’re interested in the Illinois Tourism Attraction Grant.

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Illinois Reproductive Health Facilities Capital Grant Program

•  Program description: Illinois offers matching grants to nonprofit and for-profit clinics providing or planning to provide pregnancy-related services in a clinical setting.

•  strong>Incentive: Receive grant awards ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 to help cover capital improvement expenses toward security enhancements or facility upgrades.

•  General requirements:

◦  Have employees, volunteers, or agents who are licensed healthcare professionals

◦  Provide or plan to provide abortion care as defined in the Illinois Reproductive Health Act, as well as one or more of the following pregnancy-related services:

■  Contraception and contraceptive counseling

■  Pregnancy testing

■  Pregnancy diagnosis

■  Pregnancy options counseling

■  Limited obstetric ultrasound

■  Obstetric ultrasound

■  Obstetric sonogram

■  Sexually transmitted infections testing

■  Prenatal care

◦  Have a valid federal EIN

◦  Have a current SAM registration

◦  Have a valid UEI number

◦  Be in good standing with the Illinois Secretary of State, as applicable

◦  Not listed on the Federal Excluded Parties List

◦  Not listed on the Illinois Stop Payment list

◦  Not listed on the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Provider Sanctions list

•  How to apply: You can access the Illinois Reproductive Health Facilities Capital Grant application on the DCEO website.

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Illinois Federal Grant Support Program

•  Program description: Illinois offers state-based financial assistance to eligible small businesses in Illinois that have also received federal grant awards.

•  Incentive: Receive state-based matching grants ranging from $10,000 to $2 million if you’ve also been approved for specific federal grant awards.

•  General requirements:

◦  Be an Illinois-based organization or business

◦  Be the primary applicant on a federal award application

◦  Have a project proposal where at least 51% of the total project activities occur in Illinois

◦  Have a valid federal EIN

◦  Have a current SAM registration

◦  Have a valid UEI number

◦  Be in good standing with the Illinois Secretary of State, as applicable

◦  Not listed on the Federal Excluded Parties List

◦  Not listed on the Illinois Stop Payment list

◦  Not listed on the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Provider Sanctions list

◦  Project must be eligible for a specified federal grant program

◦  You agree to provide matching funds toward the project

◦  Applicants for federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are ineligible for this grant but may be eligible for the DCEO’s separate Phase I SBIR/STTR Matching Grant Program

•  How to apply: You can access the Illinois Federal Grant Support Program application on the DCEO website.

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Chicago Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) Grants

•  Program description: Chicago SBIF grants can reimburse small business owners for some of the cost of renovating, remodeling, or improving the appearance and viability of eligible commercial properties in the Windy City.

•  Incentive: Receive up to $150,000 in reimbursements for making improvements to eligible commercial properties and up to $250,000 for enhancing eligible industrial properties in Chicago.

•  General requirements:

◦  Be the owner or tenant of an eligible Chicago business property located in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district where SBIF funds are available

◦  Have gross annual sales not exceeding $9 million on average over the previous three years if you’re a small business owner
Have a net worth not exceeding $9 million and liquid assets up to $500,000 if you’re a commercial property owner

◦  Have no more than 200 full-time employees if you’re an industrial business owner

◦  Make permanent building improvements to eligible commercial or industrial property in Chicago

◦  Operate an eligible business that’s not one of the following ineligible businesses:

■  Chain and franchise businesses

■  Branch banks

■  Day labor employment agencies

■  Currency exchanges, payday loan operations, or title secured loan stores

■  Pawn shops

■  Fortune telling services

■  Liquor stores and nightclubs

■  Adult uses

■  Track waging facilities

■  K–12 schools

■  Gas stations

■  Firearms dealers

■  Places of worship

■  Smoke shops and cigar lounges

■  Tobacco dealers, including sales of tobacco, nicotine, or similar products and accessories

■  Residential storage warehouses

■  Trailer-storage yards, junk yards, and similar uses

•  How to apply: Access the grant application online through SomerCor 504 Inc., the nonprofit that administers Chicago’s SBIF Grant Program. You can email your completed application to SomerCor.

Illinois State Trade and Export Promotion (ISTEP) Grants

•  Program description: ISTEP is a grant reimbursement program that can help you export your goods and services from Illinois to foreign markets.

•  Incentive: Receive up to $10,000 in reimbursements for eligible business expenses, including website translation and international trade show participation costs.

•  General requirements:

◦  Be an Illinois firm with headquarters or a substantial facility based within Illinois

◦  Be an active small business in existence for at least 12 months

◦  Be profitable with gross annual revenue of at least $250,000

◦  Have products or services that contain at least 51% U.S. and 25% Illinois content or that substantially contribute to Illinois job creation

•  How to apply: Access the ISTEP grant application and web submission form on the DCEO website. Companies applying for or receiving any other local, state, or federal grant funds associated with export promotion generally are not eligible for this grant.

