By Paloma Vidgen, Head of the Woman Entrepreneur Segment Strategy at Bank of the West
For Stacy Bair, there was no secret weapon behind her rise through the ranks of California’s construction industry—going from receptionist, to HR, to project manager and, eventually, to CFO.
“It was just through the old-fashioned way of working as hard as you can, learning as much as you can, and seeing if you can make something more of yourself,” she told the US Small Business Administration last year.
Reaching the C-suite was mere preparation for the next challenge: starting her own business.
After a marriage and a move back to her hometown in Wyoming, she and her husband launched their own construction firm. She felt optimistic her expertise navigating government contracts and working on public-sector projects would give her venture a competitive advantage.
What she didn’t count on was entrenched gender bias.
Even though Bair was the president of Bairco Construction Inc., potential partners, including banks, often wanted her husband along to finalize deals.
Bair decided to tap the US Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides several types of certification for disadvantaged entrepreneurs. These certifications for women-owned businesses, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and businesses located in Historically Underutilized Business Zones can help open doors to contracts with government agencies, such as the US Department of Defense and Department of Agriculture.
The federal government, state and local entities, and corporations are eager to do business with women-owned small businesses, and they look for certification as the starting point for those potential vendor relationships.
From 2014 – 2019, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 21 percent—more than double the growth rate for businesses overall.
As the largest buyer of products and services in the US, the federal government sets aside 5 percent of contracts for certified businesses. The SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification can put your business in line for some of those contracts.
The contracts available to small businesses certified as woman-owned or economically disadvantaged can be relatively small or they can be major projects. Bairco Construction has won several government contracts, including with the US Bureau of Reclamation and a contract to decommission 100 Air Force missile silos in Wyoming and Montana.
So how do you get certified as a woman-owned business? Here are the three steps to become certified as a woman-owned business.
Step One: Determine If Your Business Is Eligible To Become A Certified Woman-Owned Small Business
- The SBA’s ownership, management, employee, and revenue criteria are very specific.
- Women must have at least 51 percent ownership of the business, and that ownership must be unconditional and direct.
- The majority owners must be US citizens.
- The company must be a for-profit.
- The company and its owners must never have been debarred or suspended by any federal entity.
- The company must have a place of business in the US and operate primarily within the US, or make a significant contribution to the US economy through payment of taxes or use of American products, materials, or labor.
- The business must meet industry-specific size standards based on revenue and number of employees. Start by looking up the North American Industry Classification code for your business or simply do a keyword search with the SBA’s online tool. Then, enter the NAICS code and your 3-year annual average revenue. Look for a green check mark that shows you meet the size requirements.
Most manufacturing companies with 500 employees or fewer, and most non-manufacturing businesses with average annual receipts under $7.5 million, will qualify as a small business, according to the SBA.
Your business might also qualify as an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) if the owner or owners have a personal net worth of less than $750,000; average adjusted gross yearly income over the last three years of $350,000 or less; and the market value of all the owners’ assets (including primary residence and the value of the business) is $6 million or less.
Step Two: Gather Your Documentation
The SBA requires proof of US citizenship, documentation of the company’s structure and ownership, and a resume for each woman owner, among other documents. Here’s the SBA’s comprehensive list of the paperwork for Women-Owned Businesses.
Step Three: Apply For Certification
If you believe you are eligible, there are two paths to certification: directly through the SBA or through an organization approved by the SBA to certify businesses.
There are four third-party certifiers approved by the SBA: The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce, National Women Business Owners Corporation, and the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
- The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council is the largest approved certifier. In addition to meeting the SBA’s requirements for federal contracts, WBENC’s certification is recognized by more than 1,000 corporations when seeking women-owned vendors.
- US Women’s Chamber of Commerce – Offers certification assistance including organizing your documents and preparing the application, and troubleshooting potential issues with eligibility.
- National Women Business Owners Corporation – NWBOC was the first national certifier of women-owned enterprises. They also have a “certified plus” program that takes business owners through the buyer-supplier process and helps them define a value proposition and address quality control, customer service, and scalability.
- El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce – Working with this chamber to get certified might be the right choice if your business is in the South-West Texas border area.
Paying a third-party certifier can give you access to expert consultants who can help shepherd you through the certification process. You should still expect rigorous vetting, review of documentation, as well as a site visit.
Once you’re certified as a Woman-Owned Small Business, you’ll need to go to the SBA’s site to create an account, upload documents, and get into their official procurement system as a WOSB.
It may sound like a lot of work, but it can definitely be worth the effort.
As for Stacy Bair and Bairco Inc…. In 2020, after just five years in business, she won “Wyoming Small Business of the Year.”