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Aspiring 8a

Growing Your Small Business: SBA’s 8(a) Certification Program

Small business owners in the United States who have suffered economic and social disadvantage can apply to be a part of, through the Small Business Administration (SBA), the 8(a) Business Development Program. This business development program is designed to help small businesses overcome past hardships and challenges the owner(s) have experienced. The firm's owner must be a U.S. Citizen to apply.


The program is designed to give preference to the 8(a) certified businesses working with federal clients by obtaining contracts from government departments (or the agencies of those departments). The total number of 8(a) certified firms has typically ranged from 5,500 to 6,500 firms in recent years. This business development program can help a small business grow by cutting the government red tape generally associated with federal contracts. This allows these small businesses not just to dip their toes, but fully immerse themselves in federal contracting, gaining invaluable experience and skills that can be used to accelerate their firms to success. Small business owners who find it challenging to grow their business through traditional organic/commercial methods find the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program an empowering resource.


IT, Management Consulting, and Construction are the three most common industries for 8(a) firms.



This small business development program enables minority-owned businesses to obtain business support from the SBA. Under the 8(a) program, small businesses can be introduced by the SBA to contract directly with federal agencies that need qualified 8(a) contractors to meet their congressional budgetary guidelines for spending.


The program gives 8(a) firms nine years of preference in federal contracting to overcome prior years in which they suffered from racial, ethnic, gender, geographical, and/or disability bias.


The 8(a) Certification consists of two phases over the 9-year eligibility period.

Phase 1: 4-year "Development Stage" followed by a…

Phase 2: 5-year "Transitional Stage". During the Transitional Stage, the firm must ensure its survivability once it graduates from the 8(a) BD Program.



  • All 8(a) certified minority-owned companies have the opportunity to secure sole-source government contracts for goods and services, with potential contract values of up to $4.5 Million. Small manufacturing businesses' ceiling for sole-source contracts increases to $7 Million per contract.


  • Additionally, 8(a) firms are eligible to partake in set-aside contracts, where the competition is exclusively among other 8(a) contractors. This ensures a level playing field among participants with comparable sizes and capabilities.


  • Another benefit for 8(a) firms is that they can learn from and participate in larger projects by partnering with another firm while still receiving the benefits of an 8(a) Certification. These partnerships are mentor protégé or joint venture arrangements. They enable small business firms to increase their skills and experience by participating in larger contracts in a much lower-risk environment.



To get approval from the SBA, the small business applicant firm should fully conform to the following eligibility criteria. A firm whose application is denied by the SBA will be barred from reapplying for 90 days. Here are the primary 8(a) BD Program eligibility details:


  • All business applicants need to verify that at least 51% of the firm is owned by an individual who is a U.S. Citizen and socially and economically disadvantaged.


  • The small business applicant needs to have documented sales in the public or commercial marketplace over the past two years, and be successful in doing so.


  • The business applicant must be classified as a small business according to the guidelines for small businesses associated with the firm’s primary NAICS Code.


  • The firm's owner will have to submit various documents and items. These will include their personal and business income records for the last three years, all articles of organization/incorporation, all minutes, operating agreements/by-laws, proof of insurance, leases, resumes, background information, and any other pertinent documents that need to be disclosed as part of the application process.


  • The SBA can and will ask clarifying questions of applicants throughout the process. The concerns addressed by the SBA need to be responded to on time, or the SBA will have no choice but to deny the application.
  • The 8(a) Certification application process is long and detailed. Part of it is completed online through the SBA portal, and part requires a paper application, typically 300 -500 pages long. The applicants must follow a format congruent with the SBA’s review process. Expectations are that the SBA will complete its review of an 8(a) application in three months from the date it receives it.


The 8(a) Certification presents a valuable opportunity for minority-owned companies to access lucrative government contracts, growing their businesses. If you are interested in further exploring the benefits of the 8(a) certification, I recommend contacting an industry expert such as ez8a or Advance 8a. Their expert teams are happy to assist and guide you through the process of maximizing your chances of success in the 8(a) BD Program. Neither charge for an initial consultation.


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