Eligibility Criteria for 8(a) Program – The Ultimate Guide


The 8(a) Program is a business development program created to help small businesses get ahead and succeed. The program allows small businesses to compete in the federal market and access contracts that are typically awarded only to larger, more established companies. But before you can take advantage of this program, there are some specific eligibility criteria that you’ll need to meet.

Are you wondering what these criteria are? Do you have questions about how the 8(a) Program works and who qualifies for it? If so, then this blog post is for you!

This ultimate guide will provide you with all the information needed to understand the eligibility criteria for the 8(a) Program. Keep reading to find out more!

How Can You Qualify for the 8(a) Program?

To be eligible to participate in the 8(a) program, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a small business as defined by Small Business Administration (SBA)
  • Have not participated in the 8(a) program before
  • A company must be at least 51% owned by disadvantaged U.S. citizens in order to qualify for the program.
  • Showcase excellent character
  • You are eligible if your personal net worth is less than $850 thousand, your adjusted gross income is under $400 thousand, and you have no more than $6.5 million in assets.
  • The ideal candidate will have been in business for a minimum of two years.

Definition of Social and Economic Disadvantage

The federal government outlines who qualify 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.

Generally, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals are defined as those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society due to their identity as a member of a designated group.

Program Duration

8(a) certified businesses can participate in the program for up to nine years, which is split into two stages: four years of development and five transitional. To stay compliant and be allowed to continue participating in 8(a), businesses must meet certain requirements.

Goals of 8(a) Program

The 8(a) program is designed to help disadvantaged small businesses gain access to the competitive world of government contracting. The primary goal of this program is to award contracts to firms that have had difficulty gaining entry into the commercial marketplace due to social or economic disadvantages. To achieve this, the 8(a) program has several specific goals:

  1. To help small businesses gain access to government contracts and the knowledge they need to succeed in a competitive business environment;
  2. To create more opportunities for disadvantaged small businesses to participate in federal contracting programs;
  3. To foster an environment of economic growth where minority-owned small businesses can thrive and compete for contracts on a level playing field;
  4. To provide small businesses with access to technical and financial assistance to help them succeed in the federal contracting marketplace.
  5. To encourage more minority-owned small businesses to compete for contracts, helping create a diverse and inclusive business climate.

The 8(a) program also provides small businesses with the opportunity to become self-sufficient by learning how to market and manage their business, gain access to capital resources, develop strategic partnerships with other businesses, and create jobs.

By helping 8(a) firms to become self-sufficient, the program’s ultimate goal is to graduate 8(a) firms that will go on to thrive in a competitive business environment.

Maintaining Eligibility of 8(a) Program

8(a) program participants must take measures each year to stay eligible for the program. One way participants certify their eligibility is through an annual review, during which they submit certain information to their servicing SBA District Office. The Annual Review Checklist outlines what a participant needs to do annually to maintain 8(a) certification.

The SBA district offices monitor and measure the progress of participants through

  • Annual reviews
  • Business planning
  • Systematic evaluations.

8(a) participants also have access to specialized business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development to help them achieve their goals.


The 8(a) program covers companies that want to access government contracts and other advantages. The requirements for qualifying include: being owned and managed by people who are economically and socially disadvantaged, demonstrating good character, having a personal net worth of $850 thousand or less, adjusted gross income of $400 thousand or less, and having assets totaling no more than $6.5 million. Certification with the 8(a) lasts for nine years, but the first four of those are considered a development stage.

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