Small Business Tips and Tools

All Your Hello Alice Small Business Grant Questions Answered

April 8, 2022
10 min read

Hello Alice hosts grant programs to connect small business owners with the funding they need to respond to disasters, expand their impact, and grow their bottom line. 

We recognize that not everyone has applied for a grant before, and the process can seem confusing to first-time applicants. That’s why Hello Alice’s Senior Manager of Marketing Danielle Telleria recently sat down with Director of Grants Administration Jenee Fortier to answer some common questions.

Before working at Hello Alice, Jenee worked in government at both the state and local levels, managing federal, county, state, local, and private foundations. She is a well-seasoned pro on grant programs at large—and now, especially on Hello Alice grant programs. 

Hello Alice Small Business Grants FAQ

Below, we’ve included the full recording of the virtual Q&A. Alternatively, you can read through the transcribed responses to frequently asked questions about Hello Alice small business grants that follow. Please note that her responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What is a small business grant?

A small business grant offers money for small businesses to use on behalf of their small business.

What are the different types of small business grants?

There are all different types of grants. Public grants come from government institutions. Private grants come from nonprofits, foundations, or what we might call enterprise partners.

A good example is FedEx, which has been running its own small business grant program for quite a long time. It’s pretty rare to find foundation or nonprofit grants that allow for-profit businesses to apply for their grants. For the most part, if you’re in the small business space, you’re going to be looking at government grants and contracts, or coming to Hello Alice to find out what funding we have available for small businesses.

Are grants like loans? What’s the difference?

No, grants are definitely not like loans. A loan is an agreement where you’re borrowing funding with a promise to pay it back with certain terms associated, like interest rates. Typically, grants are just cash funding going to you for a specific purpose. You don’t have to pay it back.

What can you spend Hello Alice small business grant money on? 

For the most part, our grant programming through our partners is what’s called “unrestricted”. That means you can literally use it on anything for your small business in any way that supports the work that you do on a day-to-day basis.

Every once in a while, they might ask that that funding be utilized for a very specific purpose.

Examples of this might include COVID relief, capital expenses, or growth. But at the end of the day, it’s dollars that get deposited directly into your business bank account to support your business activities.

Where does the money for Hello Alice small business grants come from?

Our grants team helps facilitate grant programs on behalf of our partners. The Amazons, eBays, and DoorDashes of the world utilize our services and skillset to help them administer and deliver solid, equitable grant programming.

What is the application process like for a Hello Alice grant?

At Hello Alice, we’ve tried really hard to make this as easy for you as possible.

We’re mostly asking a bunch of drop-down questions. Usually, this part takes you 5 to 10 minutes at a maximum. But then there is the narrative section that requires freeform answers of up to 250 words. The narrative responses are by far the most important part of your application.

Before you submit, go back to your narrative and make sure you’ve answered thoroughly. It might take you only 30 minutes to type out your responses, but I highly recommend you let someone else look at them and review them. Give yourself the time to really make sure that that is exactly what you want to say.

Our team only looks at what’s in your application. They might have really strong feelings about you and love your product, but if you didn’t answer the questions fully and properly, we can’t evaluate anything beyond that.

What should someone do if they’re experiencing tech problems with their application?

When I have these issues, I call my in-house tech support, which is my boyfriend who has worked for tech companies for a very long time. If you can’t do that, you can always email [email protected].

Do small business owners need have to pay to apply?

Absolutely not. Unfortunately, we live in a world with some creative individuals who are looking to get your money in very nefarious ways. I cannot think of a point in my career where I’ve seen that you have to pay to apply for a grant. That is a terrible practice, and I would be very hesitant to tell you to do that.

If you come across something claiming that for a Hello Alice grant program, please let us know through social media or email us at [email protected].

Can I edit my application after it’s submitted? Or is the party over as soon as I send it in?

Unfortunately, the party’s over. When we receive 40,000 applications for a single grant, it’s logistically overwhelming to make edits. That’s why it’s super important to give yourself time before you hit that submit button. I will say, however, to not keep yourself up at night over typos. I read right past those. Honestly, it’s about substance, and it’s about the quality of your response—not spelling.

