What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A certified woman-owned business is one that meets certain criteria and is thereby granted certain privileges. There are several types of certifications that you can apply for, depending on the opportunities you’re looking for, you have options. The primary certification in the nation is the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB); however there is a subset of this certification you can apply for to help your business gain access to additional businesswomen resources — the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB).
Both the WOSB and the EDWOSB are offered through the Small Business Administration (SBA), or the federal agency designed to look after the needs of small business interests over those of corporate enterprise. You can apply for both certifications if you qualify and will receive a small discount on fees if you choose to do so.
The federal government has pledged to give at least 5% of their contracting dollars to WOSBs and EDWOSBs. Certain contracts may be designated for one or both certifications, so it all depends on the type of contracts you’ll be applying for. In addition to federal organizations, many big-name national corporations may require a WOSB if you hope to be shortlisted for certain opportunities.
The SBA’s certification is known as the gold standard for women-owned businesses, and their criteria has set the stage for other certifications available to women-owned businesses in Delaware, such as the Women Business Enterprise (WBE). This is a national certification that can be used in place of a WOSB for municipal or local contracts.
You may take the SBA's preliminary assesment to see if a woman-owned business certification is right for you and your Delaware business. You can also use their checklist to help you prepare if you choose to apply.
The SBA can approve applications for a WOSB, but they’re not the only option you have. The SBA has approved:
- 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.
These organizations have carved out a space for themselves by advocating for the advancement of women and by supporting businesswomen on every rung of the ladder, which is why the SBA has chosen to partner with them. You can also apply for the WBE through the third-party certifiers as well.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
If you’re applying for a WOSB, the SBA primarily wants to see the following criteria for a WOSB in the state of Delaware:
- Qualify as a small business as per the SBA small business size standards, which generally use employee size and/or revenue as measures
- Your business must be at least 51% owned by women
- All women owners must be US citizens
- The person at the top of the organization must be a woman
- Women must be involved in the day-to-day strategy decisions
If you’re a Delaware business applying for the EDWOSB, you’ll need to prove that each individual owner of the company has the following:
- 3-year average gross income of $350,000 or less
- Total net worth of $750,000 or less
- The fair market value of all owner assets must be $6 million or less
This criteria is in addition to that of the WOSB, so please note that there will be more scrutiny applied to your holdings if you want this certification.
There are certain exclusions available for EDWOSB certifications. For example, you may be able to qualify if your average income is more than $350,000 over the past three years. You simply need to show that this income inflation stemmed from an unusual or one-time event that is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. There are several potential exclusions for net worth and income average, though you cannot qualify if any of your owners has assets of more than $6 million.
If you’re applying for a WBE, you can expect the criteria to be similar to that of the WOSB. In order to be approved, you’ll need to complete an on-site visit from WBENC members. These visits are largely conducted to ensure the daily operations of the Delaware company meet all regulations for the WBE certification.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Delaware?
The certification criteria for each organization is roughly the same. They may ask the questions in different ways or have slightly different requirements, but all decision-makers are trying to verify that the business is owned by women who have strong technical skills in their industry. The idea is for women to control the direction of the company and bring a unique set of skills into the economy.
When it comes to how to become certified, you can either choose to work with a third-party or certify on your own through the SBA website. A third-party may be able to better explain the exclusions available for certain businesses and how to show that you meet all expected criteria. It all depends on the local chapters in your area and how they work to help members and non-members alike.
You may want to first look into the preliminary checklist offered by the SBA. This preparation tool tells you more about what you’ll be asked for a WOSB or EDWOSB and which documents are acceptable to verify your information. The SBA also offers a preliminary assessment quiz you can take to determine whether or not certification will be beneficial for your business. Once you’ve applied for a certification, you can expect to wait anywhere from 15 to 90 days for approval.
We recommend having all paperwork (and supplementary documents) gathered long before you start your application. If you need to ask for an exception, you’ll need to be able to show why you don’t have the required document. For instance, some owners may not have all required documents, depending on the nature of their business.
Some women will choose to certify through third-party organizations because the benefits offered through these organizations are better suited to their business. For example, the WBENC may provide excellent training seminars aligned with your industry. The potential drawback is that a third-party may charge more for their services.
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.
Delaware Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
Going through a national organization like the WBENC or a federal agency like the SBA has its perks. However, there are some companies that would be better off with a state certification, especially if they already know that they want to stay local. Delaware has two different certification programs available for women in the state.
MVWBE Certification Program
Offered by the state of Delaware, the Minority, Veteran and/or Women-Owned and Disadvantaged Businesses certification is a broad certification established in 2012 by the Office of Supplier Diversity (OSD). This certification is good for three years, and typically accepted by state organizations and other private clients. Delaware sets aside certain contracts for MVWBE businesses, so you may want to look into the types of contracts available in the past before applying.
Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT)
DelDOT offers a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) to women who can assist with transportation projects related to aviation, public transit, or highways. The state has recently made a push for women-owned businesses to have more exposure to the prime contractors in the state and to provide more networking opportunities as well.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Delaware?
Women typically apply for a women-owned business certification because they want to expand their business and make more money. Certifications will put you on specific directories that organizations can use if they want to diversify. The government aims to give at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to WOSBs, a goal that results in billions of dollars being given to women-owned businesses.
Whether you opt for a WOSB, EDWOSB, WBE, or MVWBE certification, you have access to opportunities you may never have known about without it. The organization through which you certify will send out notifications, so you have plenty of time to consider each contract and prepare to submit. There are no guarantees that you’ll get more work because of your women-owned business certification, but it can help you close a big gap.
If you were hoping for grant opportunities through the state of Delaware though, there aren’t many available for certified women-owned businesses. If you were hoping for additional financing, you may want to look into industry-specific grants, as some organizations will grant money for women-owned businesses offering promises and services that benefit an entire economic sector. There are also national grants available for Delaware women-business owners. Additionally, the Small Business Development Center can advise and provide you with businesswomen resources in your area.
Delaware has nearly 30,000 women-owned businesses, employing tens of thousands of people throughout the state. In 2019, it was estimated that these businesses contributed over $4 million to the national sales revenue, and ranked number 16 in the nation for woman-owned firms. Certification for Delaware women business owners can be the key to getting a leg up in their industry, so they can continue moving forward.