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 Florida have the option of using one of the 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 Florida 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 Florida 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 Florida?
There are two key ways for Florida-based businesses to get national certification. The first is certification through the SBA 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.
Alternatively, you can apply to be certified by 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.
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:
If you choose the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business federal contracting program, you can apply for certification through their online portal. While planning for this, reference the SBA’s preparation checklist which tells you everything you’ll need throughout the process. 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.
Florida 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.
Florida Department of Transportation
The Uniform Certification Program through Florida’s Department of Transportation gives qualifying, independent, for-profit businesses the opportunity for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification. This certification will increase access to government contracting and put certified businesses on a state-wide DBE database.
To apply for the program, you can either fill out an application online or contact your local certifying agency (for example, Broward County). The Department of Transportation also has a list of supportive service providers who will help businesses — through online or in-person training and consulting — with the application process for free.
Florida Department of Management Services
As part of its goal to increase the number of minority-owned businesses, Florida’s Department of Management Services’ Office of Supplier Diversity offers programs to help Florida-based businesses gain Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) certification and recertification.
The government agency is a useful resource for female entrepreneurs — providing assistance through certification video guides and other educational materials, networking events for minority business owners, a hub of information on opportunities for entrepreneurs, and advocacy for the continued growth and success of women in business.
Women’s Business Development Council of Florida
The Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC) is another great resource for women-owned businesses throughout Florida as it helps with securing Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certification.
In addition to the council’s businesswomen resources directly relating to certification, such as a step-by-step guide and an eligibility quiz, Florida’s WBDC organizes events for women to explore sourcing opportunities, coaching, and consulting sessions, and other resources that can help women improve their businesses overall.
There are also a number of regional certification programs offered through cities. For example, the City of Orlando’s 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 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 woman-owned 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 Florida?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Florida, 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 businesswomen 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.
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. Additionally, you can explore a variety of small business grants for women.