The Small Business Association (SBA) has taken over the Veteran-owned Small Business (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran-owned Small Business (SDVOSB) certification program as of January 2023. There are various third-party organizations offering to help you get certified, but ultimately, the SBA’s online portal is the only place to apply, and it’s honestly straightforward enough to do yourself.
Why Do I Want a VOSB or SDVOSB, Anyway?
There are a few reasons to get this certification or your company. It allows you to compete for certain federal and/or state government contracts. It enables you to purchase government supply surplus items that can help you set up or grow your business. It also empowers you to officially signal the veteran-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned status of your company to customers, which might be part of your brand.
Having your VOSB or SDVOSB certification is a requirement to bid on certain sole source or set-aside government contracts. The federal government has a goal to spend 23% of its contracting dollars with small businesses, and 3 of those percentage points are supposed to be for SDVOSB companies specifically. In fact, all government purchases between $10,000-250,000 are automatically set aside for small businesses, and 7% of all Department of Veterans Affairs contracts are set aside for VOSB and SDVOSB companies. Getting your certification is the first step toward being able to bid on some of those contracts.
The federal government and individual states both host events throughout the year to clear out surplus items. VOSB and SDVOSB-certified companies can pick up office furniture, vehicles, machinery, equipment, and more very cheaply, or even for free! Individual states and the federal government each have unique ways to access these opportunities.
Federal opportunities are managed through the US General Services Administration (GSA), though the system is a bit difficult to navigate. To access these opportunities, check out this list of relevant points of contact for each state (I called my local POC while researching this article, and found them to be helpful and responsive). Alternately, doing a simple web search for “VOSB Government Surplus” followed by the name of your state can bring up information about local surplus acquisition opportunities and auctions.
Informing Your Customers
Most Americans like the idea of supporting veterans and service-disabled veterans. And most Americans believe it’s important to help veterans transition to civilian life. All other factors the same, most consumers would feel good about having their dollars go toward supporting a veteran-owned business. Getting your SBA certification as a VOSB or SDVOSB allows you to display an official trademark on your door, cash register, website, or elsewhere. With stolen valor becoming more and more common, a certification gives consumers peace of mind the person they’re supporting is a real, true, verified veteran or service-disabled veteran.
How To Get Certified
Getting your certification is relatively simple, but it’s likely to require a bit of time and effort. Odds are it’ll take 1-4 months if you’re starting from scratch, but there’s a chance you might have already taken some of the steps without even knowing it!
The first question to ask yourself is, are you eligible?
There are three qualifications you must meet in order to be eligible for your VOSB or SDVOSB certification. First, the company must have at least 51% veteran ownership (or service-disabled veteran ownership if seeking a SDVOSB certification). The Department of Veterans Affairs is the ultimate arbiter of your veteran status. Second, you must be registered as a small business at Sam.gov. And finally, your business must be “small” according to the SBA’s size standards.
All three of these qualifications have to be set up and verified in the SBA portal virtually.
Step 1: Register with Sam.Gov
So Sam.gov is the “System for Award Management”, which is to say it’s a federal government website to track government contracts, grants, and all sorts of other business the government does with other entities. You should make an account for your organization on Sam.gov, where it’s referred to as an “entity”. A single account might have multiple entities associated with it, the same way you might be involved in multiple organizations.
That it’s a government website with personal information means there is quite a bit of security. Get ready to set up two-factor authentication, and enter in a slew of information about yourself and your business. Once submitted, it takes 10-12 business days for your registration to be approved. Once you have submitted your request, you can feel free to move ahead to the next step.
Once approved, you want to make note of your UEI (unique entity identifier) and MPIN, both of which sam.gov should issue to you.
I Already Have a Sam.gov Account
Outstanding! That means you don’t have to wait 10-12 business days. Just ensure the information there is correct, track down your UEI and MPIN, and skip on to the next step.
When creating your entity, if your intent is NOT to pursue government contracts, there can be a whole lot of questions you aren’t sure how to answer. First among them is asking what your goal is signing up for an account. Simply select “other” as your goal, and write in “get VOSB/SDVOSB certified” in the follow-up box. That will bring you to a screen that asks who required you to add your business into Sam.gov. The answer, of course, is the SBA, so click “Federal Government” and type in SBA in the “Federal Hierarchy” field to locate and select the Small Business Administration.
