Everything You Need To Know About Getting Your Woman-Owned Business Certification

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Between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses in the USA grew by 21%—that’s more than double the growth rate for new businesses overall.

Small businesses that are owned by women can apply for an official woman-owned business certification from the Small Business Administration (SBA), as well as authorized third-party certifiers like the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC).

Registering for a woman-owned business enterprise (WBE) certification provides small businesses with a number of compelling benefits. Most prominently, the SBA’s Federal Contracting Program designates that 5% of federal contracts must be given to businesses with a woman-owned business certification in specific industries in which women-owned businesses are underrepresented.

Women-owned businesses can apply for three types of certification:

  1. Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB)
  2. Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB)
  3. Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE)

WOSB and EDWOSB certifications are offered by the SBA and enable businesses to participate in federal programs for women-owned businesses. WBE certification, on the other hand, is offered by approved third-party certifiers, and is typically accepted by private organizations and municipal governments. If you receive a WBE certification from an authorized third-party certifier, you’ll also qualify for WOSB and EDWOSB certification through the SBA.

In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about receiving a woman-owned business certification, including:

  • When to get certified as a woman-owned business
  • SBA programs for woman-owned businesses
  • Obtaining a woman-owned business certification through third-party certifiers
  • Woman-owned business requirements
  • How do you register as a woman-owned small business?

Let’s get started.

When To Get Certified as a Woman-Owned Business

While getting certified as a woman-owned business does provide a number of advantages, certification is not always necessary or beneficial. If you’re considering applying for a woman-owned business certification, ask yourself these two questions to determine if it’s worth pursuing:

  1. Are your products and services targeted to corporations, retail, and/or government agencies? Corporations and government entities work with organizations like the SBA and WBENC to uncover sourcing opportunities with woman-owned business enterprises. If you work with or are hoping to work with these kinds of organizations, getting your WBE certification can help you get a foot in the door.
  2. Can you service large contracts? Corporate, retail, and government contracts may be larger than what many small businesses are used to. If your business is unable to handle larger contracts, it may not be worth pursuing your WBE certification.

SBA Programs for Woman-Owned Businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers two certifications for WBEs: Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification and Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification. Businesses can self-certify for free.

Both programs require annual renewal in order to maintain eligibility for the WOSB Federal Contracting Program. Additionally, firms must undergo a program examination conducted by SBA or a third-party certifier every three years.

Let’s take a closer look at these two programs and their certification criteria:

1. Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification

With WOSB certification, your business will be eligible to compete for federal contracts set aside for the WOSB Federal Contracting Program, which stipulates that 5% of federal contracts must go to businesses with WOSB or EDWOSB certification.

To qualify as a WOSB, your business must meet the following criteria:

  • Your business must be at least 51% unconditionally and directly owned by women who are U.S. citizens.
  • The woman or women must manage daily operations, make long-term decisions, and hold the highest officer positions available.
  • They must also work at the business full-time during normal working hours, though there is no minimum amount of time for the business to be considered operational.

2. Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification

To qualify for EDWOSB certification, your business must meet the following economic requirements in addition to the WOSB criteria listed above:

  • The business owner’s personal net worth must be under $750,000
  • The business owner’s adjusted gross income average over three years must be less than or equal to $350,000
  • The fair market value of all assets must be less than $6M (excluding equity in business and primary personal residence, income reinvested or used to pay business taxes, and funds invested in official retirement accounts if they cannot be accessed till retirement)

If you meet the economic requirements for EDWOSB certification, the SBA recommends applying for this certification over WOSB. Because some federal contracts are further restricted to economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses, EDWOSB-certified businesses are eligible to bid for more contracts than WOSB-certified businesses.

Obtaining WBE Certification Through Third-Party Certifiers

The SBA recognizes WBE certification from four authorized third-party certifiers:

  1. Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
  2. National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC)
  3. U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC)
  4. El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

WBE certifications from these organizations are recognized by state and local governments as well as other private corporations. To qualify for the SBA’s WOSB Federal Contracting Program, your business will still need to self-certify as a WOSB or EDWOSB. If you’ve already received a WBE certification from one of these authorized third-party certifiers, your business will also meet the criteria for SBA certification and the self-certification process should be relatively simple.

