Certification Program Creates Opportunities For Women

    GRAND RAPIDS — For female entrepreneurs looking to expand their business through private and public sector contracts, pursuing national certification as a woman-owned enterprise could be the ticket to new procurement opportunities.

    So says Janet Harris-Lange, president of the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC), a sister organization to the National Association of Women Business Owners and the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.

    Harris-Lange also is president of Agenda Dynamics Inc., a meeting and event management company she founded in 1972 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

    In a recent small business teleseminar sponsored by National City Corp., Harris-Lange outlined the organizations five-year-old national certification program and its competitive advantages.

    The nonprofit NWBOC initiated the program in 1997 in conjunction with a number of leading corporations, including IBM, AT&T, Dun & Bradstreet, Walt Disney, Coca Cola and Hughes Electronics Corp.

    More than 40 corporations, government agencies and organizations worked with NWBOC to develop the program.

    Women currently own 38 percent of all U.S. companies, and the 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the country generate $3.6 trillion in annual sales, according to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.

    Harris-Lange said national certification gives a small business legitimacy and offers women suppliers more opportunities to compete for contracts and grow their customer base.

    Among the advantages of national certification is simplification  its an alternative to the multiple state and local certifications required by many public and private sector entities.

    We wanted to develop a national program that would be accepted by so many people that women would have to get only one and that would be the end of it, Harris-Lange observed.

    More than 100 private and public agencies now accept NWBOC certification.

    Certified businesses have access to NWBOCs public and private sectored databases, which include more than 1,000 procurement contacts. The database is a targeted marketing resource since the companies and agencies listed are already committed to contracting with women-owned enterprises.

    Harris-Lange said the organization gets calls every day from companies looking for particular types of women-owned businesses operating in specific states or regions.

    NWBOC also has an online marketplace, PurchasePro.com, which outside companies can use to source and contact certified women business owners all over the country. In concert with the National Association of Women Business Owners, the organization offers an annual procurement fair as well.

    To be eligible for national certification under NWBOC, a business owner, or she and her business partners, has to own at least 51 percent of the companys voting stock, has to control 51 percent or more of company resources and has to be active in the companys day-to-day management.

    National certification certifies the company, not the owner, Harris-Lange stressed. Women must be in business a minimum of six to 12 months in order to provide the necessary paperwork for the application process, which Harris-Lange describes as rigorous.

    Certification doesnt guarantee business profitability, capability, expertise or longevity. The certification board evaluates the viability of the company only, to determine whether its truly a business with real clients and accounts.

    Neither does the NWBOC certify minority businesses. Thats the job of the National Minority Supplier Development Council. When NWBOC certifies a minority womans business, its certified only as a woman-owned business, she explained.

    The U.S. government purchases $200 billion in goods and services each year. Though women operate 38 percent of the businesses in this country, they only get 2.4 to 2.5 percent of government procurement, Harris-Lange pointed out, adding that certification is one way to raise that percentage.

    On the private sector side, Wal-Mart alone purchases $104 billion in goods and services, she pointed out.

    If one company does that, can you imagine what they all do put together? What do companies like Wal-Mart buy? They buy everything from dog collars to jet engines, and everything in between.

    There are amazing opportunities and I would tell any of you, dont think that your company cant be certified.

    Business owners can request an application packet by calling (800) 675-5066, or downloading the application on NWBOCs Web site, www.nwboc.com

    Nationwide, the organization has five regional certification committees, each comprised of an attorney, an accountant and individuals from both the public and private sectors who conduct a financial and legal review based on the information provided by a candidate.

    The review is followed by a site visit, after which the committee meets again to determine whether the business qualifies for certification. The entire process generally takes two to three months.

    Certification must be renewed every year, and Harris-Lange urged women to keep their certification current.

    When youve gone through this rigid process, by all means keep it (certification). Maybe you didnt have major procurement contracts this year, but you may have a lot in the future.

    Harris-Lange said hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women-owned businesses have been certified under the program since 1997. Some 200 applications are currently being processed.

    Furthermore, NWBOC is now working on a plan to couple some women-owned businesses so they can have more clout in the bidding process and, together, bid on larger contracts.

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