The federal government’s goal is to award at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses each year.
Sections 7(j)(10) and 8(a) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 636(j)(10) and 637(a)) authorizes the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to establish a business development program, which is known as the 8(a) Business Development program. The 8(a) program is a robust nine-year program created to help firms owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
Businesses that participate in the program receive training and technical assistance designed to strengthen their ability to compete effectively in the American economy. Also eligible to participate in the 8(a) program are small businesses owned by Alaska Native corporations, Community Development Corporations, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations. Small business development is accomplished by providing various forms of management, technical, financial, and procurement assistance.
SBA partners with federal agencies to promote maximum utilization of 8(a) program participants to ensure equitable access to contracting opportunities in the federal marketplace. Once certified, 8(a) program participants are eligible to receive federal contracting preferences and receive training and technical assistance designed to strengthen their ability to compete effectively in the American economy.
The 8(a) program can be a valuable tool for experienced socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners, who have already been in business for at least two years or more, and are interested in expanding their footprint in the federal marketplace. The 8(a) program offers unique and valuable business assistance. The 8(a) certification does not guarantee contract awards but it is a dynamic tool to pursue and capture new opportunity from the government.
Certified firms in the 8(a) program can:
- Efficiently compete and receive set-aside and sole-source contracts
- Receive one-on-one business development assistance for their nine-year term from dedicated Business Opportunity Specialists focused on helping firms grow and accomplish their business objectives
- Pursue opportunity for mentorship from experienced and technically capable firms through the SBA Mentor-Protégé program
- Connect with procurement and compliance experts who understand regulations in the context of business growth, finance, and government contracting
- Pursue joint ventures with established businesses to increase capacity
- Qualify to receive federal surplus property on a priority basis
- Receive free training from SBA’s 7(j) Management and Technical Assistance program
The 8(a) certification qualifies your business as eligible to compete for the program’s sole-source and competitive set-aside contracts. The government authorizes sole-source contracts to 8(a) participants for up to $7.5 million for acquisitions assigned manufacturing North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and $4.5 million for all other acquisitions. Entity-owned 8(a) program participants are eligible for sole-source contracts above these thresholds, but the Department of Defense requires approval of a formal justification if the 8(a) sole-source contract exceeds $100 million; all other federal agencies require approval for sole-source 8(a) contract actions that exceed $25 million.
8(a) program participants are eligible to compete for contract awards under other socio-economic programs or small business set-asides they qualify for.
To qualify for the 8(a) program, businesses must meet the following eligibility criteria:
- Be a small business
- Not have previously participated in the 8(a) program
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens who are socially and economically disadvantaged
- Have a personal net worth of $750 thousand or less, adjusted gross income of $350 thousand or less, and assets totaling $6 million or less
- Demonstrate good character
- Demonstrate the potential for success such as having been in business for two years
8(a) certification lasts for a maximum of nine years. The first four years are considered a development stage and the last five years are considered a transitional stage. Continuation in the program is dependent on staying in compliance with program requirements.
The federal government fully defines who qualifies for the 8(a) program — including what counts as being socially and economically disadvantaged — in Title 13 Part 124 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Apply to get certified as an 8(a) small business
Participation in the 8(a) program is one-time-only for firms and individuals with the exception of entity-owned firms. Alaska Native corporations, Tribal-owned Native Hawaiian organizations, and Community Development Corporations may have multiple 8(a) firms. Some firms may be eligible for the 8(a) program, but they may not be ready to contract with the federal government.
Businesses interested in applying for 8(a) certification can get a preliminary assessment of whether the 8(a) program is right for them by using the Am I Eligible? tool on SBA’s Certify website.
Before you can participate in the 8(a) program you must be certified by SBA.
Applications are processed electronically. Visit the application website at certify.sba.gov to access checklist tools, training, and information that provide guidance prior to applying.
Review the Application Tips for Success Guide and meet with your local SBA District Office or a Procurement Technical Assistance Center counselor to help determine if you’re ready to apply and prepare.
To apply for the 8(a) program, follow these steps:
- Identify your primary NAICS code(s).
- Register your business in the System for Award Management (SAM).
- Apply for 8(a) certification.
Visit the Knowledge Base to find helpful resources, including the application guide, to assist with gathering necessary documentation as well as completing and submitting the application.
If your application is determined incomplete, SBA will notify you in writing through certify.sba.gov. Once SBA has determined the application is complete, SBA has 90 days to process the application and render a decision. Once certified your profile in SAM and Dynamic Small Business Search will show your approval date and exit date for the 8(a) program.
Maintain eligibility and certification
8(a) program participants are responsible for maintaining continuing eligibility in the program. Each program participant shall certify, on an annual basis, that it meets statutory and regulatory requirements. As part of an annual review, each participant must annually submit specific information to their servicing SBA District Office. Refer to the Annual Review Checklist to learn more about responsibilities for maintaining 8(a) certification.