Certification for women-owned businesses: Options and benefits
ComplianceLegalOctober 10, 2023

Certification for women-owned businesses: Options and benefits

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If you operate and are certified as a women-owned business, then you may be eligible for opportunities not available to other business owners.

In this article, we explore the various certification programs available to women-owned businesses, their benefits, and how to determine if you’re eligible.

What are the benefits of having certification as a woman-owned business?

Depending on the certification, your woman-owned enterprise can benefit from the following:

  • Greater visibility with potential customers
  • Eligibility to bid on government contracts set aside for certified women-owned businesses
  • Access to training and education programs
  • Access to capital support
  • Networking opportunities

Types of certification available to women-owned businesses

Most certification programs for women-owned businesses require that your business is at least 51% owned or controlled by one or more women. Below are examples of popular programs available to WOSBs.

1. Federal WOSB and EDWOSB certification

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) handles certifications for women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) and economically disadvantaged women-owned small business (EDWOSBs).

These certifications allow these businesses to compete for federal government contracts that are exclusively reserved (or set-aside) for WOSBs and EDWOSBs. Each year the federal government allocates at least 5% of all contracting dollars to WOSBs, although some contracts are further restricted to EDWOSBs. These contracts are intended to provide opportunities for WOSBs in industries where they are traditionally under-represented.

Note: SBA certifications only apply to businesses that apply for federal contracting opportunities, they do not apply to private sector or business-to-business commerce. In addition, non-profits are not eligible to participate in SBA small business programs.

To be eligible for federal WOSB or EDWOSB certification, your business must be 51% owned and controlled by women who are also U.S. citizens and considered a small business as defined by SBA sizing standards.

2. State and local WBE certification

State and local government jurisdictions often have certification programs aimed at women business enterprises (WBEs). These are sometimes combined with programs for minority business enterprises (MBEs).

WBE certification can provide access to state- or locally funded government projects, including those involving agencies, school districts, and public universities.

To be eligible for state and local WBE certification you must be registered to do business in the state, have a for-profit business structure (LLC, corporation, or sole proprietorship), and have been in operation for at least one year. Your business must also be majority women-owned and controlled.

3. WBENC certification

The Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is the largest third-party certifier of businesses in the United States that are owned, controlled, and operated by women.

Benefits of WBENC certification includes access to private and government contracting opportunities that accept WBENC certification as well as educational programs and services. WBENC is also approved to certify your business for the SBA’s WOSB federal contracting program.

To obtain WBENC certification, your business must undergo a vetting process. This includes a review of business documentation and a site visit.

4. NWBOC certification

The National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC) is an agency that offers certification for women-owned, minority-owned, and veteran-owned businesses.

NWBOC offers a variety of business development programs, including webinars, training, and conferences. It is also a third-party certifier for the SBA’s WOSB and EDWOSB programs.

How to become a certified woman-owned business

The steps to certification vary depending on the program, but below are some basic steps to follow:

  • Research requirements: Women-owned business certification can be a lengthy process. Make sure you know what the process entails and if your business qualifies. For example, the SBA’s WOSB and EDWOSB programs require that the business owner is a U.S. citizen, meaning they were born or naturalized in the United States. Resident alien and permanent residents (green card holders) are not eligible.
  • Gather necessary documents: Certification programs can require significant documentation, including information about owner eligibility, business entity formation and governance, financial information, and more. Be sure to have these materials ready before you begin the application process. The most common delays to women-owned business certification are due to incomplete applications.
  • Know when you must renew: Certification for women-owned businesses entails ongoing obligations. This could involve periodic updates to reflect any changes in your business, as well as participating in a renewal process and resubmitting specific documents as needed.


There are many benefits to being a certified women-owned business, but it’s important that you understand which program is the right fit for your business. Do your research and consult the organizations above to understand which option can benefit you, if you’re eligible, and how to apply.

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Dave Griswold
Senior Customer Service Operations Associate
small business services


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