Programs Available for Small or Disadvantaged Vendors 

If you’re a small business, it’s easy to feel like you may not have a fair shot when competing with larger, more established organizations for government contracts.

Big organizations can not only offer better prices due to their large-scale operations, but often have the additional advantage of being well-known in the industry.

So how can a small business like yours gain a foothold? Thankfully, there are several government programs designed to help level the playing field and give you and your small business a fair shot. Let’s look at a few of them in detail below:


8(a) Business Development Program

What is it?

Operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the 8(a) Business Development Program serves to give companies owned by socially or economically disadvantaged individuals a leg up by capping competition for specific contracts. This way, small disadvantaged businesses with this certification have a fairer shot at being awarded projects in the public sector.

Small business owners excitedly reviewing an application to the Business Development Program.

Small business owners who take advantage of this program can benefit from a Business Opportunity Specialist (who will assist with managing federal contracts) as well as gain the ability to connect and form joint ventures with more established government contractors as part of the SBA’s Mentor-Protégé Program. They’ll also be able to make use of extra benefits such as business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and executive development.

How do you qualify?

Since this is a certification-based program, business who want to take part must first apply and qualify for 8(a) status. In order to meet the criteria, applicants must:

  • Be a small business according to the SBA’s size standards
  • Have not previously received 8(a) certification benefits
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens who are socially and economically disadvantaged
  • Have a personal net worth of no more than $750,000, an adjusted gross income of no more than $350,000, and $6 million or less in assets
  • Demonstrate good character and show potential to successfully complete awarded contracts

How do you apply?

To apply for the 8(a) Business Development Program, you’ll need to create a SAM account before applying through the SBA’s certification website. Because the approval process can be a long one, it’s a good idea to start as soon as possible so that you’ll get your status before any infrastructure funding gets distributed.

For advice about certification, check out some of the helpful tips at Certify Knowledge Base.


Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program

Group of women conversing about their women owned business.

What is it?

The Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract program aims to help participating small businesses owned by women by limiting competition for select contracts, ensuring that WOSBs are given a more even-handed chance at winning.

Contracts selected for the WOSB Federal Contract program are for specific industries where, according to the NAICS code, WOSB representation is lower. In fact, some contracts go even further, specifying restriction to economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs) only.

A list of all eligible industries and their corresponding NAICS codes can be found here.

Women-owned businesses taking part in the WOSB Federal Contract program can compete for federal contracts reserved specifically for them (known as “set-asides”). Plus, if eligible, WOSB-certified vendors can also compete for projects under other federal programs such as the 8(a) Business Development Program and HUBZone.

How do you qualify?

In order for a business to qualify for the WOSB Federal Contract program, they have to:

  • Be a small business according to SBA size standards
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens
  • Have women manage day-to-day operations who also make long-term decisions

If you’re looking to qualify as an EDWOSB within the same program, you should:

  • Meet all the same requirements as the WOSB Federal Contract program
  • Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with a personal net worth of less than $850,000
  • Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with $450,000 or less in adjusted gross income averaged over the previous three years
  • Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with no more than $6.5 million in personal assets

How do you apply?

Businesses interested in applying for WOSB or EDWOSB certification can do so through the SBA. Once there, you can also learn more about the certification process, get a checklist to make sure you meet all the requirements, and request information from program experts.


Veteran Owned and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program

Veteran starting his SDVOSB application.

What is it?

Veterans who become disabled during their military service are eligible for a wide range of federal benefits, but for small business owners, two important ones to note are the Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) federal contract programs.

These federal contract programs assist small business-owning veterans in the procurement marketplace by mandating that no less than 3% of federal contracting every year go to veteran-owned small businesses, allowing them to compete for set-aside or sole-source contracts across the U.S. government. In some cases, veteran-owned small businesses can also be eligible to buy surplus property from the federal government.

In particular, the SDVOSB federal contract program focuses on veterans who have become disabled during their military, naval, or air service.

How do you qualify?

To get certification as a SDVOSB or VOSB, you’ll have to meet the following requirements:

  • Be considered a small business as defined by the SBA’s size standards
  • Have 51% or more of your business owned and operated by one or more veterans
  • For SDVOSB only: have 51% or more of your business owned and operated by one or more veterans deemed service-disabled by Veteran’s Affairs – meaning you have a current mental or physical illness/injury that was either caused or aggravated during your time in service
  • For veterans whose disability renders them unable to perform the daily management of their business, they may still qualify providing a spouse or permanent, appointed caregiver assists in the business’s operations

How do you apply?

VOSBs and SDVOSBs can both apply by establishing an SBA account and request certification through the Veteran Small Business Certification portal.

This certification allows VOSBs and SDVOSBs to apply for contracts under their respective programs. VOSBs can additionally seek out sole-source and set-aside contracts at the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs through the Vets First program.


HUBZone program

What is it?

The HUBZone (Historically Underserved Business Zone) program is designed to even the playing field for smaller businesses located in less affluent rural and urban communities, giving them a fair chance to compete for federal contracts by offering no less than 3% of federal prime and subcontracts to small businesses that attain HUBZone certification.

Business-owners making deals!

Government agencies are incentivized to prioritize bids from HUBZone businesses (even if that business’s price is higher) through what’s called a 10% “price evaluation preference” for both contracts and subcontracts. What this essentially means is that a federal government agency must consider a HUBZone business’s offer to be lowest providing that it’s not more than 10% higher than the otherwise lowest bid.

How do you qualify?

In order to qualify for HUBZone certification, a business must:

  • Meet the SBA’s definition of a “small business” according to their size standards tool.
  • Have at least a 51% controlling ownership by U.S. citizens, a community development corporation, an agricultural cooperative, or a Native American tribe.
  • Have their main office located in a “historically underutilized business zone” – in addition to less affluent rural and urban areas, this definition could also be expanded to include military facilities closed down by the Base Realignment and Closure Act as well as Native American tribal land (unsure if your location qualifies? Use the SBA’s interactive map).
  • Have 35% or more of their employees living in the HUBZone. If, after getting certified, a business happens to fall below that percentage, it would need to bring itself back up to that threshold before its annual recertification.

How do you apply?

If you’re interested in applying to get HUBZone status, you’ll first need to have an active profile with Dun & Bradstreet. There, you’ll receive a unique nine-digit number for your business’s physical location. In addition to that, you’ll also require an active U.S. government System for Award Management (SAM) account. In the event that you’ve already got one, you can update your profile post-certification with that information.

With both those accounts in place, you’ll then have to create an account with the SBA. Once that’s done, click “access” and select “HUBZone” from the options.

One important thing to note: as of Dec 19, 2019, businesses that get their HUBZone status must recertify annually in order to maintain their certification. In addition, businesses that have merged with other organizations post-certification must recertify before within that one-year window.


Team meeting about which program best suits their small business.


While it may seem daunting to enter the public procurement marketplace as a socially and economically disadvantaged business, there are many programs available to give you the best chance of competing for government contracts. Provided you meet their requirements and diligently follow the instructions on how to apply, you’ll be able to utilize these benefits to your gain, growing your small business and creating relationships with public agencies in the process.