What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A certified woman-owned business is a business with an official designation from a qualified group. The most well-known certification is given through the Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal agency that can certify businesses in all 50 states.
The SBA offers two certifications to woman-owned businesses known as the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB). You can apply for either or both of these certifications in Hawaii if you qualify. The main advantage of having both is that certain contracts (whether federal or corporate) may provide set-aside funds for one or the other.
There’s a lot of pressure for businesses and government organizations to work with women-owned companies, and a certification is the official way for different groups to verify your credentials. If you’re a businesswoman in an economy sector that’s dominated by men, you may have even more opportunities to get ahead with one of the SBA’s certifications.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
The SBA will grant certification directly to companies, but going through the SBA isn’t the only way to certify your Hawaii business. You can also choose to go through one of the three organizations that have been approved by the SBA to issue a WOSB. These agencies include:
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC): WBENC promotes diversity whenever possible and helps businesswomen become certified to go further in their careers.
- National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC): This organization aims to unite millions of women-owned businesses to advocate for the advancement for all.
- 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.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The qualifications for a WOSB in Hawaii include the following:
- At least 51% of the company must be owned and controlled by women
- All women owners must be US citizens
- The highest ranking position must be a woman
- The business must meet the qualifications for a small business (according to the SBA)
The main goal of the SBA is to ensure that businesswomen are making daily decisions and setting the long-term strategies of their companies.
The qualifications for an EDWOSB include those of the WOSB, but must also meet the following criteria. All individual women business owners in Hawaii must prove they have:
- A 3-year adjusted income average of $350,000 or less
- Assets totaling $6 million or less (according to fair market value)
- A total net worth of $750,000 or less
The SBA will work with business owners on certain criteria. So, if your income was artificially inflated due to a one-time event that is unlikely to occur again, then you may still be able to qualify for the EDWOSB. However, it should be noted that there are no exclusions or exemptions for the fair market value stipulation.
The qualifications for a WBE or state certification will follow the same basic structure, though each certification will have its own criteria and approval process. You should also expect an on-site visit if you’re applying for the WBENC certification. The main goal for officials is to ensure that your daily operations are aligned with the spirit of the certificate.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Hawaii?
There’s a preliminary test that you can take before you start the official application for your women-owned business certification. All national certifications require fees from applicants, and applicants will not receive these fees back if they’re denied.
Once you’ve determined your eligibility for the women-owned business certification, your next step is to decide which group to certify through. The right decision will depend on everything from your industry to your revenue to your long-term goals. You can follow the SBA's checklist to make sure you have everything you need prepared in advance.
Third-party certifiers tend to charge more for their services, but they may also offer you more advice and consideration if you have extenuating circumstances. For example, if you don’t have certain documents or you’re requesting specific exclusions for your company’s net income.
Some women find that the local chapters of third-party certifiers in Hawaii may also be more suited for their business. For example, the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce may work closely with federal groups you would like to contract with in the state. Doing the research in your area can make it easier to determine how to move forward.
It typically takes about 30 days to be approved, though it can be as soon as 15 days and as long as 90 days. If you’re approved for an SBA certification through a third-party, you’ll need to send the official notification to the SBA to have it on file. The fees of your applications will depend on the size of your business and the policies of the certifying organization.
If you’re planning to self-certify through the SBA (without going through a third-party), please note that this option will only be available until June 30, 2020. After which, you’ll need to either go through a third party or use a special online program from the SBA. The exact changes to the regulations and requirements are still up for debate, but should be finalized by the summer of 2020.
If you choose the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business federal contracting program, you can 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.
Hawaii Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
If you’re not interested in the perks of a national certification, there is a state certification that may be more appropriate for you.
Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT)
The Hawaii Department of Transportation offers a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification for those who can provide transportation-related services within the state. This is a national program offered in conjunction with the US DOT, though you’ll need to apply through HDOT to be approved.
If certified, you’ll be eligible for federally funded highway, aviation, and public transportation projects. You may also qualify if you offer certain concessions that can be distributed at state airports.
The best way to decide which one is the right one for your business is to first look through the potential contracts that are accessible to you. If you can provide assistance for a transportation-related project, then a DBE may be the only thing you need. However, if you offer broader services or products that can be used throughout the country, it may make more sense for a WOSB.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Hawaii?
A woman-owned business certification in Hawaii can be a great way to gain additional opportunities for your business. You can not only bid on government, private, and state contracts, but you could be given top priority above all other candidates.
The US government has a goal to award at least 5% of all federal dollars to women-owned businesses, spurring local government and even private companies to become more aware of their own diversity profile. Your business name will be placed in a directory that helps local and national organizations learn more about what you do.
Businesswomen can bring valuable perspective to any organization, and their thoughts and expertise are welcomed in every sector of the economy. A certification is an easy way for different groups to verify your credentials so they can move forward in the application process.
There are also less direct benefits to a woman-owned business certification, such as the opportunity to participate in training seminars, educational classes, and women in business networking events. These ‘extras’ are provided by both third-parties and the SBA. These groups may also send out notifications that can help you decide which opportunities to go after. You can consult with the professionals at your certifying organization to understand how to expand your business and which projects are right for you.
If you’re looking for additional businesswomen resources and funding in Hawaii, we encourage you to search both in your state and beyond. Women-owned businesses may be able to receive grants through the Women’s Fund of Hawaii or through a national grant available in all 50 states, such as the Amber Grant. There are also industry-specific grants that may be available to you. Additionally, you can explore a variety of women in business grants or contact the Small Business Develoment Center for other small business resources.
Hawaii has ranked high in terms of women in business and their overall contributions to the economy, but there’s still room for improvement. The right certification can be a way to stay on top of new changes in your industry so you can meet emerging needs. Some women will even pivot their business based on certifications and expand their expertise so they can work with more companies, agencies, and organizations.