Who Provides Small Business Grants in Illinois?

Local and state government agencies, including the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, offer a variety of small business grants in Illinois.

Do You Have to Pay Back a Small Business Grant?

Typically, no. Unlike small business loans, small business grants generally do not need to be paid back. However, that doesn’t mean there are no strings attached. Small business grants usually come with terms and conditions and require the recipient to sign a funding agreement. If for any reason you violate the terms of the grant, you may be responsible for paying back the funds.

In some cases, 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.

Who Is Eligible for Small Business Grants in Illinois?

Local business owners or operators of an enterprise with fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for small business grants in Illinois.

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 business with just a few employees, even self-employed individuals, may also be eligible for small business grants.

What Industries Does Illinois Support With Grants?

Illinois offers grants supporting a variety of industries, including:

•  Manufacturing

•  Reproductive health clinics

•  Retail trade (store and nonstore retailers)

•  Tourism

Illinois Resources for SMB Owners Looking for Funding

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

Illinois Small Business Development Centers (SBDC)

Illinois Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) are located throughout the state and provide resources for startups and existing small businesses, including:

•  Business training seminars and webinars

•  Marketing research

•  One-on-one business advice and management assistance

SBA District Office in Illinois

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency that provides resources and support to small business owners. The SBA Illinois District Office serves the entire Prairie State with a main office in Chicago and satellite office in Springfield.

Alternative Funding Sources for Small Businesses in Illinois

If you don’t qualify for small business grants in Illinois, you’re not necessarily out of funding options. Here are some other ways you may be able to get the capital you need to launch or grow your business in Illinois.

Illinois Microloan Lenders

Community-based nonprofits may offer microloans of anywhere from $500 to $50,000 to underserved small business owners in New York, such as women and minorities. Interest rates tend to be low (even zero in some cases), and the qualification criteria are often less stringent compared with other business loans.

Microloans can provide an infusion of cash to get a startup off the ground or grow an existing business. However, you may need to provide a microlender with a personal guarantee and collateral in order to secure funding.

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Illinois SMB Term Loans from Private Lenders

Banks, credit unions, and other private lenders may offer business term loans to Illinois business owners. With a term loan, you receive a lump sum of cash up front and repay it over a set period of time, often up to 10 years.

Banks typically require applicants to have at least two years of business history and strong financials, while online alternative lenders generally have more flexible qualification requirements (rates, however, tend to be higher).

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SBA loans for New York Businesses

An SBA loan is a type of SMB loan that is partially guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration and offered by banks and other lenders. Loan amounts range from $500 to $5.5 million.

With an SBA loan, the federal government guarantees to repay most of the loan amount if a borrower defaults. This reduces risk to the lender and encourages them to offer loans to companies they might not otherwise work with. For small business owners who can’t qualify for a traditional business loan, an SBA loan can be a good option.

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Business Lines of Credit

A business line of credit is a flexible small business financing option that allows you to borrow money on an as-needed basis up to a predetermined amount. Similar to a credit card, you pay interest only on the money you’ve drawn. Once you’ve repaid your funds, you can draw on your line again.

Business credit lines are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

Equipment Loans

If your business needs money to purchase equipment or machinery, equipment financing may be a good option. The equipment you purchase serves as collateral for the loan. Since this lowers risk for the lender, equipment financing often comes with competitive interest rates. Many banks and online lenders will offer financing that covers the full cost of equipment.

The Takeaway

Small businesses in Illinois have a range of options when it comes to grants, whether it’s from a state or local government or private source.

If you’re seeking financing for your business, SoFi can help. On SoFi’s marketplace, you can shop top providers today to access the capital you need. Find a personalized business financing option today in minutes.

With SoFi’s marketplace, it’s fast and easy to search for your small business financing options.


How do you get a small business grant in Illinois?

To find a small business grant in Illinois, you might start by contacting the state’s Economic Development Administration and your local Small Business Development Center. You typically need to submit a grant application as a qualified small business owner to be considered for a small business grant in Illinois.

How hard is it to get a business loan in Illinois?

You typically need to have been in business for at least two years and have strong financials to qualify for a business loan from a bank. Online alternative lenders tend to have more flexible qualification criteria but generally charge higher interest rates.

What is the easiest SBA loan to get approved for?

There’s no guarantee you’ll get approved for any SBA loan, but SBA microloans may be one of the easier ones to get if you’re a new business owner. Startups may be eligible for SBA microloans of up to $50,000. If you’re looking for a streamlined application process, you may want to look into an SBA Express loan.

Photo credit: iStock/AsiaVision

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