Becoming a certified woman-owned business offers numerous benefits, including improved access to government contracts, increased market visibility, networking opportunities and enhanced access to capital and funding sources. By fulfilling the criteria and attaining certification, women entrepreneurs can unlock valuable resources, support and opportunities, empowering them to thrive in the competitive business landscape.
Owners have multiple options for certifying their business as a woman-owned business enterprise, but understanding which one is right for you can be daunting. In general, the first step is understanding your potential customer.
Businesses that work with other businesses may consider the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which provides national certification for woman-owned businesses. This certification provides many business-to-business benefits, while also providing a third-party certification that can be used to supplement the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) woman-owned business certification process.
In contrast to business-to-business relationships, the SBA certifies woman-owned businesses that work with the federal government. The federal government has a goal to award at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year.
To be eligible for SBA certification, businesses must have a majority (51%) of the business owned, controlled and managed by women who are U.S. citizens. During the certification process, organizations like the WBENC that provide third-party certification ensure that women play a significant role in decision-making processes and have a meaningful stake in the company's operations. Businesses that seek certification should be prepared to provide business documents like financial statements, tax returns and proof of capital or investment to determine ownership and control by women.
WBENC certification also requires evidence to ensure that the woman-owned business is independent and not heavily reliant on a larger, non-woman-owned company. This evidence includes identity verification, history of the business, licenses, resumes, signed sworn affidavit and management information.
Once certified, it is important for woman-owned businesses to maintain compliance with the certification requirements. This involves annual reporting and program examination every three years to validate ongoing eligibility.
While initially a seemingly daunting process, business owners should consider whether the long-term benefits will outweigh the initial investment of time and resources.
Meredith Lowry is a patent attorney at Wright Lindsey Jennings and founded the firm’s Woman-Run initiative. She is obsessed with business, tech, data and helping Arkansas' women business owners succeed through sound legal guidance.
MaryScott Polk Timmis is a patent attorney at Wright Lindsey Jennings whose growing practice focuses on intellectual property and corporate law.