Does Hello Alice save my application details to re-use for future grant applications?

We sure do. We save basic information such as demographics or information about your business to apply to your next application. Still, I recommend that you double-check that everything is still current before submitting a new application.

Does applying early help your chances of being selected?

No, it does not. We’re not looking at your application until the final deadline has passed.

How long does the review process take for Hello Alice small business grants?

The review process can take a long time. The first round of our Small Business Growth Fund received more than 40,000 submitted applications. My team of little rabbits was out there doing their best to get that reviewed and handled as quickly as possible. Please bear in mind that we don’t look at applications until they close because everyone deserves the same amount of time. Then it’s going to take a minimum of four weeks to get all those applications reviewed and have everything go through the vetting process.

After someone applies, how long does it take for them to be notified of whether they were selected?

If you applied on day one and the application is still open for six weeks, it means that you’re not going to hear about us about it until a few weeks after the application closes. You can see the timeline for a specific grant program at the top of the program’s terms and conditions page. (This will be linked somewhere on the application form).

Who selects recipients for Hello Alice small business grants?

It depends on the program. Sometimes our partner is heavily involved. UBS, for example, wanted their employees to be engaged in the process, so their employees are the ones that read the applications and score them. Other partners need support from Hello Alice, so we have a team of volunteers to do that. Some of those volunteers are people at organizations that support small businesses with a deep understanding of entrepreneurship. We also have Hello Alice employees who are committed to supporting small businesses and understand what it means to be a small business owner.

They’re all using the same criteria the same scorebooks, the same information. They’ve all been oriented to the program and understand what it is that we’re looking for. Most of all, they all have some understanding of what it means to be a small business owner or have been a part of the entrepreneurial journey. It is always a human — always a real person — reading your applications.

How many grant recipients does Hello Alice have? Do people really get the money?

Thousands of individuals have! Every program has a different number of recipients. This is because different programs have different budgets, and they each have different sort of goals. In 2021, we supported more than 2,100 individual businesses. So far this year, there are going to be at least 1,000 more. That number will go up as we scope new partner grant programs throughout 2022, and we even have some programs already committed for 2023. I promise you we have some really, really incredible business owners that have won these grants, and you could absolutely be the next one!

What does it mean if you apply for a grant but are not selected?

I hear people’s frustrations when they email me or our customer support team saying they’ve applied for eight grants and I haven’t received a single one. As frustrating as that might be, there might be a really good reason. Often an owner might not have been eligible for that grant to begin with. 

Additionally, just because you didn’t win the grant doesn’t mean you might not have gained a new customer. I cannot tell you how many products I have purchased because I have been reading applications. There’s a very good chance that if you go through your recent sales, Jenee Fortier might have popped up. The same goes for the team of volunteer reviewers.

How does someone know if they qualify for Hello Alice small business grants?

Every grant program is different. At Hello Alice, we’ve tried to make that easy to determine by reading the terms and conditions for each grant. I know no one wants to read those things, but there are a couple of sections in there that are super, super important. Each grant has a section on eligibility, and you really want to read that very carefully and take that very seriously.

If it says that your business must be 51% or more owned and operated by female entrepreneurs, you really are not eligible for the grant if you are not 51% owned and operated by a female entrepreneur. If it says that your business has to have been started prior to 2021, you really are not eligible if you opened your doors yesterday.

I encourage everyone to watch the Pro Tips Workshop that we held in September 2021. In that workshop, I gave some examples of things to look for and where to find that bit of information.

What’s the one thing that someone could do to write a stronger application?

Be personal and connect with the reader. I know it’s hard to be vulnerable, but there is a lot of research to show that venture capital and investments are more likely to go to individuals when there is that personal connection. We obviously can’t meet, but think about something that tells me about the human impact of your business. Really dive into your origin story. I’m sure that there is a reason why you started this business, and I’m sure there’s a reason that you get up every day and keep working as hard as you do. Tell us what that is!

Another strategy is to think about other ways in which you can demonstrate to us with words who you are, what your product or service is, and why we should support you. We know you have big dreams. Tell us what those are and how they will make a positive impact on the world.

Are there any considerations to make when applying for specific grant programs?

