There are a host of public and private programs set up to help minority-owned businesses succeed, such as special loans, business counseling and management training, along with opportunities to bid on federal, state, and private sector contracts. Some government agencies require a certain percentage of contracts be awarded to minority-owned businesses, and many private companies have set their own goals to do so.
Why Get Certified as a Minority-Owned Business?
To take advantage of these programs, you need to be on their radar by getting officially certified as a Minority-Owned Business or Minority Business Enterprise (MBE). Certification helps the government and private firms make sure you’re legit: that you are who you say you are, and that your company really is entitled to the advantages they can offer.
There are different types of certification depending on whether you want to connect with government programs or with the corporate world.
Federal Government MBE Certification
The Small Business Administration has a program specifically to assist minority-owned and economically-disadvantaged businesses. It’s known as the 8(a) Business Development Program, and helps such firms with bidding for government contracts.
The SBA defines a minority-owned business as one in which the majority (at least 51%) of the company is owned and run on a daily basis by a member (or collection of members) of four ethnic or racial groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. To qualify for 8(a) status, you must also be a U.S. citizen.
The SBA will refer to your track record to see if you have the potential for success. You need to be in business for at least two years before applying, and submit income tax returns showing how much you’ve made. (This requirement may be waived if you meet some additional criteria.)
Before you apply for the 8(a) program, take a few minutes to watch a short video the SBA put together that will give you more information about it. Finish up by using the assessment tool, which will give you an idea of where you might stand regarding eligibility. If the 8(a) program looks like a good fit for you, you can apply online. There is no fee.
To do business with the federal government, you also have to register with the System for Award Management.
State and Local Government MBE Certification
Many states and municipalities have their own systems for minority-owned business certification, but most guidelines are similar to that of the federal government. To find out how to qualify for your state, do an internet search for “minority-owned business certification” and your state, city or town.
The U.S. Department of Commerce also has links to some of the state and local agencies that sponsor programs for Minority Business Enterprises.
Private Sector MBE Certification
To benefit from a minority-owned business designation in the corporate world, head to the website for the National Minority Supplier Development Council. The NMSDC has a tremendous list of corporate members looking to connect with companies such as yours. Many states also accept certification by the NMSDC for programs that can help with public sector contracts for MBEs.
To qualify for NMSDC certification, your company must be based in the U.S., and at least 51% owned and run by one or more U.S. citizens who are members of a minority group. The Council defines that as having at least 25% Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-Indian, or Asian-Pacific heritage, which you will have to document.
You apply for NMSDC certification through one of its regional councils. Be prepared for a site visit to your company and a personal interview so the information you provide can be verified.
Certification will generally take between 45 and 60 days, and cost from several hundred to over a thousand dollars depending on where your business is located and how large it is. If you’re approved, you’ll be listed in the both regional and national Minority Supplier Databases. You’ll also be able to take part in management training programs, qualify for special loan programs, and be able to attend special business opportunity fairs.