Woman-owned Business Certification is an important option to consider for female entrepreneurs looking to scale their businesses in Wisconsin — 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 Wisconsin, 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 Wisconsin.
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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin?
There are two key ways for Wisconsin-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 the certify.SBA.gov website, closely following the listed instructions. Each third-party agency has its own benefits and unique application process.
However, these aren’t the only options. Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin. 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.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)
To get your DBE certification, you will need to complete the Uniform Certification Program application. Wisconsin uses this program to facilitate DBE certification for businesses that will apply to all potential contracts funded with USDOT money throughout the state. Instead of needing to apply to individual jurisdictions, you can complete one application and get the certification you need to become competitive for potentially lucrative contracts.
If you are already certified in another state under the Uniform Certification Program, you may be able to use your existing certification in many jurisdictions in Wisconsin.
State of Wisconsin Department of Administration WBE Program
The state of Wisconsin enacted a bill concerning woman-owned businesses in 2006 that requires the Department of Administration “to develop, maintain, and keep a computer database of businesses in the state that are owned by women, containing demographic statistics and information on the types of industries represented, sales volume and growth rates, generation of jobs by both new and existing businesses and any other relevant characteristics.”
The Wisconsin state website has multiple businesswomen resources concerning the WBE program, including how you can apply and what you need to do to be eligible.
Wisconsin Supplier Diversity Program
The state also has a supplier diversity program that seeks to improve diversity among its suppliers. You can find information about getting a WBE here as well as information on how to apply to the program. One criteria that you might not be aware of is that you need to be in business for at least a year before you can participate in the program.
City of Madison Department of Civil Rights
The City of Madison has a Department of Civil Rights that oversees a program for improving diversity in public works. If you are doing business in Madison, it would be worthwhile to learn more about the program and how to participate. Having your DBE and WBE would be helpful, although you can get help with certification through the city program if you are not already certified.
Dane County Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC)
If your women-owned business is located in Dane County, you can take advantage of the EOC’s monthly meetings where DBE projects and certification are covered. The meetings can help you learn how to better prepare for the application process when trying out for government contracts.
Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) Wisconsin
The WBDC in Wisconsin is devoted to helping women develop their businesses. Whether you are just starting out, well established, or somewhere in between, the WBDC can provide you with educational opportunities, training, networking opportunities, and more to help you reach your business goals. They host a variety of events in the state as well that help women business owners meet and connect with other entrepreneurs to further their business knowledge and resources.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Wisconsin?
There are many benefits of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business in Wisconsin, 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.