What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A certified woman-owned business is one that has met specific requirements according to the official certifying organizations. Typically, certifications are used for organizations looking to diversify their partnerships. For example, let’s say Coca-Cola issues a contract opportunity for distribution services within the Northeast region of Mississippi. As a certified woman-owned business, depending on your industry, your business would be qualified as a candidate for the opportunity.
The national organization may be looking to work with more women-based companies, which means they’ll give top consideration to certified businesses before considering additional applications. There are different certifications available, depending on what you're trying to achieve for your business. The best path will depend on the work you’re looking for and the products and services you offer.
The most widely known is the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), a certification issued by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA also issues a subcategory certification of the WOSB known as the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB). You are allowed to apply for both certificatons if you qualify (with a small discount on application fees).
The federal government has promised at least 5% of contracting funds to go to WOSBs and/or EDWOSBs. Since the SBA is a federal agency, other federal organizations will typically only accept certifications either directly from them or through one of their third-party certifiers. You’re encouraged to look into the opportunities available in Mississippi before deciding whether this designation is beneficial for you. Some women may find that EDWOSBs are granted more federal contracts than WOSBs in their industry.
You also have the option of applying for a National Women’s Business Enterprise certificate. This designation may not be acceptable for federal agencies, but can be used for municipal or local opportunities available in the state. Again, it helps to look at both past and present contracts to determine which opportunities you were likely to apply to and the qualifications needed.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
There are a few other official organizations that can issue the WOSB and EDWOSB. The SBA has also approved the following groups to certify your business in Mississippi:
- 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.
You can also use one of these third-party certifiers for an NWBE.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
To become certified in Mississippi as a WOSB, your business must conform to the following requirements:
- Your company must be owned and operated by at least 51% women
- Women owners of the company must be U.S. citizens
- The highest ranking position of authority must be held by a woman
- Women owners must be involved in daily operations
The most important thing for the SBA to see is that your company is both a small business that is led and controlled by women. The owners of the company must have the authority, expertise, and vision to drive the enterprise forward.
To be approved for an EDWOSB in Mississippi, you’ll need to show that you meet all criteria for the WOSB. In addition, you’ll need to show that each woman business owner of the company has:
- A 3-year adjusted gross income average of $350,000 or less
- Assets totalling $6 million or less (based on fair market value)
- A net worth of $750,000 or less
The SBA grants certain exemptions for the net worth and income average of women business owners. For example, for business owners who have reinvested their income back into the company or whose income went up due to a one-time event. If you’re applying for an exception, you’ll need to provide documented proof that you meet the exemption parameters.
If you’re applying for the NWBE, you can expect many of the same criteria. All certifying organizations want to ensure that women are at the helm of the ship both in terms of everyday operations and long-term strategy. This certification typically includes a site visit where officials will come to observe your enterprise and its daily hierarchy.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Mississippi?
Becoming certified as a woman-owned business in Mississippi starts with understanding if certification is right for you in the first place. While there are a number of contracting opportunities available, not all women-owned businesses can take advantage of them. Once you know more about what’s available in your state, you can get a sense of whether or not a certification would help you. In general though, it’s recommended for women in underrepresented industries.
From there, you’ll want to take the preliminary test to find out if your business qualifies. Once you're ready to apply, use the SBA's checklist; this will help to ensure you have all the paperwork and proof you need to show you meet the SBA’s requirements. (Even if you’re not planning to apply for a federal certificate, the application process will be similar no matter what you apply for.)
You’ll also want to consider which group to apply through. Some women will go through the SBA because they know exactly what type of contracts they want and that they’re likely to be approved based on the size and nature of their business.
Other women prefer to get involved in an advocacy group like the WBENC. They may find they receive more personalized service and advice. For example, a third-party may be able to identify opportunities that are aligned with your business. Going this route can also open your business up to stronger relationships in your networking circle.
In terms of the practical details, all organizations typically aim to have your application approved within 90 days. However, some women-owned businesses can be approved within as soon as 15 days. Due to the nature of the application process, we recommend having all paperwork in place well before you get started.
You can also consider having a conversation with an official at the local chapter of the SBA or third-party certifier in case you anticipate any roadblocks. Doing so can help you avoid making a potentially costly mistake. The fees for each application will depend on both the size of your organization and the group through which you certify. Typically, you can expect to pay more overall if you go through a third-party rather than through the SBA.
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.
Mississippi Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
Mississippi offers its own certification opportunities, which can help businesses looking for state or local contracts related to their industry.
Mississippi Development Authority (MDA)
You can apply for a state Women Business Enterprise (WBE) if you’re interested in identifying public procurement opportunities with a variety of school or government agencies. You can look to the MDA’s Bid Bank to learn more about the contracting opportunities available to you. To apply, you must be a resident in the state and run a for-profit small business. This certificate is good for three years.
Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT)
The MDOT offers the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification, which qualifies you for federally funded transportation projects in the state. As the requirements would suggest, this is a federal program run through US DOT, but you must apply through the state for consideration. Transportation includes aviation, public transit, and highways. You can also apply if your company offers concessions that can be sold or used at Mississippi airports.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Mississippi?
The major benefits of becoming certified include more and better opportunities for work. Federal contracts are a great way to bring in steady, lucrative revenue into your organization, which can be the key to hiring more people and expanding your business. Certified women business owners also have access to training sessions and educational seminars where they can learn more about how to succeed in their industry.
There are also the perks of meeting other certified women-business owners in your area. Whether you network through the SBA or the WBENC, you can meet people who will broaden your perspective, provide personalized advice, and potentially even pave the way for new partnerships. You’ll be included in a special certified directory where other organizations can find you in case they’re in need of your services.
When it comes to special consideration for financing though, there are no special grants given to certified businesses. You may be able to find special financing options in the state though. In addition, there are national grants that are given to women business owners in Mississippi as well as industry-specific grants (depending on the products and services you offer). You may also visit the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for additional businesswomen resources in your state.
Mississippi has ranked in the top 10 states for percentage of women-owned businesses at 37.9%. However, the state has also struggled with growth for women-owned businesses. In order for women to get ahead, they need to be willing to think beyond their current qualifications. A women-owned business certification can be exactly what’s needed to go the extra mile.