What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A certified women-owned business is typically a small business that has proven it’s both led and owned by women. Each company must meet the standards of the certifying group, which may vary slightly from organization to organization.
These certifications were designed to give woman-owned businesses a fair chance at a variety of contracts and opportunities. After the federal government was confronted for its lack of engagement with women-owned businesses, officials pledged to give them at least 5% of all contracting funds.
In order to be considered for this, women business owners will need to have proof that they meet the guidelines for this designation. The federal government turned to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the federal agency that protects the interests of small businesses over those of corporate America. In turn, the SBA created the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification and the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification.
You have the option of applying for one or both of the SBA certifications, depending on your industry and specialty. Any woman-owned business interested in federal funds should consider having these certifications. The federal government will set-aside certain funds specifically for certified businesses and having one can put you on the shortlist of candidates immediately.
You can also look into a National Women Business Enterprise (NWBE) certification, a designation given by a variety of approved organizations. This certification is generally not accepted for federal contracts, but can be enough for municipal projects or private company partnerships.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
WOSB and EDWOSB were created by the SBA, but the SBA is not the only administration that can give out these certifications. The SBA has approved the following as third-party certifiers in Kentucky:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
All groups are powerful advocates for businesswomen, and each offers its own distinct benefits. Please note that while a third-party certifier can grant you the WOSB, the certificate will still need to be forwarded to the SBA so they can have it on file.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A business in Kentucky will need to meet the following qualifications for certification per the Code of Regulations:
- At least 51% of the business is owned and controlled by women
- All women owners must be US citizens with official documentation
- The top-ranking position in the company must be held by a woman
- The business must conform to the definition of a small business (per SBA’s parameters)
Please note that a WOSB does not require your business to be in operations for a certain amount of time. The SBA is verifying that the owners are primarily women and that those women have the skills and power to make strategic executive decisions.
The EDWOSB is based on the financial status of the owners, and each businesswoman must individually meet the following limits for certification (in addition the WOSB criteria listed above) in Kentucky:
- Net worth must be $750,000 or below
- 3-year adjusted gross income average must be $350,000 or below
- Fair market value of all company assets must be $6 million or below
There are several potential exclusions for the net worth and the adjusted gross income. For instance, if you can prove the majority of the profits were invested back into the business or that income was inflated by an unlikely event. However, there are no exemptions for the fair market value of the assets.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Kentucky?
Certification in Kentucky should start with taking a preliminary test through the SBA. Even if you’re planning to apply for a different certification than the WOSB or EDWOSB, the preliminary test will give you a better idea if you qualify for the certification or not. As you gather the official documentation and answer the questions, consider the complexity of your application. Follow the SBA's preparation checklist to make sure you have everything you need for the application process.
Businesswomen who need to make a number of appeals to the SBA may want to consider going through a third-party. The exact process will vary from business to business, but some women may have an easier time navigating the qualifications if they have special circumstances.
We recommend contacting different groups to learn more about the fees they charge for certification and the benefits they offer in return. Some women business owners may find that certain groups have a stronger presence than others in their neck of the woods, which can influence the certifier they choose. No matter what though, the SBA is designed to support small businesses through the certification process, so you always have another option if you’d prefer not to get involved with a third party.
The WBENC will not charge any fees for its members if you’re applying for the WOSB. However, you’ll still need to pay for the member fees in order to become a part of the organization. The NWBOC may be able to streamline a WOSB, EDWOSB, and NWBE certification, so you can expose your business to as many opportunities as possible. Consider how each organization can help your Kentucky business before deciding an official path.
The SBA will continue to offer self-certification for WOSB and EDWOSB businesses until the summer of 2020. After this, the rules will change for women-owned businesses, and they will either need to go through a third-party or use the SBA’s online program. Please note that there may be additional changes, but they likely won’t be finalized until June 30, 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.
Standard wait times for a certification can be as high as 90 days, though the goal seems to be to process applications within a month. Depending on who you certify through, your approval may come in as little as 15 days.
Kentucky Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
State certifications can be a way to avoid a more involved application process for a federal one. Kentucky offers the following opportunities for women-owned businesses.
Commonwealth of Kentucky
The state government offers the Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) certification to help small businesses grow. The application criteria will be similar to that of the WOSB and NWBE. It’s not only accepted within the state, but can also open your business up to contracts outside the state.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) is available to women in business who want to work within the transportation industry. This is a federal program, but administered by the state transportation departments. It can open your business up to federally funded transportation projects, including those related to highways, aviation, and public transit.
Please note that Kentucky also has a reciprocity agreement with the Indiana Department of Transportation, meaning that your DBE will be valid in both Kentucky and Indiana. You can also apply for the Airport Concession DBE (ACDBE) if you qualify. Both certifications can be applied for online.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Kentucky?
Becoming certified can be the key to expanding your business across the state of Kentucky and beyond. Whether you choose to work through federal projects or private companies, you can be considered for a variety of opportunities for businesswomen that you may never have been able to apply for without the certification.
You’ll also be listed on special state, city, and federal directories that will advertise your business without you having to fill out RFPs or contract bids. Some WOSBs or NWBEs receive direct requests through these directories without having to apply for any particular project.
Finally, the networking opportunities for certified woman owners can be considerable. The SBA and its third-party certifiers will offer a number of ways for you to meet and connect with fellow businesswomen in your area.
If you’re hoping for funding in Kentucky due to your certification, you should know that there are no specific opportunities in your state. Certification is meant to help you get the work you need to expand rather than qualify you for grants. However, you can look for national grants that are distributed in the state as well as general small business grants or industry-specific awards. Additionally, you can explore a variety of small business grants for women.
Kentucky was listed at number 28 of all 50 states when it came to the growth rate of women-owned businesses. This middle-of-the-pack status suggests that there’s still a lot of room left for women in business to capitalize on. The niche that women business owners can fill can be significant in this state, and a woman-owned business certification can be the key to giving your company an edge over the competition.
If a woman-owned business certification is not right for you, there are additional funding opportunities for women entrepreneurs such as investors for women-owned businesses, loans, and more. Also, you can visit the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in your state to get advice and learn more about the local businesswomen resources for your small business.