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Types of Certification for Women and Minority-Owned Businesses

If you are puzzled about the many types of certification, you are not alone! Much confusion exists, and to fully explain each is beyond the scope of this website. However, with just a short explanation most people can determine which certification is probably right for them to pursue.

What is the difference between the many certifications I hear about? 

  • Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) certification is gender-based for woman-owned businesses.
  • Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification is required for a specific federal purchasing program that has a set-aside for woman-owned businesses. There is also a disadvantaged component to this program, which is called EDWOSB.
  • The 8(a) designation is actually a business development / mentoring program administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for a company that has been disadvantaged, and 8(a) certification is part of that program.
  • Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) certification is for businesses that are disadvantaged but are not participating in the 8(a) development program.
  • Disabled Veteran (DV) certification is for the business owner who is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and who has been disabled in action.
  • Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification is race-based for minority-owned businesses.

What other agencies certify?
We, NWBOC, provide WBE Certification, as well as WOSB Certification and EDWOSB Certifications. Click here to go to our WBE Application page.

The U.S. Small Business Administration can be contacted regarding participation in the 8(a) program, or to obtain the Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) certification as well as the Disabled Veterans (DV) certification. Their website is www.sba.gov.

Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification is done through National Minority Supplier Development Council (formerly known as the Minority Supplier Council, or MSC.) Their website is www.nmsdc.org.

What is the difference between third-party certification and government certification?
Third party certification is geared to the private sector. NWBOC is a third-party certifier, denoting that an independent entity other than the vendor business owner or the corporate purchasing entity is ensuring that the vendor is in fact woman-owned and controlled. For doing business with a government entity, in most cases each city, county, state and federal agency has their own type of certification program and most are individual to that city, county, or state. However, due to pressure being brought by women business groups and minority business groups, the trend is to have government entities accept other sources of certification in addition to their own certification program. Changing the system in this way is a very slow process, but beneficial to the business owner who finds herself having to get multiple certifications for different purposes. Ask your local city, county, or state if they accept NWBOC's WBE Certification. In many cases, if the currently do not we can help facilitate that happening.

Should I apply for government or third-party certification?
If you are only interested in being a vendor/supplier to any government entity, it is recommended that you contact each specific agency to obtain their requirements. If you are more interested in doing work in the private sector, particularly with large publicly traded companies, WBE Certification by a third-party certifier is recommended. Keep in mind that many times a small business enters the government arena as a subcontractor to a large corporation who has won a government contract. As a subcontracting vendor with WBE Certification, the large corporation can count your participation toward WBE utilization goals set by the government as part of their contract.