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HUB Mentor Protégé Spotlight

"Just What the MD (Anderson) Ordered"
March 2014

Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan. Rocky Balboa had his grizzled trainer, Mickey. Those movie mentor/mentee relationships have counterparts in the business world. Richard Branson – founder of Virgin Group – was a protégé of British airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker. Peter Drucker, the father of management consulting, served as a mentor to Jim Collins, author of the classic business books Good to Great and Built to Last. And Bill Gates was so inspired by his mentor's role in the microcomputing revolution, that he named half of his company after Dr. Ed Roberts' pioneering work.

Whether fictional or real world, there's tremendous value in having an experienced champion by one's side, offering strategic advice and expert counsel. In fact, that's just what the doctor orders for minority-owned entrepreneurial startups hoping to gain a foothold in today's competitive health care marketplace. 

Decades of Mentoring

Approaching its 20th year, the mentor/protégé program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MD Anderson) pairs established companies with historically underutilized businesses (HUBs), helping them become valued partners with the world-class research institution. The state of Texas requires agencies with a biennial appropriation of more than $10 million to have such programs in place to help increase HUB contracts and subcontracts. MD Anderson's program has forged more than 30 relationships over the years and received several awards from organizations such as the Women's Business Enterprise Alliance and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council.

Marian Nimon, Associate Director, HUB & Federal Small Business Program and HUB Coordinator Barbara Howard work with MD Anderson's sourcing teams to identify potential mentors and then play matchmaker, pairing protégé applicants, who must develop an average of four measurable goals for which to strive, with mentors who can help turn their dreams into reality. If the mentor agrees that the goals are achievable and the protégé embraces the suggested strategies and approaches, an agreement is signed between all parties, the protégé, the mentor and MD Anderson. Participation in the program is voluntary and not a guarantee of future business; its purpose is to establish relationships and build capacity.  In fiscal year 2013, MD Anderson currently had seven active mentor/protégé agreements in place.

"Capacity building wasn't even part of the vernacular when we started," says Marian Nimon. "Now it's a common term. And it really makes sense for us to help grow vendors."

Constructing Capacity

The mentor/protégé relationship between Vaughn Construction and B&MS Construction, a Hispanic male-owned company that wanted to create a niche in the health care industry, is a recent example of impressive growth and capacity building. Under the mentoring relationship, Vaughn helped B&MS develop a new air purification/infectious control division that provided clean air during construction work in hospitals. As a result, B&MS grew the new arm from two employees to 28 in less than two years. The expansion included two new project managers and an office manager, as well as the purchase of three box trucks and investment in more than $150,000 in high tech equipment for infectious control and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

TCH Services, a Native-American-owned protégé company, partnered with The Trevino Group, a Hispanic-owned venture, and is experiencing record sales. They attribute this, in large part, to suggestions that Trevino's CEO, Chief Operating Office and President offered that led to a realigned organization and staffing. Trevino's project administrator also walked TCH personnel through the contract process from A-to-Z, and its human resources director provided assistance with company policies and procedures. The result? TCH's sales are 80 percent higher this year than they've been in their seven years of business heretofore.

More than Sales

Senior executives from mentor companies often ask to see the mentee's business plan and three year's worth of financial statements. The exchange of such detailed, confidential information establishes open communications and trust, which Nimon believes in essential for a truly beneficial relationship to blossom.

Protégés often benefit in more ways than they anticipated. When Vaughn Construction was serving as a mentor to Remington Support Services, Inc., a senior executive asked if the protégé company had an exit strategy in place and contingency plans in case anything happened to its owner. Learning they had none, Vaughn offered to assist Remington's owners in setting up a plan. Five years later, one of the owners passed away suddenly and his wife, the primary owner, was able to sell two-thirds of the company and stay involved in management. "She was able to maintain her quality of life and do some traveling, which simply might not have been possible without that caring mentor's assistance," says Nimon.

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