Certifying Your Business With a Special Designation

While simply registering your small business with the CCR will help you access the contracts that the federal government reserves for small businesses, did you know that there are also set-aside opportunities for specific socioeconomic groups? These include: woman-owned businesses, HUBZone businesses (located in a traditionally underutilized business area), veteran-owned businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned businesses and 8(a) businesses (owned by the socially and economically disadvantaged).

The government wants to protect those businesses when they’re starting out so they don’t have to compete right away with large, billion-dollar enterprises.

Aside from giving you access to special contracts, set-aside businesses also receive a lot of developmental assistance, programs and people to help you along the way as you build your business. In exchange for that, there is a time limit for how long you can stay in that protected class, currently nine years.

When you claim one of these special designations, you do have to prove that your business belongs in one or more of these categories.

There are different programs that can verify your claim for set-aside small business status, depending on which category you’re in. All of these programs provide for both initial certification and then ongoing verification that your circumstances have not changed.

The HUBZone program is managed by the small business administration (SBA). The SBA also manages the 8(a) program and they do the certification for both of those.

The woman-owned program is managed by the SBA but the certification is established through special organizations that are designated to perform the certification, e.g., the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC).

Some of the criteria you must meet in order to access set-aside money for woman-owned businesses are that:

  • A woman owns 51% or more of your business
  • The woman owner is actually actively involved in the business
  • The woman owner makes the final decisions for the business

There are many other specific requirements to be certified as a woman-owned business, such as U.S. citizenship.

Lastly, service-disabled and veteran-owned certification programs are run by the Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE), a program office within the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The certifications are based on the requirements set out in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations (DFAR).

As an example, TAPE, LLC is owned by a service-disabled veteran – my wife, Louisa Jaffe. So first, Louisa had to verify her service disability. This is a medical process and is protected by medical privacy laws. However the Centre for Veterans Enterprise does look at those records to verify that the owner of the business is, as claimed, a veteran with a disability. The Centre does not publish or share that information.

Assuming that you’ve registered your business properly and filed all of your paperwork, you can certify your status as a veteran online. Remember that your business will be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it is still owned and managed by the veteran – the protective class that the government is trying to protect by establishing these set-asides.

Certification can get you more customers and more contracts

By certifying your status as a special designation helps to get your business in front of the people who are looking specifically for, let’s say, a service-disabled veteran-owned business. Those are your customers. Because all agencies have to set aside a certain amount of business for these set-aside classes, there’s an incentive for them to want to find you. They are looking for you.

Under these programs, a certain amount of business (e.g., up to a limit of $4 million – that’s a LOT of money to a small business) can be awarded without any competition. In some cases they may publish a contract with set-aside competition, meaning that the contract is only for a specific type of set-aside business, e.g., HubZone companies, but any HUBZone can bid on it. Or a contracting officer could give you a sole-source directed award without any competition, on the sole basis of your status as a set-aside business.

That’s why you definitely want to go through the certification process if you quality. Just remember that making false claims about your status is a criminal offense. So don’t get greedy. Small businesses are still a protective class and there are set asides for you, too.


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