What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
Certifications are used to verify the people at the heart of a small business. When it was discovered that the federal government worked with exceptionally few women-owned businesses, officials decided to give 5% of all contracting dollars to qualified owners in their fields. However, a federal agency isn’t going to verify each individual bid. Instead, officials rely on certificates to ensure they’re dealing with the right people.
The women-owned business certification is also used by more than just federal agencies. Corporate America, private interests, and municipal organizations: a wide variety of contracts may be available to your company so make sure to do your research. The most referenced certification is called the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), and it’s available through the Small Business Administration (SBA).
There’s also another category of the WOSB called the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB), created for women in business who meet certain financial criteria. EDWOSBs may have more access to set-aside funds through the federal governments, but again, it will depend on your industry. If you’re applying for both the WOSB and the EDWOSB, you’ll receive a small discount in application fees through the SBA.
You also have the option of applying for the Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certificate. This certificate may be available through a number of national and local groups, but it is not a federal certification. Primarily used as a marketing tool, a WBE can be the key to granting female entrepreneurs special consideration for private or municipal contracts.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
The SBA does not process all WOSB applications. They’ve sanctioned the following groups as third-party certifiers to give women business owners a choice in who they will select to certify their business:
- 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 professional organizations are all renowned for their commitment to advancing women-owned businesses in the country. Each one sets its own policies though, so your application process may vary depending on which one you’re looking for and the size of your company.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
Nebraska-based businesses will need prove they meet the following obligations from the SBA:
- At least 51% of the company must be owned and controlled by women
- Must be a small business according the SBA
- All women owners of the company must be U.S. citizens
- The top position in the company must be filled by a woman
Applying for the EDWOSB means that all women business owners in the company will have their finances examined by the SBA or third-party certifier. Each owner must prove the following in the state of Nebraska:
- Average adjusted gross income (over the past three years) is $350,000 or less
- Total net worth is $750,000 or less
- A fair market value of all assets must also be $6 million or less
You can appeal for a certification even if you don’t meet all requirements. The Code of Federal Regulations spells out the extenuating circumstances to prove that you still qualify. Women who have been continually reinvesting their profits back into the business, for instance, may be immune from the EDWOSB limits.
If you’re applying for some version of a WBE, you can expect the rules to be similar to the WOSB. You may be subjected to an on-site visit as well from the certification group. There may be a lot of technical jargon behind the certificates that you apply for, but the general purpose behind each one is the same. Each certification organization wants to determine that your business deserves to be given first pick of new business. Businesswomen who prove they have both the staff, expertise, and resources to successfully follow through on new projects will have an edge when their applications are reviewed.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Nebraska?
The business of woman-owned business certification in Nebraska begins with determining the best one for you. You may want to peruse past and current contracts in your state (both from corporate and government organizations), and the requirements attached to each one. Not every industry or service will be represented, so it helps to know this before diving in.
The next step is determining your business’ eligibility by taking the SBA's preliminary assessment. The SBA also offers a preparation checklist that you can use to determine whether you have all the necessary documentation to ensure your approval. The woman-owned business certification process can be time consuming and expensive for many business owners, and taking this precaution is a great way to familiarize yourself with the process so there are fewer unnecessary surprises along the way.
You should also consider the different certifiers that are available to you. The SBA can be a great resource for companies who have a relatively straightforward application. If you’re specifically going after federal work and you don’t necessarily want to join a women’s advocacy organization, this may be your best option.
However, some women will want to get involved with the national organizations in an effort to both expand their networking circles and potentially use their influence for the better. They may also find that third-parties can provide customized advice and guidance, which can be the key to getting the most from any given certification. Third-party certifiers are staffed with women who know the ropes and can share their own experiences.
We recommend doing your own research before officially applying through anyone. You can expect the fees for third-party certifiers to be higher than those of the SBA, but it will also depend on the size of your organization. The larger your business, the more time it will take to sort through the finances and ownership of the company. No matter who you apply through, you can expect an approval in about three months (90 days). Some women may receive a decision in as little as 15 days.
Business owners who choose to self-certify through the SBA should know that this option is currently being phased out. After June 30, 2020, you’ll be required to use the SBA’s new online program or go through an approved third-party. There may be other potential changes coming down the pipeline as well, so you’re encouraged to stay abreast of new updates as they debut.
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.
Nebraska Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
Every state has its own version of certifications for women-owned businesses, largely determined by the individual needs of the people within its borders. Understanding more about these opportunities may lead your business to skip the WOSB for a different designation.
Nebraska Department of Transportation
The US Department of Transportation allows for a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification for transportation-related projects. While this is a federal program, it’s run through the Nebraska state department. This certification is available for aviation, public transit, and highway projects, and even for airport concession businesses in the area. You can apply for the DBE through the Nebraska Unified Certification Program.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Nebraska?
There’s no requirement to be certified for federal work in order to apply, nor is there a guarantee that you’ll receive the work if you are certified. However, becoming a certified women-owned business can help you get to the shortlist of candidates far faster than those without.
It also gives you an idea of the needs in your community, which can help you determine if you can use your business resources to meet them. (You may need to adjust your services or products in order to do this, but it may just be one the most lucrative decisions you ever make.)
Furthermore, certifications will ensure your business name is placed in a directory where businesses and agencies can learn more about your specialty. Some organizations will use this directory to reach out to you instead of you having to fill out an RFP to be considered.
Finally, certified women owners will be able to participate in networking events and training sessions designed to expand knowledge and build relationships. The people you meet can lead to lucrative partnerships and untold opportunities. No matter what group you certify through, you'll receive unique advantages that can help push you forward.
There are no specific grant opportunities available for certified businesses in Nebraska, though you can look for national grants that support women-owned businesses and industry-specific grants if your small business offers a product or service that qualifies. Additionally, you can explore other small business grants for women.
The state of Nebraska has struggled with women-owned businesses, both in terms of per-capita numbers and growth. Women have a tremendous chance to bring their experience and insight into new projects, which can ultimately benefit the overall economy. Having a certification can make this goal that much easier to accomplish, especially if your woman-owned business is already designed to meet a variety of the contracts available in your state.