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SBA 8(a) Program Translates Into Business Expansion for South Florida Entrepreneur
Growing up in the small town of Danville, Va. as a first generation American son of a Cuban father and Colombian mother, Richard Estevez was self-conscious of his identity and culture. Though the city population was nearly equally balanced between whites and blacks, being Hispanic set Estevez apart from the rest of the kids in school.
He didn’t like being different.
“Initially, I did not associate myself with the Hispanic culture and I did not want to speak Spanish,” Estevez said recalling his elementary school days. “However, that changed when I was about 10 years old.”
When he was old enough, Estevez’ father sent him to work in the region’s farms with other migrant workers, most of whom were from Mexico. But Estevez wasn’t sent to help harvest crops.
“My father was an educated man and he took me to the fields to serve as an interpreter between the migrant workers and doctors. I helped the workers explain to the doctors what was bothering them by interpreting for them. The workers didn’t speak English and the doctors didn’t speak Spanish,” said Estevez.
It was then Estevez began to appreciate his culture and understand how his language skills could be used to help people. It was this passion Estevez would tap into and form the successful, Trusted Translations, Inc., a full-service multilingual translation and interpretation company. The company employs the services of more than 10,000 expert linguists with the ability to translate to and from over 200 languages including American Sign Language (ASL).
“After college, I went to law school and became a lawyer in a large law firm. But there if you weren’t working, you weren’t earning. I wanted to build something that had its own life. I wanted a business that could be self-sustaining even when I wasn’t there so I could explore new ways to improve our service offerings.”
Because of experiences of working with migrant farmers as well as law offices of corporate America, Estevez recognized a demand for quality translation and interpretation services at reasonable rates. With that goal in mind, Estevez left the law practice and formed Trusted Translations, Inc. in 2003.
“I did not have a lot of money to fund Trusted Translations but I bootstrapped resources together to get started. I found government documents and brochures with bad Spanish translations and looked for ways to help the government. My father was a U.S. Army veteran and I wanted to find a way to help as well,” said Estevez.
While looking for ways to help the government, Estevez learned about the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) business development program for small, disadvantaged businesses. The program assists small businesses to position themselves to compete in the marketplace.
“I went to SBA four years ago and asked for help. Many of the government’s translation and interpretation services were going to large firms who were then subcontracting the business. I knew I could provide a more affordable and better service given my background in languages. But I didn’t know how to compete against the giants in the world of government contracting,” said Estevez.
Estevez enrolled in SBA’s 8(a) business development program and was assigned a business opportunity specialist in the SBA South Florida District. His SBA business opportunity specialist guides him through the nine-year program designed to help aspiring small business owners gain a foothold in government contracting. The program is two-phased; the first four years serve as a developmental phase and the final five years are a transition phase at which point the 8(a) business graduates can stand and compete on their own expertise and reputation. While in the program, a certified 8(a) company can receive sole-source contracts, up to a ceiling of $4 million for goods and services and $6.5 million for manufacturing. Certified companies can are also able to form joint ventures and teams to bid on contracts.
Like many firms who find success through SBA’s 8(a) program, the first contract offer is never forgotten.
“My first government contract was with NASA,” recalled Estevez. “But small businesses need to know getting 8(a) certified is only a start. It’s a tool that levels the playing field but there is no guarantee of work. You have to market yourself. You have to provide quality services at an affordable price. You’re not going to receive a multi-million dollar contract just from entering the program,” said Estevez.
Before becoming 8(a) certified, Trusted Translations had a limited number of full-time employees and several dozen freelance translators. Through participation in the 8(a) program and providing quality translation services for multiple agencies, the company has grown to more than 40 full time employees, a small army of experienced translators and interpreters, and offices on three continents.
“Knowing a language is not enough in our business. Many of the services we provide require our translators to have a medical background or some other professional experience,” explained Estevez.
Because of their reliability, experience and price, Trusted Translations, Inc. has been awarded contracts with various divisions of the Federal government including the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Library of Congress, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, the company was recently awarded a contract to provide ASL services for the Miami-Dade County school district.
“We are currently working with a sponsor to grant Trusted Translations Inc. a top secret clearance to provide services for the U.S. intelligence agencies. The level of scrutiny goes up but I’m very satisfied with our ability to deliver quality translation and interpretation services at an affordable price,” said Estevez.
Trusted Translations Inc. shares its successes with its community. In 2009, Estevez formed Trusted Translations Foundation, a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to helping and supporting children’s causes. Among the foundation’s causes are: fight against childhood cancer, improving academic performance among children in low income Hispanic families, and helping disadvantaged deaf children through academic support.
For more information on SBA’s 8(a) business development program and how it helped a small business like Trusted Translations, Inc. visit: http://www.sba.gov/content/about-8a-business-development-program. You may also contact the SBA’s South Florida District Office by visiting www.sba.gov/fl_south.