Small Business Administration (SBA) certifications provide eligible business owners, particularly underrepresented or economically disadvantaged founders, access to special resources and revenue opportunities. These certifications promote businesses for exclusive federal contracts to encourage diversity and small business prioritization.
Because SBA certifications can help you gain an advantage and make all the difference when building a small business, it’s important to know which ones are available and work best for you.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) certifications provide special access to federal contracts and other resources for eligible entrepreneurs.
- The SBA uses certificates to create opportunities for underrepresented founders and small business owners to increase their revenue.
- There are several different programs available in and out of the SBA that may meet your business needs.
What Is a Small Business Administration Certification?
Small Business Administration (SBA) certifications allow small businesses access to federal contracts and other benefits based on specific programs. The certificate itself is either a document or a verified self-representation of business status.
The SBA created certification programs to bolster small business activity for federal contract procurement.
According to the SBA, the federal government is the largest buyer of goods and services, and the agency aims to have more small businesses reap the benefits of being in the provider pool.
Benefits of SBA Certifications
Small business certifications target underrepresented and/or economically disadvantaged business owners. Depending on the program applied for, you could receive access to:
- Funding, grants, or scholarships
- Set aside and sole-source contracts
- Business mentorship and guidance
Certificates create growth and revenue opportunities for groups that often lack equal access to benefits. This includes socially disadvantaged individuals, women, veterans, and LGBTQ business owners.
Each program has specific eligibility requirements to apply and/or reapply after a certificate’s expiration. You should review items such as the SBA’s small business size standards, business location, and executive team representation before applying.
Recertification for SBA programs like HUBZone, for example, takes place annually, with documentation reviews required every three years.
8(a) Business Development Program
The 8(a) Business Development Program is one of the largest certification programs. Business owners receive benefits for a nine-year term with annual reviews to maintain standing.
The 8(a) program includes opportunities such as:
- Set-aside and sole-source contracts with federal entities
- Access to a business specialist for federal contracting advice
- Ability to form joint ventures in the SBA’s Mentor-Protege program
How To Qualify
Businesses need to be 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens who are socially and economically disadvantaged. Other requirements include having a personal net worth of $750K or less, being a first-timer to the 8(a) program, and displaying good character.
How To Apply
You can apply for the 8(a) program directly through the Certify.SBA.gov website after setting up a business profile on SAM.gov.
Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Program
The federal government has a goal to award 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned businesses, and the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) program is the aptly named method to achieve that. Participants gain exclusive access to set-aside contracts in industries where women-owned businesses are underrepresented.
How To Qualify
For acceptance into WOSB, businesses must be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens and be considered small according to SBA size standards.
The Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses (EDWOSB) program focuses on women who already meet all the requirements to qualify for WOSB, but have a personal net worth of $750 or less. Women who would meet the requirements for EDWOSB should take the additional steps to get certified.
How To Apply
You can apply for this program at Beta.Certify.SBA.gov. Once accepted, you must annually attest to meeting the requirements to maintain standing in the program and undergo an SBA examination every three years.
SBA Mentor-Protege Program (MPP)
The All Small Mentor-Protege program merged with the 8(a) Mentor-Protege program in 2020 to form the SBA Mentor-Protege program (MPP). The program creates partnerships between eligible small businesses (proteges) and experienced businesses (mentors) to help proteges win more federal contracts.
Small businesses that qualify receive instrumental business guidance on systems and scale, federal contracts, and financial assistance.
How To Qualify
The key criteria to note about the MPP program is that you must have a proposed mentor before applying.
MPP is not a mentor matching program but provides the tools for the mentor-protege relationship to thrive.
Protege qualifications include meeting small business standards and being organized as a for-profit or agricultural cooperative. Mentor qualifications include being a for-profit or agricultural co-op, being able to carry out mentorship responsibilities, and having experiences to instruct from.
How To Apply
You need to have business profiles for protege and mentor companies on SAM.gov before applying for the program at Certify.SBA.gov.
The HUBZone program assists businesses located in historically underutilized business (HUB) zones and gives access to at least 3% of federal contracting dollars via set-aside contracts. HUBZone small businesses also get a 10% price evaluation preference in contract competitions.
How To Qualify
Qualifications for HUBZone are more detailed than other small business certification programs. They include meeting small business standards, having a main office in a HUBZone, and having 35% of employees living in a HUBZone.
How To Apply
You can apply for HUBZone using the general log-in system account once you’ve made a profile on SAM.gov. You will need several pieces of documentation depending on your business type to facilitate and expedite the process. Use this checklist.
Other Types of Small Business Certifications
There are several other small business certifications accessible to you based on eligibility. Some of the larger ones include:
- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business: Supports veteran business owners gain access to set-aside contracts and gain competitive advantage
- B Corp Certification: Recognizes for-profit businesses that use profits for positive impact on employees, suppliers, customers, and the environment
- LGBT Business Certification: Provides contracting opportunities, scholarships, connections, and discounts to LGBTQ+ business owners
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do I get an SBA certification number?
Because SBA certification involves bidding for federal contracts, in order to do so, you must obtain a Dun & Bradstreet (DUNS) number, which is a unique, nine-digit ID number for your business. In order to apply, you’ll need to supply several pieces of information including:
- Legal name
- Doing business as (DBA) name
- Physical address (and mailing address if different)
- Phone/contact number
- Number of employees
- Whether you’re a home-based business
How much does a small business certification cost?
The application and certification process for SBA programs including the 8(a), WOSB, MPP, and HUBZone are typically free of cost. However, obtaining other certifications outside of the SBA may carry an annual or one-time fee.
How do you renew your small business certification?
Many certifications require yearly updates or renewals to maintain your standing. The certify.SBA.gov website shares step-by-step instructions for each program you’re a member of.