NORWICH, Conn. (WTNH) — Small business owners are used to doing some pretty heavy lifting. A state-funded grant program aims to lighten the load for women business owners.

Gina Facchini, who owns Norwich Fitness Center, expanded her 5,000 square foot gym to a 40,000 square foot space after receiving an Equity Match Grant through the Women’s Business Development Council. She’s wanted to own a sports complex ever since she was a kid.

“I was in foster care when I was young, and if it wasn’t for playing softball and basketball when I was little, I don’t know where I would be today,” Facchini.

Michelle Blais used grant money to develop a new revenue stream for her MB Graphic Design company. She built an online course to teach other businesses how to create website content.

“Not only does the grant help me, but I can help other small business owners in the process,” Blais said.

Since 2020, 98 businesses received grants of $2,500 to $10,000 totaling almost a million dollars.

In order to qualify, the business has to be at least 51% women-owned, have been in business in good standing with the state for a couple of years, and the owner has to be willing to make an initial investment that could be matched by this grant, but they may not need to come up with the cash up front.

“For example, if you apply for a $10,000 grant, we need to see that in the last 12 months that you’ve invested $2,500 into your business, which most small business owners have,” Alicia De Sena, a program coordinator with the Women’s Business Development Council said.

That match may be waved for businesses located in distressed communities.

“There’s so many resources out there, so don’t let anyone make you think that you’re not good enough because you truly, truly are,” Facchini said.

“We’re here to help business succeed,” Wendy Vincent of the Women’s Business Development Council said. “So, we do work with people who aren’t able to get it the first time to see if they… we can get them one the next time.”

Over the past 20 years, women-owned businesses in Connecticut have grown 56%.

“We want to encourage any women-owned business that would like to grow and expand their business that would like to pivot to please apply,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz (D). “The beautiful thing about this program is it is not a loan, it’s a grant.”

About half a million dollars in grant money is now up for grabs. Click here for more information and to apply for a grant. The deadline to apply is Feb. 13.