To help provide a level playing field for women business owners, the government limits competition for certain contracts to businesses that participate in the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract program.
These contracts are for goods and services in specific industries (identified via NAICS code) where WOSBs are underrepresented. Some contracts are restricted further to economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs). SBA maintains a list of those eligible industries and their NAICS codes.
Joining the WOSB Federal Contract program makes a business eligible to compete for federal contracts reserved for the program's certified participants. These contracts are known as “set-asides.” Provided they are eligible, WOSB-certified firms can still compete for contract awards under other socio-economic programs, including 8(a) and HUBZone.
It is important to note that WOSB certification benefits only apply to federal contracting opportunities, rather than those in the private sector.
WOSB and EDWOSB certification improvements
In 2020, SBA implemented Congress’s changes to the WOSB Federal Contract program, as put forth in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This affected the process by which WOSBs and EDWOSBs gained program certification. Updated WOSB Federal Contract Program regulations detailing changes to the certification process were published in the Federal Register in May 2020.
These changes have made it easier for qualified small businesses to participate in the WOSB Federal Contract program by improving the customer experience. At the same time, SBA has strengthened oversight and ensured the integrity of the certification process.
Under the current WOSB Federal Contract program regulations:
- All WOSB firms must take action in WOSB.Certify.sba.gov, home to SBA’s free online certification process, in order to compete for WOSB Federal Contract program set-aside contracts.
- SBA allows continued participation from businesses that utilize SBA-approved Third-Party Certifiers (TPCs) to obtain WOSB or EDWOSB certification provided that these firms submit their TPC certification and proof of citizenship at WOSB.Certify.sba.gov.
- If your firm had contracts through the WOSB Federal Contract program when the changes went into effect, you will remain certified through the duration of existing contracts.
Firms can use SBA's local assistance tool to contact their local SBA regional or district office or Women’s Business Center with questions. In addition, the WOSB.certify.sba.gov Knowledge Base is a valuable resource for firms who want to learn more about the certification process or have questions about applying for and participating in the WOSB Program.
Program eligibility requirements
To be eligible for the WOSB Federal Contract program, a business must:
- Be a small business according to SBA size standards
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens
- Have women manage day-to-day operations who also make long-term decisions
To qualify as an EDWOSB within the program, a business must:
- Meet all the requirements of the WOSB Federal Contract program
- Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with a personal net worth less than $850,000
- Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with $400,000 or less in adjusted gross income averaged over the previous three years
- Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each $6.5 million or less in personal assets
Economic disadvantage standards have been aligned between the 8(a) Business Development program and the WOSB Federal Contract program. Please note that funds invested in an official retirement account are excluded from the assessment of an economically disadvantaged individual’s personal net worth in both programs. 8(a) firms interested in pursuing EDWOSB certification may provide their most recent annual review letter (or acceptance letter, if in their first year) through applying at WOSB.Certify.sba.gov.
SBA also allows participation from firms certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Verification and Evaluations (CVE), provided they meet all eligibility requirements. Firms must provide their CVE certificate and supporting documentation through WOSB.Certify.sba.gov.
Eligibility requirements for WOSB or EDWOSB qualification are fully defined in Title 13 Part 127 Subpart B of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Firms can also get a preliminary assessment of whether they qualify at WOSB.Certify.sba.gov.
Get certified as a WOSB
Before firms can compete for WOSB set-aside contracts, they must apply for certification on WOSB.Certify.sba.gov. This certification site can also help firms:
- Understand the certification process
- Access checklists that provide guidance prior to applying
- Explore their company’s eligibility
- Request information from SBA program experts
- Create an account and proceed with their application
Note: When you create an account, you will be automatically directed to a new screen to access login.gov. This is a secure platform for creating new account logins. Please be advised that SBA-approved third-party certification (TPC) does not automatically activate a firm’s WOSB eligibility. If a firm chooses to go through an SBA-approved TPC, they must still visit WOSB.Certify.sba.gov and submit proof of US citizenship, along with their valid TPC-WOSB or EDWOSB certificate.
For more information on the application process, please review the information available on WOSB.Certify.sba.gov, including :
Maintaining WOSB certification
To maintain your WOSB or EDWOSB certification, SBA requires participants to annually attest to meeting program requirements set forth in 13 CFR 127. Annual attestation must be submitted within 30 days of the anniversary date of certification. Additionally, firms must undergo a program examination every three years conducted by SBA or a third-party certifier. Note: Annual attestation is currently in abeyance, meaning firms do not have to submit an attestation annually.
Upon completion of the recertification application, an SBA analyst will conduct a full review of the responses and uploaded documentation. A formal letter is issued once a decision is rendered.
In order to maintain their status with the WOSB program, firms need to update their SAM.gov profile annually, to ensure their DSBS profile remains active. For the purposes of contracts (including multiple-award contracts) with durations of more than five years (including options), a self-certified firm must complete the current certification process prior to the end of the fifth year of the contract.
WOSB Federal Contract program assistance
The WOSB Federal Contract program offers multiple avenues for firms seeking assistance. SBA's dedicated resource partners are always available to help our small businesses. Firms can also use SBA's local assistance tool to contact their local SBA regional or district office or Women’s Business Center.
In addition, the WOSB.Certify.sba.gov Knowledge Base is a valuable resource for firms to get started learning about this new platform with how-to videos, user guides, and more.
SBA-approved third-party certification
There are four organizations approved by SBA to provide third-party certification (TPC). You may contact them to learn more about their certification process and any associated costs. They are:
- El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- National Women Business Owners Corporation
- U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council
Once approved through one of these four TPCs, you will still need to upload your proof of citizenship and TPC-certified documentation to WOSB.Certify.sba.gov before bidding on WOSB set-aside contracts.
If you gained third-party certification prior to October 2020, you will remain certified for the duration of existing contracts. After existing contracts expire, you will need to certify through WOSB.Certify.sba.gov to remain eligible for WOSB set-aside contracts.
Issuing decisions on certification
Whenever practicable, SBA will make its determination within 90 calendar days after receipt of a complete package. If your application is deemed incomplete or otherwise does not meet program application requirements, an SBA representative may reach out to request additional information or documentation.