How To Use Our Guide:

We've narrowed down the Women-Owned Business certification process. There are many resources (e.g. WBE or SBA) that will help with your application.

Follow our guide to learn more about how to become a certified Woman-Owned Business in Ohio.

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, women business owners in Ohio have the option of using one of the four SBA-approved third-party certifiers:

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 Ohio business must adhere to the following guidelines to become a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB):

  • Qualify as a small business as per the SBA small business size standards, which generally use employee size and/or revenue as measures.
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens.
  • Be managed by women on a day-to-day basis. Women must also be the ones making long-term decisions for the company.
  • The highest officer position in the company must be held by a woman on a full-time basis, during normal work hours.

Your business in Ohio 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 Ohio?

There are two key ways for Ohio-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.

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:

  1. Visit sam.gov (the System for Award Management)
    • It’s free
    • You will have to wait at least 72 hours before step 2
  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.

However, these aren't the only options. Ohio also has a number of state-wide, local and regional certification programs “to improve participation and inclusion for certified businesses throughout the state.”

Making use of these local businesswomen resources for women 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 Ohio. 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.

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) DBE Program

ODOT gives you a way to get your DBE certification for all relevant businesses and organizations in the state of Ohio through its Uniform Certification Application. Instead of needing to find and complete multiple applications for different departments and organizations, you can fill out one application and if you are accepted, your business will be put in front of every business that might want to hire a DBE in Ohio.

ODOT will do its due diligence and verify all the information on your application to ensure you are in fact a woman-owned business that is classified as a small or mid-sized business – not a big corporation. Once they verify that you meet the criteria, they will let you know you are certified and instruct you on how you can take advantage of your certification.

Local DBE Programs

Many of the cities in Ohio have their own DBE programs that you can qualify for if you get your DBE certification. These cities include:

  • Columbus
  • Cincinnati
  • Dayton
  • Toledo
  • Akron
  • Warrant
  • Youngstown

Ohio Department of Administrative Services Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)

The Ohio Department of Administrative Services gives women-owned businesses the opportunity to apply for a Minority Business Enterprise MBE certification. Once you have your MBE certification, you can be considered for state purchasing orders. State agencies in Ohio are directed to purchase a certain percentage of their supplies and services from MBE businesses, so your certification could lead to significant business opportunities.

State of Ohio’s Encouraging Diversity, Growth and Equity (EDGE) Certification

Ohio has another program, EDGE, that seeks to increase the number of minority and women-owned businesses used by state agencies and universities. Although the EDGE certification is similar in many ways to the MBE certification, there are some key differences. One of the differences is that EDGE certification applies to construction contracts. So, if you think your business could benefit from construction contracts, you definitely want to consider seeking EDGE certification.

Women’s Business Centers of Ohio

There are multiple WBCs in the state of Ohio – all of which focus on helping women entrepreneurs like you to start and run successful businesses. You can find many different businesswomen resources on their site and in person at any of their locations. Some of these resources for women include education, training, workshops, networking opportunities, and more. They can also help you identify and apply for any relevant certifications or financial opportunities that may apply to you as a woman-owned business and based on your business type.

What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Ohio?

There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Ohio, 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.

There are additional funding opportunities such as national grants, investors, loans, and more for women entrepreneurs if a woman-owned business certification is not right for you.