Capital Building

8a Certification

About the 8a Business Development Program


It is the federal government's goal to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses annually. Through the Small Business Administration (SBA) business owners in the United States that have suffered from both economic and social disadvantage (through SBA’s criteria) can enter what’s called the 8a Business Development Program. Entry into the program is obtained through the acquisition of an 8a Certification. This program is designed to help small businesses and their owner(s) overcome past hardships and challenges they’ve experienced. There are different criteria required but among other things the owner of the firm must be a US Citizen in order to apply.

The 8a Business Development Program is designed to give preference to those businesses that are 8(a) Certified in working with federal clients by obtaining contracts. The total amount of 8(a) certified firms has ranged anywhere from 6,500 to 10,000 firms in recent years. This business development program can help a small business grow by cutting the red tape that has customarily come with federal contracts. Through this program, small business entrepreneurs can get their feet wet in federal contracting and use those successes and experiences in order to fast track their firm to greater sales. Small business owners who are finding it challenging to grow their business through traditional means would find the SBA 8a Business Development Program a great resource.

8a Business Development Program Highlights

  • This small business development program enables businesses to obtain support from the SBA. Under the 8a Business Development Program, small businesses are eligible for introduction by the SBA to contract directly with federal agencies that are in need of qualified 8a contractors in order to meet their congressional budgetary guidelines for spending.
  • The program gives 8a firms nine years of preference in federal contracting in order to overcome previous suffering based on racial, ethnic, gender, geographical or disability bias.
  • The 8a Business Development Program consists of two phases over the course of the nine year eligibility period. Phase 1: 4-year ‘Development Stage’ followed by a phase 2: 5-year ‘Transitional Stage’. During the latter, the firm is required to take steps to insure its survivability once it graduates from the 8a program.

8a Business Development Program Benefits

  • All 8a certified companies are entitled to receive ‘sole-sourced’ government contracts up to a maximum of $4 million on a per contract basis for those dealing in goods and services. For those businesses that are in manufacturing, the firm’s ‘sole-sourced’ contracts can reach a maximum of $6.5 million on a per contract basis.
  • 8a firms can participate in set-aside contracts whereby the competition for the contract is only other 8a contractors. This limits the bidding field to a pool of contenders with similar sizes and capabilities.
  • 8a firms can learn, as well as take part in larger projects, by partnering with another firm, while still receiving the benefits of their 8a certification. These partnerships are known as mentor/protégé or joint venture arrangements. They enable small business firms to increase the scope of their skills and experience by taking part in larger contracts at a much lower risk to their company.

8a Business Development Program Eligibility

In order to get approval from the SBA, the small business applicant will have to meet the following eligibility criteria. A firm whose application is denied by the SBA will be barred from reapplying for a period of 1 year. Here are the primary 8a eligibility details...

  • All applicants need to verify that at least 51% of the firm is owned by an individual who is a US Citizen as well as socially and economically disadvantaged.
  • All applicants need to have documented sales in the public or commercial marketplace over the previous two years and be successful in doing so.
  • All applicants must be classified as a small business according to the SBA guidelines associated with the firm’s primary line of business/NAICS Code.
  • The owner of the firm will have to submit a variety of documents and items, as well as answer a multitude of questions, that are deemed pertinent by the SBA as part of the application process.
  • The SBA can and will follow-up with clarifying questions of applicants throughout the process. It is paramount that these concerns being addressed by the SBA are responded to in a timely manner or they will have no choice but to deny the application.

The 8a application process is long and detailed. Part of the process is completed online through the SBA’s portal, and part of it requires a paper application which typically ranges anywhere from 300-500 pages in length. Applicants must follow very specific protocol so that it is consistent with the SBA’s review process. Reasonable expectations are that the SBA will complete its review of an 8a application in a period of three months from the date in which the application was received.

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