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Ronald Wilkerson built his energy industry consulting business one contract at a time, from a one-man shop with no track record and $10,000 in sales to a 370-employee company with more than $23 million in annual revenue - in less than 10 years.
Critique Resource Consulting, a U.S. Small Business Administration 8(a)-certified firm, provides budgetary and administrative support to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve and support services for the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies. Critique's primary business base is centered on the energy and energy-related fields.
Before he started Critique, Ron had more than 17 years of financial management and business analytical experience, so when he started the company, he already had the background and experience to methodically build an infrastructure to make Critique viable in both its business operations and contract execution.
Even though Ron brought built-in knowledge about many of the regulations associated with federal contracting, he admits that initially, it was a struggle trying to secure contracts. Critique had no previous track record and obviously could not instantly demonstrate its capacity to satisfy client needs. Slowly, however, Critique began to win very small contracts and used these opportunities to diligently work toward the basic goal - exceeding client expectations. This built an excellent performance record and was the key that eventually opened doors to more lucrative contracts.
The primary lesson that Critique has learned and has since employed during its existence is that: the work we do today may not pay off until sometime in the future.
During its transitional stage in the 8(a) program, Critique continued its growth by competing for both 8(a) and non-8(a) contracting opportunities. Critique used its transitional stage in the 8(a) program to refine its technical and marketing abilities while also focusing more on the full and open competitive procurement marketplace.
Achieving these objectives provided Ron with significant but stable growth while simultaneously maximizing use of the 8(a) program to develop his company into a viable and competitive firm capable of main-streaming into the business world upon graduation. In fact, Critique is doing just that. To date, its largest 8(a) contract was for $24 million with the Department of Energy, while its largest non-8(a) contract was $35 million with Wackenhut Services.
Critique has grown from a local firm to one that is national in scope. Critique has expanded its operations and has been awarded contracts and subcontracts in various locations. Critique is dedicated to bettering its local environment through community participation as well as mentoring other small businesses by sharing "lessons learned" and providing guidance. As such, Critique has entered into a mentor/protege agreement, and competed as the Louisiana district office's approved 8(a) mentor/protege team and won a nationwide 8(a) $6.6 million contract to perform facilities support at DOE's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The total value of this contract, including all options, will be in excess of $11 million.
Ron encourages his employees to volunteer in community efforts, and takes pride in the fact that he is also able to provide financial support to a number of charitable organizations. In addition, Critique has also contributed to the New York Police & Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund, which assisted the families of fallen New York City firefighters by providing aid to family members to assist with immediate expenses.
How does a start-up construction company go from being a home-based business to arrive at a level where it operates from two offices, has a dozen contracts, supports 15 full-time construction managers at multiple sites on an aggregate of nearly $10 million of awards?
Jaime Pinedo, can answer the question, “Work with the Los Angeles District Office of the U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA).” Mr. Pinedo founded his Miramar Construction, Inc. in 1999 with expectations to grow into an entity that could handle large construction and general engineering and public works projects. He recognized the potential in joining the SBA 8(a) program and quickly sought the Agency’s assistance.
The SBA’s Section 8(a) Program is a business development program to help businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals gain equal access to the resources needed to develop their ability to compete on an equal footing in the mainstream of the American Federal Procurement Process. Companies admitted to the program are assigned a Business Opportunity Specialist (BOS) to provide one-on-one counseling, schedule training workshops, and to assist the company in its expansion into the realm of federal government contract activity and ultimately achieve full and independent competitive viability.
Miramar received its 8(a) certification in February 2002. Within a short time, Jaime Pinedo was selected to attend an SBA sponsored week-long training program held at Clark Atlanta University. He took full advantage of this scholarship to the prestigious SBA Executive Education Program and was selected as the First Place winner in the Business Case Competition.
Mr. Pinedo received constant communications, encouragement, counsel and guidance from Bonita Rentie, his BOS. In addition, Ms. Rentie aided him in developing an efficient plan to optimize the benefits of the 8(a) program. As a result he was able to effectively market his business and attain further exposure via promotion opportunities at numerous conferences and expositions.
Under the SBA’s aegis, Miramar was trained for and accepted into the mentor Protégé Program and the HUBZone program. Acceptance into these two valuable programs opened the access door to contracts of varying size, scope and complexity. Accessing these contracts helped Miramar assume the critical mass to foster profitable growth and to create additional employment opportunities in construction and engineering.
