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MBE, MBWE, DBE...what do they all mean?

Government agencies and private businesses use various abbreviations to describe disadvantaged businesses. Here are some of them:

  • MBE - Minority Business Enterprise. At least 51% owned and controlled by African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native American, Asian-Pacific Americans or Asian-Indian Americans.
  • WBE - Women Business Enterprise. At least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women.
  • DBE - Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. When the federal government uses this term, it means a minority, disabled, or woman-owned business - but the business must be classified as small by the SBA. Sometimes other government agencies and private businesses add any small business to DBE status.
  • SB - Small Business - Uses the SBA standards of small business only. Here are the standards.
  • DVBE - Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise - At least 51% owned and controlled by a service-disabled US veteran.
  • Underutilized (HUB) business - When the federal government uses this term, it means that the business is located in a low income area known as a HUB zone. Some states and cities have HUB programs - but they are referring to groups that historically have not participated in government contracts - such as minorities, women, and sometimes any small business.
  • Diverse suppliers - This term is used by private businesses to cover all categories of minority, women, disabled, and small businesses. Most large businesses have a policy or department that encourages diversity in their supply chain.
  • 8A businesses - These are minority and women-owned businesses that participate in the SBA's 8A business program to sell to the government. 8A businesses also have access to special mentoring and 8a business loans. Non-8a small businesses are eligible for a different SBA program, called 7a.

When you are dealing with government contracts, federal, state, and local government rules and definitions differ!

All government certifications are either self-certified (WBE women-owned and SB - small business) or certified by a government agency. You do not have to pay money for certification. Private certifications for women or small businesses are usually done through non-profit organizations for a fee. These certifications are used by private businesses - not government agencies.

There are also government programs that help you identify contracting opportunities with the government that are free of charge. You do not have to pay a company to be placed in a government suppliers book - or pay anyone to get bid opportunities.