Omaha, Nebraska – Obtaining 8(a) Business Development program certification from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a big advantage for companies owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and the challenges of navigating the lengthy process can be lessened by the experienced consultants in the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) program.
“The difficulties inherent to the 8(a) certification process can be very frustrating for small business owners,” says Veronica Doga, PTAC program director. “After they submit an application, the SBA reviews and often sends it back with more questions about the business.”
“It’s not a linear process, and every time the SBA asks questions, the clock stops. When a process can take up to two years, PTAC consultants provide the advice and encouragement these business owners need to make it to the finish line.”
Through the 8(a) Business Development program, the SBA works to level the playing field for owners of socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses by limiting competition for certain contracts. Businesses in the 8(a) program can:
- compete for set-aside and sole-source contracts in the program;
- get a business opportunity specialist to help navigate federal contracting;
- form joint ventures with established businesses through the SBA's Mentor-Protégé Program; and
- receive management and technical assistance including business training, counseling, marketing assistance and high-level executive development.
Effective July 15, 2020, to qualify for the 8(a) program, applicants must not have previously participated in the 8(a) program, be at least 51 percent owned and controlled by U.S. citizens who are socially and economically disadvantaged, have a personal net worth of $750,000 or less, adjusted gross income of $350,000 or less and $6 million or less in assets, and demonstrate good character and potential to perform on contracts.
PTAC consultants recently assisted two Nebraska companies that successfully obtained their 8(a) certifications. For each company, it took more than a year from initial application to acceptance.
RTG Building Services, Inc., has found the federal government to be a great source of potential revenue, says Fred McBride, the Omaha firm’s vice president,. “Federal contracting affords exponential growth, and we felt 8(a) certification would open our company to opportunities nationwide,” he says. “An 8(a) certification can cut the red tape, remove obstacles and help grow your business.”
McBride and RTG Building Services owner Ramiro Gaitan began the process with NBDC and PTAC by determining if the company qualified for certification. Several steps in, it appeared that because the company’s previous owner was an 8(a) program participant, the company under Gaitan’s ownership did not qualify, McBride says.
“With everyone interpreting the regulations differently, we knew it would be an uphill battle,” he says. At NBDC’s recommendation, the company turned to a law firm that wrote a legal argument on behalf of Gaitan and RTG Building Services showing four other instances where the SBA approved certification for businesses in very similar situations.
The process continued with several exchanges between the company and the SBA until, on March 13 this year, Gaitan received an email stating the SBA had approved the company’s certification. “Because it was a Saturday, we didn’t know whether to believe it or not,” McBride says. “We had already started to work on a Plan B in case we were turned down.”
Mark Santo is the owner of Mark VII Enterprises, a general contracting firm in Omaha that is a City of Omaha Tier-I Small Business, Economically Disadvantaged Total Small Business, and Center of Veteran Enterprise verified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business. A veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, Santo has built a solid reputation by leveraging his past experience on government and military projects.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant effect on his business, Santo says. “The 8(a) program certification is important because, as a set-aside contractor in the pandemic era, economic inclusion, Small and Emerging Business and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (SEB/DBE) and diversity participation requirements have all but evaporated,” he says. “The 8(a) program provides multiple business development opportunities that would not otherwise be available, at a time when companies like ours are literally on life support.”
Mark VII Enterprises had previously worked with NBDC on other certification processes. In 2014, the company was named NBDC Government Contractor of the Year.
Most recently, Santo worked with Director Doga and consultant Mary Graff to overcome numerous challenges during the 8(a) certification process. “NBDC was always our partner and guiding force through the certification process,” he says. “In fact, I credit them for being the impetus. They patiently, methodically and persistently kept me on course by setting out small achievable milestones along the arduous and painstaking path.”
Mark VII Enterprises submitted its 8(a) application in March 2019 and was accepted into the program in October 2020.
Santo says NBDC and PTAC were there “every step of the way. They were the voice of reason and resolve. They continued to pick me up, dust me off and put me back in the process through 19 months, five rounds, one reconsideration and a claim.”
Doga says assisting small businesses through the 8(a) certification process is just one of many services provided by the PTAC program. “These processes can be long journeys that make some companies give up without getting very far,” she says. “A partnership with NBDC is just that. We go into it together, and we don’t stop until they succeed.”
The Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) helps Nebraska businesses start, grow and develop, by strengthening Nebraska businesses for a healthy economy and prosperous communities. NBDC is a University of Nebraska at Omaha center that provides confidential consulting business development services across Nebraska to entrepreneurs and business owners for the life cycle of their business. NBDC partners with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Wayne State College, and Chadron State College to deliver its services statewide. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the U.S. Department of Commerce (EDA), and other federal, state and private organizations support NBDC. Visit nbdc.unomaha.edu for more information.
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