What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A certified woman-owned business is a company that meets certain criteria to access businesswomen resources through federal government contracts. This criteria is determined by the agency bestowing the women-owned business certification and can vary depending on whether you’re applying for a state, federal, or industry-specific certification.
To get a certification, businesses have to apply and be approved for special status through an authorized agency. The most common and widely recognized certification is the one offered through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Known as the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification, the SBA’s program is generally considered the most versatile because it fulfills a basic requirement for a variety of projects. Many corporations and federal agencies won’t even consider your business unless it's WOSB certified.
The SBA also offers the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB), which is a subset of the WOSB. This designation may give you an even bigger advantage if you’re operating in a male-dominated world (e.g., tech, engineering, etc.).
So, if you offer goods and services that either the federal government or major corporations can use, a WOSB ensures that you can bid for their contracts. It may even give you an edge if you’re applying in certain sectors. The SBA is a federal agency, but there are local branches in every state. Your local organization can be an effective businesswoman resource if you’re looking for additional opportunities to launch your business into new territory.
When it comes down to how the government is spending their contracting dollars, the vast majority of dollars are still going to male-owned businesses. However, there has been a serious shift over the past five years, including a pledge from the government to award at least 5% of contracting dollars to women-owned businesses. This goal was accomplished in 2015 and the numbers have only increased since then.
If you’re applying for contracts with private companies, you’ll likely find that those accepting WBEs are state as opposed to national businesses. Before you decide on anything, it helps to research the opportunities in your industry before determining the type of certification you want.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
There are a few ways that you can become certified if you’re looking for a WOSB. One is to go directly through the SBA, which can take up to 90 days for approval. Another option is to apply through a third-party agency that has been approved by the SBA.
These are organizations that have been approved to do so in Arkansas, all of which are national groups:
- 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.
If you go through the authorized third-party organizations, you’ll need to forward the certification to the SBA to be kept on file.
You can also go through the third-party certifiers for another certification, known as the Women Business Enterprise (WBE). A WBE certification is accepted by a number of organizations, but most of the contracts will be municipal or local as opposed to federal.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The qualifications for a woman-owned business in Arkansas are largely the same, regardless of what you apply for:
- Your business must be owned by at least 51% women
- All women owners must be U.S. citizens
- Women owners must be involved with daily operations and decision-making
- Business must be of small size according to SBA guidelines
- The person at the very top of the company must be a woman
Certifiers essentially want to see that women are the ones calling the shots before they approve an application. If applying for an EDWOSB, you must prove the above criteria in addition to the below requirements that will effectively show that you’re an economically disadvantaged business. These requirements apply to each individual women business owner:
- Net worth: $750,000 or less
- 3-year adjusted gross income: $350,000 or less
- Fair market value of all assets: $6 million or less
Certain exceptions can be made for the income and net worth of the owners, depending on individual circumstances. The Code of Federal Regulations can give you more information if you’re hoping to qualify for this certification.
Most certifiers use the above criteria as a basis to create their own requirements. In other words, you can expect the application process to be similar regardless of whether you apply for the WOSB or the WBE. If you want to find out if your business is eligible, you can take a preliminary assessment through the SBA. After entering all your details, you should have a better idea of whether you can self-certify through the SBA.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Arkansas?
Arkansas business owners have to first decide who they want to certify through and which certification they want. There are also two state-specific certifications that they may qualify for.
We recommend going through the SBA directly if you know you want to be considered for federal contracts and major corporations, and you’re certain you meet all eligibility requirements. You may use the SBA's checklist to help you prepare for your application.
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.
Having a WOSB can put you ahead of the game, even if it requires additional steps when compared to a local certification. If you’re looking for more general support or guidance before deciding the course for you, you may want to go through one of the third-party certifiers. This can be a better choice if you’re unsure about certain criteria or you have a specific exclusion you’re hoping to file with your application.
Third-party certifiers can also be the key to expanding your network and participating in valuable training opportunities. They may send out immediate contract notifications in your industry that you’re eligible for, giving you advanced notice of different opportunities so you have plenty of time to prepare.
The disadvantage of going through these organizations is that they may cost more than self-certification. The fees for a certificate can have a wide range, depending on how you apply, so it helps to do your research before committing to one.
Some business owners find the extra costs worthwhile in exchange for the benefits of the organization and additional businesswomen opportunities they provide, but others may feel more comfortable going it alone. You can find checklists available for national certifications through the SBA and WBENC’s website.
Arkansas Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
Every state either has local branches of national organizations or state-run entities that offer their own certifications. Arkansas has the following resources for you to take advantage of when you're ready to apply.
Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC)
The AEDC offers a women-owned business enterprise certificate program, which may increase the eligibility for businesswomen to certain contracts as well as their visibility in the state of Arkansas. There’s no cost to apply for this program, and you’re typically approved within 45 days.
Once you’re certified, you’ll receive the official certificate and your business name will be listed in the AEDC’s official directory. This certification is good for two years. Any Arkansas organization attempting to increase their utilization of minority- and women-owned businesses will be able to see your business and reach out to you. You can also bid for their projects if you have a valid certification handy.
Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT)
ArDOT offers a certification known as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). This opportunity is available to women who offer goods or services that can be used for aviation, highways, and public transit projects. The DBE is a national program through the DOT but it’s enforced through the state Departments to ensure that different types of businesses can apply for various transportation-related projects.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Arkansas?
A certification doesn’t ensure that you’ll be chosen for contracts, but it will give you a better idea of what’s available.
For example, let’s say you own a company that specializes in private tutoring. After obtaining your women-owned business certification, you find that there are a number of contracts available in public education in the state. This leads you to shift your focus so you can be considered for these opportunities, thereby expanding your business. Having the women-owned business certification can help you make it to the shortlist of candidates.
The state of Arkansas does not offer grant opportunities for certified businesses if you’re looking for funding. However, you may qualify for unique grants if you make products and services that ultimately benefit your entire industry. You may also want to consider a national grant that’s offered in all 50 states or visit the Small Business Development Center for additional businesswomen resources in your area.
Arkansas has an estimated 80,400 women-owned businesses contributing $9.5 billion to the state economy. This is up by an astonishing 88% from 1997, a sign that Arkansas is supporting women-owned businesses and giving them the means to get ahead. Arkansas may not be number one in the country, but it has made strides to give women more advantages through a variety of programs.