One of the biggest advantages of joining the Department of Commerce has been gleefully learning about the state’s lesser-known resources. These smaller, inaudible humming engines do great things to empower and incentivize businesses owned by minorities, women and other disadvantaged populations.

I’ve lived in Washington State for nearly 20 years. I’ve run my own communications shop for several of them; I sit on boards; I’m well-connected for a suspicious introvert. Yet I had to search “OMWBE” when my boss brought it up as a future post topic. The Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises.

I liked their simple mission:

We promote equity and increase participation in public contracting and procurement for small businesses owned by minorities, women and disadvantaged persons through education and certification.

How did I not know about this? I spent a couple of hours on the site, answering a slew of my own questions in hopes of shining a light into this little-known, hidden gem.

Why get OMWBE certified?

Simply put, it opens new opportunities by connecting you to bids and contracting opportunities you didn’t know existed, like these current open projects. The certification brings with it a multitude of advantages, including the following

  • State and local agencies and private companies look for certified businesses to contract with to meet their supplier diversity goals.
  • Certification makes your company eligible to apply for Washington’s Linked Deposit Program, which provides a 2% interest rate decrease on small business loans.
  • Your company will be placed in the OMWBE database. Public entities that manage federal projects can search the OMWBE database to meet set goals for inclusion of certified firms. (See above comment about opening doors.)

You can get a glimpse of the project database by checking out the OMWBE Certified Firms Directory. It’s a little tricky to navigate, but this video simplifies it for you.

If you are already established or just starting a business, OMWBE certification can:

  • Boost your potential for conducting business with government entities;
  • Significantly increase your visibility through listings on important databases for certified firms and active bids throughout the state; and
  • Provide private-sector companies another opportunity to meet their own supplier diversity goals.

What types of state certification does OMWBE offer?

OMWBE offers five types of state certification. Each certification provides the same benefits, with certifications being broken down by the business owner’s identity.

MBE – Minority Business Enterprise – owned by minorities

WBE – Women’s Business Enterprise – owned by women

MWBE – Minority Women Business Enterprise – owned by minority women

CBE – Combination Business Enterprise – owned by women and minorities

SEDBE – Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Business Enterprise – owned by non-minority men who are found to be socially and economically disadvantaged on a case by case basis.

Am I eligible for certification?

Head over to the OMWBE home page to get started and dive deeper into state certification eligibility. Here are the requirements in a nutshell:

The business must be:

  1. For profit.
  2. Licensed to do business in the State of Washington.
  3. Able to perform services for contracts that fall within the eligible owner(s) field of expertise.
  4. Classified as a small business based on U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) size standards.

The business owner(s) must:

  1. Be a minority or a woman.
  2. Own at least 51% of the business and show contribution of capital and expertise.
  3. Control the day-to-day operations of the business.
  4. Be a U.S. citizen or permanent U.S. resident.
  5. Be economically disadvantaged.

Don’t let #5 throw you. I was surprised to learn that “economically disadvantaged” is generally defined as having a personal net worth less than $1.32 million, not including a person’s primary residence or an applicant business.


What kind of documents will I need to submit?

Quite a few, but you likely have them all at your fingertips. The backup documents you will need to submit vary according to the type of business and ownership structure. The online application will walk you through what documents to upload using the state’s secure system, but gather up last three years of federal tax returns, profit and loss statements, government-issued ID, documentation of U.S. citizenship or legal residence, personal net worth statement, and any business structure documents such as Partnerships Agreements, LLC Agreements or articles of incorporation.

How do I apply?

Everything you need to get started is listed below. For beginners like me, I also recommend watching How to Apply for OMWBE Certification. If you want a more comprehensive, academic approach, take a look at OMWBE: Certifications—How It Works.

  1. Go to ‘OMWBE’s website and click the Certification tab:
  2. Choose Apply for or Renew Certification and follow instructions to create a secure account.
  3. You can save your application and return to it later.
  4. Follow instructions to pay your fee ($25 to $100 depending on certification).

I applied; now what?

You could be sitting, waiting and wishing for about 60 days after your fee is received. Here’s a typical cycle of the post-submittal process:

  • Within two weeks of OMWBE receiving your fee, you’ll receive an email letting you know you’ve been assigned to a certification analyst.
  • Your assigned analyst will review your application and documents and call you within two weeks with any questions or requests for additional information.
  • After your analyst has all the information, it takes about four to six weeks to analyze your file.
  • They will email you once they’ve made a final decision on your certification.
  • Once approved, your business will appear in the online directory of certified firms.

And Bob’s your uncle! OMWBE hands you a shiny set of keys to hundreds of new doors. I hope you rattle a few and find big opportunities on the other side.