Becoming a certified minority-owned or woman-owned business

Learn how getting certified can help you connect with companies looking to diversify their suppliers.

Published: April 01, 2013
Updated: May 13, 2019

If you're a minority or woman business owner, obtaining minority-owned business enterprise (MBE) or woman-owned business enterprise (WBE) certification could open many new doors for business growth. These certifications can connect you with larger corporations looking to work with your business, since many big companies — as well as government agencies at every level — set spending goals or targets for businesses owned by minorities and/or women.

For big companies, working with MBEs and WBEs enhances their outreach and marketing efforts. For the MBE or WBE, certification provides another tool to facilitate access and visibility.

While there are many benefits to becoming certified, the process can be rigorous. Here are some tips to help simplify the process:

Think strategically.

If your goal is to sell to large corporations, apply for a national certification through a regional affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) or Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). If you want to sell to a city or state government, apply directly through that local agency.

Know the requirements.

To be certified as a minority-owned business, your company must be at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by a minimum of one U.S. citizen whose ethnic background is at least 25% Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic, or Native American.1

Women-owned businesses must be at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens. In addition, a woman must lead the company's day-to-day activities.2 Management and daily operation must be controlled by one or more of the women owners.3

Consider all your options.

If you're a minority, and a woman business owner, it's possible to qualify for both WBE and MBE certification. According to Eric Watson, former president of the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council, 27% of his member MBEs are led by women. If you fit both categories, apply for both designations.

"Certification reflects a heightened standard of business and demonstrates a commitment to strengthening the supply chain," says Watson.

Compile necessary documentation.

The application can be complex, and you could risk not getting certification if you fail to include all the necessary documents. Initial applications are handled online, but you'll also be asked to submit printed copies of required paperwork. These required materials vary based on the organization, so it's best to check with the specific agency closest to you. Contact the NMSDC and/or WBENC to learn more.

The final stage of the certification process typically is an in-person interview, held on site at your business. Once approved, you must renew your certification annually.

Leverage your certification.

Once you've submitted your application and received your certification, start promoting your new status. Consider using the WBENC or NMSDC certified seal on all your marketing materials, or sending out a press release to announce your new certification. Your certification also allows you to promote your business at NMSDC and WBENC national events, and gives you access to participate in their social media channels. By taking full advantage of your new certification, you're one step closer to setting your business up for success locally and nationally. 

Learn more about Wells Fargo's Supplier Diversity. 

1 "What is a MBE?" The National Minority Supplier Development Council. http://www.nmsdc.org/mbes/what-is-an-mbe/

"Women Entrepreneurs: Get Certified as a Woman-Owned Business."  https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2018/03/16/women-entrepreneurs-get-certified-as-a-woman-owned-business/#5b6d52e94db2

"Certification." Women's Business Enterprise National Council. http://www.wbenc.org/certification/certification-process/