Comprehensive Guide to Government Business Certifications for 2024

Brian Fullenbaum

Government business certifications provide a pathway to landing more contracts and expanding your business’s opportunities. Whether your business is a new or established agency, receiving specific certifications can help you land projects and build a professional network with prime contractors and the government. 

The U.S. federal, state, and local governments allocate substantial annual funding for contracts carried out by businesses with specific federal certifications. Public and private entities at the federal, state, and local levels offer many certifications across seven categories.

This blog covers all seven certification categories, offering important information about each certification, tips, and common pitfalls across all certifications.

Is it easy to get a business certification?

While obtaining a business certification may seem straightforward, the reality involves navigating various eligibility requirements and hierarchical certification levels. Some businesses resort to hiring "government certification consultants" who often overcomplicate the process and might overcharge for their services. 

Prosal has spent the last several months researching government certifications and even acquiring its certifications to provide a straightforward introductory guide to the basics. 

Although the benefits vary, business certifications can carry unique benefits, like visibility on RFP issuer and respondent lists, access to more opportunities, a competitive advantage when applying to specific projects, and even the chance for sole source selection. 

One important note is that most certifications are available for small businesses, with the exception of the 8(a) and HUBZone. In the eyes of Uncle Sam, a smallbusiness  is organized for profit, has fewer than 500 employees, including affiliates, is independently owned and operated, is not dominant in the field of operation, and meets size standards as prescribed by SBA.

The Hierarchy of Business Certifications Explained

The following graphic details the hierarchy of business certifications and contract types at the federal, state, and local levels:

  • Yellow outlines certifications only available at the federal level, namely the GSA schedule. 
  • Purple outlines certifications available at both the federal and state levels. Some private organizations also offer similar certifications, but they are not considered equal in contract evaluations or procurement processes.
  • Green outlines certifications available at the state and local levels. Like the purple highlights, similar certifications may also be awarded by private institutions but generally do not carry the same weight as those provided by government bodies.

The Federal GSA Schedule

The GSA schedule is unique among federal certifications because it requires meeting diverse requirements from each federal agency. This makes the GSA schedule application process one of the most time-consuming ones.

What is a GSA Schedule, and why is it so important? 

The U.S. General Services Administration schedule (GSA Schedule) is like Amazon for the government. In 2023, government buyers spent over $65 billion on vendors through the GSA. Most government prime contractors get their original projects through the GSA, so landing a GSA schedule can result in huge payoffs. 

However, pursuing a GSA Schedule initially may not be advisable for small businesses.

There is a $100,000 annual revenue requirement to apply, and your company is more likely to get accepted into the program if your yearly revenue is closer to the $150,000 - $200,000 thousand range. Another annoyance of the process is that after applying, the government may want to negotiate the prices for your services, which can take several months. However, if you are a business that falls into the annual revenue range and has multiple stable sources of income, applying for a GSA Schedule is recommended.

Federal Government Business Certifications

While other federal certifications are specific to different agencies, the certifications above are separated into five categories: economically disadvantaged employees, economically disadvantaged areas, women, veterans, and social impact.

8(a) Certification

The 8(a) is a nine-year program created to assist firms owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. After the certification process, businesses become eligible for federal contracting preferences, training, and technical assistance. The following article discusses navigating the 8(a) process and how small businesses can maximize their opportunities.  

Why Pursue 8(a) Certification?

This certification is the most beneficial because the government allocates over $26 billion to contractors with an 8(a) certification. There is still a high demand for these certifications, and more businesses currently need to hold them. The rigorous application process involves extensive background checks that can be time-consuming. An 8(a) certification allows your business to compete for set-aside and sole-source contracts. It also opens up your business to a network of other 8(a) businesses, making it easier to partner with for more significant contracts. 

Eligibility for 8(a) Certification:

  • Be a small business
  • Have not previously participated in the 8(a) program 
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens who are socially and economically disadvantaged
  • Personal net worth of $850 thousand or less
  • Demonstrate potential for success

It is important to note that the 8(a) certification is currently under scrutiny and may face changes or discontinuation shortly. You can read more about the program's specific updates and uncertainty here.

HUBZone Certification

The HUBZone certification was created to help small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. It is renewed annually, which ensures continual compliance and relevance.

Why Pursue HUBZone Certification? 

If your business is located in a HUBZone, then it could be beneficial to get this certification. Roughly $12 billion annually is allocated towards contractors with this certification. Some setbacks are that you must recertify each year and that your business will be examined every three years. The government will limit competition for specific contracts to companies with a HUBZone certification. The certification allows your business to compete for set-aside contracts. HUBZone companies also get a 10% price evaluation preference in full and open contract competitions. 

