Advice to Woman Entrepreneurs in the 21st Century – How You Can Qualify as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise

S’well, Orangetheory Fitness, and Innovative Solutions – what do these companies all have in common? They are all Woman-Owned Business Enterprises (WBEs).

If you are a woman and you run a business or you want start one – getting certified as a WBE can make the difference between landing a deal with large companies or government agencies.
What is a WBE? What are the requirements to qualify for certification as a WBE?

Women’s Business Enterprise, commonly referred to as a WBE, is an independent, privately-owned business that is at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women who are United States citizens or lawful permanent residents; whose business formation and principal place of business are in the U.S. or its territories; and whose management and daily operation is controlled by a woman with industry expertise.
A woman (or women) must manage the day-to-day operations and a woman must the hold the highest officer position in the business and work at the business full-time. A woman and a man can own the company jointly, but the woman must be the majority owner and demonstrate her management and control of the company.

If your company meets these key requirements, you can begin the process of putting together your application. Certification is not based on company size, number of employees or profitability, although some of these criteria may be relevant to potential opportunities for WBEs.

Benefits of Certifying as a WBE

Certification can potentially help women entrepreneurs develop more business opportunities. Moreover, most public corporations as well as local, state, and federal government purchasing agencies have programs that allot a certain percentage of business to WBEs. The U.S. government intentionally looks for WBEs to award specifically designed government contracts. Certification can help women entrepreneurs ramp up sales, and open doors to large retailers (such as Starbucks, or Target) who have initiative to work with certified WBEs. It can also help companies tap into resources and help less experienced entrepreneurs build capacity through networking events, and executive educational programs.
Certification Process

The certification process is not without its challenges, and often owners get discouraged during the process because they lack the proper guidance or have a misunderstanding of how the process works.

Businesses may choose to self-certify or obtain a certification from third party certifiers who are approved by the Small Business Administration. When businesses choose to self certify, they have two options: 1) to qualify as a women-owned small business (WOSB); or 2) to qualify as an economically disadvantaged women-owned small business (EDWOSB). Both WOSB and EDWOSB have their own eligibility and certification requirements.

More frequently, a third party, city, state or federal agency certifies WBEs. Some examples of private third-party organizations that provide women-owned certifications include: U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC). In addition to private party certifiers, there are also several state and local agencies offer certification programs.

The Application Process

Once you have gathered all the necessary information and paperwork, you’ll need to submit it all to the appropriate agency for review. Depending on which certification process you choose, you may need to pull together a wide range of paperwork, and have an in-person interview to have your company be examined (i.e. someone from the certification agency or organization will conduct a site visit at your place of business. The purpose of the site visit is to observe how the business is run, and verify that there is in fact a woman running the business).
As a rule of thumb, make sure that you keep copies of everything you have submitted. In most cases, you will be able to submit a photocopy of a document and keep the original for your own files.

Once You’re Certified

Now it’s time to use your newly-minted certification to your advantage. According to business owners who have their certification, there is a lot of potential to grow your business through this avenue, but you can’t just sit back and expect the business to come to you. The best way to get word out that you are certified is to contact local, state, and national certification agencies and ask to be put on their mailing list. Often, big companies and government agencies will send out RFPs (requests for proposals) through organizations like the NWBOC and the WBENC and your company will receive an e-mail blast about any upcoming project opportunities.

Note that you need to maintain the certification by applying for renewal every year. If you don’t renew your certification annually, it will expire after that first year. The renewal process is much simpler and streamlined compared to the initial application. Check with the agency through which you received certification for their renewal procedures.

If you are unsure whether you qualify as a WBE, you are seeking guidance for certification, or you have other questions regarding WBEs feel free to contact us.