What Do I Need to Know About Certification? Nine Questions to Determine Your Eligibility

Certification is a topic that interests – and confuses – many entrepreneurs. I recently spoke with the owner of a two-month-old business who wanted to use the distinction of being a minority- and woman-owned company to pursue some local business opportunities. She was quite surprised when I pointed out that there is a process by which women- and minority-owned companies are identified and certified.

What do you need to know?

Somers L. Martin, director of business development services for the Columbus Chamber

The easiest way to determine if a business can be qualified as women- or minority-owned is to start with the basics.

  • 1. Is/are the business owner(s) U.S. citizen(s)
  • 2. Is the business organized as a for-profit enterprise?
  • 3. Is the business 51 percent owned by an individual(s) who is/are African American, Hispanic American, Asian American or Asian Indian American who has day-to-day control of the business?
  • 4. Is the business 51 percent owned by a woman (women) who has day-to-day control of the business?
  • 5. Is the business 51 percent owned by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual(s) who has day-to-day control of the business?
  • 6. Is the business owned by an Ohio resident(s)?
  • 7. Has the company been in business for at least one year?
  • 8. Is the company a small business consistent with the size standards of the Small Business Administration? Find the size standards here.
  • 9. Is your firm, parent, branch or subsidiary currently certified by other National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) affiliate council?

The answers to these questions can help pre-qualify you for certification and what entities you might approach to pursue your certification. Local certifying entities include the City of Columbus – Equal Business Opportunity Commission, State of Ohio Department of Administrative Services, the Ohio Department of Transportation, Ohio River Valley – Women Business Enterprise (ORV-WBE), and the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council (OMSDC).

So, where do you begin this process? The Columbus Chamber’s Diversity Bridge web portal allows registered users to complete a pre-qualify questionnaire to identify the appropriate certifications for which they qualify. Users are also able to complete certifications for the City of Columbus, State of Ohio Department of Administrative Services, or the Ohio Department of Transportation. For companies interested in pursuing certifications with the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council or the ORV-WBE, we are able to provide referrals to those sources.

Business owners can choose to pursue one or multiple certifications. Some are free of cost – public entities do not charge for pursuing their certifications – while others – private – may have a cost associated with them. It is best to inquire as to cost by contacting the appropriate certification agency.

Once an owner has determined his or her eligibility for certification and which certifications he or she is interested in pursuing, the next step, BEFORE starting to complete the certification application(s), is to gather all the supporting documentation that will need to be submitted with the application(s). Please note there is some information that is required regardless of business type, e.g., driver’s license, notes payable, operating business license/permits, lease agreements, etc., and some information that is pertinent to how the company is structured, e.g., sole proprietorship, LLC, partnerships, corporations. Make multiple copies of the necessary documentation if pursuing multiple certifications to save time.

After all information (application and supporting documentation) has been compiled and submitted, the certifying agency will review for completeness and schedule an on-site visit if necessary. Some certifying agencies may do reciprocal certifications if the business is interested in doing so.

And remember, the Columbus Chamber offers a portfolio of services to help small business thrive. Contact us for help with business connections, hiring strategies, government navigation and research assistance.