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James Hance
Marketing Designer & Copywriter
St Petersburg, Florida

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Become a MBE/WBE and Compete for Federal Projects

Minority and woman-owned business can enjoy a distinct advantage pursuing federal government contracts, but showing past performance on similar projects is critical. Forming a joint venture with a "mentor" is a way to compete with established firms.
Written Dec 30, 2009, read 6166 times since then.


The Small Business Administration was established to assist small businesses in succeeding to promote a better economy and provide jobs for everyone. The agency has assistance programs which help small businesses secure working capital from banks, and train company executives to run a competitive business.

One program which has been highly successful for women minority owned businesses competing for federal government projects is the MBE/WBE 8(a) program. By becoming certified through the SBA as an 8(a), businesses can compete for the thousands of federal contracts listed on the Website.

Certification as an 8(a) begins with a visit to the Small Business Administration office in your metropolitan area where you can get the necessary forms and receive coaching in preparing the application package and business strategy. Companies entering this program must have been in business for two years, and the certification process can take about a year. Once the forms are filled out and submitted, the application passes through a local approval process, then a regional approval process in San Francisco, and finally a federal approval process in Washington DC. When granted, 8(a) certification is a nine-year program with oversight from the SBA which gives the company certain advantages in the competitive bidding process.

However, businesses with 8(a) status do not typically win contracts alone. 8(a) companies usually begin working with a "mentor" or a company which has done contract business with the government agency before. The new 8(a) company may compete as the prime contractor or as a subcontractor, but the mentor company should have at least five past performance projects in their portfolio to include in the proposal, and the potential for winning the contract will be based on the mentor's past completed work which is relevant to the contract being pursued.

The 8(a) will have to contact likely mentor companies which have outstanding track records completing government projects. By forming a joint-venture with a new 8(a) business, the mentor will become more competitive in getting contract work, and the 8(a) will begin to create a work history of past performance projects. The competitive advantage lasts a maximum of nine years, at which point the 8(a) will lose its status, but should have enough past performance work to compete effectively without the advantage, or may choose to become a mentor to another 8(a) firm. 8(a) firms can choose to work with different mentor companies in pursuing different government contracts.

Government agencies usually know what services are available and what they cost before they put the contract to bid, and may have an idea of what company will win the bid. Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are sent out to keep vendors competitive, and find out what new companies have to offer. As a business submitting a proposal to the federal government, regardless of whether you have 8(a) status or not, you are entitled to contact the federal agency, introduce your company, and discuss how the contract will be awarded. And if you don't win the contract, you are also entitled to know where your proposal was weak compared to the company which won it.

When pursuing federal government contracts, it is a good idea to become familiar with the contracting agencies and your contract competitors, and maybe doing a joint-venture project with one or more which have done this work for the client before would be a way to start.

Learn more about the author, James Hance.

Comment on this article

  • Government Market Consultant 
Calhan, Colorado 
Henry  Staffa
    Posted by Henry Staffa, Calhan, Colorado | Oct 29, 2010

    Just a note- Everything written in this post is true but what is not noted in this post are the nuances of selling to the Federal or State Government. It is not as simple as filling out a proposal or bid and waiting to see who wins the award. I have been involved in Federal Contracting for over 25 years most of which has been on the sales side. Contracting officers are more apt to award contracts to companies they are familiar with. You must build a relationship with the awarding contract officer or decision maker so they are comfortable with your ability to perform. You must remember the people awarding the contracts are ultimatly responsible for the decision to go with one company or another. If you would like to discuss this further email me at info"at" govmcs . com