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When it comes to understanding 8a (Minority Owned Small Business) certification, many questions surround what it is, how it works, how it helps, and how to apply.This article answers all those questions and more:

What is 8a certification?

When a business holds 8a certification, it means that they are participating in the 8(a) Business Development Program. We can also look to the US Small Business Administration to answer the question, “What is 8a (Minority Owned Small Business) certification?” Per the SBA, the 8a Business Development program (technically the “8(a) Business Development Program”) meets the federal government’s objective of awarding 5+ percent of contract dollars to small, disadvantaged businesses.

This federal assistance program supports small businesses run by dually disadvantaged US citizens. If people who are both economically and socially disadvantaged own and control 51+ percent of a company, there are numerous 8a certification benefits (see the next section).

Through the achievement of 8a certification, thousands of entrepreneurs who are just getting started are able to access government contracts. In making this possible, the 8a Business Development Program is a critical opportunity for economically and socially disadvantaged small business owners. It gives many people access to “the economic mainstream of American society,” notes the federal Minority Business Development Agency (MDBA).

Business counseling, procurement guidance, mentorship, surety bonding, training, and financial assistance are all available with 8a (Minority Owned Small Business) certification – along with other forms of technical and management support.

Here are the two stages of this business development support program:

  • Developmental stage – 4 years
  • Transition stage – 5 years.

Yes, the timeframe is limited for 8a certification, but getting certified means you have access to nearly a decade of benefits (again, see the next section).

Top Benefits

Seven primary benefits that businesses within the 8a program access are the following:

  1. You get access to both types of set-aside contracts, competitive and sole-source.
  2. Via the Mentor-Protégé Program, you can bid on contracts as part of joint ventures, giving you access to bigger contracts. You can also access mentorship from more established businesses.
  3. You get access to numerous consultative services to expedite your business growth. These include marketing help, niche training, high-level leadership development, and business counseling. These services are provided both by resource affiliates of the SBA and the agency itself.
  4. You are granted a navigator for the federal contracting system in the form of a Business Opportunity Specialist.
  5. The federal government often has surpluses of supplies and property. With 8a certification, you become eligible for support in accessing those surplus assets.
  6. You can get assistance with bonding.
  7. Makes you eligible for SBA-guaranteed loans.

What are 8a certification requirements?

We will get into the qualifications or requirements you need to get accepted for 8a certification in the 8A Certification Eligibility Checklist (next section). For now, let’s address the requirements of the 8a program – which are intended to support the objective of helping disadvantaged firms become successful:

  1. In order to be involved in the 8a program, you have to submit to the process. That means you agree to be measured and monitored by the SBA to track your progress and verify your compliance with requirements. That means agreeing to annual reviews, comprehensive evaluations, and business planning consultation.
  2. An 8a certified company cannot get more than 5 times its primary NAICS code’s value or $100 million in sole-source contracts.
  3. Businesses in the 8a program must demonstrate that they are striking a balance between government and commercial projects.

8a Certification Eligibility Checklist

Here is a quick checklist to see if you qualify for certification:

  • Meet the federal definition of a small business, as indicated by the SBA’s size standards
  • Never have participated previously in the program
  • Be owned and controlled at least 51 percent by an economically and socially disadvantaged person or persons who:
  • Have a maximum of $6,000,000 in personal assets, $750,000 in personal net worth, and $350,000 in adjusted gross income
  • Are typically African-American, Native American, Hispanic American, Asian Pacific American, or Subcontinent Asian American; if not, can prove social disadvantage through gender, disability, ethnic origin, race, long-term residence outside mainstream society, or other factors.
  • Demonstrate potential for success, typically by having been in business for at least two years
  • Show strong character and the ability to meet contractual duties.

How to apply

Now that we have looked at what you can gain from 8a certification let’s look at how to proceed. Before we get into that, a brief note on 8a certification cost: it is free, and you can apply DIY if you want. However, as we indicate below, there are numerous benefits specific to working with us (especially keeping in mind our 98 percent 8a certification acceptance rate).

Regardless of how you proceed, it helps to understand the application process. Here is how that would go if you do it DIY:

Step #1: Optional – You could alternatively use our below Eligibility Checklist.

The MBDA provides a tool that helps you self-evaluate eligibility and provides preliminary training: the 8(a) Business Development Suitability Tool. In the online course built into the tool, you learn what 8a certification entails. There is then a self-assessment test to determine if you are eligible.

Step #2: Optional – You can jump to Step #3 if you are using a paper application.

Create a profile here: The MDBA advises that you use the government’s online system to submit your application.

Step #3. Optional – The MDBA recommends this step for DIY applicants.

The MDBA specifically advises that you look over some resources and get general tips. The site the agency recommends is the Certify Knowledge Base, the official knowledge base for You will want to have three pieces of contact information handy as well if you are taking the DIY approach:

  • SBA 8a program email:[email protected]
  • SBA district office contact information: The SBA recommends contacting your local office with application questions. Get your local details here:
  • Division of Program Certification & Eligibility phone: (202) 205-6417. This is the office you contact for information and questions related to the 8a Business Development Program, per the MDBA.

Step #4. Required – If you are applying DIY (rather than using us), you have to fill out the application.

Complete the application. Here you have two options:

Option #1 – Online

If you are doing it online, the official SBA site will apply for 8a certification:

Option #2 – On Paper

This process gets more time-consuming. You can go through your local SBA district office to apply by paper.

Step #5. Required – You have to check to see if you were accepted or not.

Watch incoming e-mail or mail for an acceptance notice. What is 8a (Minority Owned Small Business) certification evidence? You can verify you are active in the program by searching for your Dynamic Small Business Search profile. When certified, you will see two dates related to the program, one for approval and one for your eventual exit.

Step #6. Required – This step is required for DIY application (although we can help with this recurring task too if desired).

You will also have to complete reviews each year in order to ensure you remain in good standing.

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How long does it take to get certified?

The regional DPCE will have 15 days to check your application purely for completeness. If the SBA determines that additional information is needed, you have 15 days to supply it. The application then goes back to your regional DPCE. Once your application is considered complete, the SBA should approve or deny it within 90 days.

100+ years of combined knowledge

8a certification could fuel your business’s growth – and expertise can be invaluable. At Select GCR, you are assigned a Government Procurement Adviser to help you navigate the Federal contracting maze. Our team has processed thousands of applications and maintains a 98% acceptance rate. Contact us today to discover how we can help your business.

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