Woman-owned Business Certification is an important option to consider for female entrepreneurs looking to scale their businesses in the District of Columbia — particularly for those who want to do more business with the federal government or corporate America.
While its benefits are abundant, women-owned business certification is not the most straightforward process — you have to meet specific qualifications and fill in a lot of paperwork. But fear not, we’ve broken down the ins and outs of certification in the District of Columbia, as well as the various businesswomen resources unique to the state, to make the process as painless as possible and help you take this big next step.
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 the District of Columbia.
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 the District of Columbia have the option of using one of the four SBA-approved third-party certifiers:
- National Women’s 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 District of Columbia 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 the District of Columbia 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 the District of Columbia?
There are two key ways for District of Columbia-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:
- 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.
However, these aren’t the only options. The District of Columbia 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 District of Columbia. 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.
District Department of Transportation (DDOT) DBE Program
DDOT oversees the DBE program in the District of Columbia. You can visit their website to find an application for the certification program, as well as a listing of upcoming procurement opportunities and answers to many common questions about the program. According to their site, “DDOT also strongly encourages the use of DDOT-certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE) for contracting and subcontracting opportunities.” That’s encouraging news if your business is certified and hoping to get a lucrative contract.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) DBE Program
The WMATA also encourages the use of DBE-certified businesses in its various projects. According to the WMATA site, “Metro assigns DBE participation goals on a contract-by-contract basis on federally funded construction contracts having a total dollar value greater than $500,000 and on non-construction procurements (i.e. contracts for services, supplies, and equipment) having a total value greater than $150,000.”
You can apply for certification through WMATA as well as DDOT, so you can decide which fits your needs more.
Local Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (LDBE) Certification
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) oversees a program designed to encourage the use of disadvantaged businesses for airport-related business contracts – the LDBE. You can get certified through MWAA and then gain access to business opportunities through the program. When the MWAA has new contracts available, your certification will improve the odds of you being chosen as a provider.
Women’s Business Center (WBC) Washington DC
The WBC in Washington DC offers a variety of services to help you grow your women-owned business. These include:
- Business Assessment and Referral. You can meet with a Business Development Specialist to help you see what challenges are specific to your business and get training on how to overcome those challenges.
- Training. There are a variety of training opportunities at the WBC, including weekly workshops, monthly seminars, and topic seminars.
- Counseling. When you need mentoring and/or coaching, you can get it at the WBC. The specialists at the organization can help you learn to be a better businesswoman.
- Access to Capital. Financing can be difficult as a small business. The WBC can help you identify what kind of financing you need and can help connect you with lenders who can provide it.
- Procurement. One of the specialties of the WBC is helping women-owned businesses gain access to key businesses and government agencies in the DC area.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in the District of Columbia?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in the District of Columbia, 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.