Women Entrepreneurs

Curious if anyone has utilized the Women Owned Business Certification?

Bethany Londyn Catalyst Consultant, Real Estate Agent, & Speaker

July 20th, 2015

I've been researching it, but would love to see someone else's experience.


July 22nd, 2015

First off, Bethany, there are multiple women-owned business certifications and they all provide different benefits & reach completely different audiences. Without knowing specifically which one you're talking about, it's hard to provide as thorough of advice, but I'll do my best to give an overview. Before I start, though, Richard's advice is HORRIBLE. NEVER pretend to have a certification you don't. EVER. Not only is it misleading, but the WBENC community (one of the certifying entities) is particularly on it and the corporations they serve will stop doing business with you if they find out you branded yourself as a WBE (woman-business enterprise) without going through the certification process.

So, let's go:

1) The federal government offers a certification, as do state and, occasionally, municipalities and counties. These are a complete waste of time and money unless you plan on doing business with the issuing government or a utility in that area. They are not accepted from one area to another (ex, you can't use a Texas certification to apply for WBE-earmarked contracts in Tennessee). Again, unless your client is THAT government, I wouldn't bother.

2) WBENC (Women Business Enterprise National Council) offers a nationally recognized certification that the government does not honor but that corporations do. If you want certification to get in front of Coca-Cola, Marriott, Pfizer, companies like that, this is the one you need. This certification can be HIGHLY effective if your normal sales contact is in procurement, if you're selling something that is typically awarded through RFPs, or if you're selling something that's not innovative. What I mean by that is supplier diversity officers make no purchasing decisions but connect you to their internal buyers and provide you with information about when your good or service comes up for rebid and who the current contractor is. This means they have to already buy it. If it's something they don't know they need yet, a new service that won't have an existing contact to replace, etc. they can give you insight as to how their organization purchases but that's it. As a result, the women who benefit most from this run manufacturing or logistics companies. Service businesses have a harder time and if you're in tech, forget about it.

3) WEConnect International. Exactly what it sounds like: An international certification. As they partner with WBENC, you do not need this in addition to WBENC if you're selling abroad. Like WBENC, this is also for selling to corporations not governments.

For all certifications the company must have 51% female ownership (for transgendered, they go by what's on your license). In addition, a woman must make all "control" decisions--who to hire, who to fire, a signatory role at the bank, etc. Be prepared to show up to 3 years tax returns (for WBENC, whether companies younger than this are allowed to apply depends on your region), existing contracts, etc.

Also be prepared to "work" the certification--go to WBENC conferences, etc. There are hundreds of thousands of certified companies and just having a piece of paper that says, hey, I'm a woman will do jack sh*t for you. You'll have to enter your profile in hundreds of supplier diversity databases, the vast majority of which are a black hole. Expect a 2-3 year sales cycle on supplier diversity managers making the connection. If you have multiple potential buyers in a company expect them to only introduce you to one and move on to the next lady in line. It's a lot of work for very little return unless you meet all the market factors described above.

Hope this helps.

Kit Lofgren Principal, Abbott Usability (User Research and Product Evaluation Consulting Group)

July 23rd, 2015

We've gone through WBENC and have found it to be the professional equivalent of responding to a job ad with a resume...largely a time sink offering limited return (We are in high tech.)

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

July 21st, 2015

Yes we have.  My CEO is a woman and we have used it, and it has generated contacts and leads and opportunities

Patty DeDominic Chief Catalyst, Managing Partner at DeDominic & Associates (Also Chief Catalyst for Maui Mastermind and Exec Coach)

July 25th, 2015

I am so glad you asked.       Go for it,  AND use every legitimate advantage you can to promote your successful business.    If a huge prospective clients wants you to have purple business cards,  I would go and get them! lol

  I am one of the creators of the original women owned business certification programs.  I was president of the national assoc. of women business owners www.nawbo.org and WE did this in the 1990's when the SBA and the minority business associations were beginning to snub us since we females are not considered Minorities!   Federal procurement figures were still a paltry 3%.    National Women's Business Owners Corp was founded in 1995 and  still exists.    Learn more at nawbo.org   http://www.nawbo.org/section_139.cfm    where you can find reference to both WBENC and NWBOC.org which still does certifications.  

