Certification Alphabet Soup (or fun with acronyms)

In the world of diversity certifications there are many acronyms, some more familiar than others. This alphabet soup contains WBE, MBE, DBE, SBE, VBE, DSBE, HUB, LGBT and that’s only half of them. Some of the abbreviations are shared by government and third-party certifiers (MBE, WBE) and others are specific to the Federal government (8(a), WOSB, VOSB). Then there is there is the unusual case of the Illinois FBE certification – Female Business Enterprise – otherwise known as WBE (Woman Business Enterprise) certification. Knowing the meaning behind the acronyms can go a long way in helping you determine which certification types to research and make discussing certifications and opportunities with your clients a little easier.

Federal certifications offered through the US Small Business Administration include: WOSB (Woman Owned Small Business)/WOSDB (Woman Owned Small Disadvantaged Business), VOSB (Veteran Owned Small Business), HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business), and 8(a) – for small, disadvantaged businesses. The Federal government also mandated the DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) through the Department of Transportation which flows down to the individual states and territories within the United States. Included under the DBE program is ACDBE (Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) certification. The US Department of Veteran Affairs offers VBE (Veteran Business Enterprise) or SDVBE (Service Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise) certification.

As well as offering the DOT based DBE certification, many states also certify businesses as disadvantaged MBE (Minority Business Enterprise), WBE (Woman Business Enterprise), or MWBE (Minority Woman Business Enterprise). In recent years states have also started to offer SBE (Small Business Enterprise), DSBE (Disabled Business Enterprise) and VBE certifications. And a few states, such as Oregon offer ESBE (Emerging Small Business Enterprise) status for businesses whose principal place of business is within the state.

There are also third party certifiers for WBE (WBENC, USWCC, NWBOC) – for international WBE certification there is WEConnect International (they are affiliated with WBENC) – MBE (NMSDC), DSBE (USBLN),  and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) business enterprise which is offered by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Once you know the acronyms – though sometimes you will have to double check their meaning, both North Carolina and Texas offer HUB certifications which is their chosen terminology  referring to M/WBE certifications –  you can begin to consider what certification might benefit your business and whom best to be certified by.  We’ve published a short piece on strategies that you may find useful as you explore certification opportunities. If you have no plans on doing Federal government work there is no need to apply for Federal-specific certification. Most commercial clients prefer third party certifications because they are often corporate members of those organizations but many will still ask if you hold state certification(s) – particularly in your home-state (the state where the business is headquartered or has its principal place of business).

Once you’ve identified your preferred certification type and selected a certifier you can move forward in applying for the diverse certification that is best suited towards your business. This is where the fun begins!


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