How to Get Certified as a DBE/Minority/Female Owned Business in Georgia
Minority- and female-owned businesses have seen growth in their support systems, but many still need more help to succeed.
No matter who you are, if you own a small or medium business, competing with the big dogs isn’t always easy. As a woman or a minority, it can be extra challenging.
But with the right connections and certifications, it’s possible to hold your own and make a name for yourself.
By certifying your Georgia-based business as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) or a minority- or female-owned business, you gain access to financial programs and resources that other companies don’t have.
This guide will walk you through the steps to gain DBE certification in Georgia. Then, we’ll talk about other grants you’ll be eligible to apply for after you have the essential DBE certificate.
Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Certification
Georgia works a bit differently than most states. To get most small business owner certifications, you first need the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certificate.
This program goes through the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). It’s the only certification that the state performs.
Georgia takes their economy seriously. They link registered suppliers with other enterprises, corporations, and government entities who are looking to subcontract someone with those specific skills. By doing this, they foster economic growth for the state and help expand each registered business’s growth.
If you’re looking for a specific minority or women’s certification, don’t worry; you can still get the designations you need with this. Think of it as an alternate route to the same destination.
Once GDOT approves your DBE program certificate, they’ll process a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification at the same time. From there, the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) determines when you get approved for the MBE Certification.
Sound confusing? Not to stress! We’ll walk you through everything you need to know and do next.
How Does Georgia Define Small Business?
Georgia’s definition of a small business is a company owned and operated by an independent person or partner.
The potential DBE owner has to employ fewer than 300 people on its staff and/or make less than $30 million (gross receipts) in its fiscal years.
But even if you qualify as a small business, you don’t get the designation that most states have as a Small Business Enterprise.
Steps to Obtain DBE Certification
To become a registered supplier, the first thing to do is to report to the DOAS that you’re a small business. After that, you can apply for DBE status.
The process is easy:
- Contact their Supplier Registration/Team Georgia Marketplace. Currently, they only accept phone calls. Let them know you want to start the process to register with the State’s designation.
- After that, head over to the DBE website and download their certification application packet. This includes a Personal Financial Statement Form. Complete the packet and send it to the address shown.
- The Georgia D.O.T reviews your packet to ensure you have all the supporting documents and meet the qualifications. They may ask for more documentation to make their determination.
- Once the packet is complete, your business will be assigned a DBE Coordinator. This person will work with you to schedule a date and time when they will perform an on-site visit.
- At that visit, the coordinator will verify that all the documentation you submitted is correct. If you meet the criteria at that time, you’ll get the certification designation. You won’t receive a physical certificate, but you do get an approval letter.
With the approval, the GDOT enters your business’s information in their DBE directory. You can use that link and the approval letter to apply for other certificates.
GDOT State Supported Funding Program (SSFP)
Another benefit of working with the GDOT is that you get access to state-supported funding projects. The DOT program prepares its DBE-certified businesses to prime contractors, encouraging more successful contracts, and thus more work for Georgia’s business owners.
No matter which category your company falls in as a DBE, the state provides you with resources like:
- Individual assistance as you apply for an SSFP project, helping through each step of the application process
- Access to the state’s Meeting Space to conduct interviews with contractors and bidders
- An expert to review your plan before you submit it
- Use of the GDOT’s computers to fill out and print applications or complete routine internet research for available SSFP projects
- Training in how to submit bids, obtain contracts, and maximize your potential as a subcontractor
Because your business’s success brings funding to the state, it’s in Georgia’s best interest to help you. As a DBE, you automatically have access to these resources, as well as other resources designed for disadvantaged businesses.
Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council
After you’ve been approved as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, you can apply for a national Minority Business Entity certificate. This links your business with the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council (GMSDC).
Connecting with the GMSDC is a huge deal. It’s a business opportunity with massive potential. You’ll be a visible part of the network of major supply chains in the state and country.
When you have an “in” with corporate supply chains, you get some of the first dibs on bidding on contracts. Your company can develop relationships with corporations and governments that want to work with MBE-qualified business partners.
Benefits of MBE Certification
The MBE certificate and its connection to the GMSDC give disadvantaged business owners a lot of benefits.
Some of the largest corporations in Georgia use the GMSDC’s database to find diverse suppliers before they look elsewhere. If your business is certified as an MBE, you can build relationships directly with the decision-makers of major enterprises.
As a prime contractor listed in the database, you have access to procurement opportunities other businesses don’t.
There are specific contractor openings that are only available to suppliers with the MBE certification. It’s a small part of their members-only benefit program.
Other features that only members have access to include networking events, leadership roles in the state, and potential participation in committees in your industry. No matter what type of work you do, these are good opportunities.
The MBE certification is recognized around the country, so your network and benefits extend throughout the entire United States.