Third-party organizations will charge application fees, but unlike the SBA, they also offer additional benefits such as access to expert consultants and other support.

Let’s take a closer look at these four third-party certifiers.

1. Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the U.S. WBENC partners with 14 regional partner organizations around the country to provide certification.

In addition to being accepted by the SBA, achieving WBE certification from WBENC offers a number of woman-owned business benefits, including:

  • Access to supplier diversity and procurement executives at hundreds of major U.S. corporations and government entities that accept WBENC certifications
  • Inclusion in WBENCLink2.0, an online database of WBENC-certified businesses
  • Formal and informal opportunities to pursue business with corporate and government members, as well as other WBENC-certified businesses
  • Access to networking events, procurement opportunities, mentoring, executive education, capacity development programs, and other business tools and resources
  • Eligibility for regional and national recognition and awards
  • Use of Woman Owned Logo and Women’s Business Enterprise Seal as a marketing tool
  • Opportunities to promote your business within the WBENC network through sponsorship and participation in national and regional events, contributions to the WBENC blog, speaking opportunities, and more.
  • Access to a community of support from other female business owners and like-minded professionals, including opportunities to promote your business within the WBENC network through sponsorship and events, speaking opportunities, and more.

To receive certification, WBENC requires businesses to meet the following woman-owned business requirements:

  • Majority (at least 51%) ownership by one or more women
  • Demonstrated proof of female management and control of business
  • Unrestricted female control of the business in legal documents and day-to-day operations
  • A woman holding the highest defined title in the company’s legal documents
  • Documented evidence of female contribution of capital and/or industry expertise
  • Status of U.S. Citizenship or Lawful Permanent Resident for woman owner(s) constituting majority ownership

See a full list of WBENC documentation requirements.

WBENC charges a processing fee for new applications as well as for recertification. The fee ranges from $350 up to $1,250 depending on your annual gross revenue as reported on your federal taxes.

2. National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC)

The National Women Business Owners Corporation was the first national certifier of woman-owned businesses in the U.S. NWBOC offers WBE certification using the same criteria as the WOSB program, as well as a “Certified Plus” program for members who successfully complete NWBOC’s supplier development program. “Certified Plus” offers these additional benefits:

  • More visibility and credentials for potential corporate buyers
  • Taking the business owner through the buyer supplier process and addresses quality control, customer service, scalability and defining a value proposition

NWBOC charges a one-time application fee of $400, with annual recertification fees between $200 and $400 depending on the size of your business.

3. U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC)

The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce is also an SBA-authorized third-party certifier for WOSB and EDWOSB. In addition to WBE certification, they also offer a program called Certification Assist, which provides support for businesses before they formally apply for WBE certification, including:

  • Help organizing documents and preparing applications
  • Troubleshooting potential issues with prep and eligibility
  • Answering questions and concerns before formally applying for certification

USWCC also offers National Women’s Business Enterprise (NWBE) certification and International Women’s Business Enterprise (IWBE) for corporate and regional governments. If you receive WOSB or EDWOSB certification, you may also secure NWBE or IWBE at no additional charge.

There is a $275 application fee for USWCC members, while non-members will be required to pay an application fee of $350.

4. El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

The El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce provides support and WOSB certification for businesses in the southwest Texas border area through the Women’s Business Border Center.

Woman-Owned Business Requirements

Eligibility requirements differ by organization and specific certification, but in most cases your business must have more than 50% female ownership to attain a woman-owned business certification. The woman or women must also be the ones who manage daily operations and hold the highest officer positions available.

You’ll need to meet the following woman-owned business requirements in order to receive a WBE certification:

  • The majority owners must be U.S. citizens
  • The company must be a for-profit
  • The company must have a place of business in the U.S. and operate primarily within the U.S., or make a significant contribution to the U.S. economy through payment of taxes or use of American products, materials, or labor.
  • The business must meet industry-specific size standards based on revenue and number of employees. Start by looking up the North American Industry Classification code for your business or simply do a keyword search with the SBA’s online tool. Then, enter the NAICS code and your 3-year annual average revenue. Look for a green check mark that shows you meet the size requirements.

