Certifications Guide

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Find and win more contracts by getting certified!

What does it mean to be a certified business?

Many government, educational and large private sectors companies want to ensure that a portion of their contracting dollars go to M/WBE, Veteran, LGBT, Small and Disadvantaged business owners.

It’s out of this desire that some of these entities have established their own “certification” programs that M/WBE, Veteran, LGBT, Small and Disadvantaged business owners can apply for if they meet certain criteria. The most common types of certification categories are listed below.

It’s important to note that not all local governmental organizations, educational institutions or large private sector businesses offer certification programs.  However, it might be advantageous to inquire if they have any “supplier diversity” initiatives prior to bidding any contracts if you feel you fall into the categories listed below.

What if I am certified with one organization, will that mean my certification will be accepted by another?

Unfortunately, there is not one size fits all when it comes to certifications.  Every certification program entity has their own specific requirements unique to their organizations protocols and you would have to apply to each organization separately.

Having state level certifications often helps to reduce the paperwork at the city and county level.

If you live in Orange County, FL and wish to do business with both Orange and the City of Orlando their application processes for their programs are very similar and in-person workshops are held monthly (every 3rd Monday of each month 10:00 AM – 12:00 p.m.) at the National Entrepreneur Center that will walk you through both applications. Learn more on BizLink Orange’s Business calendar.

What are the benefits of certifying your business?

Given that many governmental, educational and large private sector companies want to spend a portion of their contract dollars with M/WBE, Veteran, LGBT, Small and Disadvantaged business owners they will often create programs that will allow your company to be identified as a certified  business during their bidding process. These processes help ensure a percentage of their organizations contracting dollars go to qualified disadvantaged business owners.

The Federal 8a Certification for example is a hidden “oil well” in government contracting.  It provides tremendous opportunities for drastically increased revenues and profits.  It is widely considered to be the very best small business program.  It opens the most doors and provides the greatest opportunities, such as sole source awards, set asides & preferential treatment in contracting. However, the downside is it’s one of the more difficult certification applications to go through and obtain.  You will want to ensure you have a valid product and/or service that the Federal Government would be willing to buy at the quantities that they would need before you embark on 8a certification.

Common Certification Categories

Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)

  • At least 51% of business must be minority owned.

(Orange County offers W/MBE certification classes the 2nd Monday of each month from 2:00 PM – 4:00 p.m. at the National Entrepreneur Center. Check out BizLink Calendar for registration details.)

LGBTBE Business Enterprise (LGBTBE)

  • Company has to be 51% owned and operated by an LGBTQ+ person.

If an LGBTQ+ owned business is a member of an affiliate chamber such as The Pride Chamber, they can become a certified BE and member of the NGLCC at no additional cost.  They do, however, need to apply for certification.

Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE)

  • Typically governed by the states’ Department of Transportation.
  • DBE certified vendors are given set aside contracts, and high spending goals when federal contracts are administered by the state, especially for all highway, road and bridge contracting needs.

To be eligible to participate in the DBE program through Florida Dept. of Transportation you must meet the following:

  • The firm is a for-profit business that performs or seeks to perform transportation related work (or a concession activity) for a recipient of Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration, or Federal Aviation Administration funds.
  • The firm is at least 51% owned by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual(s) who also controls it.
  • The firm’s disadvantaged owners are U.S. citizens or lawfully admitted permanent residents of the U.S.
  • The firm meets the Small Business Administration’s size standard and does not exceed $23.98 million in gross annual receipts for DBE ($56.42 million for ACDBEs). (Other size standards apply for ACDBE that are banks/financial institutions, car rental companies, pay telephone firms, and automobile dealers.

To apply you can go to FDOT and select the DBE Certification Application

Women Business Enterprise (WBE)

  • At least 51% of business has to be owned by a woman.

(Orange County offers W/MBE certification classes the 2nd Monday of each month from 2:00 PM – 4:00 p.m. at the National Entrepreneur Center. Check out BizLink Calendar for registration details.)

Small Business Enterprise (SBE)

  • SBE is a company level diversity certification typically issued by a local or state government.
  • Eligibility for certification as a Small Business Enterprise varies depending on the issuer; requirements may relate
    • to number of employees,
    • length of time the company has been in business and
    • the net worth of the company’s owner.
  • SBE certification is non-industry specific.

Veteran-Owned Small Business Certification (VetCert)

  • Be considered a small business, as defined by the size standard corresponding to any NAICS code listed in the business’s SAM profile.
  • Have no less than 51% of the business owned and controlled by one or more veterans.
  • For those veterans who are permanently and totally disabled and unable to manage the daily business operations of their business, their business may still qualify if their spouse or appointed, permanent caregiver is assisting in that management.

Learn more about Florida’s Veteran-Owned Small Business Certification

How to get my business certified

If you are interested in exploring how to get your business certified there are a variety of links below for some local programs. 

If you do not see your county or city listed, please do not hesitate to reach out to your local municipality to see if they have certification programs to assist your business.  Keep in mind though that not all municipalities offer a “certification” program but they may have programs that support “supplier diversity” which increases opportunities for small disadvantaged businesses.

Click the links below and to learn more about their supplier diversity certifications or initiatives:

Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council.

  • Many larger corporations have established supplier diversity goals and commit a percentage of their annual purchasing dollars go to support disadvantaged businesses.  The Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council (FSMSDC) offers a “certification” that allows qualified MBE’s to be included in a database that is utilized by large corporations who are looking to diversify their supply chains.

Benefits of Being a Florida Woman-, Veteran-, Minority-owned Business Enterprise:

(taken from Florida’s Department of Management Services website)

For a Florida-owned small business to verify ownership by a local woman, veteran or minority, holds great importance to their community in today’s business world. More so, state woman-, veteran- or minority-owned business enterprises are provided these benefits (WBE, VBE or MBE):

  • Women-,  veteran- and minority-owned small businesses that are certified by the state are the first tier of businesses referred to state agencies seeking to include supplier diversity as a part of their purchase order and contract opportunities.
  • Listing of newly certified businesses are also highlighted on the OSD home page.
  • The Certified Business Enterprise Vendor Directory lists only state certified woman-, veteran- or minority-owned business enterprises. State agencies, state universities, regional and local government entities and even private businesses use this directory to find state-vetted woman-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses to diversify their vendor dollars. A state certified vendor’s profile can be accessed by simply typing the company’s name, an applicable commodity code or brief description.
  • Special emails and other information are disseminated to vendors who appear in the state’s database. This information could vary from contract opportunities to special events, networking activities and technical assistance training.
  • Online Recertification has been extended to every two years to simplify the process for the applicable businesses. After two years of being certified, a vendor can self-recertify online.