What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The origin of certification programs can be traced back to 20 years ago when researchers revealed the severe lack of corporate and government agencies contracting with women-owned businesses. The U.S. government reacted with a goal to award “at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year.”
This was achieved in 2015 when 17.7 billion of federal contracting dollars available to small businesses were awarded to Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs). Since then, the government has continued to expand its goals and the resources made available for female entrepreneurs.
The main certification program for women-owned businesses seeking to increase their growth is WOSB, run by the Small Business Administration (SBA). There is also a subset of the WOSB program: the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification. Both are nationally recognized certifications that facilitate access to federal contracts “set aside” specifically for WOSBs in underrepresented industries, leveling out the playing field for women-owned businesses.
Alternatively, women business owners in Arizona have the option of using one of the four SBA-approved third-party certifiers:
- National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC): This organization aims to unite millions of women-owned businesses to advocate for the advancement for all.
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC): WBENC promotes diversity whenever possible and helps businesswomen become certified to go further in their careers.
- U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC): This organization gives women in business the resources and work they need to grow in confidence and leadership.
- El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: This resource connects, advises, and coaches women business owners. It also advocates for female entrepreneurs and provides Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
Qualifications vary depending on the certification for which you apply. So, here are the general requirements for the women’s contracting program, according to the SBA website. Your Arizona business must adhere to the following guidelines to become a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB):
- Qualify as a small business as per the SBA small business size standards, which generally use employee size and/or revenue as measures.
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens.
- Be managed by women on a day-to-day basis. Women must also be the ones making long-term decisions for the company.
- The highest officer position in the company must be held by a woman on a full-time basis, during normal work hours.
Your business in Arizona must adhere to the following guidelines to even be considered for an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business certification (EDWOSB):
- Have a personal net worth of less than $750,000. (There are some exclusions.)
- Have an adjusted gross income average over three years of $350,000 or less. (There are some exclusions.)
- Have a fair market value of all assets of $6 million or less. (There are no exclusions.)
The full rundown of qualifications is available online in the Code of Federal Regulations. There is also the option to get a preliminary assessment by the SBA’s Certify website to see if you’ll qualify.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Arizona?
There are two key ways for Arizona-based businesses to get national certification. The first is self-certification which requires you to answer questions and upload documents (the amount depends on whether you’ve previously participated in SBA programs) through the certify.SBA.gov website. While planning for this, reference the SBA’s preparation checklist which tells you everything you’ll need throughout the process.
Please note that women applying prior to summer of 2020 through the SBA have the option to self-certify through their website; however, after June 30, businesswomen will no longer be able to self-certify. Instead, you will have to certify through an approved third-party agency. Alternatively, you can choose the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business federal contracting program and apply for certification through their online portal. The SBA application involves two steps:
- Visit sam.gov (the System for Award Management)
- It’s free
- You will have to wait at least 72 hours before step 2
- Visit certify.sba.gov and complete the form
SBA’s online program is free to use, though you will still need to pay the required fees if you’re interested in receiving an actual certificate through a third-party, since the SBA does not provide the certificate itself. A certificate is not required for federal government contracts — you only need to be officially certified and listed on their women-owned business database.
If you’re still unsure about the specifics of the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program, you can call (800) 827-5722 or email answerdesk@SBA.gov. To speak to a representative, be prepared to wait approximately 5-10 minutes for the automated message to end and depending on their call volume, you may have a longer wait.
Alternatively, you can apply for your women-owned business certification through one of the four approved third-party certifying agencies. You will then need to provide proof of your certification through certify.SBA.gov, closely following the listed instructions. Each third-party agency has its own benefits and unique application process.
However, these aren’t the only options. Arizona also has a number of state-wide, local, and regional certification programs “to improve participation and inclusion for certified businesses throughout the state.”
Making use of these local businesswomen resources for women in business can supplement other actions, like reading the list of required documents and qualifications, to help female entrepreneurs prepare for and increase their chances of gaining certification.
Diverse Business Enterprise Certification (DBE)
Arizona is looking for businesses that are owned by women to partner with for projects that are funded fully or partially by the U.S. Department of Transportation in the state. When you qualify for certification, you gain access to a number of different opportunities with both local governments and the state government of Arizona. There are several requirements for certification, including:
- Be majority-owned by a minority or a woman. As long as you fully own your business or you hold a majority stake in the business, you should qualify.
- Be managed/operated by the disadvantaged owner. As the woman owner, you need to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business.
- Net worth below $1,320,000. Your net worth needs to be less than this amount.
Arizona Unified Certification Program (AZ UCP)
The simplest way to apply for a DBE is to apply to the AZ UCP. This program is designed to be your “one stop shop” for certification as a DBE. Once you get the certification through this program you will be qualified for recognition from all the agencies throughout the state of Arizona that get funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation. These include the Arizona department of transportation, the City of Tucson and the City of Phoenix.
There are four steps to the qualification process:
- Complete your application for the UCP and submit all the required documents.
- Your documents will be audited to ensure you are eligible for the program.
- A UCP Specialist will visit your business and review it to make certain you are eligible and within compliance.
- As long as you get through the first three steps successfully, you will be awarded a certificate of participation.
Phoenix DBE Programs
If you are focusing your business on Phoenix, you can apply to the city’s DBE Certification Program. Certification makes you eligible to apply for contracts involving the U.S. Department of Transportation, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
You can participate in Phoenix DBE programs if you have completed the AZ UCP process.
Tucson DBE Programs
The City of Tucson also has DBE programs that you can access if you complete the AZ UCP. Once you have been certified, you can do business with the city on projects that are conducted using federal financial assistance.
Arizona Women’s Education and Entrepreneur Center (AWEEC)
The Arizona Women’s Education and Employment (AWEE) organization helps educate women business owners in the state. At the AWEEC in Phoenix, they offer workshops, business training, online programs, support networks, mentoring, and one-on-one counseling. You can contact them at (602) 601-7200 ext. 4 to learn more about what they have available for female entrepreneurs that you may find useful. They can direct you to businesswomen resources that are most applicable to your specific type of business and give you actionable tips on how to qualify for the programs you want to access.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Arizona?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Arizona, starting with the fact that you’ll have increased contracting opportunities with major corporations and the government.
As a certified WBE, you’ll also get access to unique business resources for women like regional and national events, webinars training, and business expos, as well as inclusion on a national database which includes over 13,000 certified women business enterprises.
Qualified WBEs can be eligible for the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), a national certification recognized by the federal government.
Though the government predominantly does not have grants available for certified for-profit businesses, companies that create a product benefiting their whole industry can qualify for unique grants. Contact your state branch of the Small Business Development Center for more information on this subject.