Woman-owned Business Certification is an important option to consider for female entrepreneurs looking to scale their businesses in Washington — 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 Washington, 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 Washington.
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 Washington have the option of using one of the four SBA-approved third-party certifiers:
- 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
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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington?
There are two key ways for Washington-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. Washington 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 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 Washington. 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.
Washington State Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises (OMWBE)
The OMWBE oversees the certification of women-owned businesses in the state of Washington. The organization makes it simple to find and apply for whichever certifications apply to you, including both state certifications and federal certifications. According to the OMWBE, the types of certifications are:
- Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)
- Woman Business Enterprise (WBE)
- Minority Women Business Enterprise (MWBE)
- Combination Business Enterprise (CBE)
- Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (SEDBE)
- Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (women and minority-owned businesses) (DBE)
- Small Business Enterprise (SBE)
- Airport Concessionaire Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE)
As a woman-owned business, you can take advantage of both state and federal certifications to cover all of your bases. The state certifications will help you access contracts throughout the various state agencies in Washington and the federal certifications will give you access to contracts funded by USDOT, including those of the Washington Department of Transportation and the Washington airports.
Washington Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC)
PTAC is another great resource for small and women-owned businesses. It brings together information on resources for your business at the state level and the local level. You may be able to find more opportunities and resources for your specific business on the PTAC site than just those offered by OMWBE.
On the official state government site, Access Washington, you can find information for all the various departments and services in the state. PTAC also lists multiple small business assistance resources, including SCORE, Innovate Washington, and Washington Small Business Development Centers.
Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)
The NMSDC is dedicated to helping minority and women-owned businesses connect with public agencies and major corporations seeking suppliers. The organization has served the Northwest, including Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska, for over 30 years. You can take advantage of their educational programs, seminars, and networking opportunities to further grow your business and hopefully land significant contracts with major organizations.
Washington Center for Women in Business (WCWB)
The WCWB supports women who want to start businesses or grow their existing business. They offer low-cost services throughout the state and provide extensive training opportunities. They also provide one-on-one business coaching with experienced professionals who can help you identify your challenges and develop plans to overcome those challenges. Check out their site and put one of their events on your calendar so you can meet with other women who are as passionate about business as you are.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Washington?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Washington, 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.
There are additional funding opportunities such as grants, investors, loans, and more for women entrepreneurs if a woman-owned business certification is not right for you.