What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A certified woman-owned business is one that has worked with an official group to be granted a special designation. These certificates are generally used for specific contracts and partnerships in an effort to give businesswomen a fair chance to compete for new opportunities in their industry.
The federal government famously made a pledge several years ago to give women-owned businesses 5% of their contracting dollars. This amounts to billions of dollars being distributed to certified businesses, an advantage that can help you expand your company to new levels.
Even for businesses that aren’t interested in federal contracts, a certification can still be helpful. Many local organizations, state agencies, and even private companies are hoping to diversify, and they’ll also use certifications as a means of distinguishing different types of companies.
The most widely accepted certifications are those offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). These include the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification or the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification. If you qualify for both, you can apply for both. The SBA will even provide a small discount on application fees if applying for the two simultaneously.
Not every contract requires the WOSB or the EDWOSB though. Some will accept the National Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certification. This certification is often used as a marketing tool and can qualify you for private companies and municipal contracts.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
If you’re interested in applying for the WOSB in Iowa, you’ll first need to decide which organization to use. Some Iowa businesswomen will go straight through the SBA while others will choose one of the SBA’s approved third-party certifiers. If you choose to go through a certifier, you can apply through any of the following:
- 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 have proven themselves to be dedicated and effective advocacy organizations for women in business. You can also go through these organizations for NWBE certification.
If you choose to certify through a third-party agency, you will still be required to alert the SBA so they can have your official paperwork on file.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
If you’re planning to apply for a WOSB certification in Iowa, you’ll need to meet the following criteria:
- More than half (51%) of the company must be owned by women
- Women owners must be US citizens with official documentation
- The highest-ranking official must be a woman who works on a full-time basis
- The company must meet revenue and size standards to qualify as an SBA small business
If you’re planning to apply for an EDWOSB in Iowa, you’ll need to prove the following about each individual woman owner’s financial assets:
- Net worth is $750,000 or under
- 3-year adjusted gross income average is $350,000 or under
- Fair market value of all assets must be $6 million or less.
It should be noted that the SBA will make certain exemptions for the net worth and adjusted gross income average. So, if you’ve reinvested all profits into the business or the income was artificially inflated by a one-time event, you may still qualify for the EDWOSB. If you’re applying for special exclusions on your application, you may receive more personalized advice through a third-party certifier than you would through the federal SBA.
You can find the details on the official Code of Regulations. We also recommend taking the preliminary assessment for the WOSB to find out if you qualify before filling out the official application and paying the relevant fees. The most important factor is that the certifying organization sees that women are making decisions for the company’s future on a regular basis.
If you’re hoping to apply for WBENC’s NWBE, the requirements are similar to the WOSB requirements. The idea is to show that women both own and run the company. You need to show that the strategy is being controlled by women and that women are dictating the future of the company. You may be subjected to an on-site visit if applying for this certification where you’ll be observed by a qualified official.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Iowa?
Certification starts with fully understanding the options available to you. The national organizations listed above can serve as a stepping stone for many women in business, regardless of whether they go through the SBA or a third-party. Before applying, refer to the SBA's checklist to make sure you have everything prepared in advance.
We recommend researching the contracts in your area, so you have a better idea of which organizations require what. You can also look into the local chapters of third-party certifiers to get a sense of their internal operations. For example, you may find that the WBENC offers more businesswomen resources like networking opportunities than the SBA does.
It all comes down to how you plan to use your certification. If you only need it to get your foot in the door for certain contracts, then it may make sense to certify directly through the SBA. If you want to become more involved in the business world, then you may want to go through a third-party. While a third-party may charge you more in terms of fees, they may also be more invested in helping your business get ahead. Please note that fees vary from organization to organization and are based on the size of your business.
Women applying before the summer of 2020 will still have the option to self-certify through the SBA for a WOSB or EDWOSB. However, there are upcoming changes slated to begin sometime after June 30, 2020. While these changes are still being solidified according to the SBA, they are expected to change the requirements so that women can only apply through a third party or through a special online program offered by the SBA.
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.
The approval time for an application is anywhere from 15 to 90 days. You may find that going through a third-party will speed up your wait times, though it all depends on the volume of applications and the specifics of your business.
Iowa Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
Different states offer their own certification programs, which can be helpful for businesswomen who want to work solely with Iowa state or local agencies.
Iowa Targeted Small Business Program
This certification program is available for women owners and includes both technical and financial assistance for companies. Your business would also receive special consideration for procurement opportunities if you’re buying from Iowa state. Finally, you’ll be listed in a special directory that organizations can use when they’re looking to diversify. To qualify, you must be a for-profit business in Iowa with a gross income of $4 million or less.
Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT)
The Iowa Unified Certification Program (UCP) offers the chance for women in business to be classified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). This program is technically funded through the federal government, and designed to give priority to disadvantaged businesses applying for federally funded transportation-related projects. To apply, an owner of the business must have proven expertise in this field and a personal net worth of $750,000 or under.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Iowa?
The most obvious benefit for becoming a women-owned business certified in Iowa is the chance to make more money and expand your business. You’re more likely to be considered for certain contracts, even if you’re applying against more established competitors.
The businesses that stand to gain the most from a WBE certification typically include those who operate in a traditionally male-dominated industry, such as the STEM fields, or those who specialize the needs of state and federal agencies.
In addition to training seminars and networking events for businesswomen, you’ll also receive notifications when certain opportunities become available, so you have the time you need to prepare for different types of contracts. Every certification also includes your business name in a directory that other organizations can use to reach out to you if they’re in need of your products and services.
If you’re looking for additional funding in Iowa, there are no specific grants available in Iowa for certified women-owned businesses. However, there are national grants available as well as industry-specific grants that you may want to look into. There are also attractive lending opportunities in the state for certified businesses that can make it easier for women to get ahead. You may visit the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for advice and to learn more about local businesswomen resources. Additionally, you can explore a variety of small business grants for women.
In 2018, there were 91,136 women-owned businesses in Iowa, placing the state at 24 compared to the rest of the nation. The state ranked 15 for job growth between 2014 and 2019, a number that shows the importance of women-owned businesses for the economy. A certification can give women in business the chance to share their skills and expertise with the state to both grow their revenue and improve the local economy.