Absolutely. You want to tailor it to the partner. Scroll back up to the top of the grant application and read the program description and think about what that program is looking for.

If there’s a section that describes the ideal candidate, think about how you match that ideal candidate profile, and then make sure that you’ve included those little nuggets in your narrative. Make Jenee’s job difficult — make it hard for me to make a decision!

What would you say to someone who wasn’t selected and feels defeated about applying for their next grant opportunity?

Do it again! I’m sure that you have had moments in your business career and in your journey where you felt sort of knocked back off your feet. But you’ve found the strength to get up and keep going, and you tried again until you were successful. Again, there are benefits to having applied the first time. You might get some customers, or you might have learned more about yourself and how to improve your mission statement.

Hello Alice employees are also reading your applications, so whether you’re selected or not, we find folks to participate in some of the amazing things that Danielle does. Lots of non-recipients are featured on our weekly Owning It Instagram series or get featured on our blog. So there are all kinds of benefits to submitting an application, even if you’re not selected as a recipient.

Hello Alice partners with companies to provide grants, but they’re hosted on Hello Alice. Can you clarify how that works?

We have grants that we feature or sponsor directly, and then the ones that we have collected from the Internet through our tools to share with you on our Small Business Funding Center. Sometimes, you come to Hello Alice website and you’ll find an external grant opportunity that takes you away from the site. FedEx would be a good example — you’re going to FedEx’s website to apply for that grant. Hello Alice has no control, and we’re not a sponsor of that grant program.

On the other hand, if you go to an application that is hosted inside of Hello Alice, that means that we have worked directly with a partner to administer that program. For example, we partnered with UBS to host the Democratizing the Friends & Family Round grant. We helped to build that application for them, collected those applications, and then worked with UBS to help review and select those recipients.

If you ever leave the Hello Alice website, you’re going to an external opportunity that we have just shared with you, but we don’t have any control over that particular program.

What is Hello Alice’s relationship with the Small Business Administration (SBA)?

The SBA is a federal office that provides resources to small business owners across the entire U.S. They’re the ones that issued some of the COVID relief, and for the most part the SBA is responsible for loans. Hello Alice, on the other hand, is a private entity working to support small businesses in our own way. Our partnership with the SBA means they lean on us from time to time. Maybe they don’t necessarily have a team of engineers that are helping them to build out websites and tools, whereas we do. That would be one of the many reasons why the SBA partners with us, though we are absolutely separate entities.

How does Hello Alice use some of the data that’s included in applications?

The most obvious way is to review your grant application. We’re going to check to make sure that you meet all the eligibility criteria. We’re also going to check to make sure that the grantee pool is in line with the applicant pool. For example, I’m using that demographic information to make sure that we are being equitable in our grantmaking. I want to make sure that everyone has had a fair chance to receive a grant and we haven’t accidentally excluded Asian applicants for some reason. 

Additionally, we look at your data in aggregate and anonymously to understand what’s happening in the world of small business owners. That’s how we pick up on trends and make sure that we’re providing the most relevant resources. For example, thousands of business owners complete our grant applications. We then take everyone’s responses to questions asking about their top business goals and top business challenges and track them over time to see how they change. That information affects who Hello Alice hires and what resources we offer. An example is that folks are really looking for help with marketing. That means that we at Hello Alice can think we need to start really looking at opportunities for our small business owners to connect with brand awareness and marketing resources. This is about providing you the most relevant resources, information, and services.

Last question. We get a lot of questions about opportunities for businesses in the idea stage or businesses located outside the U.S. What does Hello Alice offer for these groups?

Again, it depends on the program. KKR Small Business Builders is a good example of a Hello Alice program offering grants to a handful of international countries. That said, our main focus and the majority of our audience are U.S.-based businesses. Sometimes our opportunities target early-stage companies or businesses with a specific product focus, too. Always read the eligibility criteria closely.

A great thing about Hello Alice is that we collect lots of third-party opportunities and organizations that might fund your business. You can look at the Founder Institute, which has investment funding and accelerator opportunities for international founders. 500 Startups is another organization for international founders. I also recommend Startup of the Year and finally Kiva to find partners to access things like microloans or other lending opportunities for international businesses.

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