STEP Grants: Everything You Need to Know

World map signifying export opportunities opened up by STEP grants

By Micki Vandeloo, GPC

What do you think STEP grants are?  Grants to support career pathways (STEPs to a better career)? Grants to support installing STEPs on your building?

If I told you that STEP grants were actually grants to help companies expand their markets through exporting, would you believe me?  What if I told you that STEP stands for State Trade Expansion Program?  Makes a little more sense, right?

STEP grants, like many manufacturing grants, are a well-kept secret.  Most manufacturers know nothing about this source of funding, but it can help a company save thousands on various exporting activities and enable them to attend trade shows to showcase their products.  And, as travel opens up post-pandemic, this is again becoming a viable way to engage international clients.

9 Important Facts About STEP Grants

Now that we’ve defined what STEP grants are and how organizations can use them to expand the reach of their products, let’s explore the most important information you need to know before researching and pursuing a STEP grant for your company.

  • STEP grants are funded by the Small Business Administration (SBA). States apply for STEP funding through a grant process in the spring or summer.  Grants for the latest round of STEP funding were for a two-year period.
  • STEP grants are administered by the state entities who are awarded funding. These can be universities, state export departments or the state’s Economic Development Department.
  • STEP grant funds can be used for a variety of export activities that a manufacturer may undertake when expanding into overseas markets, including, but not limited to:
    • Trade show booth construction
    • Marketing material translation
    • Website translation
    • Cost to ship samples to trade shows
    • Travel to trade shows
    • Cost for translators while attending a trade show
    • Registration to international quality or product standards
    • Access to the Commerce Department’s Gold Key Service, which helps companies find customers in foreign markets and engage with those potential customers.
    • Attendance at a state led trade mission
  • STEP grants typically are awarded on an ongoing basis until funds for a fiscal year are spent.
  • The amount that is awarded is typically capped by project. For example, if you apply for $10,000 for trade show booth construction, $5,000 for travel and $1,500 to ship samples, but the state’s STEP grant cap is $15,000, you will only be able to access $15,000 total.
  • The applying manufacturer may need to provide cash match for a STEP grant. The requirement and level vary by state.
  • You must submit an application for a STEP grant and be approved prior to purchasing the items in the grant application. For this reason, many STEP grants require a minimum lead time prior to travel to allow for this approval.
  • You must have a marketing plan for the particular country or countries you are targeting for a successful STEP grant application.
  • Not every state offers STEP grants, but most do.

How to Find and Secure STEP Grants

To find out more about STEP grants available to your company, either contact your state’s Economic Development Department, or subscribe to the Manufacturing Grants Database, which provides information on STEP grants for every state that offers this funding.

If you wish to obtain assistance with a STEP grant (or any other grants you are targeting), please contact me. I am happy to set up a no-obligation, introductory call!

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