If you are a small business trying to compete with established firms and prime contractors, you need every advantage that you can get. Locating opportunities is the first step, but do you know for a fact which solicitation best fits your business? The government offers set-asides and sole-source contracts for a variety of unique business types, including women-owned and veteran-owned. Understanding the differences between the various certifications and programs can be what you need to secure the ideal opportunity to grow your business.

The latest census data shows that 7.8 million U.S. businesses are women-owned. Though these firms generate $1.2 trillion annually and employ 7.6 million people, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) found that women still rely mainly on personal savings for business funding. In order to award more contracts to underrepresented businesses like these, the government establishes set-asides and sole-source programs for certified women-owned firms. If you’re a women-owned business, you need to make sure you have the correct certification as a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE), a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), or an Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business.

Historically, the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC) has offered third-party certification of Woman Business Enterprises (WBE), geared toward the private sector and corporate purchasing. For public contracting, federal agencies, states, counties, and cities often have their own certification programs. However, the NWBOC was recently approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to be a third-party certifier for the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) purchasing programs.

Self-certification was eliminated by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, but the SBA has not yet implemented it, and thus still accepts self-certification for the time being. If you wish to do so, you may upload required documentation to the SBA’s General Login System (GLS) and register as a WOSB/EDWOSB in the System for Award Management (SAM). In any case, the best practice would be to contact the specific agency for its own requirements.

To be eligible for the WOSB program, your firm must be at least 51% owned, controlled, and primarily managed by one/more women who are U.S. citizens. Additionally, the firm must be considered small in its primary industry (NAICS code) according to the SBA’s size standards. To be recognized as an EDWOSB, you must demonstrate economic disadvantage according to the requirements in 13 C.F.R. 127.2013. Local resources are available at the SBA’s District Offices, Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, and Procurement Technical Assistance Centers.

Similarly, a veteran-owned business should recognize the differences between Veteran Business Enterprises (VBE) – related more to the private sector, and Veteran Owned/Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (VOSB/SDVOSB). About 9% of all small firms (2.5 million) in the United States are veteran-owned. About 200,000 of these are considered service-disabled veteran-owned. Special programs are in place to support these firms in federal contract markets, including a 3% government-wide prime and subcontracting goal for SDVOSB, set-asides and sole-source awards, and specific contracting goals/authority for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) under the Veterans First Contracting Program.

To be eligible for the VOSB/SDVOSB programs, a firm must be at least 51% veteran-owned, controlled, and managed; directly and unconditionally. The veteran must also hold the highest office of the company. To qualify as a SDVOSB, the veteran must have a service-connected disability determined by the VA or Department of Defense (DoD). The firm must also be considered small according to the SBA’s standards. Guidelines for self-certification can be found in 13 CFR part 125.8 and FAR Subpart 19.307.

The Veterans’ First program applies only to VA acquisitions. It gives sole-source authority to the VA and permits restricted competition/set-asides for VOSBs/SDVOSBs. The VA spends over $3 billion with eligible VOSBs each year. Under this program, veteran status cannot be self-represented. Firms must certify with the VA’s Vendor Information Pages or VIP database. To help companies understand the program, the VA offers the Verification Assistance Program (VAP) and Certified Verification Counselors.

The path to certification is taxing and time-consuming. Do you have time to spend researching certifications and agency requirements? Once you’re certified, do you have the resources to spend locating opportunities? Let Sales Automation Support make it easy. As both a woman-owned and veteran-owned business (Self Certified), we understand the nuances of certification and set-aside/sole-source contracting. We can help with any and every step of the process from opportunity research, capability analysis, verification, and proposal writing. Contact us today to learn more.