9 min read

Small business awards are a great way to drive interest in your business and generate excitement and motivation at the same time.

The free publicity that comes from winning, along with an accompanying boost in credibility, creates a marketing advantage that any small business can benefit from.

You’re never too young as a business to benefit from winning an award.  And there are lots of different categories out there to compete in.

Determining which awards to pursue requires you to review who gives out the prize in the first place. You must know what they want, and why they desire applications. This knowledge will let you know if you meet their published expectations.

Even though this research requires a time investment, the benefits of winning small business awards make it worth the effort.

Here are 17 of the most high-profile and well-regarded awards you can win.  So research the opportunities and take your shot!


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1. DREAM BIG Awards

This opportunity comes from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It’s sponsored by Sam’s Club, which is part of the Walmart family of companies. Your company qualifies for this award if you employ fewer than 250 people and generate under $20 million in annual revenues.

There are several categories available for you to pursue with this opportunity. Community involvement, customer service, and training are just a few of the options.

Your entry qualifies you for a small business of the year award, recognition as a potential regional finalist, or one of the 100 Blue Ribbon companies chosen each year.

The overall winner earns $25,000 in prize money.

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2. Innovation Project Awards

This award comes to you from PYMNTS, which seeks to connect the world of commerce with that of payments. When you pursue this opportunity, you’ll get to join a two-day summit which offers access to discussion groups, panels, and networking opportunities.

There is a total of 15 awards presented with this opportunity, each covering a different category. The most prestigious prize offered is the Small Business Innovation Award, which provides evidence that your company is working to change how transactions are sent or received.

After taking 2018 off, this award is expected to return (along with its accompanying seminars and working groups) in 2019.

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3. National Small Business Awards

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers this award during National Small Business Week each year. There are eligibility criteria you must meet to qualify for this award. Each state is awarded a small business person of the year, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District of Columbia.

Nominations for your business are necessary for consideration. You can solicit for submissions, but you’re not permitted to submit a nomination for yourself.

The 74 regional offices of the SBA will pick winners across several categories too, giving you several award options to pursue that can lead to higher levels of brand exposure and credibility.

Any business which meets the SBA standards of a small business is eligible to submit an entry for this award. It is open to all residents of the United States and its territories.

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4. Best in Biz Awards

These small business awards are one of the few that is judged by industry analysts and members of the press instead of a government agency or association. There are 60 different award categories offered with this option, with five different focus areas to consider.

Most of the awards are open to companies of any size, but it does include a specific division in each focus areas which recognizes the contributions of small businesses.

Winners receive press exposure through international distributors. You’ll gain better recruitment visibility while earning industry affirmation for what you’re doing too. Website placement on the award’s website occurs for gold and silver winners with links and logos also.

Every business is eligible for this award opportunity, no matter where they are located, their size, industry, or funding within each region.

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5. Best of Small Business Awards

These small business awards recognize the small- to medium-sized businesses which power the national economy. There are 25 different categories from which to choose, making this option one of the largest annual recognition programs currently offered in the United States.

It’s presented by Small Business Expo, which is one of the largest B2B networking events held in 15 significant metropolitan areas each year. Shows in Dallas, Miami, and Charlotte are planned for Q1 2019.

Small Business Expo received its fourth-consecutive recognition as an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing privately-held company in 2018. Their tenth anniversary occurs in 2019. Since each expo is free to attend, you can generate critical networking opportunities in a high-energy, fun environment which inspires collaboration.

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6. SCORE Awards

Sam’s Club also sponsors these small business awards, encouraging entrepreneurs to celebrate the reasons why they could be running the best small businesses in the United States. Winners receive a trip for two to attend the national award ceremony, which is usually held near Washington, DC.

Award winners become a potential spokesperson for SCORE as an advocate ambassador. You’re given a PR package which includes a custom video that posts on SCORE’s website. Three Grand Champions each won $15,000 n 2017 as well.

You must meet specific qualification standards to have a chance at earning this award. You must be a legal resident of the U.S., at least 18 years old, and your business must employ fewer than 50 people.

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7. Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Ernst and Young offer these small business awards to anyone who puts in the sacrifices of running a business each year.

The awards begin at the regional level, which generates a series of finalists that advance to qualify for their national awards. About 20 different programs are available to win with more than 60 countries included, so almost every company finds a category which works for them.

Winners of the national award gain access to new educational opportunities, industry advice, and even speaking engagements.

This opportunity also gives you access to EY’s entrepreneurial hall of fame if you win. There are nomination tips offered, a helpful FAQ page, and a family of over 10,000 outstanding winners over the years that will push to your business to the next level.

Any “successful” entrepreneur qualifies for this unique award opportunity. Zulily is a previous winner.

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8. Thrillist

Although these small business awards are less formal than some of the others on this list, the publicity earned from making one of their “Best Of” listings will drive traffic to your website or social media platforms.

The write-up for your business gets a direct delivery to interest customers in your community too. Subscribers get an email which offers a high open rate that can push your revenues higher.

Thrillist currently focuses on the large metropolitan centers of North America for their lists. Three different sections are presently available: food and drink, travel, and entertainment.

It doesn’t take much time to prepare a submission either. Just put together a proposal about your company, then submit it to the appropriate email address for the site.

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9. American Business Awards

Called “The Stevies,” these small business awards focus on achievement. Although there are 10 categories covered with this option, there are numerous subcategories which cover every industry in some way. There are 34 Company of the Year Awards handed out to companies big and small.

