What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The origin of certification programs can be traced back to 20 years ago when researchers revealed the severe lack of corporate and government agencies contracting with women-owned businesses. The U.S. government reacted with a goal to award “at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year.”
This was achieved in 2015 when 17.7 billion of federal contracting dollars available to small businesses were awarded to Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs). Since then, the government has continued to expand its goals and the resources made available for female entrepreneurs.
The main certification program for women-owned businesses seeking to increase their growth is WOSB, run by the Small Business Administration (SBA). There is also a subset of the WOSB program: the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification. Both are nationally recognized certifications that facilitate access to federal contracts “set aside” specifically for WOSBs in underrepresented industries, leveling out the playing field for women-owned businesses.
Alternatively, business-owners have the option of using one of the SBA-approved third-party certifiers:
- The 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.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
Qualifications vary depending on the certification for which you apply. So, here are the general requirements for the women’s contracting program, according to the SBA website. Your North Dakota business must adhere to the following guidelines to become a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB):
- Qualify as a small business per SBA small business size standards (based on employee size and/or revenue).
- Have at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens.
- Women must make long-term decisions for the company.
- Highest officer position in the company must be held by a woman on a full-time basis, during normal work hours.
Your North Dakota business must adhere to the following guidelines to even be considered for an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business certification (EDWOSB):
- Have a personal net worth of less than $750,000. (There are some exclusions.)
- Have an adjusted gross income average over three years of $350,000 or less. (There are some exclusions.)
- Have a fair market value of all assets of $6 million or less. (There are no exclusions.)
The full rundown of qualifications is available online in the Code of Federal Regulations. There is also the option to get a preliminary assessment by the SBA’s Certify website to see if you’ll qualify.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in North Dakota?
There are two key ways for North Dakota-based businesses to get national certification. The first is self-certification which requires you to answer questions and upload documents (the amount depends on whether you’ve previously participated in SBA programs) through the certify.SBA.gov website. While planning for this, reference the SBA’s preparation checklist which tells you everything you’ll need throughout the process.
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.
Alternatively, you can apply to be certified by one of the four approved third-party certifying agencies. You will then need to provide proof of your certification through certify.SBA.gov, closely following the listed instructions. Each third-party agency has its own benefits and unique application process.
There are additional ways to get certified if you are looking for other options. North Dakota also has several state-wide, local, and regional programs targeted toward women business owners.
Making use of these local businesswomen resources can supplement other actions, like reading the list of required documents and qualifications, to help female entrepreneurs prepare for and increase their chances of gaining certification.
Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Certification
Your woman-owned business should be able to qualify for DBE certification in the state of North Dakota. You gain a number of advantages with a DBE certification. Your business is put on the radar of companies fulfilling contracts using federal funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) in the state. You also get access to the Business Opportunity and Workforce Development Office, which provides assistance to help your business be more competitive.
The goal of the DBE program is to help businesses like yours compete with larger corporations for contracts that are funded partially or fully by USDOT. Businesses are given incentives to hire DBE companies, so being certified increases your chances of being chosen for what could be lucrative contracts.
Qualifying for a DBE is not complicated, although it does require you to submit an application and some other documentation. As long as your business is majority-owned and operated by a woman (or minority), is a small business, and your net worth is not too high, you can most likely qualify.
North Dakota Department of Transportation Minority Certification
The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) is the organization responsible for overseeing DBE applications in the state. They seek to increase the number of minority-owned and women-owned businesses that get contracts funded in part or fully by the USDOT. Different state and federal agencies in North Dakota can gain benefits from hiring DBE businesses and NDDOT wants to assist those companies and DBEs in identifying and connecting with one another.
You can apply for your North Dakota DBE on the NDDOT Certification and Compliance System. If you are having trouble navigating their system for any reason, they also offer the option of getting live training from a specialist.
North Dakota Women’s Business Center (NDWBC)
The NDWBC was created to advise, train, and launch women in business in the state. They offer free business advising and a women’s leadership program that you can participate in.
The organization also offers assistance with certifying your woman-owned business. A WOB Certification is available through the ND Department of Commerce, which can help you get discounts, training, and connect you with women-owned businesses in both North Dakota and throughout the U.S. Your certification can give you leverage that can make it easier to increase your business income and your exposure to potential business partners.
“The NDWBC provides me with an invaluable support system to lean on whenever I have questions... I enjoy the comradeship & networking opportunities offered to me by attending their events such as the Women’s Business Summit.”
Kayla Cote van Rensburg – Dak. & Collaboratives
As a woman-owned business, it can really pay to take advantage of resources like the NDWBC. They understand the challenges you are facing and they know how to overcome those challenges. Their advice will be targeted toward your needs as a woman business owner.
North Dakota Small Business Development Centers
While they are not a resource targeted solely at women business owners, the North Dakota Small Business Development Centers (ND SBDC) are still an excellent resource for you as a small business owner. If you are not within close proximity to the NDWBC, you may still have direct access to an ND SBDC in your area. If so, you should definitely consider visiting your nearest location or contacting them to learn more about what they have to offer. They will know what resources are available in your area for women-owned businesses and for small businesses in general. They will also offer numerous educational and training opportunities for all the various skills needed to succeed as a small business.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in North Dakota?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in North Dakota, starting with the fact that you’ll have increased contracting opportunities with major corporations and the government.
As a certified WBE, you’ll also get access to unique businesswomen resources like regional and national events, webinars, training, and business expos, as well as inclusion on a national database which includes over 13,000 certified women business enterprises.
Qualified WBEs can be eligible for the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), a national certification recognized by the federal government.
Though the government predominantly does not have grants available for certified for-profit businesses, companies that create a product benefiting their whole industry can qualify for unique grants. Contact your state branch of the Small Business Development Center for more information on this subject.
If a woman-owned business certification is not right for you, there are additional funding opportunities for women entrepreneurs such as national grants, investors for women-owned businesses, loans, and more.