Being certified as a Women's Business Enterprise (WBE) means a third-party certifying entity has confirmed that a business is at least 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by a woman or women. The leading certifier is the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which certifies to a national standard and has 14 partner organizations across the country.
What's in It for
One of WBENC's goals is to achieve equal procurement opportunities for women. As a WBE, a business is recognized by more than 500 major U.S. corporations and eligible to apply for their supplier diversity programs. WBENC provides members access to databases of information, including contact information for programs and procurement executives, and listings of sourcing opportunities. Members are also listed in the WBENC database that corporations and government agencies use to find WBEs.
But getting certified is only step one. "Although [my company] had been certified through the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, for several years, we hadn't been able to convert that into actual contracts," says Beverly Green, 32, owner of Change-Ad Letter Co., a $2 million-plus manufacturer of electrical sign components. Further research showed she had been missing out on many opportunities.
"I'd previously thought the value of certification was gaining local and regional government work, and that can be true." But Green's target market was corporations. Once she accessed WBENC's data on corporate purchasing practices, she was able to use this information to win major corporate accounts.
Julie Rodriguez, 44, is president and CEO of Epic Cos., a $12 million-plus Harvey, Louisiana, supplier of commercial divers and utility vessels to the oil and gas industry. "Like everything else in life, you get out of [WBE] what you put in," she says. "The program has more to offer than just certification."
Applications and instructions for certification are available at www.wbenc.org; you can either complete the application online or print it and mail it in. Fees range from free to about $200, depending on the certifying entity and scope (local, regional or national), and must be renewed annually.
"The process is time-consuming, and the paperwork can be overwhelming, though this varies depending on the level of certification," says Green. "My national certification took about six months." National applications can require more than 100 pages of documentation. Be ready to provide:
- Business history, including resumes of
owners, board and key management
- Evidence of gender of
- Financial statements and tax
- Copies of management/consulting
- List of all employees and itemized
- Evidence of legal structure of company
Women business owners say getting certified is worth the effort. Says Green, "Networking with other women-owned businesses and getting involved in organizations such as WBENC can lead to many opportunities and help open doors you would never have thought of."
Aliza Pilar Sherman is an Internet pioneer, netpreneur, speaker and author of the book PowerTools for Women in Business: 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work (Entrepreneur Press).