You’ll find special innovation and growth awards available exclusively for small businesses too.

The Stevies were first created in 2002 to honor achievements within the entrepreneurial world. They’re broken into geographic regions too, which includes an international category which offers entry opportunities to everyone.

This award option is one of the few which offers an exclusive opportunity for women in business to recognize their contributions as entrepreneurs, executives, and their impact on society.

Any company or entrepreneur located in the United States can be nominated for the U.S. version of this award. Different geographic regions offer similar rules for entry.

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10. Independent Small Business of the Year Award

These small business awards offer small business owners not affiliated with a larger chain or franchise an opportunity to earn recognition for their hard work. Unlike other opportunities with a year-long nomination process, you’ve got about 60 days at the end of the year to submit an entry.

The winners of these awards, called the “Indies,” are based on public votes after the nomination period closes. A panel of judges provides input in the process too.

Winners earn a $5,000 check for their business. You’ll also receive a $1,000 STIHL gift certificate, a web starter packaged valued at $5,000, and a vacation to Virginia Beach to tour the STIHL plant and museum.

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11. NAVOBA Awards

Referred to as the “Vetrepreneur of the Year,” this award opportunity recognizes the incredible accomplishments that military veterans offer to the economy with their businesses. Companies of any size are asked to self-nominate for entry. You can also nominate veteran-run organizations in your area which you feel deserve some extra recognition.

There are several categories which earn awards each year. NAVOBA recognizes a woman of the year, an African-American of the year, and a Hispanic vetrepreneur with this program.

Although the awards skipped 2018, they should return in 2019 with an updated series of nomination deadlines throughout the year.

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12. Enterprising Women of the Year Awards

These small business awards receive sponsorship from the Enterprising Women Foundation. It is a non-profit organization which works to foster entrepreneurship in young women with a particular emphasis on STEM careers.

They’ve partnered with the Million Women Mentors initiative too, recognizing women who support and offer mentorship to each other and students who choose to stand out in their communities.

Several different categories are open for nomination each year. The 2018 version of the awards recognized women in businesses with revenues ranging from $1 million per year to over $100 million in annual sales.

There are no geographic stipulations in place for this award. Winners in the 2018 “up to $1 million in annual revenues” category came from Portugal, Ghana, and South Africa in addition to the United States.

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13. Envolve Global Awards

Every entrepreneur qualifies for this unique award.

Even if you’re a first-time entrepreneur without experience, you can submit your business plan to this organization to qualify for their annual awards. It gives you an opportunity to win business support services customized to meet your specific needs. You earn straightforward funding without interest, charges, or complexity.

Once you submit your application online, a panel of judges will select the best entries which demonstrate community entrepreneurship.

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14. Rail Business Awards

Bringing together over 600 different industry leaders, these awards celebrate entrepreneurial excellence in the United Kingdom’s rail sector. The 2019 celebration will mark the 21st-consecutive year they’ll be handed out.

Although this opportunity is niche-specific, these awards are also one of the largest networking opportunities available. You’ll get to forge new relationships, enjoy drinks and dinner, and then have some fun at the after-show party.

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15. FSB Small Business Awards

This opportunity is another UK-specific award to win as an entrepreneur. It is one of the few awards in the world, however, which includes the self-employed, freelancers, and gig specialists with business owners.

People from every sector, industry, and age group receive an invitation to submit nominations each year for this opportunity. The awards recognize innovation, determination, and the overall successes entrepreneurs achieve each year.

There is no requirement to be an FSB member to apply for this award. Entries are free and open to all small business and self-employed individuals.

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16. Canadian Business Awards

If you live or work in Canada as a small business owner or entrepreneur, then you might qualify for a nomination for this award. Sponsored by Corporate Vision Magazine, it looks to reward those who offer the determination and grit to carve out their own niche of success.

Several different industry-specific categories are available, creating a “Best Of” list published by the magazine in a format similar to the local awards sponsored by newspapers. From childcare companies to dry ice manufacturers, the best companies in each industry receive free publicity that can push their national profile higher.

The public votes on the nominees in each category.

Corporate Vision sponsors several additional awards if you don’t qualify for this one. They have a Coaching Top 50 list, HR and Training Awards, and the International Health and Safety Awards as well.

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17. Telstra Business Awards

If your business or work takes you to Australia, then this award might be one to consider. Your company must have permission to conduct sales in the country for eligibility.

The nomination process is simple. You can nominate yourself or have someone do it for you. You’re given a search box to look for a specific company by name. A list of possible businesses with their location then pops up for you, each with a nomination box to click.

If the business you wish to nominate doesn’t appear in this list, then just list the name and state to start the process.

You’ll then have some information to fill out about the company, including their email address, phone number, and URL. The awards want a “best contact person” to reach too.

Only one nomination is necessary to receive an award entry with this opportunity.

Additional Awards Opportunities for Small Businesses

Each community has access to a Chamber of Commerce which provides award opportunities each year. You’ll compete with other local entrepreneurs for recognition with this opportunity, which gives you added exposure to prospects who live and work where you do.

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Local media often offers an annual award which features the best companies in a community. The public votes on their favorite companies, then a list of the winners get printed by the local paper or magazine. You receive a plaque for your wall, with the option to print a banner that shows off your win.

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Downtown associations (and other local business groups) often sponsor awards that you can win too. This option usually requires membership, which means your location and company must meet specific standards to qualify.

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