Be prepared to provide the following business documentation:

  • Company name and fictitious business name (“Doing Business As” DBA) certificate
  • Owners’ names, addresses, and company website
  • The company’s legal structure
  • Incorporation date
  • Articles of organization/incorporation, partnership or joint venture agreements, voting agreements, and any amendments to these documents
  • A list of each proprietor, partner, shareholder, or member within the 12 months preceding the date of the application
  • Statement of information filed with Secretary of State listing officers, directors, managers, members, or general partners
  • DUNS number (from Dun & Bradstreet)
  • Any affiliate relationships
  • Contact information for regular clients
  • Employee information, including resumes of all owners, directors, partners, officers, and key personnel
  • Authority to conduct business in the state and/or certificate of good standing issued by Secretary of State
  • Bylaws and amendments
  • Minutes of corporate shareholders and directors’ meetings
  • Shareholder agreements
  • Professional, industry, and/or business licenses
  • Copy of lease or deed for business location
  • Current bank statements for all deposit accounts and loan statements
  • Financial statements for three years, including balance sheet, profit & loss statement
  • EIN (Federal Tax ID)
  • Business and/or personal loans
  • Issued stock certificates and stock ledger
  • Financial institution signature cards
  • Documentation of how the company was capitalized

You’ll also need to provide the following personal documents:

  • Birth certificates, naturalization papers, or unexpired passports for each woman business owner
  • Driver’s licenses of all owners
  • Three most recent personal tax returns including W-2s and all schedules for each woman business owner and her spouse (for EDWOSB)
  • IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Tax Transcript for each woman business owner and her spouse (for EDWOSB). If your business has an 8(a) certification for ownership by economically disadvantaged individuals, and you are also applying for an EDWOSB certification, you may upload your 8(a) certificate and annual review letter instead of the above financial statements.

How Do I Register as a Woman-Owned Small Business?

You can self-certify as a WOSB or EDWOSB for free by applying directly through the SBA. Authorized third-party certifiers may use a different process, but you can expect to follow these steps:

  1. Determine your eligibility. Do you meet the criteria set by the SBA or your third-party certifier of choice?
  2. Compile documentation. Be prepared with all the required documentation before you apply.
  3. Complete your online application and pay any required application fees.
  4. Application review and/or site visit. This process can take up to 90 days. Some third-party certifiers, such as WBENC, will require a site visit as part of your application review.
  5. Certification determination. The SBA or third-party certifier will determine whether your application is approved and will notify you regardless of the result.

No matter where you’re applying, it takes about three months to process your application. You must also recertify annually to continue receiving woman-owned business benefits.

Wrapping Up

Women-owned businesses can apply for three types of certification:

  1. Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB)
  2. Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB)
  3. Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE)

Available through the SBA and authorized third-party certifiers, receiving a woman-owned business enterprise (WBE) certification provides small businesses with a number of compelling benefits, including access to federal contracts through the Small Business Administration’s WOSB Federal Contracting Program.

If you’re having trouble accessing the funding you need through traditional lenders, even with WOSB, EDWOSB, or WBE certification, direct online lenders like Greenbox Capital can help you access the working capital you need to maintain operations, cover unexpected expenses, and continent to grow your business.

Alternative funding like merchant cash advances offer a number of advantages over financing from traditional lending institutions, including:

  • No collateral requirements.
  • Streamlined online applications with less paperwork and less rigorous approval requirements.
  • Faster processing and approvals, with funding available in as little as one business day in some cases.
  • More flexibility and more room to negotiate terms.

Alternative lenders typically specialize in innovative forms of funding like merchant cash advances. Merchant cash advances are ideal for businesses who need funding quickly, don’t meet the strict criteria of the SBA and other traditional lenders, can’t provide collateral, or would prefer not to seek funding from friends or family members. With funding from as little as $3,000 up to $500,000, business owners can access alternative funding that suits their unique needs.

Learn more about business loans for women
Jordan Fein
Author: Jordan Fein
Contributor and expert in finance and loans, business and economics