Women in Business: How to Get Certified as a Woman-Owned Business

If you are a woman who owns or runs a business, you can gain a competitive advantage by having your business certified as women-owned. Although the process can be time-consuming, it’s well worth the effort, because many governmental entities and public corporations have quotas for women-owned businesses. So don’t despair if you are not part of the “old boys’ network.” Celebrate instead, and fight for you share of the pie by getting certified.

The federal government  likes women-owned businesses, and has a requirement to award 5% of eligible prime contracting money to women-owned small business. Government agencies and large companies distribute requests for proposals through organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners (NWBOC) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), who in turn distribute the requests to members. In addition, many state and local governments offer opportunities for women-owned businesses, as do large corporations such as Starbucks and Target.

Who Qualifies?

In general, a business is considered women-owned if:

  • Women control at least 51% of the company, and they are U.S. citizens
  • Women must manage the daily operation of the company and must occupy the highest executive office on a full-time basis
  • A woman and man can jointly own a women-owned business as long as the woman owns 51% and can demonstrate her control and management of the company

Four Certification Programs

There are four major, nationally-recognized certification programs for women-owned businesses:

  • Small Business Administration’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) designation: This is an excellent certification for businesses wishing to bid on federal contracts. The WOSB designation helps women-owned businesses in industries where they are underrepresented.
  • Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification: This is a federal designation provided by your state. It can help you win contracts from the U.S. Department of Transportation. States that issue contracts that use federal money must include DBE businesses at a predetermined level. DBE certification is not just for women – it also applies to minorities.
  • Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification: This is probably the premier non-governmental certification, accepted at federal, state, and local entities as well as 1,000+ corporations. Certification requires significant paperwork and a personal interview, but there isn’t any requirement for the size or age of your business. The SBA accepts the WBENC certification for the WOSB program. By joining WBENC, you gain access to thousands of other female business owners.
  • Nation Woman Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC) certification: This program is similar to the one offered by WBENC. In addition, NWBOC offers training and mentoring opportunities.

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