Boost Your Business with MWBE Certification: A Guide to Success for Minority and Women Entrepreneurs


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December 21, 2023

This article is Tax Professional approved


Have you ever thought about making the business world fairer for everyone? A key way to do this is through the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) certification. This important certification recognizes businesses that minorities or women own and control. It's a step towards equality, helping these businesses grow and bringing balance to the business world.

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Key takeaways

  • MWBE certification is designed to support businesses that are at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by women or minority group members, offering access to opportunities and growth support while keeping in mind personal net worth restrictions.
  • Benefits of MWBE certification include priority in government contract procurement, development support such as workshops and networking events, and increased visibility and credibility for the business in the market.
  • Eligibility for MWBE certification requires the business to be majority-owned and controlled by women or individuals from minority groups, with the owner(s) having a personal net worth below $1.32 million, among other criteria.

Understanding MWBE certification

MWBE certification stands as a formidable asset, potentially propelling minority and women owned business to new levels. It serves as a recognition for businesses primarily owned, operated, and controlled by women or minority group members.

The certification possesses two variations—MBE and WBE. While the former is designated for businesses where minorities constitute at least 51% of the ownership, the latter is meant for businesses where women own at least 51%. The certification not only recognizes the specific ownership but also provides support to these businesses through a range of opportunities, keeping in view personal net worth restrictions.

Advantages of MWBE certification

So, how does your business benefit? The MWBE certification offers a variety of advantages that can significantly influence your business trajectory. From priority in state government contract procurement to robust business development support and ample networking opportunities, the benefits are multifarious. Let’s unpack these benefits.

Business development support

A thriving business is grounded in a strong support system, and that is exactly what MWBE certification offers. Businesses certified under this program, including those owned by individuals from the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia, receive assistance in areas of development and growth, creating new revenue opportunities, and technical and financial support from state agencies.

The certification also provides access to a variety of free programs, workshops, and webinars. These resources are specifically tailored to aid MWBE certified businesses in diverse facets of their operations and expansion.

The certification also grants entry to exclusive networking events and business conferences aimed at promoting MWBE-certified businesses, including those participating in state programs.

Government contracts opportunities

Government contracts can be a game-changer for small and medium businesses, and MWBE certification can give your business the leverage it needs. Specifically, government contracts, including those for minority businesses owned by individuals from the Pacific Islands, are accessible through specific federal certifications. These include opportunities exclusively reserved for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and promotions for businesses under New York City’s MWBE program.

Not only the access, but the competitive advantage these contracts provide is of equal importance. MWBEs enjoy enhanced visibility for their businesses, networking prospects with general contractors, increased exposure to potential customers and partners, and access to federal contracting opportunities. Additionally, these contracts also present the opportunity to access a share of federal contracting funds, with the goal of allocating at least 5% to women-owned small businesses, and potential eligibility for tax reductions for projects funded through federal and state grants or loans.

Networking and exposure

Beyond the tangible benefits, MWBE certification also helps businesses:

  • Build a stronger network
  • Gain better exposure
  • Gain positive exposure
  • Access exclusive networking opportunities
  • Increase access to business and procurement opportunities
  • Secure government and corporate contracts

MWBE certification offers several benefits, including:

  • Heightened business visibility
  • Increased credibility
  • Broader reach
  • Inclusion in directories
  • Connections with potential clients and partners
  • Access to industry events and networking opportunities
  • Avenues for collaboration and growth
  • Access to a wider network of potential partners and contracts
  • Differentiation from competitors

These benefits can greatly enhance business prospects for companies with MWBE certification.

Eligibility criteria for MWBE certification

While the benefits of MWBE certification are persuasive, understanding the eligibility criteria is equally important. The certification requires that individuals from minority groups or women possess a minimum of 51 percent ownership of the business enterprise, ensuring that the ownership is genuine, significant, and ongoing. Also, it necessitates that minority members or women have the authority to oversee the day-to-day operations of the business, allowing them to make independent business decisions. After certification, each minority or woman owner should ensure that their personal net worth does not exceed $15 Million after allowable deductions. This requirement is a crucial factor in maintaining their eligibility.

Ownership and control

The first criterion for MWBE certification is the ownership and control of the business. This implies that an MBE, for instance, should be a business enterprise with at least 51% ownership by individuals who are citizens or permanent resident aliens from recognized minority groups.

Control, on the other hand, is determined by the level of autonomy in the business operations. For MWBE certification, a business is deemed to be under the ‘control’ of minorities or women when it is autonomously owned, operated, and managed by them, usually evidenced by a majority ownership of at least 51%. To support this, businesses might need to present documents like:

  • notarized letters
  • tax records
  • birth records
  • U.S. passports
  • military records
  • green cards
  • signed leases
  • proof of office space
  • vehicle registrations.

