Backing Small Businesses

Supporting economically vulnerable business owners

In 2021, American Express and Main Street America created the Backing Small Businesses* grant program to help economically vulnerable small business owners recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and grow their businesses. In its first year, the program provided $1.65 million in grants to more than 300 small business owners across the country.

Now in its second year, the program will increase the number of grants awarded and total funding to more than $2.3 million to further support small business owners in building their economic vitality and fostering a thriving community. On March 20, 2023, applications will open for 350 small business grants of $5,000 to eligible businesses in the U.S. and territories. 

Robert Capone, owner of Capone’s Hoagies in Newkirk, OK, was a grant recipient in the third cycle of Backing Small Businesses. The third cycle provided grants to small business owners who identify as women, nonbinary people, and U.S. Veterans. Photo courtesy of Capone’s Hoagies.

Elisa Lyew, owner of Elisa’s Love Bites in New York, NY, was a grant recipient in the fourth cycle of Backing Small Businesses. The fourth cycle provided grants to small business owners who identify as Native or Indigenous, Hispanic or Latinx, LGBTQIA+, or immigrants, refugees, or forcibly displaced. Photo courtesy of Elisa’s Love Bites Dessert Atelier.

NEW! $25,000 Enhancement Grants

If you are awarded a $5,000 grant through this program, your business may be eligible to be considered for an additional $25,000 Enhancement Grant! All grant recipients will be required to submit a final grant report using a simple template provided. The report will include questions regarding how the grant money was spent plus additional questions about how the business could use additional funding to either expand on their small business grant project or fund a separate project. You will need to showcase how, if selected, the project would further improve the business, while providing goods or services that address cultural, environmental, and/or access needs in the local community. A limited subset of 25 grantees will be selected to receive the additional $25,000 Enhancement Grant.

Enhancement Grant Project Examples:

  • Community educational event to celebrate a historical or cultural moment that is meaningful to the neighborhood
  • Partnering with a charity to provide meals in a food security program for the community 
  • Partnering with local artists for a community event or mural 
  • Language translation of menus or websites to be more inclusive 
  • Innovations to reduce food waste or improve sustainability

What types of businesses are eligible?

Businesses must meet the following criteria to apply:

  • The applicant must be an owner of the business.
  • The applicant must be at least age 18 years or older.
  • The business must be at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by small business owners who identify as:
    • Asian American and/or Pacific Islander
    • Black and/or African American
    • Hispanic and/or Latinx
    • Immigrants, Refugees, and/or Forcibly Displaced
    • Members of the LGBTQIA+ Community
    • Middle Eastern and/or North African
    • Native and/or Indigenous
    • People with Disabilities
    • Veterans
    • Women

For data showing how the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionately negative impact on minority-owned small business owners, please click here.

  • The business is in a "brick-and-mortar" location and operate in an older or historic main street, downtown, or commercial district in the United States. (Home-based businesses, even those located in historic neighborhoods, are not eligible. Brick-and-mortar businesses located outside of historic downtowns and commercial corridors, including, but not limited to, office parks and shopping malls are also not eligible.)
  • The business is an independent business and not part of a franchise.
  • The business must employ less than 20 full-time employees.
  • The business has been in operation since January 1, 2022.
  • The business must be a business entity in good standing in the state in which it was formed and the state in which it does business.
  • The business has an active business license in the state where you do business.

What types of grant expenses are eligible?

Eligible grant expenses include but are not limited to:

  • Accessibility Upgrades (Examples: ramp, menu translation, accessible website redesign for visually impaired people, etc.)
  • Community Events and Programs (Examples: open mic night, public educational/training workshops, hosting community fundraisers, partnerships with other small businesses)
  • Equipment and Inventory (Examples: point of sale device/software, purchasing of items for sale, display cases, kitchen equipment)
  • Marketing (Examples: investing in social media campaign, building a website, etc.)
  • Operational Strategy (Examples: branding package, accounting software, business coaching, and other types of support that would increase the viability of your business)
  • Physical Improvements (Examples: signage, awnings, painting facade, new shelving, new lighting, etc.)
  • Sustainability Upgrades (Examples: solar panels, rain garden adjacent to business, investing in reusable/compostable/recyclable packaging alternatives, etc.)
  • Technology Upgrades (Examples: building an online storefront, online ordering system, or other e-commerce platform)
  • Rent and utilities

Applications are open through April 7, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. CT.


Program Timeline

  • Applications Open on March 20, 2023
  • Applications Close on April 7, 2023
  • $5,000 Grant Recipients Notified in June 2023
  • Grant Reports Due by September 15, 2023
  • $25,000 Enhancement Grants Announced in October 2023

Informational Webinar

Update to application requirements: Applicants may choose between submitting an active business license or an up-to-date certificate of good standing. Only one of these documents is required, and you may choose which of these two types of documents you wish to upload in your application.

Past Grant Cycles

Cycle 1: Provided grants to both small business owners with disabilities and/or those who identify as Asian, Asian American, and/or Pacific Islander. Learn about the recipients here.

Cycle 2: Provided grants to personal services businesses. Learn about the recipients here.

Cycle 3: Provided grants to businesses owned by women, nonbinary people, and U.S. Veterans. Learn about the recipients here.

Cycle 4: Provided grants to small business owners who identify as Native or Indigenous, Hispanic or Latinx, LGBTQ+ or as immigrants, refugees or forcibly displaced. Learn about the recipients here.

Small Business Resources

Backing Small Businesses is one of many Backing Small programs American Express has launched to support small businesses. Others include the Coalition to Back Black Businesses and Backing Historic Small Restaurants. More information and resources about American Express' support for minority-owned small businesses can be found here.

Main Street America will provide training and resources to support small businesses that apply for the program, including:

• Specialized marketing webinars delivered by Main Street America topic experts.

• Free admission to upcoming small business training provided by Main Street America.

• Dedicated resources like the Main Street Online tool, and more, developed by Main Street America.


Contact or call 312-610-5613 and leave a voicemail with any other questions.

Please allow up to two (2) full business days to respond to all inquiries.

Main Street America (the National Main Street Center) has partnered with American Express to launch the “Backing Small Businesses (the “Backing Small Businesses grant program”) which is administered by Main Street America. No personal information received from your application to the Backing Small Businesses Program will be shared with American Express without your consent; only business information necessary to administer the program will be provided to American Express. Please review the Main Street America privacy policy here:

*Formerly known as Inclusive Backing