Eligibility for HUBZone Certification:

  • Be a small business
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. Citizens
  • Principal office in a HUBZone location (check HUBZone map)
  • At least 35% of employees living in a HUBZone

WOSB/EDWOSB Certification

The Women-Owned Small Business Program (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business Program (EDWOSB) certifications allow women-owned small businesses to compete more efficiently for federal contracts. In 2024, the government updated federal contract regulations regarding the certification process, allowing small companies to apply more efficiently while strengthening oversight of the application process. 

Why Pursue WOSB/EDWOSB Certification? 

This certification makes contracts easier to obtain in specific industries with NAICS codes where WOSBs are currently underrepresented. The SBA restricts certain contracts specifically for EDWOSBs, enhancing opportunities for these businesses. The certification process, facilitated by the SBA or approved third-party certifiers, is straightforward and provides access to set-aside contracts. If you qualify as an EDWOSB, you automatically qualify for the WOSB.

Eligibility for WOSB/EDWOSB:

  • Be a small business
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens
  • Women must manage the day-to-day operations and make long-term decisions
  • Each women owner must have a personal net worth of less than $850 thousand


Veteran-based certifications allow veteran-owned small businesses to gain access to a broader variety of federal contracts. These contracts typically need to be renewed every three years. In 2023, Congress increased the prime contracting goal for SDVOSB business from 3% to 5% of total prime contract spending. 

Why Pursue Veteran-based Certifications? 

This certification allows your business to compete for sole-source and set-aside contracts at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In addition to increased access to federal contracts, this certification allows you to compete for contracts under other qualifying socio-economic programs. It grants your business access to SBA training programs. 

Eligibility for Veteran-based Certifications:

  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by veterans
  • Be registered as a small business with
  • Be a small business

State & Local Government Business Certifications

State and local government business certifications are plentiful and can significantly vary, but they play a vital role in effectively accessing governmental procurement opportunities. While eligibility requirements generally have similarities, specific stipulations can differ greatly from state to state and city to city, making a thorough understanding of local regulations essential.

MBE (Minority Business Enterprise)

The minority business enterprise (MBE) certification is one of the most beneficial certifications for minority-owned businesses. To qualify, your business must be more than 51% owned and controlled by qualified minorities. An MBE is eligible for use in most states, and the application process is usually done through a singular third party, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). It is essential to apply via a sub-website of the NMSDC that represents the region where your business is located. 

Why Pursue MBE Certification?

The MBE provides significant advantages, including access to various government and private sector contracts, networking opportunities, and business development. The benefits vary from state to state and city to city, but the more populated areas are the most advantageous places to have an MBE. 

Eligibility for MBE:

  • Be more than 51% owned and controlled by qualified minorities
  • Verify eligibility criteria based on region through the NMSDC

WBE / WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise)

The WBE/WBENC is a helpful certification that has recently become quite popular among small women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs. If the company aims to do more work with private contractors instead of the federal government, getting a WBE/WBENC would be much more beneficial than getting a WOSB/EDWOSB. The most common place to apply is through a third-party organization, the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). 

Why Pursue WBE/WBENC Certification? 

The WBE/WBENC certification gives women-owned businesses access to many government and private sector opportunities and enhances their business credibility. 

Eligibility for WBE/WBENC:

  • Be more than 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens
  • Women must oversee the day-to-day operations and make long-term strategic decisions
  • The personal net worth of each woman owner must not exceed $850,000

Key Takeaways

The higher the certification level, the more complex the application process becomes. This is true when moving from local to federal certifications. One common question is about overlapping certifications, especially on different hierarchical levels. However, it is essential to know that most government certifications do not require you to have a previous certification to apply. Nonetheless, most applications will ask if your business has any certifications or is working towards receiving any other certifications. Government registration consultants advise that for some of the more federal certifications, particularly the GSA schedule, having previous certifications can increase the likelihood of your business's application being approved.

It is also essential to acknowledge that your business can obtain various certifications to help secure more private contracts. View this blog as a high-level guide to the government certification process. Before applying for certification, it is vital to understand the eligibility requirements and whether obtaining the certification will benefit your business.


Brian Fullenbaum

Brian Fullenbaum is a Market Research & Growth Intern at Prosal, utilizing quantitative research methods to analyze data from stakeholders and customers. He is also a student at Lehigh University College of Business, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Finance, Computer Science, and Data Science. Brian serves as President of the Chi Phi Fraternity and founded the Lehigh chapter of Sharing Excess, a non-profit aimed at eliminating food scarcity.

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