Though women are starting businesses at a higher rate than ever before, there are still a number of barriers blocking female entrepreneurs from success.
One such obstacle is the lack of resources made available to women in business. Due to a lack of diversity in executive positions and general underrepresentation in industries like technology and engineering, women oftentimes suffer from a lack of support in their careers.
That’s why it’s vital for female entrepreneurs to be aware of resources like the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) that are designed to boost their success — no strings attached.
WBENC — Advocating for Women
We've explored the history and mission behind the WBENC, a third-party women-owned business certifier. You can also read our comprehensive guide on how to become a certified woman-owned business.
What Is the WBENC?
The WBENC was founded in 1996 after a similar organization, the North Texas Women’s Business Council, proved successful at certifying women-owned businesses in the Texas region. Three businesswomen from Dallas — Billie Bryant, Doris Thomas, and Deborah Nichols — brought the proposal of a national certifying agency to Susan Phillips Bari, who has been involved in running the organization since, along with Linda Denny and Pamela Prince-Easo.
The goal of the center is to “fuel economic growth globally by identifying, certifying, and facilitating the development of women-owned business.” This is facilitated by the resources offered through WBENC’s CORE platform: Certification, Opportunities, Resources, and Engagement.
Though today WBENC is the largest certifier of women-owned businesses across the U.S., certification represents just a sliver of WBENC’s total offerings. Prince-Easo, the organization’s current CEO and the president commented on the importance of WBENC’s entire portfolio:
“Our certification is the gold standard in both the public and private marketplace; our events are flawless, providing education, networking, and business-building opportunities … Due to the generosity of our supporters, we continue to provide additional resources to develop [Women Business Enterprise] business and break down barriers.”
The WBENC at a Glance
Though certification is a key service offered by the WBENC, the center has an abundance of other resources for women in business. On the WBENC website, you can find entrepreneurship news, success stories, and you can take advantage of the monthly newsletter that keeps you up-to-date with the goings-on of the community.
The WBENC is also involved in a number of public awareness campaigns geared toward visibility for female entrepreneurs, such as Women Owned Logo and ACTIntentionally, that you can read more about online.
On top of the reading materials, WBENC houses information for women seeking financial support. There is a page on education and grants like the Student Entrepreneur Program and the Dorothy B. Brothers Scholarship.
The WBENC also puts on a bunch of programs and events throughout the year. For young entrepreneurs, there is the Student Entrepreneur Program, which fosters growth for the next generation of women-owned businesses. Then there are networking opportunities such as the MatchMaker Series, a program designed to establish connections between certified WBEs and decision-makers in corporations and government agencies.
Other notable programs include the Accelerated Leadership Development Program, the Business Lab, and NextGen networking. The website has an extended list of various unique opportunities.
What is Certification?
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. Since then, the U.S. government has made it a goal to level out the playing field for often overlooked female-founded businesses.
While there are many options, the WBENC focuses solely on Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) certification which allows women-owned businesses to compete for real-time business opportunities provided by WBENC’s corporate members or government agencies.
Is Certification Right For You?
While it has many benefits, certification is not right for every business. To determine whether or not you should apply for certification, take a look at the short self-assessment quiz posted on the WBENC website.
In short, certification is typically useful for companies whose products/services are targeted at corporations, retail, and/or government agencies, as well as companies that have the capacity to provide quality service and products on large contracts. Additionally, your company must meet a specific criteria to qualify.
How Do You Qualify?
- Your company must be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents
- Any publicly-owned business must have at least 51% of the equity of which is owned and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents
- Management and daily operations of the company must be controlled by one or more of the women
To ensure companies meet these qualifications, the WBENC completes a two-part evaluation of each applicant. This includes a review of the documentation submitted and a site visit and interview with the female owner(s).
Review the website for more information on the standards and procedures determining certification.
How to Apply
The application for WBE certification is done online, but requires some preliminary steps:
- Gather all of the required documents, which must be uploaded to WBENCLink2.0. If there are documents that don’t apply to your company, you must provide a written explanation stating why
- Review your financial and legal information to make sure your documents affirm female ownership and control
- The owner and contact should add firstname.lastname@example.org to their safe sender list as this is how they’ll receive updates on the status of their application
- Register for and complete the online application
There is a non-refundable processing fee based on the annual gross revenue of your company. A company making under $1 million will pay $350, while those making over $50 million will pay $1,250. It will generally take around 90 days from the date your documentation is received for a decision to be made.
As long as your company meets the qualifications and your paperwork is submitted correctly, there is no reason your application shouldn’t be accepted by the Certification Review Committees. If you have any questions about the application, reach out to one of WBENC’s regional partners.
Benefits of Certification
Why go through all the hassle? The WBENC has a whole page dedicated to the many benefits of certification.
Principally, certification increases your company’s business opportunities. This will provide you with access to a current list of the hundreds of supplier diversity and procurement executives at major corporations and government entities that accept WBENC certification.
In addition to national recognition, certified businesses gain access to useful events and opportunities, such as WBENC’s National Conference & Business Fair and the Summit & Salute. Other capacity development programs like mentorship and education are also made available to certified businesses.
Ultimately, you access a community of support and gain increased recognition and business opportunities. If you do gain certification, take advantage of all the resources WBENC offers, not just the obvious ones.
Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business In...
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington D.C.
- West Virginia