How to Qualify for MBE Certification
Qualifications for the MBE certificate are similar to those of the DBE. The majority of ownership must be held by a qualifying ethnic-minority who is a U.S. citizen. The business must be run and controlled by the same minority owner(s).
The highest executive position in the company must be held by the ethnic-minority owner. The business must be a for-profit organization headquartered in the State of Georgia.
If all this sounds like your company, you can start the certification process:
- Register for and attend the pre-certification informational session.
- Complete the application you receive, including all requested documentation.
- Once your application is reviewed and approved by the GMSDC, a representative will contact you to coordinate a site visit.
- After the site visit, a certification committee and board will review your business’s details and determine approval status.
Upon notification of approval, you’ll schedule an orientation with the MBE and begin engaging with the group. The advantages begin!
Related: 11+ Small Business Grants for Minorities
Greater Women’s Business Council
As a woman-owned enterprise in Georgia with a DBE certificate, you are eligible to apply to become part of the Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC). This national organization focuses on supporting and growing women-owned businesses.
This certification’s eligibility criteria are similar to those of the MBE. Majority ownership must be held by at least one woman with U.S. citizenship, who must control and manage the business without restrictions.
A woman must hold the highest defined title in the company. There must be documented evidence that she contributed through capital or with experience in the industry.
The owner’s personal net worth and business revenue must be disclosed during your application process.
Benefits of GWBC
As with the MBE, the advantages of having a connection with the GWBC are extensive.
Your business will have access to various benefits, including:
- Procurement opportunities with major corporations at the local, state, and federal levels
- Business openings for contracting and subcontracting with corporations, governments, and WBENC-certified, women-owned businesses
- Invitations to attend networking events and programs for education purposes, business opportunities, and business development
- Access to tools and resources to grow your business and reach your contract goals, as well as technical assistance
- Permission to use the Women-Owned Logo and/or Women’s Business Enterprise Seal to market your business
In addition to these perks, you have community support from professional women like yourself.
How to Get a GWBC Certification
The GWBC application process is completed online through a tool called WBENCLink2.0. There’s a non-refundable application processing fee that you’ll have to pay via credit card or check when you apply.
Anything you enter on WBENCLink2.0 is visible to all corporations and governments with access to the database.
When you log in to the system, you’ll create an account that will also be the database you use for all your WBENC documentation. After you’re approved, you’ll house any certificates, records, and other information here.
To register, you must use the female owner’s email address, which will also become your username. You can complete the application in any order, but you must submit it within 90 days.
The status bar at the top of the page shows you how much you’ve already done. Make sure you “Save Draft” as you go.
Remember, you can’t make any changes after you submit your application. Take your time and be sure everything is accurate. Use the checklist they provide to ensure you’ve attached all documentation. Incomplete forms will delay your approval.
Once you submit your application, you’ll hear from the WBENC. They’ll schedule a site visit, and if all goes well, you’ll be approved as a business member.
Check out our other small business resources:
Grants for Black Women Entrepreneurs | Logos & Certifications for Minority-Owned Businesses | Black Tradelines for SMBs
Georgia has impressive state-wide programs for disadvantaged business owners.
Why stop there, though, when you have access to federal certifications, too?
Once you get your DBE certification, check out the options you have for federal grants and networking:
Those who qualify may be eligible for government grants through the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). This federal government branch provides financial assistance to MBDA businesses.
For instance, if your business is relevant to the transportation industry, there are discretionary grant programs offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). These grants supply funds to improve various types of public transportation.
Related: 5+ Federal Grants for Women Entrepreneurs
Federal Contract Opportunities
Federal contract opportunities give you a chance to partner with the federal government on a range of projects.
These are equal opportunity listings. Anyone who wants to work for the government can access the system and choose which notices of procurement to receive.
Businesses with the DBE certification may be able to obtain contracts before the posting is visible to other entities.
Small Business Administration
SBA funding is available to businesses with a Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) certification.
If you already have a DBE designation in Georgia, you may be able to avoid the extensive paperwork with the SBA. However, you are only eligible to skip the paperwork if the state has the same or stricter qualification guidelines (regarding size standards, etc.).
If you qualify, you may be able to access one or more of the SBA’s multiple disadvantaged business programs. These programs offer additional funding and procurement opportunities for minority subcontractors.
Before you can apply for any federal programs, you’ll need to know your NAICS code. Short for the North American Industry Classification System, this number is used across the federal government to classify businesses according to specific industries.
If you can’t put your finger on this number right away, it’s easy to find at www.census.gov/naics. In the search feature, use specific keywords that describe your business. Then, choose the business code from the list provided for you that most closely matches your services.
Georgia’s application processes are consistent no matter where in the state your business operates.
However, in major metropolitan areas like Fulton and Clayton County, the turnaround time for approval may be a lot longer than in small areas.
The sooner you get started, the faster you’ll enjoy the benefits of being a certified DBE, Minority, or Female-Owned business.