As a small business owner, you’re frequently adjusting to changing circumstances, new business conditions, and unforeseeable challenges. Being able to consult with a mentor -- someone who knows what you’re going through – can be invaluable. A business mentor is someone who’s “been there, done that”; someone with insight into your business type and your specific challenges. Mentors can provide tailored guidance, general best practices, and an example of a successful business that the protégé can learn from.
Having a protégé can be valuable to the mentor as well. It can mean having shared goals, useful connections, and in some cases, a dependable business partner (in the case of a mentor and protégé working together on a contract, client account or other project).
This article offers several useful programs offered by federal agencies and agency partners. These programs encourage and enable mentor/protégé relationships in the private sector.
SCORE, one of SBA’s resource partners, is a national organization providing free small business advice and mentoring services to entrepreneurs. More than 13,000 SCORE volunteers counsel new entrepreneurs and existing small business owners through over 300 chapters across the U.S. Members are retired and working business professionals in a variety of fields, who collectively hold a wealth of knowledge and insight in terms of planning, starting and growing a successful enterprise.
If you’re planning a business, or you own an existing business, you are eligible to receive assistance from SCORE.
In addition to matching entrepreneurs to counselors, SCORE offers free online workshops, webinars and other events, oftentimes held at local SCORE chapter locations. SCORE’s web site also contains useful templates and tools to help with accounting, financial projections, and business planning.
Entrepreneurial Mentor Corps
Entrepreneurial Mentor Corps is a recently-launched program associated with the President’s Startup America initiative and supported by SBA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Kauffman Foundation. This program provides mentoring for “high growth potential” companies, with an emphasis on new technology firms. Entrepreneurial Mentor Corps utilizes resource sharing between “early-stage” companies and mentors, and facilitates business networking so that the experience is beneficial for all involved. One of the program’s goals is to support 1,000 individual early-stage businesses by connecting them with mentors and accelerator organizations.
U.S. General Services Administration Mentor-Protégé Program
GSA’s mentorship programis designed to enable existing GSA prime contractors to help small businesses perform GSA contracts and subcontracts. The program works to foster long-term relationships between prime contractors and small business contractors. Mentor firms select protégé firms, and both companies may work together on GSA contracting opportunities. Eligible protégé firms must be NAICS-classified small businesses; mentor firms must be large business prime contractors currently performing a subcontracting plan with GSA. To learn more about eligibility, see GSA’s program guide.
Other Agency-Specific Mentorship Programs
Similar to GSA’s Mentor program, many federal agencies offer programs that connect mentor and protégé firms. These programs, often offered through the agency’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, oftentimes enable large and small contractors to work together for an agency, and in the process, learn from one another.
Below are some of the many federal agency-specific mentor-protégé programs, listed by their respective agency:
To find mentor-protégé programs at other federal agencies, referring to this list of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Offices across the government may be helpful.
Ready.gov Mentoring Initiative
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sponsors this program, designed to help managers and owners of both small and medium sized businesses prepare for emergencies. FEMA offers mentorship guides and other preparedness resources on the Ready.gov web site. The program also facilitates workshops and presentations so business owners can work together to be better prepared.
SBA Mentor/Protégé Program
SBA offers this program under the 8(a) Business Development program, which helps disadvantaged Americans achieve entrepreneurial success through training, counseling, and the attainment of federal contracts. Small business owners that qualify as 8(a) certified can join the Mentor-Protégé program as either a mentor or protégé. SBA approves the eligibility of both mentors and protégés, and serves as a mediator and third-party administrator of the relationship. Some of the benefits of this program include:
- Technical and management assistance: the mentor’s resources and capabilities are available to the protégé.
- Government contracting: mentors may enter joint-venture agreements with protégés to compete for contracts.
- Financial Assistance: Mentors may own equity interest in a protégé firm, up to 40%.