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, Pennsylvania business owners have the option of using one of the four 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.
- 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.
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 Pennsylvania 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 (based on employee size and/or revenue)
- 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 are the ones making long-term decisions for the company.
- Highest officer position in the company must be held by a woman on a full-time basis.
Your Pennsylvania 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. This can help you determine if you’re ready to apply or if you need to make some changes to be eligible in the future.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Pennsylvania?
There are two key ways for Pennsylvania-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 also other certifying options. Pennsylvania 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 resources can supplement other actions, like reading the list of required documents and qualifications, to help women 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 Pennsylvania. Once you obtain a DBE certification, you gain a number of advantages. 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.
Pennsylvania Unified Certification Program (PAUCP)
The PAUCP is designed to be your “one-stop shop” for getting certified as a DBE business. They make it simple to apply for your DBE certification – which will help you access all the business opportunities out there for women-owned businesses in your state. Your certification will make you more visible to businesses seeking to hire DBE companies, as well as give you access to certain resources for DBE certified companies in Pennsylvania like counseling and training resources. You can go to their site, download the application, and fill it out. Then, you can submit the application to any of the following agencies:
- Allegheny County Department Of Minority, Women, And Disadvantaged Business Enterprise
- City Of Philadelphia – Office Of Business Diversity
- PA Department Of Transportation (PENNDOT) Bureau Of Equal Opportunity
- Port Authority Of Allegheny County Diverse And Disadvantaged Business Enterprises
- Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) DBE Program Office
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) SBE Programs
SEPTA is one of the larger organizations in Pennsylvania that source DBE certified businesses for projects utilizing USDOT funds. They serve Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties – a sizeable region that regularly requires transportation projects for rail, road, and more. You can find resources for applying to the DBE program on their site or you can use the link to go directly to the PAUCP. Either way, if you get certified, your business can potentially access significant contracts for SEPTA.
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) DBE Programs
PIT is another significant hirer of DBE-certified companies in Pennsylvania. There are actually two different programs that your business may qualify for at PIT – the DBE program and the Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program. If you qualify and achieve certification, your business will be put on the radar of PIT and Allegheny County Airport (AGC) when new projects open up.
Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council (EMSDC) MBE Certification
The EMSDC strives to connect women-owned and minority-owned businesses with those that need suppliers throughout the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. You can apply for MBE certification through the EMSDC. Once you get your certification, you will be put in the database of suppliers that large corporate buyers access when they want to offer opportunities to women-owned and minority-owned business partners.
Women’s Business Enterprise Center East (WBEC-EAST)
WBEC East is dedicated to helping women succeed in business throughout Pennsylvania and much of the East Coast. They can assist you in getting your WBE so that you can access all of the opportunities that such certification brings. WBEC is also known for providing excellent support and guidance to women business owners. They offer training programs, educational opportunities, networking events, and more to their members.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Pennsylvania?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Pennsylvania, 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.