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 Tennessee.

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, Tennessee business owners 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 Tennessee 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 must 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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee?

There are two key ways for Tennessee-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:

  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.

There are other options to certify your business. Tennessee 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 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 Tennessee. 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.

Tennessee Unified Certification Program (TN UCP)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) oversees the DBE program in the state. Their site is your resource for getting an application and participating in the program throughout the state. The TN UCP is designed to simplify the DBE process for businesses and contractors by providing an overarching program for the state instead of multiple smaller programs. Once you have successfully gotten your DBE certification, you can participate throughout Tennessee, including in Memphis, Chattanooga, and Nashville.

One other thing to keep in mind is that Tennessee requires all DBE and non-DBE businesses to be pre-qualified before they are allowed to work on a TDOT contract. You can find more information on this requirement in the same place you find the DBE certification application.

City Of Memphis Equal Business Opportunity

The City of Memphis has an Office of Diversity & Compliance that can help you get certified as a woman-owned business (WBE) so that you can access the City’s Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) program. They do not charge a fee for you to apply to the EBO program, so be sure to take advantage of it. After you are certified, you can add your business to the City registry and get your name out there for upcoming projects.

Nashville Metropolitan Development And Housing Agency (MDHA)

The City of Nashville’s MDHA has Diversity Business Enterprise Program Initiatives that are designed to help businesses like yours gain equal access to contracting and purchasing programs. You cannot seek certification through the MDHA, but they will accept your certification from the other six state agencies that do offer certification.

Metro Nashville Public Schools

The public school system in Nashville seeks to partner with DBE-certified businesses when seeking new vendors and contractors. You can register with the school system as a DBE certified company and then participate in the bidding process for upcoming contracts. There are many different opportunities within the school system, including selling goods, providing services, supplying goods, and construction of new buildings.

Pathway Women’s Business Center (WBC)

Located in Nashville, Pathway WBC is focused on helping women business owners start and grow their enterprises. They provide practical business training that focuses on helping you reach the next stage of your business – starting from wherever you are right now. They also host events for women entrepreneurs, networking opportunities, and more. If you are in need of funding for your business, they may be able to help you find it as well.

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

There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Tennessee, 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 (SBDC) 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 grants, investors for women-owned businesses, loans, and more.