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, Virginia 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 Virginia 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 make 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 Virginia 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 Virginia?
There are two key ways for Virginia-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 other options to certify your business. Virginia 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 Virginia. 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.
Virginia Unified Certification Program
Virginia requires any business seeking a DBE certification to apply through the Unified Certification Program. There are two different agencies that you can apply through:
- The Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (DSBSD)
- The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA)
You can actually get certification through either one of these organizations – you don’t have to get certified through both. Once you have your certification, you can qualify for DBE benefits during the bidding process for projects utilizing USDOT funds in Virginia.
As a DBE-certified business in a transportation-related industry, you can access Virginia’s Transportation Business Development Assistance program as well. The program offers training and other assistance to help you develop your business and to better take advantage of everything the DBE program has to offer.
Small, Women-Owned, and Minority Business (SWAM)
The Commonwealth of Virginia has other programs that seek to include more women-owned businesses on a state level. If you want to “participate in the procurement process with one of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s state agencies that does not receive federal transportation funds, you need to apply for SWaM certification, not DBE certification.”
There are some additional certifications that can be part of the SwaM certification process, including:
- Micro - A micro business is a certified small business with no more than 25 employees and no more than $3 million average annual revenue over a three-year period.
- Small - A small business has 250 or fewer employees, or average annual gross receipts of $10 million or less averaged over the past three years. The owner or owners need to be in control of management and daily business as well.
- Women-owned - A business majority owned by one or more women who handle the daily management and operation of the business.
- Minority-owned - A business majority owned and operated by a minority or minorities who handle daily operations and business.
Each of these certifications can benefit your business, so it’s worth seeking all that apply to you.
You can apply for both DBE certification and SWaM certification, so don’t hesitate to do both if you believe your business can benefit from both programs.
Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC)
The VTC is one of a number of major organizations in Virginia that prioritize doing business with SWaM certified businesses. If your business offers products or services that could be utilized by the VTC, you should explore their resources on “Doing Business with VTC – SWAM.” The VTC oversees significant business across the commonwealth and could be a valuable resource for growing your enterprise.
National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Richmond
NAWBO Richmond focuses on helping women business owners and potential entrepreneurs with a variety of educational, training, and networking resources in the Richmond area. The organization is national in scope with centers across the U.S. serving women business owners.
The combination of national resources and support with local focus and events is ideal for helping you identify and seize growth opportunities for your business. Whether you are exploring the idea of starting your business, are well established, or somewhere in between, the NAWBO team can help you reach your business goals.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Virginia?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Virginia, 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.