to Clarify,  if your business is owned and controlled by a female then you can indeed call yourself a wbe whether or not you have any certifications.    What is being cracked down on is fraudulent "ownership" fronts.       You do not need a wbe certification to do big business however, just like  you do not need a  resume to get a job interview,  BUT it is much better if you are asked for one to be able to provide it.      So you can go ahead and get the city and state certifications, they are usually free.   In order to get certified   (some are easier and some require investigations)  you must prove ownership and control.    This is determined in a variety of ways and sometimes there are inspections of bank records, tax returns, organizational charts and occasionally there are investigations.   

As far as growing your business with or without a certification,  it is FAR better to be awesome and do smart value added business.  In 27 years of owning a company I only got ONE contract that told us they did business because we were a certified wbo.......    that account was AT&T and it generated over $25 million dollars worth of business for my company.   So, I would say it was definitely worth the pain of copying my drivers license and answering a few questions about the leadership of my company and my sex every couple of years.   

By the way, once your business gets really big and your estate planning attorney advises you to put your assets into your family trust, guess what?  the business is no longer "women owned" because you moved to being trust owned for tax and estate planning purposes.       As I said, it is far better to be awesome than hope a certificate  (like a college degree) will be your ticket.    It may only provide an entre.    YOU have to make the most of the doors that you open for your firm.

Rochelle Kopp Japanese business culture expert and cross-cultural communications specialist

July 26th, 2015

I'm with Kit. I got certified and it was a huge hassle and did not result in increased business. Whether you are certified doesn't change whether a company wants or needs your product or service.

Richard Harris Top 25 Inside Sales Leader, Public Speaker, 40 Most Inspiring Leader, Sales Trainer, Start-Up Advisor, SalesHacker

July 22nd, 2015

Terena, thanks for providing some clarification. I guess my thought was that if you are a truly woman owned business you can state that publicly on your own website. 

I would agree not to claim any type of "certification" which would be inappropriate. 

Perhaps I am naive, for the obvious reason of course. But if a woman owns a business, must she get "approval" or certification to state that? 

I completely agree, if there is a particular outcome you are expecting for being a woman owned business then perhaps a certification is required.

Apologies for any confusions.


July 23rd, 2015

Agree with Kit. If you're in tech, WBENC is not for you. This is something they're aware of and trying to work on (Microsoft is leading the initiative) but the issue is WBE certification is NOT for start-ups, contrary to another poster's suggestion. You have to prove three years' ownership. To quote Microsoft's supplier diversity director, "Three years from now the kind of tech company we want to work with has sold." The reason they do this (to get back to Richard's question) is lots of people try to scam to system or unintentionally label as woman-owned when they're not. It's like saying you're college educated. People assume that means a degree. Saying you're woman-owned, people assume 51% or higher ownership. But I've seen companies say their woman-owned when all majority owners were male and one woman had like 5%. Do people say they're college educated when they took *a* course? Is that technically correct? Sure. Is it misleading and is there a reason we put a degree (or certification) on it? Also yes. The WBENC system is set to weed out scammers. But it also weeds out the innovative (ie, tech).

Richard Harris Top 25 Inside Sales Leader, Public Speaker, 40 Most Inspiring Leader, Sales Trainer, Start-Up Advisor, SalesHacker

July 21st, 2015

My answer has always been yes to this question. It does depend on what you want the outcome of the certification to get you. If you are looking for loans, definitely! If you are a start-up, absolutely! If you are doing it for branding and expertise, yes!

You can always define youself as a "Woman Owned Busines" without going through any legal frame work if it's just about branding, etc.

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

July 22nd, 2015

Note there is one thing to consider as a "Woman Owned Business"... there are some VCs as well as some larger tech companies, that do not deal well with women.  As long as you are aware of this, and understand the tradeoffs,  this is a positive path to pursue

Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

July 20th, 2015

Never even heard of it, but I'd always weigh the work with the potential rewards. What are the benefits you're hoping to get?