How To Use Our Guide:
We've narrowed down the Women-Owned Business certification process. There are many resources (e.g. WBE or SBA) that will help with your application.
Follow our guide to learn more about how to become a certified Woman-Owned Business in Colorado.
What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The origin of woman-owned business 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, balancing out the scales providing resources for businesswomen.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
Alternatively, women business owners in Colorado 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 Colorado 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 Colorado 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 Colorado?
There are two key ways for Colorado-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). While planning for this, reference the SBA’s preparation checklist which tells you everything you’ll need throughout the process.
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.
These aren’t the only options. Colorado also has a number of state-wide, local, and regional certification programs. Making use of these local businesswomen resources can supplement other actions, like reading the list of required documents and qualifications, to help women prepare for and increase their chances of gaining certification.
Minority Business Office
Colorado’s Minority Business Office (MBO), part of the Office of Economic Development & International Trade, is the first place to turn for Colorado entrepreneurs seeking any type of certification. The MBO website lays out the two key options for state certification — Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Emerging Small Business (ESB) — as well as the types of federal, local, or private certification.
In addition to providing in-depth information on the application process, the MBO has resources that women-owned businesses can take advantage of in general. For example, the MBO has a page on lending that includes the banks most willing to connect with Colorado businesses, as well as a mentor/protogée program that matches successful, seasoned businesswomen with budding enterprises.
Colorado Unified Certification Program
Qualifying female entrepreneurs in Colorado can increase their contracting opportunities with the state and local enterprises through DBE certification. This certification is recognized by the more than 50 agencies that participate in the Colorado Unified Certification Program (UCP), which prevents businesses from having to certify with multiple different agencies.
You can apply for this program either through the state’s Department of Transportation or the City Council of Denver. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) website, “You should not apply to both agencies for DBE certification, but choosing the right agency from the start can help streamline the application and renewal processes.” The City Council of Denver is the only certifying agency for Denver International Airport (DIA) Airport Concession DBEs (ACDBEs).
Colorado Small Business Development Center
Another useful businesswoman resource for Colorado is the state’s Small Business Development Center Network (CSBDC), which “is dedicated to helping existing and new businesses grow and prosper in Colorado by providing free and confidential consulting and no- or low-cost training programs.” Either through its website or its locations across the state, entrepreneurs can engage with the center’s resources — including, but not limited to consulting and mentorship, skills workshops, training, and other events. To learn more about the SBDC click here.
There are also a number of regional certification programs offered through Colorado’s cities. For example, the City of Denver’s Office of Economic Development and the City of Colorado Springs offer WBE and MBE certifications, which put qualifying businesses on the city’s M/WBE database facilitating access to assistance and local services/programs. Find more information about regional certification opportunities here.
For the four national SBA-approved women-owned business certifiers, it can take anywhere from 15 to 90 days from when the full documentation is received to process the certification. The state-wide certifications also follow a similar timeline.
Due to the somewhat unpredictable waiting times for certification, it is recommended that businesses plan far in advance. Obviously preparation varies depending on which certification you intend to apply for, but generally the advice stands: gather required documents ahead of time, review legal and financial documents, and read the certifying agency’s standards, procedures, and requirements.
If your business is denied certification, it will be because you did not meet the eligibility requirements, failed to prove you control the company and run it independently, or did not provide the requested documents. If you prepare properly ahead of time, you should not encounter any of these issues.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Colorado?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Colorado, 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 resources like regional and national events, webinars, training, and business expos, as well as inclusion on a database which includes thousands of 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.