Women-Owned Businesses: Special Opportunities and Assistance

Special opportunities and assistance exist for women-owned businesses, which are those with at least 51 percent ownership by a woman or women, including contracts, procurement set-asides and financial and/or business assistance. Not all women-owned businesses choose to pursue these options, but certifying your business as a woman’s business enterprise (WBE) will open certain doors for you.

WBE certification

WBE certification is necessary if you wish to participate in programs that require tracking the amount of business done with women-owned enterprises. Most local, state and federal government purchasing agencies have programs for woman-owned businesses. To become WBE certified, you must show:

  • Women Ownership. Your company must have at least 51 percent ownership, management and control in the hands of women.
  • Time in business. Your company must have been in business for at least six months.
  • US citizens. The owner or owners must be US citizens or legal resident aliens.
  • Contribution of capital. Evidence is required to show that the contribution of capital from the woman business owner is real and in proportion to her ownership interest in the business.
  • Participation in management. The woman business owner must direct or cause direction of the management, business decisions, and fiscal direction and decisions of the business.
  • No reliance on non-woman-owned businesses. The woman business owner must also demonstrate the ability to perform in the area of expertise without reliance on financing or resources from a firm that is not woman-owned.

Two women’s business organizations certify WBEs: the WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) and the NWBOC (National Women Business Owners Corporation)

Federal Contractor Status and State/Local Certification

The federal government does not require WBE certification for procurement, but instead requires self-certification in the Central Contractor Registration. For state and local governments, some procurement and assistance programs require WBE certification and some require direct certification. It’s best to check with the appropriate agency to see what opportunities are available to you and what the certification requirements are.

Also, federal regulations require that women-owned small businesses (WOSB) have the maximum practicable opportunity to participate in contracts awarded by any federal agency. The regulations direct federal agencies to reach out to women-owned small businesses and make sure that they understand the application process and are offered contract opportunities.

If you’ve experienced problems

If you are a women-owned small business and feel that you have been hindered in your efforts to do business, you can apply for certification as a socially and economically disadvantaged business under the SBA 8(a) program. See your local small business administration office to discuss the issue.

A word of caution

If you are a male-owned business and you make your wife or another woman 51 percent owner of the stock in order to qualify for 8(a) benefits, you are spinning your wheels. The SBA auditor will know what you are doing: 51 percent ownership is a red flag. Similarly, if the auditor comes to your office and sees that the male's office is bigger than the female's, you are not going to be certified. You must be able to show that the business is managed and controlled on a daily basis by a woman, and that the woman is the person who makes the day-to-day decisions of the company.

Loan options for woman-owned businesses

The Prequalification Pilot Loan Program uses intermediaries to assist prospective borrowers in developing loan applications and securing loans. A Women's Business Development Center or a Small Business Development Company are examples of intermediaries. Here’s how the loan process works:

  • The loan package is submitted to the SBA and a decision is generally rendered in three days.
  • If approved, the SBA issues a letter of prequalification stating the SBA's intent to guarantee the loan.
  • The maximum loan under this program is $250,000 with a guarantee of 85 percent up to $150,000 and 75 percent for loans over $150,000.
  • The intermediary can usually help the applicant find a competitive lender.

Other resources

See our complete listing of Business and Financing Resources for Women for organizations that support women-owned businesses.