What Female and Minority Entrepreneurs Need to Know About MBE, WBE and EDGE Programs

In the pre-COVID economy, women and minority entrepreneurs, by and large, enjoyed less access to business capital and opportunities than their white, male counterparts. 

Then the COVID pandemic hit, wreaking absolute economic havoc and further exacerbating long-existing challenges for women- and minority-owned businesses. In just the last few months, 41% of African American-, 36% of New American-, 32% of Latinx-, 26% of Asian- and 25% of female-owned businesses1 have been forced to close. Black-owned businesses may reach a rate higher than 50% of closures2. Minority and female business owners are up to 90% less likely to receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, while women entrepreneurs are most likely to be struggling with having to maintain their business while simultaneously dealing with their families’ sudden lack of childcare3

The Encouraging Diversity, Growth and Equity (EDGE) program was established by the State of Ohio in the early ‘00s to help level the playing field by providing resources and opportunity for Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), Women Business Enterprises (WBEs), and other socially or financially disadvantaged entrepreneurs.

Currently, for small businesses that are struggling under the weight of the extreme economic uncertainty caused by COVID, the resources available to MBEs, WBEs and other qualified companies through the EDGE program – including loans, grants and business services – can serve as a lifeline. 

Beyond the pandemic, having an MBE, WBE or EDGE certification can also provide new opportunities for small businesses to grow, pivot or expand.

Female and minority entrepreneurs, here’s what you need to know about WHY you should get your certification, and HOW to get started:

What are the benefits of being WBE-, MBE- or EDGE-Certified?

Access to More Contracts: Gaining a certification gives your business procurement preference for a share of contracts with state agencies, boards, commissions and universities, as well as a host of local government organizations and private-sector companies. The State of Ohio, the City of Columbus, The Ohio State University, and many other local organizations and companies have spending goals with MBE-, WBE- and EDGE-certified businesses for services ranging from construction to IT to design. Gaining a certification can open your business to potential new sources of revenue.

Inclusion in Certified Business Databases: The state, the city and several other entities provide searchable databases for procurement. Being in these databases makes your company discoverable by more (and sometimes bigger) potential customers.

Access to Business Resources: Business owners also have access to grants, loans and training programs that are designated for MBE-, WBE- or EDGE-certified or qualified companies. ECDI is a lending source for some of these funds and provides a wide range of training and education through our Women’s Business Centers. State-supported Minority Business Assistance Centers (MBACs) can also be found throughout Ohio. You do not have to be certified to take advantage of many available services; however, certification can help assure you have access to all applicable resources.

What companies are eligible for MBE-, WBE- or EDGE-Certification?

To be eligible for MBE or EDGE certification from the State of Ohio, businesses must be operational for at least one year before applying; must be at least 51% owned by a person who is female, in a minority group (Black, Latinx, Native American, Asian), or who is otherwise socially or economically disadvantaged; and the business owner must have day-to-day control over the business and possess all licenses and permits. Learn more.

To be eligible for WBE certification from the Women’s Business National Enterprise Council (WBENC), businesses must be 51% owned, controlled, operated and managed by a woman or women. 

How does my business get our certification?

The State of Ohio’s Unified Application can be filled out online in the Ohio Business Gateway. To apply for MBE and EDGE certifications, you’ll need to provide supporting documentation. (Download this checklist.) Once submitted, the application takes between 45-60 business days to be reviewed by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services. Once approved, the company receives the certification by email. 

The WBENC provides WBE certification. An application and supporting documentation is also required. The processing time upon completion of your application is typically 90 days and requires a site visit.

The City of Columbus has its own applications for minority and female business enterprises interested in doing business with the City of Columbus; however, the city will also accept the state’s MBE certification and the WBEC’s WBE certification.

There is no cost to apply for MBE or EDGE certification, whether you apply with the city or the state. There is a fee to apply for WBE certification through WBEC.

Tips and resources for applying

Gathering all the necessary documentation to apply for any certification can seem daunting. There are for-profit businesses that will help applicants for a fee of hundreds to thousands of dollars – however, free help is available from several local sources. 

In Columbus, you can receive help from the Ohio Department of Administrative Services or Columbus Urban League for MBE or EDGE certification. ECDI’s Women’s Business Centers offer virtual training sessions throughout the year. To learn about the next training at ECDI, sign up for our newsletter and be notified of future webinars and virtual workshops. 

This mutli-part sponsored series highlighting ECDI’s work in Columbus is presented with paid support by ECDI.

Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through its one-stop shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they’re in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their unique needs. Whether assisting a new client with a business concept or an accomplished entrepreneur opening a fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed over twelve thousand entrepreneurs to take advantage of the services it provides. Visit ecdi.org today to learn more.


1Small businesses owned by women, people of color, and immigrants are harder hit by COVID-19,” Zlati Meyer, Fast Company, June 8, 2020
2More than half of Black-owned businesses may not survive COVID-19,” Rodney A. Brooks, National Geographic, July 17, 2020
3Shut out of PPP loans, struggling with no child care: How Covid-19 is impacting women-owned small businesses,” Courtney Conley, CNBC, May 19, 2020