1 Woman Owner + 1 Disabled Veteran Owner = 0 Minority Certifications?

It’s a well-known fact that my business partner, Tony Coutsoftides, is a service-disabled veteran. We talk about it all the time, we include it in our marketing materials and his service (and sacrifice) is something we are very proud of.

And it should not come as a shock to anyone that I’m a woman. (If it is, I seriously need to do something about my headshot.)

So we’re often asked if we have minority certifications, as in a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) or a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). The short answer is yes, we are both of those. Tony and I work day and night in the business. We both have management responsibilities; we both make huge decisions for the company; both of us can hire, fire, sign checks, negotiate contracts and speak on behalf of the company.

In my mind, and I would think in the mind of any rational person, we should be able to be certified as both. There’s no truer WBE around. And there’s certainly no truer SDVOSB out there. But in the eyes of the certifying agencies, we have to choose. Either Tony or I have to give up control of the company we both own to get a piece of paper that says we’re a “minority-owned business.” Our shares have to be unequal, and our operating agreement has to say that one or the other of us has total control.

I’d like to call bullshit on that.

We’re all aware of the folks who abuse the system. The companies where the female “owner” – who is often the wife, mother, sister or second cousin twice removed of the ACTUAL owner – has “management responsibilities” that extend to cashing profit-sharing checks and who couldn’t even tell you the color of the carpet in the office. Or the company that brings in a service-disabled veteran to “own” the majority of the company in order to land government contracts. In the past, we’ve even been approached by other local companies who want to “partner” with us – aka run business through our company and take a cut – because Tony being a veteran would allow them to capture more public contracts. Obviously we turned them down, because we don’t like being used, thank you very much.

I understand why the certifying agencies have certain requirements. I don’t like fake WBEs anymore than anyone else. In fact, I find them insulting. If I have to sit at one more awards banquet and listen to the winner of the “Woman-Owned Business of the Year” thank her husband for doing all the work in the business so she can just be creative, I’ll throw up. It’s only a woman-owned business if the woman is DOING THE WORK OF THE BUSINESS. That means showing up every day, making all the hard decisions, taking the risks and really being a business OWNER. Same for SDVOSBs.

BUT, and this is a big but, for the certifying organizations to penalize a company like ours that is TRULY run by two partners who have invested their own money to start the business, who come in at 6:30 in the morning, leave at 6:00 in the evening, and then spend the rest of the night thinking about the next day, is unfair. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to take advantage of the fact that we are BOTH considered “minority” owners.

The only solution I can come up with is that these places, whether it’s the WBE organizations or the SDVOSB certifying bodies, should come and take a look at our business. If they spent even five minutes in our office, they’d understand there’s no figurehead here. Just two people, working hard to be a successful business.