Small Business Administration Certification Programs

There are two great assistance programs available to small business owners through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that could help give your business the boost it needs during tough economic times. The assistance programs, the small disadvantaged business (SDB) certification program and the 8 (a) business development program, can be an asset to any type of business, regardless of length of operation. In addition to increased funding and training, becoming classified as an SDB or 8 (a) business can substantially increase your chances of receiving government grants or federal and state contracts.

The first step in becoming certified is to understand what a small business is, and then you must know the difference between each certification/classification. According to the SBA, a small business is defined as an independent business having fewer than 500 employees, although the definition used for government programs and contracting varies by industry. If you qualify as a small business, in order to receive SDB or 8 (a) certification, the owner of the business must be economically and socially disadvantaged. However, the key difference between the two classifications is the owner’s personal net worth (I’ll talk about this more later).

In order to be considered socially disadvantaged, the owner must “have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias because of their identity as a member of a group,” according to the SBA. Typically small business owners who are Hispanic, Native American, Asian or African American meet this requirement. There is also a broad statement saying that “other individuals can qualify if they show by a preponderance of the evidence that they are disadvantaged.” Due to this rather ambiguous language, many women small business owners can be considered socially disadvantaged as well if they can prove that they have been a victim of long-term gender-based discrimination. For example, if a woman faced discrimination from professors and administrators at a military college due to the fact that she went to a predominately male school, she could claim that the discrimination hindered her ability to form a business later in life. Women who have previously filed sex discrimination cases are more likely to be able to qualify as socially disadvantaged. Contrary to popular belief, White males are also not excluded from the “socially disadvantaged” group. If a White male has a disability or is handicapped in any way, there is a possibility he could qualify as socially disadvantaged. Those suffering from mental health issues, such as depression, or those who may feel as though they are socially disadvantaged due to religious preference could qualify, but must prove that they were discriminated against solely for those reasons.

Now that you know whether you would be considered a socially disadvantaged individual, you must figure out if you can also classify as an economically disadvantaged individual. This is where the difference between SDB certification and 8 (a) business certification comes into play. Small business owners can qualify for SDB certification if their personal assets are worth less than $750,000. If a small business owner’s personal assets do not exceed $250,000, he or she can qualify for the 8 (a) business development program. Please note: The SBA does not consider home equity as a personal asset. If a business is classified as an 8 (a) business, it is automatically SDB certified. However, all SDB businesses are not 8 (a) businesses due to the personal asset qualifier.

If you believe you qualify for either the SDB or 8 (a) SBA programs-or both-do not hesitate to apply to the programs. For more information, visit http://www.sba.gov.