Who Certifies?

There are many government and third-party programs offering SDMWVLGBTQBE (Small Disadvantaged or Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered or Queer Business Enterprise) certification in the United States. Let’s start with federal programs and go on from there.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) oversees several programs including the 8(a), Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business (EDWSOB), and HUBZone certifications.

8(a) is unique in that it is a business development program. Unlike all the other certifications we’ll discuss, this program has a time limit: you can be an 8(a) business for 9 years. After graduating from the program, neither the business nor the owner(s) can ever participate again. That means if you have ownership in multiple companies, only ONE of them can EVER be included in the 8(a) program.

WOSB, EDWOSB and HUBZone have no time limit. As long as the business and its owner(s) maintain their eligibility, they can remain certified.

Their are three other certifications available at the federal level:

  • Veterans Affairs’s Vets First Verification Program certifies Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB)
  • Housing and Urban Development’s Section 3

While the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program is mandated from a federal level – through the Department of Transportation (DOT) – the certification is processed at the state level. All states and territories that receive federal DOT funds, have a DBE program, often referred to as the Unified Certification Program (UCP). Once certified in your home-state (the state in which a company is headquartered), a business can seek reciprocal DBE certification/status in other states.

  • To be eligible for DBE certification at least 51% of the business MUST BE owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • Social: Minority (Black, Hispanic, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific, and Subcontinent Asian-Pacific) or Woman
      • These are the presumptive groups eligible for certification, Appendix E allows for individuals outside these groups to seek DBE certification through evidence of individual social disadvantage.
    • Economic: Owner(s) personal net worth does not exceed $1.32 million dollars.
      • Though reported, the value of your primary residence (if owned) and ownership in the company being certified is not included in that $1.32 million limit. Also, certain retirement funds are excluded from that limit as well.

Some states only have the DBE program, while others have additional certification options including: minority business enterprise (MBE), service-disabled veteran business enterprise (SDVBE), small business enterprise (SBE), veteran business enterprise (VBE), and woman business enterprise (WBE). A few even recognize disabled (DOBE) and LGBT (LGBTBE) owned businesses.

  • There are even counties (Denver [CO], Nassau [NY], Miami-Dade [FL]) and cities (New York, Detroit, Atlanta, and of course the District of Columbia) that have their own certification programs.

Each program has their own eligibility requirements, but all them — no matter the diverse status being sought — require that the diverse owner(s) owns and controls at least 51% of the business.

Finally, there are the 3rd-party certifiers, non-profits whose certification also includes networking, educational programming, and scholarship and pitch opportunities. The 3rd-party certifiers in the US are:

  • Disability:IN: The 3rd party certifier for person with disability or disabled owned businesses. They also certify service-disabled veteran owned businesses. Disability:IN’s Global Directory is a collaborative disability inclusion database with country profiles to help companies achieve disability inclusion and equality around the world.
  • NaVOBA: National Veteran Owned Business Association, a 3rd party certifier of veteran and service-disabled veteran owned businesses.
  • NGLCC: National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the 3rd party certifier of LGBTQ businesses. NGLCC Global is the international division of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
  • NMSDC: National Minority Supplier Development Council is the 3rd party certifier for minority (for their certifying purpose NMSDC defines minority as Asian, Black, Hispanic and/or Native American business owner that is “at least 1/4 or 25% minimum” of one of these categories) owned businesses. Their Global-Link International Program works to connect historically-excluded populations with corporate purchasing entities in other countries.
  • NVBDC: National Veteran Business Development Council, a 3rd party certifier of veteran and service-disabled owned businesses.
  • NWBOC: National Women Business Owners Corporation, a 3rd party certifier of women businesses and a SBA-approved certifier for both WOSB and EDWOSB status.
  • USPAACC: US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce, 3rd party certifier of Asian American (heritage includes China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Mongolia) owned businesses.
  • USWCC: US Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a 3rd party of women owned businesses offering WBE and International WBE certification and a SBA-approved certifier for both WOSB and EDWOSB status.
  • WBENC: Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the largest 3rd party certifier of women businesses and a SBA-approved certifier for WOSB status only. WBENC is affiliated with WEConnect International which certifies women owned businesses across the globe.