Web Article
September 20, 2018

Inclusive Enterprises

An exploration of the interaction between business certifications, procurement policy, and ESOPs

An exploration of the interaction between business certifications, procurement policy, and ESOPs. The intersection between ESOPs and business ownership certifications (such as minority-, woman-, and veteran-owned) is often seen as a tough one to navigate. Though the regulations guiding procurement and contracting policy are strict for a reason, they can become prohibitive when less straightforward business structures are involved, so much so that many businesses fear losing their very valuable certifications should they sell more than 50% of the company to employees. This oftentimes only serves to penalize the populations they're supposed to serve—women, minorities, veterans, and the business owners and employees who belong to aforementioned groups. Thanks to a generous contribution from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the NCEO was able to begin exploring these interactions more in depth. This page will serve as the repository for resources as we continue to work in this field.

Certifications Database

With the help of allied agencies and stakeholders, the NCEO has begun a database that catalogs the basic requirements for the wide variety of business certifications throughout the nation, with a specific focus on minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises. The database is—and will likely always be—a work in progress. The database is an approximation and amalgamation of a wide variety of sources from throughout the internet. Requirements that were contradictory or unavailable from any sources are left blank. If you have questions about a specific certification in the database, contact the name listed in the appropriate field, or the NCEO's outreach coordinator Timothy Garbinsky. If you would like to make an addition, correction, or amendment to the database, please contact Timothy Garbinsky here.

Navigating the Database

Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs)

DBEs have nearly uniform requirements and expectations from state to state as the regulations are set by the US Department of Transportation. Though the information is almost identical across the board, it's been left visible for ease of access.

Minority- and Women-Business Enterprises (MBEs/WBEs)

There are a wide variety of certifications that provide MBE or WBE certification. Many government entities at the state and local level have their own MBE and WBE programs that carry with them specific government procurement benefits. There are also widely used third-party certifications, provided primarily by the National Minority Supplier Development Council for MBEs and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council for WBEs, as well as their regional affiliates. Some government agencies do offer reciprocity with third-party certification. The requirements and eligibility for WBEs and MBEs will vary from place to place and agency to agency. Eligibility requires, at base, two components:

  • Ownership:The business must be owned at least 51% by one or more of the addressed population.
  • Governance:A member or members of the addressed population must exercise meaningful operation and control of the company

Many agencies don't specify whether an ESOP qualifies for ownership through a trust. Meanwhile, while the governance component is present in some aspect for all certifications, the form it might take varies. Some examples of required governance/control for the addressed population include a: a majority of the board of directors; meaningful daily operational control, including the hiring and firing of high level employees; demonstrable expertise in the business' industry; and the highest compensated individual being a member of the addressed population.

Veteran Business Enterprises

These certifications are handled and regulated by the Department of Veterans' Affaires and can often be somewhat more arcane. A good example of their complexity is found in the document at the bottom of the page.


The Small Business Administration's (SBA) 8(a) and Historically Underutilized Business programs are found in this category. Other less orthodox or harder to qualify certifications will be listed here as they come up.


The glossary contains the alphabetical list of some of the more common terms and acronyms, with definitions established by government agencies.

Click here to access the database.

Inclusive Enterprises Case Studies

Click here to access a white paper that gives an overview of the relationship between ESOPs and business certifications, including case studies of successfully certified 100% ESOP-owned companies.