This gets you on the road to your Unique Entity ID (UEI) and MPIN, which you’ll need for your certification. The rest of the fields are relatively straightforward questions about your business. Note that you must have formally registered your business with your state in order to complete this section. If you are confused, there is a sam.gov registration guide you can reference while filling out the application with helpful information.
Step 2: Verify your Veteran Status
To verify your veteran and/or service-disabled status through the Department of Veteran Affairs, you need to log in on their website. If you already have a login.gov, Id.me, DS Logon, or MyHealtheVet login, those are valid ways to log in. Otherwise, you’ll have to create an account with login.gov or Id.me. Note that Login.gov requires a state-issued ID, while ID.me accepts passports if you don’t currently have a valid state ID or driver’s license.
Once you manage to create an account, it should automatically import your military service information. You should be able to see your military service dates under “my profile”. If you have a service-connected disability, odds are you already have this information in the system, as well. As a side benefit, the system is connected to your MyHealtheVet account, which gives you access to information about any previous VA Healthcare visits you’ve made.
For most veterans, this step is going to be relatively quick and painless. Unfortunately, if it doesn’t import your relevant data once you log in, you might be forced to take to the phones or go to a VA location in person, neither of which are quick or painless (pro tip, go late in the afternoon or early evening rather than early morning. Most VA centers, particularly health care centers, are packed early in the morning with our most senior veterans). Be sure to bring or have on hand various documents to prove you are you (such as a state ID, social security card, and a piece of mail), your DD-214 to prove you served, and any other documentation to prove your service-connected disability if applicable.
If you have multiple owners, each veteran owner or service-disabled veteran owner needs to go through this process and ensure their information is up to date.
Step 3: Get Your NAICs Codes & Confirm You’re a “Small Business”
Once your Sam.gov registration is approved, the next step is to check on your NAICs codes, of which your business entity may have several. The SBA only considers your business “small” if your revenue and employees are below certain numbers depending on your NAICs codes.
You can download a spreadsheet of the NAICs codes and “Small Business” definitions at the SBA. However, if you’re making less than two million in annual revenue and have less than 100 employees, you’re firmly in the small business category. If not, consult the spreadsheet. Note that you only need to be considered “small” in ONE of your NAICS codes to be eligible for your VOSB or SDVOSB certification (though you may be limited to participation in set aside government contracts to those with NAICs codes where your business is still “small”).
Ensure your Sam.gov profile reflects the appropriate NAICs codes.
Step 4: Use the SBA Portal
The last step is to go to the SBA’s online portal, create an account (or sign in to your existing account), and have it import the relevant information from the VA and Sam.gov. Of all the websites you’ve been interacting with to get here, this is the newest, and should be the easiest to work your way through. The portal options are dynamic, so the answers you submit determine the options on future screens, which cuts down on irrelevant clutter. The portal connects to your VA account and your Sam.Gov accounts, and imports the information from there, so you should see it automatically populate a lot of the information, just double check all automatically populated information is correct.
The portal saves progress as you go, so if you get stuck somewhere, you can pick up where you left off after you get over that hurdle. There is also a messaging feature in the portal, so the analyst working on verifying your certification might send you messages directly. While you’re waiting on certification to go through, it’s wise to check this every few days (though it also sends an email whenever they message) to see if there’s a missing piece of information you can update or upload to ensure your certification comes through as quickly as possible.
Certification typically takes 30-90 days, though there isn’t much data on the processing time in the new system.
In order, the portal verifies your identity, your sam.gov profile and information, then your veteran status, and then some additional business documentation. You cannot move on to a later step until you satisfy the requirements of the previous step. If you already have a certification but haven’t used this system yet, you can also claim your certification here.
There are a few other pieces of business documentation you might need to upload while you go through the process. Ensure your files are in a .doc or .docx or pdf format accessible on the computer you’re using to apply. For an LLC, you need to upload evidence of highest compensation, articles of organization, certification of formation, and your operating agreement. Other business structures will have different document requirements.
If you’re struggling, watch this video walkthrough, skip ahead to 22 minutes 30 seconds for the web walkthrough.
Want to meet other Veteran Entrepreneurs?
Bunker Labs offers programming for veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs, and can be a great place to network with others running VOSB or SDVOSB certified businesses. Check out our programmatic offerings today, and join our community of entrepreneurs at Bunker Online today!