What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The woman-owned business certification is a way for businesses to prove that they’re led, owned, and controlled by women. Federal, state, local, and private organizations use it as a way to prove that they’re diversifying their supply chains and partnerships. The vast majority of contracts are not given to women-owned businesses, but these certificates give decision-makers an easier way to spread the wealth.
A certified woman-owned business isn’t guaranteed to get you more work, but those with certifications can be short-listed for lucrative positions that can catapult their business. There are several groups that grant certifications to women, but the most widely recognized is the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA offers the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification and the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification.
Other options include the National Women’s Business Enterprise (NWBE) certification offered through either the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce, or the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC).
The difference between each certification comes down to the details. Most federal contracts won’t accept the WBE, but many municipalities and local corporations will be happy to accept a WBE in lieu of a WOSB. Some federal contracts are set aside specifically for EDWOSBs, while others are made for general WOSBs. You may find that your industry features more opportunities for NWBEs, which can make it easier to choose the right one for you and your Indiana business.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
There are four organizations that have been approved by the SBA to issue the WOSB certification in Indiana:
- 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 groups were established to advance the interests of women and to fight for equality across the country. Some businesswomen would prefer to be more involved in their local chapters and will therefore choose to certify through them. If you do decide to certify with a third-party, you will still need to file your WOSB certification with the SBA.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The SBA has really set the stage for woman-owned business qualifications. Nearly every other certifying organization looks to the SBA’s requirements as a means of determining its own:
- At least 51% of the company is owned by women
- Women owners are U.S. citizens with official documentation
- All daily operation must be controlled by at least 51% of women
- The top ranking official at the company must be a woman
- The company must be considered a small business under the SBA rules
If you’re applying for an EDWOSB in Indiana, you’ll need to prove the financial income and net worth of every individual woman business owner (in addition to the WOSB requirements):
- Net worth must be $750,000 or less
- 3-year adjusted gross income average must be $350,000 or less
- Fair market value of all assets must equal $6 million or less
There are certain aspects of these certifications that you can contest, especially if you’re applying for the EDWOSB. For instance, if you’ve continuously reinvested profits into your business, then you may still qualify for an EDWOSB even if the income average is higher than the projected maximum. You can find the exact details through the Code of Federal Regulations.
If you’re applying for the NWBE certification, you’ll be subjected to an on-site visit before a final recommendation is made as to your eligibility. The requirements for this certification are generally the same as the WOSB, although the WBE will accept legal aliens as opposed to full U.S. citizens.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Indiana?
A woman-owned business in Indiana becomes certified by taking all steps for the application process. If you don’t have certain required documents for submission, you’ll need to include an official explanation (and proof when applicable).
If you’re just getting your feet wet, we recommend taking the preliminary assessment, courtesy of the SBA’s website. This step is a great way to avoid unnecessary frustration or expense if you’re ineligible. (The fees are nonrefundable if you don’t qualify for the program.) Also, it’s possible to simultaneously apply for both the WOSB and the EDWOSB. You’ll even get a small discount for this through the SBA. Once you're ready to apply, use the SBA's provided checklist to help you prepare for the application process.
Women who are interested in going through a third-party, should first research the fees for each certification. The amount you pay can vary based on the parameters of your business. You also need to consider the benefits you’re getting from each organization. A third-party will charge you a fee, but some women find that the personalized attention and advantages they receive are worth the extra costs.
If you’re planning to self-certify through the SBA, you’ll need to answer their questions and provide documentation to prove ownership and control.
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.
No matter which certification you’re applying for, the wait times for approval can be anywhere between 15 and 90 days.
Indiana Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
While the above certifications can be helpful for women who want to work with national organizations, there are certain statewide opportunities available for those who have no wish to work with corporate America or federal agencies. The state of Indiana offers its own certification for women-owned businesses who meet certain criteria.
Indiana Department of Administration
The Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certification is a state certificate offered through the government. While it shares many similarities with the national certification, it’s designated specifically for state contracts. You’ll receive notice of impending opportunities, so you have every opportunity to apply. You’ll also receive access to training opportunities and networking events. To qualify, women owners must control the enterprise, be U.S. citizens, and have expertise in their field.
Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (GLWBC)
The Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (GLWBC) is a local program for both Michigan and Indiana, and can aid with WBE certification if you’re applying through the WBENC. The idea behind this group is to bridge the gap between your business and the available contracting opportunities. While the NWBE can be applied for in numerous ways, some women prefer going through a group specifically looking out for the interests in their state.
Indiana Department of Transportation (IDOT)
Each state has its own Department of Transportation, but many of the state’s transportation projects are funded by federal dollars. The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program was designed to certify different small businesses and give them preferential treatment for these projects.
The majority owner must have a personal net worth below $1.32 million, excluding their firm’s assets and primary residence. You can also apply for the Airport Concessionaire Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (ACDBE) if your business provides goods or services that can be marketed in airports.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Indiana?
Women-owned businesses in Indiana have an advantage over their competition because they offer organizations a chance to diversify their business. Ultimately, this opens the door for better income and more challenging projects. There’s no guarantee that a women-owned business will be hired, but a certification will at least get them further along in the process.
Some businesses use their certification as a marketing tool, allowing them to stand out in directories. Others will use it as a means to understand the emerging needs of their market. You may need to change your business specialty slightly to fit the needs of certain contracts, but doing so can give you immeasurable power in the economy.
If you’re searching for women-owned certification business grants though, there aren’t any specific opportunities available. There are national grants available in every state, but the local options are few and far between. However, there may be grants available for your industry or business operation. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Indiana can help advice your small business and connect you with local busineswomen resources. If you’re in a predominantly male industry, this can be a way for you to expand your hiring base so you can bring in women experts with different perspectives and experience.
Indiana ranked number four in a survey for the best states in the nation for women-owned businesses. The survey looked at the number of barriers to enter the business world, the economic conditions of the state, and the resources available to small businesses. In the same survey, women reported having a more difficult time overcoming certain obstacles as opposed to their male counterparts. These certifications can be a way to gain recognition in your field and build the relationships that will lead to success.