Personal net worth limitations

The second criterion pertains to the personal net worth of the business owner. The set limit on personal net worth for MWBE certification stipulates that the applicant’s net worth must not exceed $1.32 million, with a projected increase to $1.6 million. This limitation is determined by taking into account the present value of an individual’s retirement assets, industry-specific limits, and the individual’s economic disadvantage status.

However, there are also certain deductions allowed for personal net worth, subject to personal net worth restriction. These encompass:

  • The value of the primary residence or its mortgage
  • Ownership interest in the applicant firm or in a holding company established for leasing essential business assets
  • Up to $750,000 of any qualified retirement savings plan.

Racial and gender identities

One of the key eligibility criteria for MWBE certification is the racial and gender identity of the business owners. The precise definition of a minority for MWBE certification is a person who is:

  • Asian American
  • American Indian or Alaskan native
  • Black, including black African racial groups
  • Hispanic or of South American descent

As for gender, the official definition of a woman for MWBE certification is an individual who self-identifies her gender as a woman, regardless of race or designated sex at birth. So, a WBE is defined as a women owned business enterprise in which at least 51% is owned, operated, and controlled by women. Therefore, businesses are eligible for women owned business enterprise status if their ownership aligns with specific racial or gender identity definitions.

Types of businesses that qualify for MWBE certification

So, does your business qualify for MWBE certification? A wide variety of business structures can be eligible for this certification. These include:

  • Sole proprietorships
  • Partnerships
  • Corporations
  • Limited liability companies (LLCs)
  • Non-profit organizations

For example, a sole proprietorship must meet the requirement of being at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by citizens. Similarly, partnerships must ensure that a minimum of 51% of the ownership is held by one or more small business owners to meet the requirements for MWBE certification.

As for corporations, they are required to have a minimum of 51% ownership held by one or more individuals who are minorities or women, and the business owners must be U.S. citizens.

The MWBE certification process

Having covered the basics, we can now detail the process of obtaining MWBE certification. It’s a multi-step process that involves verifying eligibility, submitting documentation, and possibly, a re-certification process.

Verifying eligibility

Before applying for MWBE certification, verifying your eligibility is of utmost importance. A typical requirement for MWBE certification is that a minimum of 51% of the company’s ownership must be held by one or more members. Furthermore, for 8(a) certification as a minority business, the small business must have been in operation for at least two years.

To verify your eligibility, you can:

  • Familiarize yourself with the certification process
  • Utilize checklists that offer guidance
  • Assess your company’s eligibility
  • Initiate the certification application process

Before applying for MWBE certification, all applicants must first obtain ‘Authority to do business in NYS’ from the New York Department of State. This is a mandatory requirement for the application process.

Submitting documentation

Once your eligibility is confirmed, the subsequent step involves submitting the required documentation. This requires providing documentation that demonstrates authorization to conduct business in New York State. Be mindful of common mistakes such as submitting documents by mail before completing the online application, improper scanning of documents, and errors on notary certificates, which can result in the rejection of the application.

Your documentation will be thoroughly examined by Empire State Development or its designated contractors to ensure compliance with the certification requirements. Keep in mind, submitting incomplete or incorrect documentation will necessitate resubmission. Thus, it is imperative to confirm the accuracy and completeness of all documentation to prevent any delays in the certification process.

Re-certification process

Obtaining your MWBE certification is not a one-off process. MWBE-certified businesses are obliged to reapply every 5 years in the state of New York.

The process entails the submission of a recertification application, which may involve a site visit verification. The required documents for MWBE re-certification may encompass:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Military records
  • Owner information

MWBE certification is a powerful tool for minority and women-owned businesses. It provides numerous benefits such as business development support, government contracts, and networking opportunities. The certification process, while extensive, is well worth it for the growth and success of your business. So, if your business meets the eligibility criteria, don’t hesitate to embark on the journey towards MWBE certification.

Frequently asked questions

What is the meaning of MWBE?

MWBE stands for Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises, which is a certification issued to identify businesses owned by women and minorities, particularly in New York State. This certification may be beneficial for obtaining government contracts or subcontracting opportunities.

What are the benefits of being MWBE certified?

MWBE certification offers benefits such as business credibility, exposure, government contracts, vendor opportunities, loans, grants, and networking potential. It can open doors to various opportunities and enhance a business's reputation.

What is a MWBE in NYC?

A MWBE in NYC stands for Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise, which is a certification awarded to businesses owned by minorities or women, allowing them to access government contracts and grow their businesses. This program aims to promote equality in state contracting opportunities.

What is the MWBE certification?

The MWBE certification, short for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise certification, acknowledges businesses majority-owned and controlled by minorities or women. It is a recognition of their ownership and management.

What types of businesses can qualify for MWBE certification?

Sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations are eligible for MWBE certification.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.
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