December 15, 2022
For small business owners in underrepresented demographics, having a certification can open the doors to sustainable growth and success. Special certification programs are available for businesses owned by women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, economically-disadvantaged entrepreneurs, and more. These programs often offer exclusive access opportunities for networking, resources, and contracts.
In this installment of CO—’s Start. Run. Grow series, Editor-in-Chief Jeanette Mulvey and Senior Features Editor Barbara Thau discussed the importance and benefits of certification with three successful entrepreneurs.
Certification Gives Minority-Owned Businesses a Seat at the Table
With numerous official certifying bodies out there, businesses may be able to apply for multiple certifications that can jump-start contracts and new business opportunities.
“Being certified … is just giving you a seat at the table,” said Alexis McSween, Founder and CEO of woman- and minority-owned construction and development company Bottom Line Construction.
“Certification basically lets [other] businesses, organizations, states, [and] governments know that you have the minimum requirements to be able to perform the work or the job.” McSween continued, “[It lets them] know that you have the licenses, the insurances, and all of the things that you would need to fulfill ... contracts.”
Certifying Organizations Grow Small Businesses Through Mentorship and Financial Support
When Teresa Ging, Founder and CEO of woman minority-owned cupcake and baked goods business Sugar Bliss, started her journey, organizations like The Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago helped her break glass ceilings and finance her business.
“They formulate a loan package that has your personal financial statements, your credit score, [your business plan], and they help you present it to three different banks,” Ging explained. “I got two out of the three loans.”
When she asked why she was declined by the third bank, the bank representative told her she was too young to open a business and she didn’t have a secondary income.
“That was kind of my second moment of hitting the glass ceiling,” said Ging, who then asked to speak with the bank manager. “I [said] I was looking for a bank to help me open one Sugar Bliss or a hundred Sugar Blisses. And the very next day, I got the loan from that bank.”
Businesses That Certify Can Develop Lasting Partnerships With Corporations and Government Agencies
Certification by organizations such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) connected Ging to major corporations from American Airlines to Walgreens, as well as government agencies. It also gave Ging entry to cross-sector industry events spanning the travel and hospitality to retail sectors.
“When you attend these events, you can meet supplier diversity managers that will put you in touch with retail buyers so you can get your products in front of them,” she said.
“Somehow I thought certification was just doing government contracts,” said Ging. “I didn't realize it was with corporations [too] so I ended up getting certified 10 years after I started.”
Ging added that because certifications aren’t too costly, she wished she’d gotten certified at the very beginning of her start with Sugar Bliss.
Certified Coaches Help Business Owners Find and Develop Their Identities
Fabian Niedballa, co-founder and COO of digital coaching platform Sharpist, built a business focused on providing coaching and leadership development for organizations through an app-based solution.
“I feel the identity of the entrepreneur is so clearly linked to what the business is delivering that ultimately your clarity on who you are translates directly into business success,” Niedballa said.
In addition to helping entrepreneurs develop their identities, certified coaches can help business owners pursue growth opportunities, face challenges, and achieve their goals.
“[A coach helps] from developing skills and strategies … [to] holding you accountable as an entrepreneur to fulfill the goals that you set out to [achieve] and make sure you stay on track,” Niedballa continued. “It can be particularly helpful for entrepreneurs that struggle with self-motivation or discipline.”
From the Series