Grow Your Business with MWBE Certification

female construction worker

If you have a minority- or woman-owned business (or both), did you know you can apply for minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) certification?

MWBE certification often opens the door to government and corporate contracts, which can increase your income and experience, give you long-term stability, and offer more opportunities to grow.

Learn all about MWBE certification, the potential benefits for your business, and the key steps to becoming MWBE certified.

What is MWBE certification?

Federal, state and city governments have diversity goals to help increase access to government contracts for businesses that have historically been disadvantaged in the contract-award process. The MWBE certification program promotes equal opportunities while eliminating barriers to government contracts. These contracts cover a wide range of industries like construction, child care, landscaping, marketing, and more.

While the federal, state and local levels of government have similar certification processes, they’re not necessarily the same. For example, New York State’s certification program lets you apply for other state and city certifications at the same time.

If your business is located outside of New York State, reach out to your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to find out more about the process in your area. You can find information for federal MWBE certification on the SBA’s certification site.

What does New York’s MWBE certification program look like?

According to the New York State statute for the MWBE certification program, “state agencies are charged with establishing employment and business participation goals for minorities and women.”

Today, New York State’s Office of General Services has a goal of allocating 30% of spending to MWBE certified businesses. According to Open Book New York, the state paid more than $140 billion in contracts in 2022. That means that more than $42 billion was earmarked specifically for MWBE certified businesses.

The benefits of MWBE certification

When your business is MWBE certified, you’ll get more than financial benefits. When agencies, non-profits, and businesses are planning projects with MWBE goals, only MWBE certified businesses count towards those goals. This can give your business an edge when you’re bidding for contracts. With MWBE certification you’ll also be:

Basic eligibility criteria for MWBE certification

To qualify for New York State’s MWBE certification program, your business needs to be at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by one or more minority- or women-owners. Your business must also:

  • Be privately owned and for-profit
  • Have fewer than 300 employees
  • Have at least one year of operations with supporting business financials and bank records

New York City’s MWBE certification program has similar rules. To be eligible, your business must be:

  • Registered as a vendor with the City of New York
  • Majority owned (at least 51%) by a minority- or woman-owner
  • Legally allowed to do business in New York State
  • In operation for at least a year in New York City and the surrounding counties

The MWBE certification process can take some time, so, start your application as soon as possible if you’re interested in applying.

It’s also important to note that certain industries or projects may require additional certifications for you to win bids (such as being federally certified, for example). Make sure you thoroughly review the requirements before you start bidding on a project.

Important considerations for MWBE certification

Because MWBE certification offers access to government contracting opportunities, you want to make sure your business is prepared for what that entails.

According to MWBE construction business coach Vivian Mandala (CMC Coaching), many small businesses go into the process unprepared for the challenges of working with government agencies. With her extensive experience with New York City and New York State MWBE projects, Vivian advises businesses to thoroughly consider how a large government contract can grow your business but also add significant risk if you’re not prepared.

To determine if your business is ready for large MWBE contracts, consider the following questions before you bid:

  • How do you want to grow your business as it relates to municipal/government contracts?
  • What percentage of your business do you want to allocate to government contracts?
  • What type of contracts and work are you best suited to bid on?
  • What are the quantitative and qualitative factors that you need to consider when deciding what contracts to go after?
  • Can you successfully complete this contract in terms of technical skill, manpower, and cash flow?
  • How can you grow your business’s infrastructure so you can complete larger contracts? Is that the direction that you want to move in?

Before you bid, make sure your business goals align with the MWBE projects and contracts you’re considering. Taking on large contracts may change your business model, but might not necessarily align with your vision for your business.

  • Before bidding directly on government or corporate contracts, many MWBE certified business act as subcontractors for larger partnering businesses. It can be a great way for you to gain experience and get exposure to the government-contracting processes (both the bidding process and the project/service implementation).
  • Many of the contracts offered are large, which means that your business may need to increase staffing, equipment, or inventory. Be sure you’re prepared for this with enough money to purchase what you need or hire more staff. There are financing programs available specifically to support businesses with government contracts.
  • Government contracts have a long lag time between when the contract is completed and when your business is paid, typically 60-120 days. That can create a cash crunch for your business, so you may want to consider a working capital or bridge loan to strengthen your financial foundation.

How to apply for MWBE certification

Now that you know how to qualify and the benefits of MWBE certification, it’s time to learn how to apply. The program requires several steps and documents to ensure that only eligible businesses receive certification.

Many states, including New York, have significantly streamlined the application process. In some cases, there’s also the possibility to fast-track your application to get certified quicker.

Both NYS and NYC have easy-to-follow instructions and online applications on their MWBE websites. Simply follow the instructions and be sure to submit information that’s accurate and complete to avoid setbacks and delays. Here are some additional tips:

  • Before you apply, review the checklist of documents that you’ll need – it’s best to have those ready before beginning the application process
  • In NYC, you can work with a Small Business Services counselor to review your application before you submit it. This can save you a lot of time and streamline the process.
  • Be sure to designate your business’s NAICS code correctly or you’ll get incorrect Requests for Quotes/Bids (RFQs). Make sure you check Passport emails for NYC contracts and NYS Contract Reporter emails for state opportunities.

Pursuit can help

When your MWBE certified small business wins a bid, contact Pursuit to learn more about financing your project. With more than 15 loan options available our expert team can help you get the funds you need to make your project a success. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help!

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