Miramar Construction was selected as the first contractor to perform two emergency contracts to remove debris from multiple basins for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because of this specialized experience and his recognition as a solid public works engineer, Jaime was invited to join the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) and was soon asked to sit on the board of this influential organization.
Los Angeles SBA District Director, Alberto G. Alvarado praised Mr. Pinedo stating, “Jaime Pinedo is a great American success story. He arduously worked the program to leverage his resources and thereby maximized the benefits that his company received.”
Jamie Pinedo has indeed benefited from the excellent tutelage thus far provided by the SBA. However, he is not one to rest on his laurels. The lessons the SBA taught him will keep him ever vigilant when it comes to prospecting for new business. For example, at a recent SBA sponsored matchmaking expo held in The Disneyland Hotel, one of the most industrious of the 1,000 companies seeking new business was Miramar Construction. And who was there representing Miramar in its attempts to acquire more blocks to better build his company, Jaime Pinedo, himself?
To contact the SBA Los Angeles District Office for information on 8(a) Business Development call:
- Armida Brother at (818) 552-3233
- Catherine Clark at (818) 552-3311
- Betsy Copelan at (818) 552-3313
- Bonita Rentie at (818) 552-3310
- Carlos Johnson at (818) 552-3232
Or visit the SBA’s user friendly web site at www.sba.gov.
When Mr. Ed Rice was approached to comment on his business success, he humbly replied, “what success” and mused further, “It’s hard work and ever-present”, intimating that success in entrepreneurship comes from the complete dedication of oneself to the enterprise in question. You better believe that Ed Rice is committed to his Popeye’s stores. No matter what time one visits the operations for a Cajun Cuisine Catch-up, he or she will most likely encounter Ed Rice involved in any one of the myriad management details, or even pitching in to serve the customers or to staff the cash register.
A demanding but fair manager, Ed has made it his policy to staff his enterprise with the best and most well rounded students from the neighboring high schools. His interview process involves a review of the individual job seeker’s report card with special stress placed on attendance record, comments from teachers, and grades. Mr. Rice feels that, if the student is a responsible team player and is respectful at school, he will undoubtedly treat Ed’s customers in a manner worthy of their patronage.
Ed Rice is a true inner city entrepreneur. At age 19, having just graduated from Fremont High School, he started his own real estate office, and successfully ran it for 10 years. In 1985 Ed opened his first Popeye’s franchise, the 103rd Street store, using a 7(a) SBA guaranteed loan underwritten by American Pacific State Bank, an institution which was subsequently merged into City National Bank. As one would expect from a borrower as responsible as Mr. Rice, the loan was repaid in advance of when required. The 18 jobs created are a living tribute to Mr. Rice’s business acumen and vision.
Unfortunately, Ed’s Watts restaurant was damaged during the 1992 civil unrest; however, the structure was reconditioned via an SBA disaster loan used in conjunction with his business insurance. An interesting anecdote relating to this establishment centers on the fact that Popeye’s was the food of choice of the National Guard in 1992. In fact, Mr. Rice cooked for and fed those guardsmen assigned to keep peace in Watts right out of the 103rd Street store.
SBA Los Angeles District Director, Alberto Alvarado offered praise stating, “Ed Rice epitomizes the meaning of the word entrepreneur. Ed assumed tremendous risk, expecting the concomitant return on his investment in his first venture. His dedication and tenacity earned him the appropriate rewards.”
Employing the ingenuity referenced by Director Alvarado, and by using personal capital and CRA funds, Mr. Rice followed the traditional path taken by most entrepreneurs. He parlayed some of what he earned and everything he learned from his first success and opened another Popeye’s in the Crenshaw District. This second franchise, at 3268 West Slauson Avenue, is operated in the same fashion as the original site. The 14 employees, whose jobs were created through Ed Rice’s enterprising spirit, remain focused on excellent customer service, an integral part of the core competencies of Ed Rice’s company.
Ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Rice is in the planning stages to open another Popeye’s. Feasibility studies and site consideration are currently in process. Expectations are for the third operation to create 20 new jobs in the Central Los Angeles community. Ed Rice may, again, call upon SBA financing to help provide clear sailing for this new Popeye’s franchise.
The Watts Popeye’s can be contacted by calling (323) 566-9402. The Crenshaw District location can be reached at (323) 569-0071.
For additional information on SBA Loan Programs and Services please call the Los Angeles District Office at (818) 552- 3210 or visit the SBA’s user friendly web site at www.sba.gov.